610 Washington Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147
So before I go any further, I want to take a moment to remind any loyal readers, and to inform any new readers, that I hate Pho. I have had it at least a dozen times, and I have never been impressed. Everyone rants and raves about how amazing it is, and in my opinion, its just a bowl of under-seasoned broth with some scraps of meat tossed in, served with a side of bean sprouts and basil. The apparent allure is adding in your own ingredients to make the giant bowl of hot water (and cheap cuts of unseasoned meat) palatable. It’s as though no one had ever had a good bowl of ramen, or Tom Yum, or soft tofu, all of which deserve the cult status of Pho, yet are overlooked in favor of their mediocre Vietnamese counterpart.
That all being said, I hadn’t given it another try in almost a year, so I thought that perhaps on this trip, I would find the missing piece to begin to love this dish. Pho Ha came highly recommended, so I made a trip over.
When you walk into Pho Ha, you will stand around awkwardly until you are whisked away to a table.
Upon arrival at your table, you will be expected to know what you are ordering when you sit down. If not, a non-plussed waiter will stand over you rolling his eyes and awaiting your decision. For the love of God, DO NOT ask for a few minutes to look over the menu.
A large bowl of pho is almost comically large, and at the low low price of $6.60 you will wonder how they do it. Until you see the meat.
I ordered a combo (#45) featuring brisket, flank, tendon, fatty & crunchy flank. Lots of meat. All of it looked the same shade of grey, and for the most part it all tasted the same. The tendon got lost in the giant chopstick pinches of noodles. I used about everything I could find on the table to bring some life to this broth boat, but it was still as mediocre as I had remembered. There is just no level of care put into this dish (not hard to believe when it is served in under a minute and a half).
I brought along some spicy beer to match what I was expecting to be an explosion of flavor.
I am a sucker for some summer rolls, so I grabbed an order of them as well. They were fine. Probably my favorite part of the meal - and still hitting pretty low.
I also ordered the "Com Bi, Cha, Suon Nuong" or julienne pork rice plate.
The platter was another reasonably priced value at $6.60 and literally came out as a pile of indiscernible foods.
Although the pork was well seasoned – it was glossed with a sort of sweet and sour glaze – and had a nice charred flavor, it was decidedly not julienned.
There was some sort of eggy-pate-glass noodle thing that tasted earthy - and when I say "earthy," I mean to say it tasted sort of like dirt.
This tomato was buried under the pate. If your tomato looks more white than red, don't serve it at all.
So I admit I am not a huge pho fan. In reality, I would rather eat about anywhere else than at a pho place. If you love it, feel free to disagree. If you have never been, please go and decide for yourself. As for me, I know which soups are the real deal, and I will continue championing their consumption. You can keep the pho.