Wednesday, April 09, 2008
vietnamese: i strongly recommend PHO HOA
No. 43, Lane 190, Tunhua S. Road, Sec. 1
website: noodle.zeelive.com.tw Chinese, but menu has English
hours: 11 AM - 9:30 PM
Kid friendliness: no high chairs, smallish space, but lots of kids and families and fairly friendly service.
Visit reviewed: 4/5/2008 & 4/6/2008
Thank you, thank you to readers Virginia and Joshua for telling me about Pho Hoa. It is by far the best pho I've had in Taipei and quite comparable to the pho joints that I frequent in LA. I owe you guys, seriously.
Why is it so good? I don't know. Supposedly, they used to be a part of the chain Pho Hoa according to a November 2000 Taipei Times article (but no longer? They are not mentioned on Pho Hoa's official website). But maybe they retained the secret recipes and standardization that makes it so different from adjusted-for-Taiwanese-customers eateries.
And apparently the Taiwanese customers don't mind. We walked in around 2:30pm and it was packed full. We ordered while we waited and were shortly seated among the 30 or seats in the clean, modern and air conditioned space with a semi-open kitchen in the back.
The menu is in English and Chinese at the front counter and you pay before you sit down. I think I saw some hidden plastic menus with pictures too, in case you don't know what the different kinds of pho available are. Basically you can get it with hot soup with various meat toppings or dry with chicken, shrimp or pork chop, in small or large sizes (NT$120-$180). It's more expensive than the mom and pop places, but here, you know what you are getting and I think you get your money's worth. They also have Vietnamese coffee or milk tea (NT$50) and soft drinks.
They offer fried spring rolls (no summer rolls) which are served hot and crispy with ground meat, glass noodles and chopped veggies. It's not a steal at 2 for NT$80, but good if you are craving it. They also have sliced papaya salad (NT$35) and limited starters.
Most importantly, Pho Hoa uses the skinny rice pho noodles, rather than the wide noodles I've been seeing everywhere. Their broth in the soup pho is a right combination of salty sweetness flavors and depth- not too oily or murky.
And they give you the side plate of fresh lime, basil and chili slices, sometimes upon request, sometimes upon sitting down.
I like getting a big bowl of rare steak pho (NT$160) and watching the thin slices cook in the broth before I eat it, squeezing a bit of lime, tearing up some basil and adding some of the sweet hoisin sauce into the broth.
The dry phos (NT$120-150) are not served cold, but with warm, slightly wet noodles, with a side bowl of hot soup. There are crushed peanuts, pickled cucumbers, cilantro and sprouts side by side with the sliced pork chops (which have been marinated in basil?) and all the flavors again mesh well together and you just want to inhale the whole bowl.
I was kind of weirded out by the green appearance of the pork, but it quickly faded as I took my first bite. It was SO good.
I took some friends back to Pho Hoa the next day so I could order that dish again. With more people, I got to check out the dry shrimp pho and dry shredded chicken pho dishes. While it was pretty full when we got there, it emptied up and then filled up again with customers, though it was into 2-3pm in the afternoon.
Maybe I was just too pho-deprived, but it was still really good, two days in a row. My friends agreed it was one of the better bowls of pho they've had in Taipei, too.
It can be a bit tricky to find- closer to the Zhong Xiao/Dun Hua corner/MRT rather than Sogo- though it's kind of in between. If you are coming from Zhong Xiao/Dun Hua, you have to head towards Haagen Daaz and cross Dun Hua into the lane 190, parallel to Zhong Xiao. If you are coming from Sogo- look for the Bossini.
Also, interestingly enough, they have a Mr. Roll area in the front where they sell mixed rolls "from California." Didn't get to try that, but in case you are craving California rolls you could check it out.