As fall has dawned upon us I am now in soup mode. In all reality I can eat soup year round but at least I am partially justified to have it as the weather cools. Pho (pronounced Fuh) is one of my favorite types of soups which originated in Vietnam.
Luckily there is a large contingent of Vietnamese mainly in Virginia that shares their culture in every facet including a large number of restaurants. For the most part all of the renowned Vietnamese cuisine was located in Falls Church and Alexandria which is a hassle to get to if you live in the district and do not own a vehicle.
In the past I was required to take the journey across the water to eat at Pho shops which were constantly ranked as the best and most authentic. Luckily Pho 14 decided to take a chance and open its doors in the up and coming Columbia Heights neighborhood. In their short stint they have expanded both their menu which used to be solely Pho as well as their restaurant which has doubled in size. They have also climbed up the rankings to the top spot for Pho in the area. Their recent accolade is being named best Pho of 2010 by the Washington City Paper.
Located only a metro stop from my house I was ecstatic to know that I had at the very least a dependable authentic place to eat that was convenient for me. Pho cures everything from a cold to a hangover and it is my go to place when I am in dire need of this. During my first visit I was under the impression that I had at least an armature understanding of Pho. This notion was quickly put to rest when I was presented their menu consisting of 22 different recipes coming in both a regular and large bowl.
Taking a deep breath I cleared my mind and decided to order Cha Go which are traditional Vietnamese egg rolls. The rolls consist of pork, shrimp, chicken and vermicelli noodles which are deep fried and served with fish sauce. The spring rolls were on par with the other Vietnamese establishments that I have visited in the past. I also decided to order Goi Cuon Do Bien which I have never tried before. These are seafood spring rolls which consist of calamari, shrimp, scallop, celery, green beans, carrots and mango wrapped in rice paper and served with a sweet chili and tamarind sauce.
The Goi Cuon Do Bien was a bit of an upgrade of over the Cha Goi. The ingredients paired well with the sauce, each bite was refreshing in and of itself. The fact that it was served on fresh rice paper was also a good alternative to a deep fried concoction of meats and vegetables which I am accustomed to eating prior to my soup. After finishing my appetizers I though carefully about which Pho I would order.
After some quick deliberation I decided to order the number 1 (Tai, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach) which consists of slices of round eye steak, well-done flank, morsels of fat brisket, soft tendon and bible tripe. Each bowl comes in either regular or large which run you $7.95 and $8.95 respectively. If you ever come here it is dogma to order a large. The Pho itself consists of a beef broth whose day long preparation time is as arduous and complex as (blank),but the end result is sheer brilliance.
The piping hot caldron of culinary brilliance was presented before my eyes in a matter of minutes. The bowl was also accompanied by the basic accoutrement of bean sprouts, jalapeño peppers, and mint leaves. My personal preference which has taken months to craft is to add all but the mint leaves, a generous helping of hoison sauce and a deluge of sriracha. Once my concoction was finalized I armed myself with my chopsticks and spoon and began to accost my soup with tranquil chaos.
During my meal I believe I touched culinary nirvana; the broth was the finest I have had to date and the round eye was moist and full of flavor. The beauty and elegance of the dish almost brought me to tears when I sipped the last ounce out of the bowl. Each time I have returned have been met with the same results. I have since tried the 2, 3, 4 & 6 which you can look up on their website. My preference is still the 1 which I would recommend having. They also have chicken and vegetarian pho both of which I have yet to try because I believe it is a bit sacrilegious.
Aside from their phenomenal Pho they also have an assortment Vietnamese dishes including Do XAO (Stir Fry) and Bun (Vermicelli) the latter of which I have sampled. They also serve Bahn Mi’s at a respectable price. Above is the Bahn Mi Thit Nguoi which is the traditional sandwich which consists of pork and pickled vegetables all served in a baguette. The sandwich itself costs $4 but you can get also order the combination which comes with an appetizer and a cup of beef broth for $8 which is an amazing value. I only had their Bahn Mi once and I found it to be average. If you are looking specifically for this then I would venture elsewhere.
In conclusion Pho 14 is among one of the titans when it comes to both Pho. Their wide variety of options will suit anyone’s palate and is good for all Pho enthusiasts regardless of your experience. But be aware this fame does bring long lines and I have on several occasions swayed by lines that go out the door. So if it is a cold and rainy day don’t expect immediate service if you decide to show up, there was a line outside the door during hurricane Irene! Their prices are modest and the service is good. I would say that you should go specifically for the Pho but their other options are not bad.