Pho (pronounced "fuh") is the noodle soup from the streets of Vietnam that has everyone slurping. Up to last year, there were merely a handful of restaurants serving pho in Singapore. Today, there are over a dozen establishments, each serving their own style (Hanoi, Saigon, and a bit of their own) of this Vietnamese staple. We've round up the top pho bowls in Singapore for your slurping pleasure.
CRITIC’S PICK | Long Phung | This Joo Chiat eatery has been a longstanding pho favourite. While the menu is an exhaustive list of Vietnamese eats, we tried (and highly recommend) the pho dac biet 'special' ($7.50): it is a medium-sized bowl of rice noodles, broth, both beef slices and beef balls and a generous amount of Thai basil leaves and beansprouts. On first taste, the broth appears sweet, but the spicy heat gradually kicks in and we couldn't stop slurping. This is a Saigon-style pho and we suspect that the broth has been boiled with chicken, beef, even squid. Each table gets an array of condiments: we like ours with the pounded, fresh chilli stirred in to create a fuller-bodied soup with spice that lingers. Service is fast and friendly at this coffee-shop eatery. It is the busiest Vietnamese on this stretch, and for good reason. Tip: go during lunch. The dinner queues have been known to last hours.
HANOI-STYLE PHO THAT NEEDS TOP-UP CONDIMENTS | Nam Nam Noodle Bar | This quick-service eatery from the Les Amis group burst onto the scene two years ago and the queues at its four outlets (Suntec City, Wheelock Place, Plaza Singapura and Raffles City) are far from dwindling. It's good for a quick lunch amid bustling crowds, and the Vietnamese cafe-style decor features coffee-shop stools, marble-top tables and kitschy posters. The pho beef combination ($9.90) comes with medium-rare sliced beef steak, beef balls, beef shank, tendon and honeycomb tripe. It is a well-portioned bowl of noodles, with peppery, MSG-free broth which has been boiled for 24 hours. This is a lighter, clearer broth like that of a typical Hanoi-style pho, which makes it a great canvas for the many sauces and condiments provided (each table is stocked with at least five bottles, ie. fish sauce, hoisin sauce, Maggi seasoning, sweet chilli sauce and chilli sauce). There is an additional top-up to further flavour the broth with herbs (mint, basil) and beansprouts ($1.50) or chilli padi ($0.50) – we only wish these were complimentary, as they are in most pho restaurants.
HALAL PHO | Pho4A | Pho4A's unique selling point is that it sells halal-certified bowls of pho. It makes a refreshing lunch alternative in the Arab Street area where the longest queues are at the nasi padang restaurants. At $10 a bowl, the mixed beef pho is one of the more expensive, especially because it is found in a no-frills cafe-style eatery. It is a light and mellow bowl of broth served with steak, brisket, flank and meatballs. The beansprouts, basil and mint on the side are refillable. This is a bowl of pho for those who prefer a lighter broth. The beef balls have been roughly chopped for easy pickings with chopsticks (a touch we like), although the gelatinous and fatty flank is not a texture we enjoy. The only sauce options are sweet chilli or hoisin sauce. While we do wish there were more dips for picks, we would come back for this halal-certified soup if we were in the area.
CRITIC’S PICK | Pho 99 Vietnamese Delights | This Vietnamese noodle house with the green exterior at the corner of Amoy Street has been a firm favourite with office workers and HungryGoWhere. The pho bo ($9) is priced to cater to its clientele, but the fish-sauce-coloured cloudy broth is clean (isn’t oil-slicked) and is heady with delicate herbaceous aromas. The deep bowl holds flat, medium-thick rice noodles cooked slightly past al dente, thin slices of beef, beef balls, thinly-sliced raw onions and chopped spring onions. It comes with a dusting of black pepper and the usual condiments – cut big red chillies, a wedge of lime and Thai basil – though it is the spicy chilli in oil that you really want.
AUTHENTIC PHO COMES IN AMPLE SERVINGS | Mrs Pho | The new kid on the pho block is a small eatery in a shophouse on Beach Road. Mrs Pho's decor is reminiscent of cafes in Vietnam, complete with low stools, foldable tables and stenciled writing on the walls. Our expectations of this being an authentic bowl were upped when we walked in for a late lunch, only to be greeted by a gaggle of Vietnamese ladies serving, taking orders and working the kitchen floor. The bowls of pho are well-portioned and our order of the pho bo dac biet ($8.90) came as a full-flavoured, mildly sweet bowl of soup with a generous helping of noodles, beef (brisket, beef balls and sliced beef) and herbs. This is Hanoi-style pho with a clear broth that needs a squeeze of lime, a dash of fish sauce and, for those who can take the heat, a stir of pounded red chillis. The ample serving does not need many additionals, but you do get a portion of beansprouts and herbs on the side.
