Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pho Binh 3

Who makes Houston's best pho?

That is a question food bloggers can debate endlessly. In Houston, right now, the debate centers on 3 contenders:

-Pho Danh
-Thien An
-Pho Binh

The debate is complicated by the fact that Pho Danh has 3 locations, and Pho Binh has at least 7.

Pho Binh 3

Yesterday, I finally made it to Pho Binh's Mangum location. Apparently, it was the 3rd Pho Binh opened, but it is also the headquarters. So I thought it was a good location to sample.

The restaurant is a collection of smart business ideas:

1 - focus on only two Vietnamese dishes that every likes: Pho and grilled meats;
2 - open only for lunch;
3 - give a choice of exactly what meats to include (so the less adventurous can avoid tripe and tendon); and
4 - make the pho cheap ($6.45 for a generous "regular" bowl; $7.50 for a large).

It works. The dining room was packed by noon. And the crowd was diverse -- although about 80% were guys. (There is something manly about noodles).

Pho details

I tried a traditional version with rare steak, brisket, tendon and tripe:


The ultimate test of pho is the broth. This broth is much better than the average pho because of its spices. Pho almost always includes star anise and cinnamon. You might also find cloves, cardamom, or ginger.

This pho smelled and tasted like a spice market. It may be the most concentratedly spiced pho in town. I suspect this is why some bloggers think it is the best.

I sllightly prefer for Pho Danh for a few reasons. First, its broth tasted more complex, like it was cooked longer, even if the spice wasn't as strong. Second, Pho Danh provided a wider selection of accompaniments, including a variety of herbs. At Pho Binh, you only get one herb, plus japalenos, sprouts, and lime.

Still, these are minor quibbles. Pho Binh, Pho Danh and Thien An all make pho that is far, far better than your average soup with noodles, including all the swill that is often passed off as pho.

All 3 contenders demonstrate why pho is one of the world's great soups.

13 comments:

Rubiao said...

Holy crap is Pho Binh's headquarters close to my office. So close that it is embarrassing I haven't been there. I suppose its because I always go the other way at Antoine to Vieng Thai or El Hidalguense.

I always considered Chinatown (Bellaire) way too long a drive for Pho, so this is encouraging. No more Van Loc for me.

Also- Chinatown continues to semi-disappoint. I like it there, and really want to drive there, but ultimately find it more trouble than its worth (If you live near downtown). We'll have to meet at Pho Binh for lunch one of these days.

Dorothy said...

Actually, the "original" Pho Binh is at 10928 Beamer Rd (between Fuqua and Beltway 8). I think you'd like it better, given your description of the one you visited. It relies more on a richly concentrated broth than on spices. I think the location you visited is run by cousins of those who started the location on Beamer.

12halfshell said...

I'm surprised Pho Nga didn't make the cut. While I love Thien-An, Pho Nga has better pho, hands down (haven't tried the other two places yet).

Tom said...

I generally agree with 12halfshell's observations, although I find it harder to choose between Pho Nga and Thien An. I usually end up choosing Nga's because it's usually less crowded. I too, however, haven't tried Pho Binh or Pho Danh, but will soon. My family really likes the Pho at Pho Bon Phuong on Bellaire. They make a very clear-flavored, light broth. Sometimes I like the clear, light style, sometimes I prefer a stronger, more complex broth. Depends on my mood. For me, however, the "herb pile" has to include purple basil. Mint is a nice addition, but no substitute (so I never order the Pho at Mai's).

Omne Vorare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caleb said...

I found your food blog going through a few links. Glad I ran into it. Didn’t know that the food blog/recipe community was so big online. I love your posts!

I was wondering if you would like to exchange links. I’ll drop yours on my site and you drop mine on yours. Email at ramendays@yahoo.com or stop by my site and drop a comment. Let me know if you would like to do a link exchange.

Cheers,
Caleb
http://www.ramendays.com

Denise said...

I found your blog while researching Thien An. A friend recommended their bo bun Hue and after Googling the restaurant, I came across your blog. I have read nearly all of your blog entries and enjoy them so much. I was wondering if you had ever tried Les Givral's on Milam. The friend who recommended Thien An is now as hooked on Huyhn as well as Les Givral's.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time and posting. I was so excited to hear about your latest restaurant adventures.

Have a good one!

The Rath

phofever said...

An excellent review - we linked to it on Pho Binh 3's profile page:

http://www.phofever.com/restaurants.php?rid=562

Feel free to submit any other reviews you've done and we will link to those, too.

ajgazmen said...

there's only one place for me
Pho Saigon
http://www.flickr.com/photos/guccibear2005/2351320680/

thank you for keeping your blog up to date.
it's a must visit everyday for me!
o^^o

artyeater said...

So glad to see this post! I love this place and can only go there when I have a day off during the week. They used to be open on Sats.

anonymouseater said...

Denise

Several years ago, I did a long post about Givral's and other Banh Mi joints. The original Givral's was not affiliated with the newer one, and it closed a few years ago.

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