It’s time for another edition of the DC Omnivore 100, where we explore the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.
One night when my friends and I were sitting in Pho 75 in Arlington (on Wilson Blvd. in the same shopping center as Ray’s Hellburger), we pondered why so many pho restaurants have numbers in their names. We imagined a syndicate (we called it La Pho-sa Nostra) full of Vietnamese men in fancy suits, tasting each entrepreneur’s humbly-presented, steaming bowl of pho, and giving it a rating. “This pho is very tasty. You can be… Pho 75!”
Of course, the truth is nowhere near as entertaining. The number is usually either a lucky number (8s and repetition are considered especially auspicious), or a number significant to the owner: his or year birth year, the year the family left Vietnam, etc.
Pho itself originated in the late 19th/early 20th century in Vietnam. There are some regional variations, but the basic idea is a very clear, anise-scented broth with onions, rice noodles, and thin cuts of meat. It’s served with a variety of additions and condiments- at Pho 75, considered by many to be the best pho in the DC area, your pho comes Southern Vietnam-style, with a plate of bean sprouts, limes, chili peppers, and basil to stir in, as well as hoisin and Sriracha. It’s commonly eaten at all times of the day, including breakfast, but being a fan of my Western food traditions, I tend to prefer it at lunch or dinner.
If you’ve never had it, there are a few things you need to know:
- It’s not that much like the chicken soup you’re used to. The broth has a vaguely sweet flavor that will not seem familiar to you at all and might take a bit to get used to.
- Your bowl of pho needs doctoring. Squeeze in some lime, add some hoisin, and especially add the basil leaves; if the restaurant added that stuff before bringing it out, the broth would turn cloudy and the leaves would wilt, but added at the table, the freshness adds a lot to the flavor.
- It’s the cheapest dinner that’s actually good for you. You’ll spend about $7 on an enormous bowl of pho, and you won’t have that nasty fast food bloat afterwards.
- Pho cures what ails you. You know how the aforementioned chicken soup is supposed to be good for when you’re sick? It doesn’t have half the curative powers of a steaming bowl of this stuff. I don’t know if it’s the anise, the iron in the beef, or the cranky service, but I’ve never been so sick that a bowl of this stuff couldn’t make me feel better immediately. Seriously, someone should fund clinical trials of this stuff.
So eat pho. Maybe a big ol’ bowl of hot soup doesn’t sound that appealing when it’s a berjillion degrees and humid outside, but if you go to Pho 75 around 7PM, when the staff is anxious to close up, by 7:30 they’ll crank up the AC to try to freeze you out of the place and you can enjoy your soup while shivering.