Pho Y #1
1660 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1839
In travelling through Vietnam from North to South, it was interesting to see the changes in Pho. Starting in the North, the flavour was extremely subtle, delicate, and extremely balanced. Very light accompaniments. Broth had a wonderful clean odor like perfume, and the taste of beef with gentle underlying spice notes. A delicate balance between sweet, and salty. As you moved further south, things got richer, spicier, beefier. Bolder flavours, stronger presence, the broth was more pronounced. Darker, saltier, more charred ginger, onion, and star anise.
Bringing back this understanding with me to North America, I’ve come to realize how many variations exist in Pho restaurants here, and that your favorite Pho will likely be a matter of personal preference. The key element, balance, exists in both styles, and in an infinite number of small regional differences.
With a very large Vietnamese immigrant population, it is no surprise that San Jose is home to some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in North America. One area with a particularly high concentration of high quality restaurants is the intersection of the Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road. One of the oldest, most highly regarded, and best known Pho restaurants exists there – Pho Y#1.
Pho Y#1 is a bit of an oddity. If you’ve been a frequent reader, you know I’ve stumped at length for the past few years about restaurants staying within their means, and trying not to be all things to all people. Keeping a manageable menu that allows them to maintain high quality standards.
Well, Pho Y#1 follows this tenet to a tee. They offer one thing and one thing only – Pho. No spring rolls. No rice dishes. No Bun. Just Pho and beverages. About a dozen combinations of beef cuts, and one chicken. That’s it. I love it.
The arrival of the garnish plate is telling. Standard basil. sprouts, peppers, lime, but with one of my favorite garnishes – sawtooth coriander! The fresh, peppery vibe of the saw tooth is a great accompaniment to Pho.
I order my favorite combination Pho with tendon, flank, rare beef, tripe, and it arrives in short order. Steaming hot, and each cut cooked to a different doneness.
While the sawtooth coriander was a tell-tale sign that it was likely to be a Southern-style broth, one sip of the Pho Y #1 broth gives it away. The taste of beef is prominant, yet strong bold flavours of charred onion and ginger, as well as the presence of star anise are notable. But the important thing is everything is very well balanced – sweet, salty, and a punch of sour from the lime.
In looking at the rest of the bowl, there are a few notable things. The rice noodles are of the thinner variety, and there is a good ratio of soup to noodles. Each of the cuts are cooked to a reasonable doneness – rare beef is tender, tendon is a bit undercooked, but soft enough, the tripe is fantastic with a great balance of crunch and softness, and the flank is cut thin enough to have the fat and connective tissue soften up in the heat of the broth.
Overall, Pho Y # 1 hits the mark. While nothing that they do here is exceptional, everything is very good. The broth is clean and has great balance and temperature, the meat is well cooked and of reasonable quality, condiments are fresh, and the noodles are appropriate. This is a very good representation of a Southern-style Pho, and definitely worth a visit if you’re ever on the east side of San Jose.