Restaurant: Pho Boi, A Taste of Vietnamese
Cuisine: Vietnamese/Noodle Shop
Last visited: December 11, 2011
Location: Richmond, BC (Richmond)
Address: 4131 No. 5 Road
Bus: EB Cambie Rd FS No. 5 Rd
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
- Limited menu
- Family friendly
- Budget friendly/Cheap eats
- English menus
- Some bubble tea
- Free parking
- Accepts credit card
- Mon-Sun 12pm-11pm
- Closed Wednesdays
**Recommendations: Grilled Pork & Fried Rolls
10 Things to Look for When Dining Vietnamese!
What to look for, what to avoid, and general scouting tips for an “authentic” Vietnamese restaurant.
This may sound like a “discriminating” post, and I know I’m stereotyping… but it’s for fun and there’s a degree of truth to it, so take it light heartedly. It’s not everything I look for, and it doesn’t apply for every Vietnamese restaurant, and there are exceptions and I know that. I apologize ahead of time if I offend some people, but I’ve probably already done so with several posts in the past… so what’s another one? Just kidding… sort of… anyways here goes!
1. The name sounds gangster or gangsta, there’s no English in the title and at a quick glace it looks like French on crack.
Pho Boi… yeah that sounds gangsta enough. Okay, I’ll never say that again. But “A Taste of Vietnamese”? Hmm, I’m not feeling the English. And yes! There’s a “China hat” on the “o”! Pho Boi is the new player in the Vietnamese pho scene in Richmond, BC.
2. It looks like a dive and the sign is missing, messy, crappy looking or tacky.
I drove by Pho Boi randomly and the fancy signage and large space made it impossible to miss. Yes, this is definitely fancy signage especially for a Vietnamese restaurant.
And what is that? A logo? Baller! And is that patio seating?! Dang!
3. The less non-Vietnamese people inside the better.
Yikes, that came out so wrong. Let me explain though. When I go to an ethnic restaurant I just like to see the majority of the diners being the same ethnicity as the cuisine. Since Vancouver is a multicultural society and Richmond is mainly Chinese I expect to see various clientele, but I just feel more confident in the authenticity of an ethnic restaurant when people of that culture are dining there too. I’m sure I’m not the only one on this one.
4. It’s Christmas time all year.
Usually when I go for pho I want the place to look like a hole in the wall shady dive with a random string of Christmas lights by the window or cashier. Those are generally the best places for pho. So far, I saw none of these characteristics, but the upscale neon lights made me hopeful.
5. It’s CASH ONLY.
Oh god… and this! What is this?! You accept Mastercard and Visa?! Well that almost translates to “non-legit”. A Vietnamese restaurant that accepts credit card is a rare find! But, I put my stereotypes aside, went in and opened a menu…
To find this! What is that?!?! A description for pho in pretty understandable English?
6. There’s no English, little English, poorly translated English or spelling mistakes all over the menu.
A description for pho? And is that pho organized by categories for “beginners”, “regulars” and “adventures”? The menu looked like it was for Westerners. At least the Vietnamese names of the items were on it and it wasn’t called “beef noodle soup”, but it was looking a little White Spot… or mall food court.
7. The #1 or #2 is the “house special” and usually the best pho on the 100+ item menu.
The #1 and #2 is usually the “house special” and “must try” pho on the menu. It’s usually the benchmark pho and shows what the restaurant can do if they nail the broth. There’s also about 50+ menu items that are “mix and match” of the same thing. At Pho Boi the menu was small and limited for a Vietnamese restaurant and what would normally be considered the “house special” at a Vietnamese restaurant was #14-16. It’s basically the options under “The Adventures Choice” with all the “scary” exotic meats like “crunchy”.
Photo of Cambie Vietnamese Restaurant not Pho Boi.
8. There’s a waving cat.
It also goes by the name of “Fortune Cat”, “Lucky Cat”, “Welcoming Cat” or “Money Cat” etc. I didn’t notice one at Pho Boi, and it’s a superstitious thing. Lots of Asian restaurants have them and it’s supposed to bring luck to the owner.
9. The food is cheaper than McDonald’s.
Your bowl of pho should be the same or even cheaper than a meal at McDonald’s. A large bowl of pho should not cost more than $8… and I’m being generous.
10. All the staff are Vietnamese and speaking in a language that sounds like choppy out of tune singing.
If you want authentic Vietnamese food you want the staff, or at least the chefs, to be Vietnamese. Sure there is the exception of Vietnamese-Chinese, and Vietnamese-Cambodian food where the chefs might not be Vietnamese, but generally speaking it’s a great sign to have the people who know the food making it. Mind you, my mother can make good pasta, but she’s not Italian. Is it authentic? Of course not, but it’s still good.
