It breaks my heart to rate this pho second best.
In so many respects, it really is the best.
This pho is like the lover that got away but has a special place in your heart.
It has in mine.
It’s sorta like a passionate love affair. When you’ve been away for a while, you start to miss the affection of a loved one.
So whenever I am away from Sydney for a while, I begin to yearn for that hearty bowl of Vietnamese pho (pronounced “fur’).
And as you know, the virtues of a lover are quite subjective. Just like a bowl of pho, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. For some, no matter how good a bowl of pho, they will try to find a better one. It’s almost like a never-ending search for that perfect lover.
I’ve often been asked which pho is the ‘best’ in Sydney. There are so many good ones, we are really spoilt for choice. It comes down to individual taste and preference because everyone has their personal favourite.
Having been to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on numerous occasions, I believe the best of Sydney’s pho is comparable to the best in the world.
In Search of Sydney’s Best Pho
Most Vietnamese restaurants in Sydney have an extensive menu that include classics such as banh xeo, bun bo hue and com tam to noodles such as bun rieu cua and mi bo kho.
Pho is usually part of the menu though some restaurants specialize in churning out the very best in this bowl of noodles.
When beef bones, cinnamon, cloves and star anise are gently simmering for many hours, the aromas are fragrant and intoxicating.
It’s a prelude and a promise of even better things to come. And pho is Vietnam’s answer to Japanese ramen, Thai boat noodles or Chinese wanton noodle soup.
It’s also a great hangover cure during Sunday brunch if you’ve knocked back one too many the night before.
Throw in some fiery red birds eye chillies and this bowl of goodness is sure to clear the sinus as well.
My Pho-judging System
Firstly, I am neither Vietnamese nor a food expert though I have tasted enough to appreciate the qualities that make a good pho among so many in Sydney. I also love cooking my own version of pho at home.
But the process of finding the ‘best pho‘ can be as complicated and subjective as finding that ‘perfect partner’ though guidelines are always helpful.
The most important element in a good pho is the taste and flavour of the broth, followed by the freshness of the meat, beansprouts, herbs and smoothness of the rice noodles.
Having tasted reputedly some of the best pho in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City during my trips to Vietnam, my taste buds tell me Sydneysiders are indeed a lucky bunch. This is because any one of Sydney’s three best pho which I have nominated below is comparable to the very best. Arguably, they are world class and I am so proud they reside in my home city.
Mysaucepan has been been to all but the third ranked restaurant below and I have obviously visited all six. We both unanimously agree the first and second ranked deserve their respective recognition.
I have devised my own pho-judging system to lend objectivity:
Taste and flavour of broth 6 points
Beef and freshness of ingredients 5 points
Texture of rice noodles 4 points
Total maximum score 15 points
Our search for Sydney’s best pho has taken us across five different suburbs ~ Enmore and Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west and then Canley Heights, Cabramatta and Bankstown in Sydney’s west.
I did not qualify and have arbitrarily chosen to review six restaurants in Sydney, known predominantly for its pho. Some of these restaurants have been widely recognized for serving outstanding pho and have also been featured by Cabramatta and Vietnamese food expert, prominent Sydney blogger Thang Ngo in his article, Sydney’s Best Pho.
Service and ambience are important though not the key criteria in this review. I will provide information where useful and necessary.
Note: There are literally hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants all over cosmopolitan Sydney that serve pho and you may well have a favourite which is not part of these six restaurants.
Sydney’s 6th ranked pho ~ Great Aunty Three
115 Enmore road, Enmore
Score: Broth 3 Ingredients 2.5 Noodles 2 = 7.5 points
This hole-in-the-wall of a restaurant seats less than ten people inside. The counter display is filled with fresh ingredients for banh mi and rice noodles glad-wrapped in bowls ready for the stock pot.
The vibe at Great Aunty Three is inner-west casual and perhaps too casual even for simple me. I am fine with ordering, paying at the counter and taking a number to wait for my food.
I am even okay with fetching my own water from a large water dispenser with lemon slices and mint. Apart from a few bar stools and the restaurant being packed during Saturday lunch, we are lucky to score the best seats.
