It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the reviews on this blog that I love Asian food in general, Vietnamese food in particular, and have a special soft spot for Phở, Vietnam’s magical beef noodle soup. Our usual weekend commences with a bowl of the concoction for Saturday’s breakfast. If we have not been to every Vietnamese restaurant in the San Diego area we have come close; likely as close as anyone. But until recently we had never been to a Phở joint in the Washington DC area. Little did we suspect it would offer us one of the best bowls of Phở we had ever had the opportunity to enjoy.
The Pho 75 in Hyattsville, Maryland is part of a small Mid-Atlantic regional chain. It is located in an unassuming strip mall, squeezed into the corner space by a Laundromat that seems far more appropriate for the area.
The interior of Pho 75 is nearly as unadorned as its exterior. The tables and chairs would not look out of place in a Middle School cafeteria; nor would the ceiling tiles. The few pieces of “art” on the walls seem less decorative than de rigeur. Only the flock of award certificates surrounding the cash register – the sort of local newspaper awards that even some truly awful restaurants sport – even suggested anything better. Then there’s this: hole in the wall places come in two varieties – really bad and really good. And Pho 75 is the later.
Pho 75 is, first and foremost, a Pho place. It is not a general service Vietnamese restaurant. Like many of the best Pho shops the only food available on the menu is … Pho. While there are some coffee drinks on the menu there are no spring rolls, no Banh Mi and no Bun. You go there for Pho. My usual practice when trying a new Pho restaurant is to order the Phở Bò which, in addition to noodles, onions and cilantro features thin slices of lean rare beef (usually eye of round), well done brisket, as well as beef tendon and tripe. It is the most traditional version of the dish (though there is no wrong way to order your Phở and most restaurants allow you to pick, choose and design your own bowl of soup). But the Phở Bò is an excellent way of making an apples-to-apples evaluation.
The most important point of comparison is the noodles (rice noodles, to be specific). It can be Pho without beef…but it can’t be Pho without noodles. And the noodles at Pho 75 are exceptional. There is a richness to them, but also a tenderness. They soak up and take on the flavor of the broth, but also bring to the party their own flavor. Where the noodles in many bowls of Pho are tasteless starch and in the worst bowls have a stale quality, the noodles at Pho 75 were delicious in their own right. The meat in the soup was tasty, as well. The lean cuts were lean and the fat in the fatty brisket was not – as in so many places – boiled to rubber. Every cut was flavorful, asking only a brief dip in the Sriracha sauce.
It was, perhaps the broth at Pho 75 that made it truly stand out. The broth for beef Pho ought to be meaty, rich and offer both great depth of flavor and a silky mouth feel…the result, in large part, of long cooking with the tendons and the tripe. The broth at Pho 75 was all of that. One of my few problems with Pho, in general, is that so many Pho joints make Chinese restaurants look parsimonious with the MSG. I understand what MSG can do for a bowl of Pho in a positive way…far too many use it as a crutch, though; a substitute for a well-made, rich broth. Not so Pho 75. Unlike many – perhaps even most – Pho restaurants I walked out of Pho 75 without feeling a bit of MSG.
The soup at Pho 75 is as good as I’ve tasted in anywhere. Bottom line: if you find yourself in the DC area (and Hyattsville is a lot closer to DC than Baltimore) and crave a bowl of Pho, don’t miss Pho 75.
- Pho 75
- 1510 University Boulevard East
- Hyattsville, MD 20783
- (301) 434-7844
— Michael A. Gardiner