As long as I have lived in Denver (my entire 29 years) I have always been more than happy to drive across town to Little Saigon on the west side to feed my frequent pho (pronounced FUH not FOE) craving. A year ago, we moved to this part of town and have been indulging in the vast array of Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants and markets, pho spots, taco trucks, and banh mi shops. These cheap, filling, delicious, and convenient meals make eating out an adventure every time. With pho shops on every corner of our new neighborhood we proposed a challenge. We would try every single pho restaurant on South Federal and rank their pho according to and in order of: broth, meat quality, customer service, ambiance, and overall menu selection. A year later and we have completed our challenge with strong opinions and happy bellies. In order from favorite to least favorite here is the current ranking:
1. Pho Duy – 945 S. Federal
2. Pho 79 – 781 S. Federal
3. Pho Market (replaced now by Chez Thuy) – 1002 S. Federal
4. Pho 96 – 2990 W. Mississippi
5. New Saigon – 630 S. Federal (still our #1 favorite Vietnamese restaurant overall)
6. Pho Le – 1195 S. Federal
7. Dalat – 940 S. Federal
8. Pho Hao – 1036 S. Federal
9. Saigon Bowl – 333 S. Federal (#2 favorite Vietnamese restaurant overall)
10. Golden Pho & Grill – 1036 S. Federal
11. Pho 95 – 1401 S. Federal
12. Chez Thuy – 1002 S. Federal
13. Pho 555 – 1098 S. Federal
Many beef noodle soups later and I was intrigued to try my hand at re-creating the savory, comforting, aromatic bowl of perfection. This week in our local meat share from Locavore Delivery, we received four pounds of beef femurs – exactly what I needed to take the pho plunge. We had most of the other ingredients on hand, so I got to work and spent most of the day letting the broth simmer and richen. A complex broth takes a complex recipe sometimes – it’s worth it.
Makes 4-6 servings
- 2 large yellow onions, cut into large chunks
- 1 large ginger root, thickly sliced
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 1 head peeled and coarsely sliced garlic
- 4 lbs. beef bones
- 2 lb. oxtail, thickly sliced
- 5 each star anise and cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp each fennel seed and coriander seed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- Salt to taste
- Vietnamese rice noodles, cooked according to package
- 1-2 pounds thinly sliced raw, high-quality steak (slices easier if frozen)
- 1/4 cup finely shaved shallot or onion rings
- 1/4 cup fine chopped scallions
- Garnishes: Bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, saw leaf, mint, jalapeño slices, lime wedges
- Sriracha and hoisin sauces
- Large stock pot
- Fine-mesh strainer
- Preheat oven to broil or preheat grill on high.
- Toss onions and ginger with oil and broil or grill until nicely charred on all sides.
- Meanwhile, bring a large stockpot of water to boil. Add beef bones and oxtail and let boil for 10 minutes.
- Remove bones and oxtail from the water and let cool. Discard water.
- When cool enough to handle, scrub any impurities from bones and oxtail under cool water. Return to pot.
- Add charred vegetables, garlic, spices, and fish sauce. Cover generously with fresh, cold water.
- Bring to boil and then turn down to simmer uncovered for 4-6 hours. The longer it simmers the deeper the flavor. Top off with more water as needed during simmer time if it gets low.
- Using tongs to discard bones, oxtail (reserve meat if desired), vegetables, and spices from broth.
- Pour broth through a fine-mesh strainer and return to the rinsed-out pot. Carefully skim any fat from surface of the broth.
- Adjust seasoning to your taste. You may want to add more fish sauce, salt, or sugar.
- Add a heap of cooked rice noodles to each bowl, top with raw steak, shaved onion, scallions, and ladle generously with hot broth. Make sure the broth is nice and hot as it will cook the steak.
- You can add any additional vegetable to your soup if you choose. I added baby bok choy as seen in the photo.
- Allow each person to garnish their soup to taste. Provide small dishes for hoisin and Sriracha sauces to dip meat.