We sit back on two large, comfy leather sofas though our pho is perched on a wooden stool so small that it won’t allow a second bowl (See image above).
The pho is rough and tumble inner-west style ~ rehydrated dry noodles that will always play second fiddle to fresh ones. Slices of beef are bohemianly chewy and the broth takes on sweet notes.
These leather chairs are comfy to sink myself into, but it’s a different story if I have to lean forward from a sunken seat and eat pho off a wooden stool.
But at least it’s better than sitting on plastic stools out on Enmore street. It’s third world Hanoi dining in first world Sydney. It’s like the lover that would test my patience and make me wait.
If she’s a potentially good match, I believe most men would sit out in the cold for her. Unfortunately, I can’t see myself sitting out for Great Aunty Three.
Sydney’s 5th ranked pho ~ PHD
308 Illawarra road, Marrickville
Score: Broth 3 Ingredients 2.5 Noodles 2.5 = 8
Previously known as Pho Bac Hai Duong hence PHD after a refurbishment, the menu is quite extensive though many have raved about the pho here.
The broth at PHD is a lot sweeter than most which I personally dislike as I prefer a savoury taste. Beef balls are sliced into smaller pieces though the raw beef can be more tender.
Service is scant though we are here early and there is hardly anyone in the restaurant. This elderly gentleman serving us seems as though he would rather be somewhere else. There’s a resigned look on his face as he swaggers to take our food order.
His nonchalant attitude may have affected the taste of my broth.
Sydney’s 4th ranked pho ~ Pho Huong Xua
Shop 4, 219 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights
Score: Broth 3.5 Ingredients 3.5 Noodles 3.5 = 10.5
Beansprouts and mint leaves are fresh and vibrant while utensils and bowls are labeled with the restaurant’s insignia.
The broth of Pho Huong Xua takes on the more subtle style of northern Vietnamese such as its capital in Hanoi.
Mysaucepan finds the stock a little bland though I explain it’s the more subdued style of the north compared to the robust and smoky fragrance of south Vietnam.
This mild and elegant flavoured stock is like demure Hanoi women in traditional ao dai costume as opposed to punchy, youthful girls gyrating in the heat of Saigon’s nightclubs.
There are three sizes for pho and this restaurant is famous for dishing out one of the biggest and best-value pho in Australia.
A 2.5kg bowl of pho takes on 1.5kg broth, 0.5kg meat and 0.5kg noodles for $17. And according to Thang Ngo, the record for downing this gigantic bowl in competition is 5 minutes and 24 seconds.
However, even for mere mortals, the restaurant’s time limit to devour this gigantic bowl of pho is 11 minutes. If you can beat this record, you eat for free and you get to take home that huge bowl as a souvenier for your exploits.
Sydney’s 3rd ranked pho ~ Pho Tau Bay
12/117 John Street, Cabramatta
Score: Broth 5 Ingredients 4.5 Noodles 3.5 = 13 points
(Read our full review of Pho Tau Bay here)
I turn into a chilli fiend when I am on a pho mission.
So I will give bonus points to restaurants which provide fresh chillies in the small aluminium sugar containers, better still if birdseye chilli for extra heat and spice.
I find Vietnamese flavours are beautiful when fresh lemon juice is squeezed either onto fresh chilli or into the pho broth.
It’s my first time at Pho Tau Bay having heard and read so much about this restaurant dishing out one of the best pho in Sydney. And I lost my Pho Tau Bay virginity because Thang Ngo rates this pho as Sydney’s best.
I prefer blanched sprouts over fresh ones because they help keep the broth piping hot when added without any significant loss in its fresh, sprightly texture.
So it’s rather strange when blanched beansprouts and mint leaves freshly picked from its stems miraculously appear without me even prompting.
It’s almost like Mysaucepan offering to give me a thorough head, body and foot massage without me even asking, which happens only once in a millennium. And there are usually conditions attached for something so good to be true.
The rice noodles are silky smooth and the broth clean with fragrant aromas.
I order a Pho Dac Biet and it comes with pho tai or raw beef , tripe, tendon and sliced beef balls.
Tendon cartilage is still slightly crunchy. Some like that but I don’t. I prefer both cartilage and tendon to be gelatinous with a slightly gluey and gummy mouth feel.
