In defensive of fast food pho. I always hear people giving flack to this place. But who hasn’t at least once made this their after clubbing or drinking Saturday night/Sunday morning plans. The food isn’t the best, but by no means is it the worse. So before you get into this blog post I am going to go ahead and mention my disclaimer. I have written it at the bottom. So before you read my review and make up your mind, or voice your opinion over mine. I offer maybe starting at the bottom and work your way up? A suggestion for an different view?
A long standing location on Kingsway and Nanaimo. Surrounding buildings and establishments have come and gone, but “Pho Hoa” remains. And today during my latest visit I have noticed things have changed yet again. Long gone is the neighbouring adult store that kept parallel late hours. Instead the only light on the block was the florescent and neon glow of their logo, a woman carrying a bowl with steam lines coming out the top. Inside the restaurant the set up has changed as well. There is nothing like a fresh paint job to perk up a once trying place. Though the choice of evergreen and mauve brown seems to be a mismatch, despite it being their trademark colours. They never really did put an emphasis on decor. With tiled floors, buzzing lights, and a few limp potted plants; the space felt like a cafeteria. Vietnamese styled water paintings and posters advertising their food and drinks hung on spacious walls. I kind of found the later pointless, considering you were already here to eat. What I appreciated was their consistency in furniture. Instead of being frugal with mismatched furniture, all speckled table tops were paired with the same hard seated chairs with low uncomfortable backs. It all looked to be very low maintenance, something necessary when maintaining a 24 hours establishment. With no closing hours and no after hours the staff are constantly cleaning. It was oddly dark despite multiple lights. Drab with faint trail of music from the kitchen and irritating with the sounds of buzzing equipment from the back. There were several exit signs hanging over head, despite the contained space and the only exit is essentially the entrance in which you came though. The individual sections were divided by stair steps, barriers and doors, the restaurant had lots of room. This guaranteed a quick wait, if any was needed at all. For regulars it was self serve. You choose your seat and were later given a laminated one page menu to order from.
Jackfruit and Durian smoothie. With such exotic flavours not commonplace in most restaurants, I had to order these for a try. Oddly these took the longest to prepare. Only slightly sweet, you absolutely got the full flavour of the fruit. A good thing if you are already familiar with the tastes. Never hearing of, seeing, or tasting durian my guest couldn’t get past the trademark stench to enjoy its unique flavour. Durian is a delicacy, known as the kings of fruits. With its spiked shell and pungent rotten smell it makes you earn its soft and sweet fruit. A treat I am very familiar with being born in south East Asian and having it as my mom’s favourite fruit. Jackfruit is another exotic fruit I grew up experiencing. With its rubber like texture and fibrous flesh it’s like no other. I have never had it fresh and unprocessed, only enjoying its taste in drinks and cakes, and it’s fruit in canned syrup and as dried chips.
“Fried roll”. This spring roll was deep fried to order, and best eaten fresh. This large roll was equivalent to two regulars else where. With a crispy and flaky skin, it is rolled full of ingredients. The dipping sauce on the side was used to give the bites a tangy sweet and sour flavour. We enjoyed this with mouthfuls of dried noodle and a dab of fish sauce.
“Pho noodle soup” with pieces of steak and beef brisket. We added meatball for $1.85, only to feel cheated with 4 halves. We ordered the large to share because when you are hungry, a small is too small. Each bowl of pho is made with their signature beef or chicken broth and accompanied by an assortment of meats. Cuts and parts for your choosing based on your preference. And served with a side dish of fresh basil, bean sprouts, chilli peppers and lemon wedges. I enjoy my pho as is with bean sprouts. I don’t soak the basil leaves in the soup, or squeeze in the chilli, nor do I want a spritz of lemon juice. I enjoy it as is, even without the use of the popular brown sauce mid way. Though it is a popular option for many and available as a bottle at each table, along side a squeezable bottle of chilli sauce and an caddy of extra eating utensils. They pretty much have it set up for self service after your food gets dropped off.
“Grilled chicken vermicelli plate”. An item listed as dry, as in without soup. Each plate is prepared with julienne cucumber, shredded lettuce, pickled carrots and bean sprouts. Garnished with pan fried scallions and roasted peanuts. And served with their house fish sauce. Not as fatty as you would expect, it tasted healthy as the menu promised. Refreshing and zesty. The chicken were tender pieces of dark meat. It was well seasoned with a signs of a lovely grill. It broke apart easily with the disposable chopsticks provided.
This observation may be based on traffic and time of day I have visited, (ie: only late at night after 12pm), but soliciting help from servers has always been a struggle. With plenty to do and lots to keep busy with, staff are always tending to a task. I guess this is preferred over them simply chit chatting. Though with their heads down and hands busy, acquiring help consists of stepping up and out of your seat, then actively requesting the presence of one of the two servers. When asked, doggy bagging consisted of bringing us plastic and styrofoam containers to do it ourselves. I guess this may be preferred as I didn’t want to collect it all home with me anyways. And finally when wanting to pay. Getting the bill meant getting up and waiting by the register. Though realistically the last step was done the quickest.
It just dawned on me, do they wash up before serving you, when in the middle of a cleaning job?
Would I come back? – Yes.
It is not the best pho. But it doesn’t need to be. It serves its function as fast food pho. This is the solution for those wanting a meal late at night and a spot to sit and sober up at, before stumbling home. An idea better than puking in a cab. Both true stories. So many of my great drunken nights have ended here, and for that reason this is also a yes to recommend. The above is despite what others say. As context I posted a picture of the food on my Instagram account and I immediately got called out for going there and was told the food was bad. Though the fact I ate until full and finished the leftovers the next day, proves that the food was good (At least to me). Maybe the stigma of the place has overpowered the reality? After all they have renovated and repaired. Stream lined their menu and improved their service. They still see customers and are open thanks to repeat business. So they must be doing something right. Right?
Upon reading its name many immediately feel the need to inject their opinions on this restaurant. They complain of the quality of food and the fact that it is still open. Yet they forget they have been here once, if not twice. Enough times to form their decision. Agreeably this would not be my first choice for the best pho in the city, though at the same time I hardly find it worth avoiding. Open 24 hours in a convenient to get to location with plenty of parking on the street, in their lot, and underground; chances are you can drive in and be seated with ease. A large sitting area with multiple tables and staff trained to be efficient, means you are in and out in no time. I remember many late nights here. A spot we knew would be open, a place we could get some hearty and nourishing food at, and a space we were allow to stay at without disruption. The perfect restaurant for when you can’t stomach anything greasy, gravied, or deep fried; like at all other 24 hour places. “Pho Hoa” is that other option.
Fast food pho? Ain’t nothing wrong with fast food? Not everything needs to be sit down and dine. And like food court Chinese food, this is where I would take someone to try pho for the first time. Don’t deny your cravings.
2257 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5N 2T6