Pho #1 used to be my favorite of the 4,629 (rough guess) Vietnamese retaurants on Buford Highway and was a frequent lunchtime destination. At some point last year it gave way to Pho Dai Loi #2.
Not wanting to completely scorn the place, I decided to give it another try. To make a fair comparison, I ordered the same things I almost always order at Pho Dai Loi, Com Tam Thit Nuong Trang Gia (lemongrass pork, broken rice and fried eggs) and Cha Gio (fried spring rolls).
Again, I forgot to take the photograph before I started eating – but now you can see the perfect egg yolk…
Don’t get me wrong, the food here is definitely good, but there’s really no comparison in the quality and depth of flavor between the two. While some people think that lean is a good thing (I usually disagree), it definitely is not when it comes to pork. Pork needs a certain amount of fat to give it flavor and moisture. At Pho #1 the pork is too closely trimmed – and while visually appealing (and tasty), it is missing that critical flavor that only pork fat can provide. Pho Dai Loi #2 leaves just the right amount of fat around the pork – the trim actually looks kind of sloppy – but I’ll take execution over presentation any day.
Pho Dai Loi # 2 wins on pork.
Sounds unimportant, but one place where #1 shines is on the the eggs. They are consistently cooked with crispy edges and just the right combination of congealed/runny yolk – cut into them and they blend with the scallions to make the perfect sauce for the broken rice. This is one of the only ways to get me to eat runny eggs.
Pho #1 wins on eggs.
The cha gio. Pho #1 – straight from the freezer to the Fry-o-lator. Not sure how they do it, but they are – tough (they might get them off that spinning taquito thing across the street at QuikTrip). You actually have to work at getting a bite off of one, and then the flavors are flat – almost non-existent. Pho Dai Loi #2 – crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and they taste like they made them that day.
Pho Dai Loi #2 wins again.
So does that mean I’m not going back? I’d like to say no, not necessarily – but when Pho Dai Loi is a block down the street I think I know which way I’m leaning.
(Pho Dai Loi #2 if I wasn’t obvious enough)
Yes, the table setting is the same at all 15.4 million pho shops on Buford Highway. And yes, I like to sit at table #1 at Pho #1. You can’t do that at Pho 96 or Pho 79. This is special.