I find the beef, tendon and tripe can be more tender.
Still, I love this bowl of pho because it is truly beautiful. It’s like the girl my mother would like me to marry though I hesitate. She seems perfect in the eyes of so many.
Sydney’s 2nd ranked pho ~ Old Thanh Huong
1/356 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville
Score: Broth 5.5 Ingredients 4.5 Noodles 3.5 = 13-5 points
(Read our full review of Old Thanh Huong here)
I have been coming to Old Thanh Huong for so many years because the pho is so good and consistent. It’s like a date that works out every, single, time.
The condiment station is always well stocked though I always stay clear of hoisin or chilli sauce. I have seen diners squeezing huge amounts of hoisin sauce into their broth and always wonder why they would adulterate its beautiful flavour.
My gripe about Old Thanh Huong is they don’t provide fresh chilli in aluminium sugar containers and it’s a nightmare flagging waiters down whey the restaurant is busy.
So my tip is to get your condiments all sorted out, as I always do, before your pho arrives.
Old Thanh Huong’s broth is so hearty and fragrant, I rate it the best of all six restaurants reviewed. The beef, tripe and meat balls are very fresh and the noodles always silky smooth.
It breaks my heart to rate this restaurant as Sydney’s second best pho because in so many respects, it really is the best.
The pho at Old Thanh Huong is like the lover that got away but has a special place in your heart. It has in mine.
Sydney’s Best Pho ~ An Restaurant
27 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown
Score: Broth 5 Ingredients 5 Noodles 4 = 14 points
(Read our full review of An Restaurant here)
An Restaurant is a pho institution because pho is the only thing the restaurant offers.
Beef and chicken pho are dished out in various denominations though purists would shun the latter.
Operations in this restaurant run like clock-work where diners are assigned a table and wait staff immediate appears to take orders via handheld computers.
This restaurant is generous with fresh beansprouts, mint leaves and lemon which appear immediately.
And every time this steaming bowl of pho arrives, it takes my breath away though my favourite is not Pho Dac Biet.
Rather, I strongly recommended cooked brisket and beef tripe if you can do away with raw beef. This order also comes with chunks of beef tendon that is soft and gummy. Thin slices of cooked brisket here is like ham that falls apart from its natural meat segments. And beansprouts, mint leaves, diced shallots, coriander and onions slices are ever so fresh and sprightly.
The deal clincher for An Restaurant being Sydney’s best is its consistency.
As turnover for this 200-seater is high, thin slices of raw beef are daringly red and raw. The broth is always piping hot and will cook the raw beef in a matter of seconds. Texture of tripe is consistently tender and never is there any trace of gamey offal aroma. Finally, the flavoursome broth brings together this entire pho experience like a love affair you would always cherish.
Some detractors of An Restaurant say the broth has added MSG. If that’s true, then An Restaurant is like a lover who might tell a little white lie every now and then. And just like added MSG, a white lie may not necessarily be evil because there’s little harm done. Intentions are noble to keep peace and live happily ever after.
Without fail, I always walk out of this restaurant feeling loved because I have found my match.
And I can live happily ever after.
So dear readers, do you enjoy pho and if so, which do you rate as your favourite and the best in Sydney?
This review is totally independent. All meals are privately paid for and all views and opinions are our own.
27, Greenfield Parade
Bankstown, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9796 7826
Opening hours: 7 days a week from 7am – 9pm
Pho Tau Bay
12/117 John street
Cabramatta, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9726 4583
Opening hours: Seven days 8am – 7pm
Old Thanh Huong
356 Illawarra road
Marrickville, New South Wales
Tel: + 61 2 9558 0863
Business hours: Lunch and dinner Thursdays to Mondays. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Pho Huong Xua
Shop 4, 219 Canley Vale Road,
Canley Heights, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 8764 4117
Business hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner 7 days
308 Illawarra road, Marrickville
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9559 5078
Business hours: 11am – 9.30pm Monday to Sunda
Great Aunty Three
115 Enmore road, Enmore
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9519 2886
Business hours: Monday – Thursday 10am -3pm, Friday & Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 10am – 3pm.