As Andrea Ngyuen notes in “The Pho Cookbook,” coming next year, “Pho is so elemental to Vietnamese culture that people talk about it in terms of romantic relationships. Rice is the dutiful wife you can rely on, we say. Pho is the flirty mistress you slip away to visit.”
By the terms of this lovely analogy, we shouldn’t rely on pho. It is too rich, too decadent, too much trouble for everyday life. Maybe so. But, over the past few decades, perhaps no other dish has been so familiar, so comforting, so reliable to the Atlantans dining along Buford Highway as pho.
There’s no greater concentration of pho than a 2-mile stretch along Buford Highway, where a number of restaurants have been serving the dish for decades:
Pho Dai Loi #2
Not long after opening a location in Forest Park in 1997, Pho Dai Loi expanded to this location on Buford Highway. Today, the restaurant anchors the Little Saigon shopping mall and, according to at least my own informal poll, tends to be known as the best pho in Atlanta. Why’s that? I’d say that it is the rich, aromatic but clear, clean broth. Of all the pho I’ve tasted, this broth exudes balance, just beefy enough, just lightly sweet with the aroma of spices. The friendly, blue-shirted staff serves bowls under a glowing chandelier that gives the otherwise casual room a fun, nice touch.
Pho Dai Loi #2, 4186 Buford Highway, Atlanta. 404-633-2111.
This small, cash-only joint in Asian Square is as casual as it gets. The window outside describes the menu as “Bahn Mi Fast Food.” Indeed, Quoc Huong’s reputation is largely for serving very good, very cheap bahn mi sandwiches. But, since opening in 1994, Quoc Huong also has served an excellent bowl of pho. (To put that in perspective, Quoc Huong has been serving pho in Atlanta almost exactly as long as Bacchanalia has been serving four-star meals.) An order of pho dac biet will come swimming with green scallions and quartered, chewy meatballs.
Quoc Huong, 5150 Buford Highway, Atlanta. 770-936-0605.