UN-PHO-GETTABLE: Three spots to sip a bowl of noodly broth
Bone broth is big business these days. From New York’s broth-dispensing walk-up window, Brodo, to the bubbling vats simmering at The Stock Market in Vancouver, BC, this nutrient-filled elixir is everywhere.
Some health food stores even stock heat-and-serve grass-fed beef bone broth next to the kombucha in their bottled beverages section.
But Vietnam has been on the bone broth bandwagon for years. The country’s iconic soup, pho, features a silky broth often made from blanched beef bones (pho bo), though chicken and seafood are also used on occasion. The bones are simmered slowly for hours with charred onion, roasted ginger and whole spices like star anise, black cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and clove. Over time, the rich marrow seeps from the bones, infusing the broth with a complex depth. The best broths retain an almost translucent clarity from the dutiful skimming and discarding of impurities.
There are two primary pho styles: northern-style (pho bac), where pho is said to have originated, and southern-style (pho nam). Pho bac is a more subtle, delicate preparation where the focus is on the nuanced broth, which is ladled over wider, flatter rice noodles and served with thinly sliced rare beef. Pho nam is more familiar to American diners and features a sweeter broth laced with fish sauce, thin rice noodles and lots of fresh veggie accoutrements, including Thai basil, bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro, jalapeño and lime wedges. Southern-style pho also tends to feature more types of beef—brisket, flank, tripe, tendon and/or meatballs—and is served with an array of condiments to further doctor up the broth, like fish sauce, hoisin, hot chili paste and sriracha.
If you’re looking to slurp a steaming bowl of pho, Boise boasts an assortment of options, new and old. Here’s a look at three spots to check out as the weather cools and summer slips into fall.
5204 W. Franklin Rd., Boise
Though it’s named for the shatteringly crisp yet implausibly pillowy bread that encases its popular banh mi sandwich, Baguette Deli is also one of Boise’s OG pho pioneers. Located next to Fred Meyer on Orchard and Franklin roads, the small counter-service spot certainly knows efficiency. Its glossy wood tables are perennially packed, but seats open up every few minutes as one wave of customers departs and a new one floods in.
Owner Tracy Pham, who also runs the nearby Orient Market, only offers beef pho in two sizes: small and regular. But it’s a solid bowl of soup. Topped with slivers of white onion and a scattering of green onions, Baguette Deli’s pho has one of the more flavorful broths in town, with a light sweetness, hearty body and a kick of black pepper on the finish. Served with an assortment of herbs—like Thai basil, bean sprouts and lime wedges—BD’s pho also boasts a few modest shavings of well-done brisket, eye round, flank and a couple of meatballs. But beware if you like to spice up your broth with a squeeze of salty hoisin or funky sriracha: Baguette Deli doesn’t offer free water, so bring it with you or be prepared to purchase a bottle.
2146 Broadway Ave., Boise
One of the new kids on Boise’s pho block, Pho Le opened in May in the Broadway Park shopping center, which was partially engulfed by flames in 2014. The joint’s open, silvery interior and sleek modern furnishings—which include elaborate life-like wall paintings and a spaceage TV pod—give it an edge over some of its more modestly adorned peers.
Pho Le’s menu is laser focused; its four punnily named pho options—Pho-nominal, Pho-tastic, Pho-sure and Pho-kids—vary only in size and price. Crowned with modest portions of rib eye steak, meatballs, well-done fatty brisket and a mound of shaved green onions, Pho Le’s namesake dish is served with a side of bean sprouts, lime wedges and Thai basil. While one visit featured some truly stellar broth--rich, perfectly spiced and not too sweet—on a subsequent trip, the broth was a bit bland. Hopefully Pho Le will work out any consistency kinks
with a little more time.
208 PHO AND VEGAN
808 W. Fort St., Boise
When Jim’s Coffee Shop shut its doors and pulled down its iconic rooster, there was plenty of chatter about what might fill its place across
from the Boise Co-op.
Though a vegan pho joint wasn’t high on that list, the spot has since taken off with North Enders looking for a quick, brothy bite. Owner An Nguyen opened 208 Pho and Vegan in late May and has been serving a limited menu until his second, larger restaurant opens at Fairview and Five Mile in late summer.
208 Pho makes its beef broth each night starting at 9pm and lets it simmer until lunch service the following morning. The classic pho is served with a small amount of beef tendon, flank steak and brisket, along with bean sprouts,Thai basil, lime and jalapeño. You can also ask for a side of garlic chili paste, which kicks up the mild beef broth a notch. Even if you’re a carnivore, the vegan pho is not to be missed. Made with daikon, jicama, chayote, white carrot, apple and pear, the tea-hued broth smells like hot mulled apple cider but has a surprisingly complex and savory flavor.