In the end if I can find 3/10 of these characteristics from my list at a Vietnamese restaurant, I’ll give it a try. It depends on which 3 too!
So far at Pho Boi I witnessed a gangster sounding name, nice signage, a large group of Westerners at the front window, wannabe Christmas lights, an acceptance of credit cards, an English description of pho, the #1 and #2 not being the “House Special”, no waving cat, a cheap menu, and half the staff speaking Vietnamese. So what is that? 3? 3.5/10? Ahhh, it’s a gamble I’m willing to take!
At first glace Pho Boi looked like it was pho sure for Westerners. It was a wide open space that was quite nice and more comfortable than most shady looking Vietnamese restaurants. The food was clean with nice presentation and I would say it was visually catered to a Western clientele, but the food wasn’t bad! It was pretty legit, but not the best Vietnamese in Richmond. It was more authentic than I assumed so I’m glad I didn’t completely judge a book by its cover or I might not have gone in!
On the table:
- If I take photos of complimentary bread, why not bean sprouts?
- They’re offered cooked or raw.
- Everything was clean and it had all the fixings.
#14 Ph Tai Nam Gau Gan Sach – 3/6
- Steak, Flank, Tendon, Fatty Brisket, Tripe Regular $6.45 Large $7.45
- This is equivalent to the house special and it’s an “Adventure’s Choice” on the menu.
- It was good, and it had way more noodles than most places, but there wasn’t enough beef flavour in the soup.
- It had a beefy oiliness to it, which it should, and then a white pepper flavour too.
- I couldn’t really taste the star anise or any other flavours, but it was decent and not too salty. I actually wasn’t dying for water after, but it doesn’t mean it’s free of MSG.
- It was a bit dark in colour and I prefer mine a bit clearer and still nothing beats the best pho I’ve had which is at Pho Tam.
- The noodles were clumpy, but chewy and not overcooked and the broth was served hot.
- It was a decent amount of beef and everything was presented well in nice pieces and slices for what it was.
- The meats were somewhat tender, the flank and steak a bit chewy, and the fatty brisket was pretty much falling apart, but a bit dry.
- I wished it came with some beef balls, which usually comes in a house special.
S2 – Pho Do Bien Chui Cay – 2/6
- Hot & Sour Seafood Noodle Soup $7.45
- There were a couple slices of tomatoes, 3 shrimps which were likely frozen, but they were crunchy and not overcooked, and then a few of those artificial crab sticks.
- The squid was crunchy and overcooked and there was also a deep fried fish ball, but on the whole I wasn’t feeling any of the seafood.
- There was an immediate flavour of intense lemongrass and lime in the broth and it was mildly spicy with chili oil.
- The broth had no seafood flavour and I think it was just the chicken based soup with added lemongrass and chili etc.
- There was a slight tomato base and it was quite acidic with added lime juice and there was flavour, but it wasn’t a seafood broth.
- Again it came with way more noodles than most places would usually give you. They were nice and chewy, but clumpy again.
**B3 – Bun Thit Nuong Cha Cio – 4/6
- Grilled Pork & Fried Rolls $7.95
- This was my favourite. Generally I do like this item, but the grilled pork was done well here and the presentation was nice.
- It is a dry noodle dish served room temperature with hot meat so it’s almost like a warm salad.
- It comes with a side of orange nuom choc fish sauce which I love and that’s what you dress this dish with. It’s like a sweet, salty and tangy vinaigrette.
- It comes with bean sprouts, julienne cucumbers, julienne carrots, shredded lettuce, raw onions, peanuts, garlic chips, and cilantro so it’s very aromatic and flavourful with great texture.
- The pork was a decent amount and the quality of meat was better than most Vietnamese places.
- It was boneless pork that wasn’t too fatty and it was very tender and well marinated with some lemongrass and a sweet and savoury soy based Hoisin like glaze.
- The pork wasn’t dry at all which can usually happen with this dish, but it didn’t have that charcoal grilled exterior I like.
- Overall I enjoyed it and it was better with a squeeze of lime and added basil leaves.
- Chia Gio (Crispy Fried Rolls) – 2.5/6
- Crispy fried roll with ground pork, glass noodles and veggies served with fish sauce
- The roll was a bit premade and over fried, but the filling was very moist, juicy and flavourful. I liked the filling.
- It was very crunchy and crispy with very flaky spring roll wrapping rather than the rice roll wrapping.
- It was oily as expected, and the ratio of wrapper to stuffing was decent.
- Rice paper roll with shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, and salad served with peanut sauce $2.76
- I know it’s very simple, but I really like these in general. This was not a great one.
- It was mostly noodles and there should be some basil leaves in the stuffing.
- The pork was Vietnamese ham so that was a no no since the menu said pork.
