Of all the soul-warming soups, pho might be the ruler. A steam-bath of anise envelops you on the first sip. Then comes the rich, beefy broth; hunks of tender meat and nutrient-rich tripe and tendon; slippery rice noodles that help you reach your insulated winter weight. We assembled a list of our favorites, blind-tasting the stalwarts and sampling neighborhood spots, to find this winter’s essential pho bo (beef noodle soup). Happy slurping!
A veritable Rose City titan with three locations across Portland, Pho Van sports a lighter, less-assertive broth with hints of anise and clove that flick the back of the tongue. The noodles have a stellar, springy texture, with flavorful, marbled meat throughout. Bonus points for best “to-go” pho, with the raw round steak packed in a separate plastic bag and real, earthy ground chiles for sprinkling.
This Northeast Portland favorite is the muscle car of local pho: it’s loud, powerful, and leaves you feeling slightly greasy when the ride is over. Our carnivorous staff was divided on the super-salty, clove-heavy broth but loved the bowl’s rich, meaty consistency, the tender, fatty brisket, and even the gelatinous tendon. 503-262-8816
This is our “Goldilocks” pho broth, with an even-keeled balance of baker’s spices (clove to star anise) and a great salty-sweet ratio: not overwhelmingly rich, comforting but light. Coupled with fat-laced brisket, flank, tripe, and generous greenery—including pungent culantro—Pho An’s beef noodle soup is the ultimate rainy-day respite.
Between its cult-forming daily soups—orange-stained turmeric noodle to snail cake—and one of the city’s best Vietnamese iced coffees, this 82nd Avenue spot might be the last place you think to look for plain old pho. But on Sundays only, the noodle-soup institution orchestrates a pitch-perfect beef pho, with an unshakably heady broth, pliable noodles, and peppery beef meatballs—no add-ons needed. 503-772-0103