Restaurant: Pho Lan
Last visited: January 6, 2012
Location: Richmond, BC (Richmond Central)
Address: 6950 #3 Rd
Train: Brighouse Station Southbound
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Vietnamese owned/operated
- Hole in the wall/Dive
- Not the cleanest place
- Local favourite
- Busy at peak hours
- Cheap eats/budget friendly
- Parking at rear
- Cash only
- Dine in/Take out
- No delivery
- Daily 10:30am-10pm
**Recommendations: Pho Lan Special Beef Noodle Soup, Spring Roll (which I missed, but they’re supposed to be great), BBQ Lemon Grass Pork Chop
Talk about a hole in the wall huh? To be fair, this was just the back entrance. You can park in the rear for free and enter through the back door, which is very common of many divey/casual places. Heads up! Don’t focus too much on what’s going on in the kitchen as you walk by…
Okay so this is the front! Pho Lan is a local favourite and usually the first to come to mind when people ask for “the best pho in Richmond”. It was actually my first visit here, but I’m likely to come back.
To be honest, I did hesitate a bit since it failed a health inspection a few months ago and had to temporarily close. However it’s cleaned up now (I think) and has reopened, although the degree of improvement is very questionable. In a way I kind of expected a bit of uncleanliness for this style of dining though. I’ve likely dined at more dirty restaurants than I know… but it happens.
Referring back to my 10 Things to Look for When Dining Vietnamese! blog post, Pho Lan was rocking it! Let’s see… looks like a dive with a crappy sign containing lots of words? Check!
Cash only? Check! I saw about 4 of these signs throughout the restaurant.
Mostly Vietnamese people dining inside? More or less, but being in Richmond there were a lot of expected Chinese. There were actually a lot of Westerners too, but this place is a local favourite, so I was still buying into it. (This was taken just after the Friday lunch rush, otherwise it was packed.)
As for the authentic Vietnamese menu, I was surprised there was no Vietnamese on it. It had English and Chinese, but no Vietnamese. The owners are Vietnamese though, so it’s not Chinese style Vietnamese either. The food is cheap and the menu has all the typical dishes of any Vietnamese restaurant.
It’s Christmas time all year? Check, even though the string of lights weren’t turned on. I didn’t see the waving cat, but it already had about 5 of the things I look for when dining Vietnamese, so we’re looking good! On top of that, all I could hear was the yelling of orders in Vietnamese, which sounded like choppy out of tune singing… signs were pointing to legit! The owners are pretty friendly and quick with orders too, so that was a bonus!
Again, Pho Lan really isn’t the cleanest place, so if you’re a germaphobe you may want to reconsider. Of course even clean appearing restaurants can be dirty in the kitchen, but Pho Lan is almost obviously dirty in the front… so I really don’t want to know what’s going on in the back. I don’t want to scare you and it’s not like I got sick, and a lot of people I know who have eaten here have never gotten sick, but just giving you a heads up. If you want something more comfortable in the context of Vietnamese food in Richmond there are a lot of other options (like Pho Boi), but they might not taste as good as Pho Lan.
On the table:
- They serve them cooked so if you like them raw you need to ask.
- It was missing the chilies so you might have to ask for those too.
- Rare steak, well-done flank, tendon, tripe, beef ball Small $6.50 Medium $7.50 Large $8.50
- What?! #7? The special is always supposed to be #1! Well technically it was the first listed in the Beef Noodle Soups section, so we’re good!
- The large size was unusually larger than normal so $8.50 was very reasonable.
- It was served piping hot with very thin and tender pieces of rare steak and a good amount of meat.
- The thin rice noodles were dried rather than fresh and they were pretty firm and finished cooking in the hot soup.
- I prefer fresh, but almost nowhere in Metro Vancouver makes them with fresh noodles.
- The colour of the hot beef broth was pale and somewhat clear which is better than deep and dark brown.
- The soup wasn’t as oily as I prefer and I actually wasn’t hit with the beef flavour until later on when I scooped the bottom. It’s weird how that happens because the beef flavour shouldn’t really sink to the bottom, but it kind of does.
- There wasn’t any anise flavour and it wasn’t too salty or sweet. A lot of places have a sweet broth which is likely from MSG (which is salty and sweet, not just salty).
- The broth still didn’t beat Pho Tam which is the best pho I’ve had to date. Their beef broth really tastes like authentic home made pho.
- All the beef pieces were incredibly tender and delicious.
- The fatty beef brisket slices were almost falling apart tender and they still retained a natural beef flavour.
- Sometimes they can taste bland and the flavour of the beef all cooked out into the soup, but not this one.
- There were about 3 beef ball pieces and they were better quality than usual. They seemed darker with more beef content and flavour and firmer in texture overall.
- For $7.50 it was a huge portion and well worth it.
- The grilled pork chop wasn’t all bone or fat and they were marinated nicely with fresh lemongrass.
- I prefer them a bit more charred, but these were cooked well and not dry. They weren’t necessarily juicy either, but they were tender.
- I do like them a bit saucier with more intense lemongrass flavour and a bit of a sweeter glaze like the ones from Pho Boi (see here), but these were still delicious.
- It comes with a side salad and orange nuom choc fish sauce which I love. It’s a sweet, salty and tangy vinaigrette you can pour over the whole dish.
- The steamed rice was Vietnamese short grain broken rice, which is a bit unexpected.
- Most Vietnamese places I’ve been to just use long grain, so this was an interesting detail.
- Short grain is usually used for sticky rice and it does have a stickier texture and tends to clump together.
- I really wish they offered the dish with Vietnamese fried rice, but fried rice isn’t available here.
- Stuffed with pork, onion, Chinese mushroom, served with fried onion flakes and Vietnamese ham rolls $7
- I love this dish (Banh Cuon) and it can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a main. This was the main and it’s like a substantial warm salad.
- It’s a very light dish and it’s traditionally served with bean sprouts, Vietnamese ham, deep fried shallots and cucumbers.
- I personally prefer it served covered with bean sprouts, basil leaves and more cucumber instead of mostly lettuce, although there were bean sprouts underneath.
- The pickled carrots were a bit uncommon for the dish, but I do like them.
- The dish is eaten with the orange nuom choc fish sauce. It’s a sweet, salty and tangy vinaigrette.
There were about 5-6 warm crepes and they looked more Chinese in style than Vietnamese. They were rolled wider like Chinese steamed rice rolls at dim sum instead of traditional thinner and log-like Vietnamese ones.
- The skins were thin, but a bit brittle and breaking apart. I question how fresh or made upon order they were.
- They were decently stuffed, but the skins weren’t chewy or as translucent, and the ends were slightly dry.
- The skins were heavier on the rice flour than tapioca starch so they really tasted more Chinese.
- The filling was marinated minced pork, black wood ear mushrooms and onions.
- The mixture was nice and peppery, but not spicy and the meat was very tender, soft and seasoned with fish sauce without being too salty.
- The wood ear mushrooms were completely soft and not crunchy, but overall the filling wasn’t dry and crumbly nor wet.
- There were a lot of textures with the steamed rice rolls and crunch of fresh vegetables.
- The crispy aromatic deep fried shallots and the nuom choc fish sauce just makes the dish come alive and it’s sweet, salty and tangy.
- It was good here, but Pho Tam is still my favourite for this dish – see Steamed Rice Rolls (Bahn Con).