Pho Thai Hoa
Pho Thai Hoa is one of the best and most well known Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver. It has a lot of competition along Kingsway – Vancouver’s version of little Saigon. Pho Thai Hoa differentiates itself from most of the other Vietnamese restaurants in the area with its clean premises, extensive (and nicely photographed) menu, and generally good food. It is known for its good pho and other Vietnamese classics. Now it is doing something new for this town: a hot banh mi with grilled meats.
Now, I am perhaps presumptuous in my pronouncement that hot banh mi is a recent phenomenon here in Vancouver. After all, I have certainly not eaten at all the Vietnamese places in town. However, in my explorations along Kingsway, known to be on a cutting edge of authentic Vietnamese food, this is the first I have seen this. More recent second-hand reports from others indicate that there are a few places that serve a grilled meat banh mi – but none seem to be attempting it to this scale. Is it perhaps grilled fillings are really only possible in a full kitchen – something a typical banh mi joint does not usually have? Also it is somewhat unusual for the pho-centric restaurant to be serving banh mi.
Perhaps the most well-known purveyor of hot grilled banh mi in Western Canada is Calgary’s Thi Thi where they innovate with modern fillings such as beef satays, rib satays, and (heaven forbid!) cheese. Vancouver’s banh mi scene, dominated by cold-cut centric places like Tung Hing and Ba Le, doesn’t really have any place that can compare.
In any case, these banh mi at Pho Thai Hoa are pretty good (albeit pricier than the usual cold banh mi at $4.50 – a dollar more). The fillings are all fresh, the meats – which are freshly grilled pork, chicken or beef - have a decent amount of charring. I would have preferred more char – but I am quibbling. I’m just glad that this innovation is finally taking hold.
I really would love to see a dedicated banh mi place similar to Thi Thi or the American chain Lee’s…where the sandwich is not an afterthought or secondary menu item to pho. If anyone out there knows of a great grilled banh mi joint, I would love to know about it. And if anyone sees a place that adds a fried egg to theirs or perhaps serves a sardine version…I’ll be there in a shot.