by Madelynn Smith
Pho is a traditional Vietnamese dish that has been growing in popularity, particularly in Houston, since the 1970s. For me, my interest in pho began about 4 years ago when my family moved to Houston from Connecticut. Then, as a freshman in college, I first tried pho as a take-out option while I was babysitting the kids of some family friends for extra money. Not long after that first experience, pho quickly turned into one of my all-time favorite foods. Since that day, I have had the opportunity to try a number of Vietnamese restaurants, everywhere from down the street from HBU to a road-trip stop in Saint Petersburg, Florida. With those experiences, I have not only had countless bowls of pho, but also developed a taste for some other types of Vietnamese food as well. Typically, when I visit a restaurant, I will get the beef pho (called Pho Tai), a sliced pork plate served with either vermicelli noodles or rice, and spring rolls. As a result of trying these various restaurants, I have found some of these places which really stood out as being the best, especially in Houston. So, if you are someone who already enjoys pho, like me, or doesn’t know where to find it, or has never had pho at all, then you might enjoy this list I’ve put together of some of the best places in Houston to find it.
Best Place to Go at Night
Now, being a college student, sometimes you find yourself unable to eat dinner until very late at night. Growing up, I always had to eat dinner with my family at 6:30, no matter the occasion. However, once I got to college, there were some nights that I didn’t get a chance to eat until well past 9 p.m. If you also get stuck eating dinner really late, then I would suggest you try Pho & Crab. Pho & Crab is conveniently located by HBU, only being roughly 15 minutes away. It’s in a strip mall off of Westheimer, but it’s also really hard to miss with its bright neon signs, and open until 3am. Inside, business is generally pretty slow, so there’s always a table available. The décor resembles a New Orleans style, with murals of the city painted along the ceiling. There’s also a very large Star Wars mural on the wall with the phrase “May the Pho be With You”. It’s definitely corny, but the food is really good. The atmosphere is friendly and generally there’s a pop radio station in the background, although this changes into jazz from time to time. If pho is not your go-to favorite food, they have a huge selection of other Vietnamese dishes and lots of seafood too, including some unique menu items-such as a whole coconut to drink and an entire lobster.
If New Orleans jazz and Star Wars isn’t your style, then I would suggest Pho Binh By Night. This restaurant is also conveniently located, about 15 minutes away, off of Bellaire. This place is almost exclusively a dinner/late night hangout, as it is only open between 4p.m and midnight. Pho Binh By Night is a much smaller restaurant, but the portion sizes are generous and it is a little less expensive than Pho & Crab. They only take cash unless you spend a great deal of money, though, so it’s best to come prepared. If you don’t have cash, they will accept Apple Pay, which has saved me more than once. Also, another thing I really enjoy about this place is that they share the parking lot with a Boba Tea place called BoBa Island, which is also open quite late. I really like having dinner and then Boba afterwards as dessert. As far as décor goes, Pho Binh By Night is very minimalistic, although it is the one of the only two places, I’ve been able to hear my favorite Vietnamese artist, Son Tung; which I was not expecting but loved.
Best Place Closest to HBU
Another one of the joys I’ve experienced in college is rushing to get in a good meal between classes. As a result, I stumbled upon a cute place in a strip mall about 5 minutes away from HBU called Pho Binh 59. Pho Binh 59 is a small restaurant that you can get to simply by making a U-turn off of Fondren Road. Their pho portions are quite generous, and you can also call ahead and order pretty easily. As far as pricing goes, they are about average for a bowl of pho, but they do ask that you pay in cash unless you spend over $10. (The pho is roughly $7.50, for reference.) One thing I really enjoy about this place is that it’s never super busy, so if you do go in and sit down, then you get served really quickly. They also have really good Taro Smoothies, which is another thing I like to have with Vietnamese food. Overall, the atmosphere is pretty family friendly, and the decorations have a lot of greenery and bamboo, which add to the nice atmosphere.
The Best Place Overall
Now, I’ve saved my favorite place for last, which has to be Pho Ben. Pho Ben has three locations, one off of Shepherd Drive closer to downtown, one off of University in Sugar Land, and my favorite, one off of Highway 6 in Sugar Land. I realize that by being in Sugar Land, it’s not really a pho place in Houston, but it’s still only 15 minutes from campus. Pho Ben is typically my go-to place to get pho (or any Vietnamese food really) for a number of reasons. First off, they have some of the best pho I’ve ever had. This is not to say that the other restaurants don’t have good pho, (they definitely do) but Pho Ben is my personal favorite. Another thing I really like is that no matter what you order (except for the Cornish Hen) the food always comes out really quickly, so if you often forget to eat like I do, you won’t have to wait long. Also, right before COVID happened, they remodeled and expanded, which led to them redecorating with a number of hanging plants and a wall covered with facts about Vietnam, something that I find really cool. As far as prices go, it’s one of the least expensive places I’ve gone, and they also offer a rewards program if you visit often. One odd thing about Pho Ben, at least for the Highway 6 one, is that they left up their Christmas tree and covered it with aluminum foil. It’s not a downside of the restaurant, per se, but it’s a little odd if you aren’t expecting it. That being said, Pho Ben is still my number one place for Vietnamese food.
When I moved to Houston in 2015, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of different cultures that were represented by food. This is especially true of the area around HBU, where you can find Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese all just by heading 15 minutes in one direction. I never would have thought that Vietnamese food would be one of my all-time favorites, but I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had trying all of these places. As I said before, if pho is a favorite of yours, or even if you’ve never had it but want to try, I hope that this list offers a sample of some of the best places to find it in (and around) Houston.