No Country for Old Phở

January 9th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Pho 75 ExteriorHome for the Holidays
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No Country for Old Phở
Wednesday January 9th, 2008

By Michael Chin
Eat Vancouver writer

I’ll be honest. I had trouble finding an angle for this piece. It seemed odd because there certainly isn’t a shortage of angles on Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup (case in point: The Phởdown). I guess it would be more appropriate to say I was burdened with an overabundance of angles. In picking one I had to keep in mind that I have lived in the DC area all my life, so I can’t really talk about things like they are new or at least like I am re-experiencing them. I have, however, eaten phở in Vancouver, which does give me some sort of unique perspective, albeit a little lame. I’ll do my best to keep it snappy.

The third most important thing to know about phở here is that, in general, it’s not much different than Vancouver. There isn’t really a colloquial difference, like chowder. Just like in Vancouver you are bound to find a strip mall dedicated to the stuff. The fixins are the same, the cafeteria setup is the same, and the locations are plentiful. One such location, and arguably the best representative for phở in the Metro area is Phở 75. With several locations in Virginia, Maryland, and Philadelphia it borders on a mini institution on the East Coast. I go about twice a month. I used to go more.

pho 75 phoAt Phở 75 the decorum/ambience is pretty straightforward. White walls, a couple stock photos of Vietnam, and uncongenial staff scattered around. Fortunately, there are no cow logos or neon lights…that I know of. Unfortunately, we (and by “we” I mean Phở 75 and the collective phở scene in this neck of the woods) have something worse. Yuppies. Yuppies eat this shit up here, literally and figuratively. I know from my time in Vancouver, that this isn’t as big of a problem as it is here. From what I’ve seen the people eating at a Vancouver phở are either Asian or people really interested in downing beef broth. And you should count your blessings. On any given visit to 75, at any given time of day, you’re likely to see at least one or two tables inhabited by the urban douchebag. You know, the kinda person that is checking for a text message every minute, discussing Lars and the Real Girl, and acting like they are hot shit for mingling with the masses. This is the most important thing to know about phở here, and regretfully the most egregious of them all.

The second most important thing to know about Phở 75 is that the phở is good. In fact it used to be amazing. The kind of phở where bubbles of gristle floated around the top of a piping hot broth. The kind where after you were done with a large bowl, you had to take a few minutes convincing yourself you shouldn’t order a small to go. Most of the bubbles are gone now. And in my visit there with my brother, this was clearly evident. They still do fixins right. They give you a buttload of great fresh basil, and on some days that is enough to counteract the declining flavor. But still it’s like I’ve been having a prime rib for three years, and now all of a sudden I’m being asked to settle for grade B chuck. Well maybe that’s a little too harsh.

Pho 75 fresh condimentsI’m not going to say there is direct correlation, but the decline in taste did come around the same time as the influx of yuppies. And it’s always been of my opinion that yuppies are like mushrooms; feed them shit and keep them in the dark. But, phở is a rich tradition, and I’d be slighting the staff to say that they are just adhering to my philosophy. All I know is, on most boards here people seem to reject the notion that 75 has been slipping. And maybe the people on these boards aren’t the exact epitome of the urban asshole, they at least have the passion to want to talk about it (perhaps they are second cousins). But seeing as I’m pretty well versed in phở, my mother adores it, and my father is in fact Asian, and we all agree that it’s not as good, I’m pretty confident in saying that the state of phở here is in peril.

Canada, make sure you defend your phở and keep it pure. And me? I don’t know what to do. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. But I love the stuff and have hope, but for now I have to tell myself, “Okay, I’ll be part of this world.”

Pho 75 – Arlington
1721 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209

Tags: Holiday Specials · Pho

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Vangroover // Jan 14, 2008 at 9:05 pm


    Before moving to Vancouver (from the DC area too) I read your site with interest. It gave me a taste of what to expect in terms of food. I’ve been absent from your site recently but it seems the tone of your postings have changed. Your PhoDown was a fun, informative section. Now your posts are full of name callings and accusations. Lose the hate and your postings become pretty interesting reading.

    I too grew up on Pho 75 on Wilson Blvd. I remember my dad taking me there after school and I could down two bowls of the Dac Biet in one sitting. The owner used to be an old war buddy of my dad. I don’t know if it’s changed hands since then but I agree with you that the pho there and other DC area pho establishments have gone downhill. It ironically coincided with the gentrification of the Rosslyn-Clarendon corridor. That area used to be an ethnic ghetto neighborhood with lots of charm (and grime). Now it’s skyscrapers and gov’t consultants who actually prefer their ethnic food bland. You can’t blame Pho 75 for accomodating the trend. The bottom line is that nowadays the majority of their customers are non-Vietnamese, a reversal of what it used to be. For still decent pho in DC (I should say Northern Virginia cause DC proper has no real Vietnamese restaurant to speak of), I would go to Pho 50 in Loehman’s Shopping center on Route 50.

    In Vancouver, I find Thai Son on Broadway to be quite decent. The rest are middlin. Overall, I find the Vancouver eating scene to be overrated. Lots of decent and good restaurants, not many exceptional ones. That’s why no one will mention NYC, LA, London, Tokyo, and VANcouver in the same breath. It’s still a backwater town in many ways, including food. I still love exploring the town though cause there are so many options.

    Keep the writing good, eh?

  • 2 Jason // Jan 14, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Thanks Vangroover, I will let my brother know about your comments. If you are referring to my latest post about the Urban Diner, I have to hold to my ideals. I think a lot of people forget about the very unique type of food critic he is, regarding his income and background. On a second read it does come off as a bit harsh but that’s the way I wrote and felt it so I’m hesitant to change it.

    My dad also used to go pho 75 back in the day (i’m more a recent convert). he said it was next door to a strip club. i kind of wish i had experienced back in those days.

    thanks for reading buddy and it’s nice to talk to another dc ex-pat!


  • 3 Shannon // Jan 17, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Hello Jason,

    My name is Shannon and I’m the editorial assistant at Following up on a recent email invitation to be a part of our newly launched Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I just want to reiterate that I am very impressed with the quality of your posts. I would love to send you more details about the program, so if you are interested, please email me at


    Shannon Eliot
    Editorial Assistant,

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