- The peanut sauce also tasted funky and it lacked Hoisin sauce. It was gritty, very sweet like honey and a bit fishy and not just from fish sauce.
o man, i couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the title of this post – very excellent points i must say 🙂 hahah the lucky cat and the christmas lights are totally spot on! and that menu has waaaay too much english!
my personal favorites for vietnamese food are hai phong and thai son – their food quality is good and their service is to be expected… you order, the food comes 10 minutes later, you eat, you leave, not too much small talk 🙂 maybe that should be part of your list too lol
the pho here is definitely a bit more expensive – with these prices, i could probably get a combo with a spring roll too! i’m not really digging the spring roll wrapper here since it’s the eggy one and not the rice paper one plus the salad roll just looks sad… who puts cha lua in salad rolls?! should be fatty pork all the way and have basil and cilantro inside 🙂
I love the description, and will definitely look for Christmas lights in the future 😉 This may seem like a silly question, but is there vegetarian Pho available/options? I’ve never had it, and have been curious but too scared to ask.
Unfortunately, I will take some issues in this post because it is simply not necessarily true for other Vietnamese places outside of Metro Vancouver…
1) Vietnamese name: For every Pho Boi or Mui Ngo Gai, there is “Got Pho?” or “Good Pho You” or “What the Pho?”. A name is a name is a name. As a really bad example, people have asked me if you are Korean! 😛
2) Why Vietnamese restaurants have the connotation they have to be cheap and/or run down? Worst, when made high-end, it is perceived as breaking the mold/outcast? Point in case, (formerly) Chau in Robston Street. Drawing parallels to Chinese, for every Sun Sui Wah, Kirin, et al, there are dozens of Honolulu, Alleluia and so on. There will be high end ones but there are also not-so-high-ends.
3) Customers pay the bills. From a restaurant’s perspective, they will try to cater to more people, if they can get away with it. Besides, what about the opposite? You cater only a specific population that it makes difficult to people not belonging to it try the restaurant.
4) Only in Metro Vancouver…
5) Likewise, only in Vancouver…
6) In some Chinese restaurants, people who can’t read Chinese complain there is a “Chinese menu” with dishes that are not in the “English menu”. When there is one single menu nicely translated, people complain as well. There is no winning on this one! 😛
7) I think the “special” is listed usually as #1 or #2 is because people have attention deficit disorder and can’t go past the first half of the first page. On that note, Pho Hoa, aka, the McDonald’s of pho restaurants, has the menu set up in a similar way.
8) The cat is Japanese of origin, not Chinese or Vietnamese.
9) I don’t see the correlation. Probably because competition in Metro Vancouver is so fierce that that end up being the case. In other places I have been to, a bowl of pho is usually closer to the $10.
10) Rob Feenie ain’t French but people said Lumiere had good French food… Likewise, you have Hapa Izakaya vs. Kingyo and Guu. And, as you remember from Din Tai Fung, restaurant is Chinese but most of the cooks are Latino. Guess what? They were able to crank better XLB than some non-Shanghai Chinese restaurants in Metro Vancouver!
Yes, knowing the culture has it’s edge; however, neither you and I are Vietnamese and, even when we have tried home cooked Vietnamese, we will have to set the baseline based on restaurant food, not home food.
OK, that was long! So, about the restaurant iself, after bouncing through several Vietnamese restaurants, just Thai Basil, bean sprouts, lime wedge and Jalapeño pepper only does not work for me. Give me some ngo gai!!! Furthermore, there are some dishes that, if available, I will order it: Bun Bo Hue (quite often found), Banh Xeo (seldom found) and Bun Rieu (likewise, seldom found).
hahah I love this list and as “bad” as it sounds, it aligns with my own criteria! I’d have to disagree with KimHo in that I have never been to an upscale Asian style restaurant that has mostly staff which aren’t of the ethnicity of the food they’re trying to cook and have it be better than the local hole in the walls. Granted though, I have not been to Chau. Anyways, comparing upscale to hole in the walls is kinda silly anyways – they are two entirely different beasts with different criteria!
Your list is sort of funny, but also kind of confusing (it reads tongue-in-cheek but sort of isn’t?) and inaccurate. You know what I look for in a good pho place? Good tasting pho at affordable prices. Also, not getting stabbed by a Vietnamese gang while dining is a positive.
MizzJ, don’t read between (or skip) lines. There are two arguments: one about restaurant size/fanciness and another related of ethnicity of people working there. Even if you were to combine them, you will find out that might be true in Vancouver: once you start to move outside, you will realize what I mentioned is true (hence my argument behind DTF).
@Linda – ohhh good point on timing.. yes! This could easily get to a list of 100!! Agree with you on the spring roll… both observations on them!