HERBAL PHO FROM THIS VIETNAMESE CHAIN |Pho Hoa | This longstanding restaurant chain dishes out bowls of pho in eight different countries and claims to be the largest Vietnamese fast-casual-dining chain in the world. Its only Singapore outlet at Holland Village is always busy during mealtimes. The service may be surly, but the pho is good. Expect a rich, herbal broth with a stronger beef taste than most. The portions for the soup and the add-ons (beansprouts, lime and basil) are generous. There is no standard order for beef combination noodles: here you choose your cuts of beef from the basic pho tai (eye round steak, small $12.95, large $14.95), to a heartier pho tai, nam, gan (tendon, flank, and eye round steak, small $13.95, large $15.95) or the complete works such as the pho chin, nam, gau, gan, ve don (brisket, flank, tendon, fatty, and crunchy flank, small $15.95, large $17.95).
THE LIGHTEST PHO IN SINGAPORE | Pho Stop | We’re crowning this the lightest pho of the lot, with special mention to its broth. Pho Stop’s pho dac biet (sliced beef, beef brisket and three beef balls, $8.90) comes in very mild MSG-free soup, which you’ll appreciate as you near the end of the bowl – the flavours intensify gradually, and the smaller-than-most portion of noodles (trust us, it's a good thing) won’t render you food-comatosed back in the office. We were fans of its airy, hipster-leaning corner space on Tanjong Pagar Road, with its distressed floors, cheeky vintage-style posters, and piccolo lattes ($3.50), Hitachino beers ($8.50) and Saigon Export ($8.50), so we were relieved that it didn’t lose any of that character when it moved across the road. (Opening hours: 11.30am-midnight)
GENEROUS BOWL, LIGHT SOUP, GREAT SAUCE | So Pho | This casual dining eatery has been opened by the same group behind restaurant chains Bali Thai and Indobox. There are only two outlets in Singapore (at Jem and Nex mall), so if you are ever in the neighbourhood... Expect a light, clear broth, yet one that is full of flavour with a sweet finish, clearly, a result of many hours of boiling. The pho dac biet ($9.80) is an order of beef combination soup that comes with sliced beef, brisket and beef balls. It is a generous bowl topped with sliced white onions, noodles, spring onions and coriander leaves. Our only gripe with So Pho is the measly portion of condiments/toppings it offers: the few beansprouts and pinch of basil leaves can hardly add any flavour or texture to the soup. Thankfully, the one dipping sauce on the table, Tuong Ot’s pho sauce, does the trick in adding some spicy kick to each mouthful.
MOST EXPENSIVE, AND STILL GOOD, BOWL OF PHO | Viet Lang Restaurant | We were a little apprehensive about this $23 bowl of pho bo – would the original street food of Vietnam be as good in an upscale setting and with that hefty price tag? The oversized bowl made it a little difficult to eat (the soup spoon kept falling in), but we liked the sweet, dark-coloured light broth that wasn't too beefy or artifically sweet (the service crew confirmed there was no MSG in this broth). Though the flat medium-thick rice noodles were a little overdone, there was still the chewy three cuts of medium-thick slices of beef. The pre-cut (a fine-dining touch?) Thai basil adds freshness.
SMALL MENU, BIG BROTH | Viet Pho Restaurant | Opened since February 2014, this is one of the newer Vietnamese pho places in Singapore, run by a Vietnamese family who have lived in Singapore, Texas and Canada. There may be a small menu here, but what it serves does not disappoint. The broth of the combination beef pho ($12.90) was soothing on first slurp, subtly sweet with a rounded body to it. The thinly-sliced beef and beef brisket was full of flavour and fell apart at the first nibble. Served with the usual condiments (basil, beansprouts and freshly-cut chilli), it was the side serving of Sriracha sauce that elevated a normal bowl of pho to one with a subtle paprika-flavour to it. A great option after a boozy night along the Boat Quay stretch. The owner's son, Andrew, is extremely affable and hospitable if you’re up for a chat.