When our family first immigrated to Vancouver there was barely a Thai community, and we were always disappointed in Thai restaurants around the area because it wasn’t authentic. I think that’s why we never went to Thai restaurants; even now, the occasion is pretty rare. But we discovered Vietnamese pho, which reminded us so much of the Thai noodle soup dishes. Of course, pho is totally different—in Thailand, the more common kind of stock is pork or chicken, while the Vietnamese pho soup base is beef. But the rice noodles were the same, and the flavours were familiar and comforting.
I can’t say I’m a pho expert or anything, but I like my broth to be clear, a deep brown, simply tasting of beef and spices, but without any added sugary sweetness. I like the noodles to be cooked just right, not to soggy, to rest in the broth without adding any cloudiness to the clear liquid. I’m a soup girl, and to me, the broth is the most perfect thing in the dish. But I notice that when I go to Vietnamese restaurants, so many people leave the broth in their dish after they’ve eaten the noodles and meat. There they are, bowls upon bowls of untouched broth! Why is that?
One of the local Vietnamese restaurants we frequent is Pho 99, in the little mall on the corner of North Road and Lougheed. Let’s get it straight: this place won’t be winning any awards for ambiance, décor, or service anytime soon. The atmosphere is utilitarian, with chipped tables, scratched chairs, and not the cleanest tile floors. The walls have tacky and colourful wall decorations made from Styrofoam and plastic ferns, and the bathroom is kind of gross. Plus, the service is severely basic; if you’re lucky you’ll get a server that smiles, otherwise you’ll get ones that carry on conversations with other people while you’re trying to talk to them, or you’ll get a sullen one. It’s best not to be high maintenance here—requests for water, or extra lime, or anything will frustrate you. It’s best to keep your head down and focus on the food.
As for the food, it’s really good. And so affordable! The pho here is (most of the time) consistently delicious, with a nice broth and generous additions of meat (except for beef balls, that is). There have been a couple of times when the meat didn’t seem that fresh, or when the soup came not piping hot, but those occasions are extremely rare. I don’t know whether they use MSG or not, but I don’t leave feeling thirsty at all. The pho, of course, always comes with fresh bean sprouts and chili and lime/lemon; sometimes it comes with Vietnamese basil, sometimes not. The prices are reasonable: the small size is $5.65 and the large is $6.65.
This time, got #2 small, which is raw eye round steak (which cooks in the hot broth), and beef balls (a measly 2 half-pieces). My husband got #1, which is just with the eye round steak.
I forgot to mention the condiments: at the side of your table you have the hoisin sauce, fish sauce, sriracha sauce, salt, and pepper but the best thing about this restaurant is their chili oil. The chili oils I’m used to just have two ingredients: chili and oil, but this one has the addition of lemongrass, among other ingredients. Put a dollop in your pho, the bowl becomes a beautifully aromatic, spicy masterpiece. It’s gorgeous. I’m used to spicy foods, but the chilli oil doesn’t seem that spicy to me. It’s the best condiment ever.
My darling chili oil!
You are not going to get the best service here, but they have a good bowl of savory noodle soup (also, their rolls and grilled meat are pretty good too) for a really great price.