@Meghan – so cute! Vegetarian pho is very rare to unheard of. I’ve had it once before, but the place was “not authentic” lol. It was formal fine dining Vietnamese… which I just don’t believe in. Are you vegetarian!? I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you!
@Kim – you should consider starting a blog.
@MizzJ – I went to Chau and it was okay and overpriced… maybe why it closed down. So happy to hear I’m not the only one with these thoughts lol. I knew I wasn’t though… first step is to admit it 🙂
@Edward – It is meant to be tongue in cheek, but I can’t control how it will be read. I could say the same about your last sentence, but I’ll take it as tongue and cheek!
@KimHo – you should start a blog.
So what is your best Pho place in Richmond?
@Joseph – hmm I haven’t tried them all yet, but so far Pho Lan is supposed to be most promising.
I tried Pho Lan once but I dont think I can stand the place. The food may be good but the place is real ghetto. Too much of a dive for me. Just my opinion.
For me, I look for lottsa people….a deserted restaurant at lunch or supper is a BAD sign. Also the Pho Tai MUST have raw beef ! No overcooked boeuf slices for me. The broth should be clear(southern style, North Vietnamese make a darker broth) yet full of depth and flavour. Chia Gao must be light, flavourful and flaky. The Pho should be a generous portion, so generous a small order is enuff ! Pho houses have some of the largest soup bowls I’ve ever seen. I agree Mijune that the price must be cheap. I like your 10 point criteria. Some of my favs are Pho Linh, Thai Song(love the beef stew), the Pho Le Do(but the toppings are small, excellent broth though), the Hai Phong….there are many more out there, be adventurous, just eat.
@ Mijune – I almost choked on my morning coffee reading your Top #10 list, LOL !
Re: #1 – too bad they didn’t name their place “Pho Boi ….. oh boy !” LOL.
@ KimHo: google image “phuc” + “phat” ……….. [doh !]
Re: #4: pictures are worth a thousand words:
@Joseph – lol… it being ghetto is exactly one of the characteristics I listed! Ghetto = good 😉 if you like something cleaner, you should try this place then!
@bow – yes! On a more “serious” note I look for raw beef and packed places too! I haven’t been toe Pho Le Do is ages, I hope it’s still good! thanks bow!!
@LR – yay! I’m so happy you liked it and took it light heartedly! How it was meant to be 🙂 hahhaha love the photos!!
I hear from various local sources that Pho Thuan An on Kingsway (just east of Fraser) is a good new place (new as in under new ownership). This place used to be small “ghetto” hole-in-wall but these recent reports suggest that it’s been “gentrified”, in a good way.
You know what I would recommend trying out there next time, is the Chicken Wings. I really enjoyed them. I don’t think they’re as good as the Crack Wings you had in your car from Penh, but give it a consideration.
For some strange reason, I was talking to my friends today about this. If I ever opened up my own pho place it would be called “So Pho King Good.” All hail Pho King.
It’s a nice cheeky post. Let’s face it, we all think about it from time to time, we just don’t write about it 🙂
^ LOL !
I might call my own pho restaurant:
1) “Pho of It”
2) “Pho of Goodness”
3) “Pho The Love of It”
@Vincent N – LOL do it!! Hmm chicken wings huh? Okay! I will 🙂 Let me know what so pho king good opens! Do your remember Pho Nga Bich?
@LR – pho sure!
@Mijune – I remember Pho Bich Nga. Even ate there.
PBN ? Phogeddaboudit !!
#5 I think as KimHo indicated is only in Vancouver. Don’t see it in Vietnamese(& Chinese) restaurants in Montreal & Toronto. The one prominent Montreal eatery that’s cash only is Schwartz Deli(just about nobody calls them Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, except for official purposes like in restaurant reviews).
#6 Might be universal everywhere.
@LR – Ha!
@WS – it’s meant to be a lighthearted post 🙂
I love your sense of humour. I couldn’t stop chuckling when I read through your list. I know that a lot of us think about the same things when we walk into an ethnic restaurant for the first time. Now that I’m living on the south side of the river, my fav’s are now Pho Tam and Pho Tau Bay.
The one thing I don’t like are the black out windows so you can’t take a peek and decide if you want to enter or not LOL.
Yes I know, but based on truths 🙂
@MiJune I totally remember Pho Bich Nga. Drove by there a lot before they closed down, but never ate there. The only thing funnier is the person who took it as their Twitter handle. @phobichnga is a funny to chat with once in a while.
^ you mean this one ?
@godzilla – I LOVE Pho Tam!! Best IMO.. but I need to try Pho Tau Bay! So happy you found the article entertaining lol :)yes… black windows are a bit too sketchy!
@vincent – me too!! I never ate there!! lol didn’t know someone took the handle!
@LR – lol
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