Tonkinese soup, better known as “Pho”, is a beef bone soup that’s been tended to for hours, mixed with a blend of ingredients like ginger, onions, clove and cinnamon. Most commonly it’s served with noodles, tender slices of beef and garnished with fresh bean sprouts, Thai basil and a blast of lime juice. It’s a warm hug in a bowl from your Vietnamese mother…
With so many options, it’s quite possible to go on a gastronomic tour of these noodle joints across the city. But to save you the time and stomach real estate, I’m going to give you a rundown of some of the best choices of pho, no matter which part of the island you’re on.
My weapon of choice is the “Dac diet” pho – usually labeled as the house specialty; served with slices of brisket, rare flank steak, tendon and tripe. Way uptown the spot you have to hit is Restaurant Nam Quan (3562 Rue Jarry East) – one of the best in the city. This literal hole in the wall operates from the basement of a single home dwelling. Quaint and cozy, they start serving tables at 10 am.
Restaurant Nguyen Phi (6260, Chemin de la cote-des-Neiges) is one of my favorites. Like most other places, the sizing system is a bit strange. Pho comes in either a “medium”, “large”, or “extra-large”. I give up trying to rationalize it, and learned to embrace it as soon as the soup touches my mouth… on my lips. Nguyen Phi shreds their tripe really fine which adds great texture and crunch to each chewy mouthful of noodles.
Another spot midtown is Pho 198 (5193 Côte-des-Neiges Road). Steps from the University of Montreal campus, this spot is taking sole responsibility for sustaining local students on a budget as well as sending them back to school ready for a nap. Being a student once before, I can attest that this option is far better than reconstituted dried ramen from a bag that looks like Justin Timberlake’s hair circa 1999 of N’Sync fame.
Making your way through to the Plateau, if pho’ing should strike you, Restaurant Pho Tay Ho (6414 Rue Saint-Denis), is where you should go. Opposed to the “dac biet”, their specialty here is their chicken pho. Generous slices of poached chicken in an aromatic chicken bone soup, there is an option for a mix of both chicken and beef in the same bowl. Pho sure, it’s one of the best chicken noodles soups in the city… yes, I went there.
Pho Bang New York (1001 Saint-Laurent) is your best option downtown and in the Chinatown area. Their soup is richer in earthy spices, which is highlighted by the generous greenery of basil, scallions and cilantro. Don’t let the tables slapped together in a mock communal dining space intimidate you. There’s something to be said about the level of intimacy that is shared when you’re sitting elbow to elbow with a stranger and having rogue neighboring spit and soup particles tickling each others faces.
Photos: Emilie Nguyen Ngoc