A friend of mine in college insisted that Pho 75 was the real deal because, of the handful of pho joints on Washington Avenue, it was the only one that didn't have pictures on the menu. In his mind, if it didn't have pictures, it must be for the natives, and that was a good thing. I could never be so sure. Now, an older and wiser me, having actually tried pho in several restaurants in and out of Philadelphia, is ready to tackle the question: is Pho 75 truly the realest of deals?
No doubt some of Pho 75's appeal to purists is the lack of almost any offering other than pho. There are no appetizers, no rice plates, and no bubble tea. There are exactly 37 items on the one-page menu, including beverages and four desserts. The interior of Pho 75 is sparse with a cafeteria-like feel, which adds to the "we're not screwing around" vibe.
The pho comes out nearly instantly here and, of course, steaming hot. The Number 1 ($6.25 regular, $6.95 large), pho with eye-round steak, well-done flank, fat brisket, soft tendon, and tripe, covers most of the meat options, but you can get meatballs and chicken, too, if that's your thing. The brisket, which elsewhere is often an overdone and mushy affair, is especially good. It's moist with a firm texture and a nice sliver of yellow fat running the edge.
The broth is where Pho 75 really shines. Though not at all cloudy, close examination shows some remnants of the spice mix and roasted bones in the form of small brown flecks. There is little to none of the sweetness that can sometimes overwhelm a pho broth, and the cinnamon and anise come through just enough without dominating the taste. The broth is clear and beefy, with just enough fat to add to the flavor, and is no doubt what gives Pho 75 its excellent reputation.
The noodles are a little smaller and a little less firm than I like them and you don't get quite as many as elsewhere—for a rice noodle fanatic like me, bad noodles can be a show-stopper. In this case, however, it's only barely worth mentioning.
So, is it the absolute best? It's hard to say without attempting to apply a little science, but Pho 75 is certainly a strong contender. What are your favorite phos in Philly? Let us know in the comments!
About the author: Charlie Taylor is enjoying the heyday of South Philadelphia gastronomy.