Bethany Clough

Eating Out: Whole Foods adds pho bar, diners share their favorite pho restaurants

Whole Foods has added a pho bar, bringing the favorite Vietnamese soup to the Fresno store.
Whole Foods has added a pho bar, bringing the favorite Vietnamese soup to the Fresno store. bclough@fresnobee.com

Whole Foods has added a pho bar.

The Vietnamese dish normally served in giant bowls of broth filled with hunks of meat, noodles, basil, beansprouts and more is a Fresno staple. Everybody seems to have their favorite little pho place, usually somewhere south of Shaw Avenue and with a number in the name. And technically, it’s not pronounced “foe,” but more like “fuh,” pho restaurant owners will tell you.

Pho is pronounced “fuh” not “foe.”

Clearly, Whole Foods is not where you’d go for the authentic pho experience.

But it’s certainly something different and adventurous for the store, which has rearranged and expanded its hot food section. Look for the playful “What the pho” printed on the sneeze guard in the soup section.

This is a serve yourself in a cardboard soup container set up, much like what you would do for a container of chicken noodle soup. (The traditional soups are still there, by the way, and Whole Foods appears to have expanded its soup selection with newcomers such as lobster chowder and butternut posole.)

As for the pho, you can choose from three types of broth: Vietnamese pho made with vegetable and beef broth and all kinds of spices; Thai curry lime made with chicken broth and fish sauce; or the vegetarian miso broth. (That’s a bit different from authentic pho, which is all about the beef – beef broth and slices of beef – says Jake Lam, owner of two Huong Lan restaurants in Fresno.)

All kinds of fixings go into the broth (though cramming it into the container can be a little challenging), including rice noodles, lemongrass chicken, brown rice, pad Thai noodles, fresh basil, cilantro, sliced jalapenos, mushrooms and bean sprouts.

Top it off with Sriracha, hoisin or other sauces.

Prices are based on the size of the container: $3.99 for 5 ounces, $5.99 for 10 ounces and $9.99 for 32 ounces.

Now, I’m sure people reading this are going to want to share their favorite pho place. You can do just that at a FresnoBeehive.com blog on the topic.

In the meantime, Yelp.com’s user-generated reviews in the pho category give these three restaurants top scores: Saigon Deli on the Fulton Mall, Pho Delite on Shaw Avenue near Peach Avenue in Clovis, and Huong Lan, which has locations near Fashion Fair mall and on Kings Canyon Road.

Readers on social media often bring up places like Pho 75 #2 or Pho #76.

Which brings up the question: Why do so many pho restaurants have numbers in them?

First, there’s so many of them that it’s an easy way to differentiate, says Lam of Huong Lan.

But many of the numbers also have special meaning, he says. You’ll see lots of 9s because it’s a favored number among Vietnamese and a top score in a card game. And you’ll see lots of numbers in the 70s that reference years – whether it’s the fall of Saigon in 1975 during the Vietnam War or years that restaurant owners left their homes, he says.

Firehouse Subs

The first Firehouse Subs opened in Fresno last week at 128 Nees Ave., which is next to the Sleep Train Mattress Center at Blackstone Avenue.

This firefighting-themed sub shop I told you about in August is known for its hot subs. It also does fundraising for local first responders and features a mural depicting the Fresno fire and police departments and the Fresno State bulldogs.

It’s open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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