Special Pho at Pho #1 in Downtown St. Paul

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Pho #1 (544 St. Peter St, St. Paul) set up shop about a year ago in the old Babani’s space downtown. With so much great pho a short jaunt away on University, it took a little longer than Pho #1 rightfully deserves for us to fall into its orbit. Every pho fan has a favorite spot, maybe even a favorite spot for each of the Twin Cities, and breaking habits can be difficult. If you know a place where you’re guaranteed a good bowl of pho, why take a chance on a lousy lunch? Rest assured that no such fate will befall you should you venture over to Pho #1.

When your server sets the bowl down at the table, you’ll notice that it’s only half full. Pho #1 offers only one sized bowl, but it’s as big as a bucket, and half a bucket of pho is a plentiful amount. As you begin to eat, you’ll notice that the noodle-to-broth-to-meat-to-onion ratio is well-balanced. The broth is hot, not scaldingly so, but just enough to maintain some heat down to the last spoonful.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Pho #1’s broth is a picturesque golden-brown color, clear and light, with no fat globules floating on top. The broth has a comforting aroma that’ll make you swear it carries the same restorative properties as chicken soup, and an underlying sweetness that is drawn forward with a scant drop of hoisin. The chewy rice noodles are well-prepared. Have you ever plunged your sticks into the bottom of a bowl of pho and found a congealed mess of noodly dough? Not with this bowl.

We ordered the Special Pho ($11) with rare steak, well-done flank, and meatballs. We asked them to hold the tripe. (Got a bone to pick with our choice, gutsy reader? More for you.) The meat is never really the point of a bowl of pho, but the steak here was truly rare, the flank was tender and toothsome, and the meatballs were flavorful and free of gristly bits (we’ve encountered gristly meatballs in other bowls).
Add sprouts, basil, and a couple of jalapeño slices, and prepare to steam your face over a bowl of the good stuff.
Pho #1, 544 St. Peter St, St. Paul, MN 55102; 651.291.7461