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Lori Eanes

12 Slurpable Pho Shops in San Francisco and the East Bay

Where to go for a steaming-hot bowl of comfort

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When the weather starts to get cold, nothing beats a bowl of hot pho — on chilly, wind-swept winter days in particular, but really anytime your body could use a restorative, belly-warming pick-me-up. The Bay Area has no shortage of slurp-worthy bowls, whether you’re looking for the classic, star anise- and hoisin-laced Southern Vietnamese beef pho or any number of other styles that might strike your fancy — chicken pho; clear, Northern-style pho; soupless, dry-style pho; and even a couple of modern, deconstructed versions.

Of course, pho in the greater San Jose area, which is home to the Bay Area’s best Vietnamese food scene, merits its own separate conversation. But fortunately San Francisco and the East Bay have their own wealth of deeply comforting, satisfying options. Here are 12 of our favorite bowls.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Super Super Pho

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This neighborhoody Vietnamese restaurant in West Berkeley does double duty with a menu that’s equally divided between pho and banh mi — and does a solid job in both categories. The pho dac biet here is a very respectable rendition, with a beefy, slightly sweet broth and a generous portion of meant highlighted by some nice, fatty slices of brisket. Bonus points for how tidily and efficiently the restaurant packs up its to-go orders.

Overhead view of a bowl of pho topped with bean sprouts and fresh herbs, with slices of still-pink beef visible and a pair of chopsticks laid across the top Luke Tsai

Monster Phở

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During the coronavirus crisis, Monster Pho has distinguished itself in the way it has given back to the community — giving away thousands of bowls of free pho, among other philanthropic-minded initiatives. But even before that, the restaurant — along with its sister location in Emeryville — had already cultivated a following for its solid, aromatic beef pho, notable for its broth’s notes of warm spice.

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Phở Vy Vietnamese Cuisine

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Arguably Oakland’s most reliably delicious pho spot, this friendly, family-run restaurant serves one of the richest, most flavorful bowls in the area — all the more so if you doctor up the broth with some nuoc beo, or rendered beef fat with scallions, available by request on the side. (If you know, you know.)

Phở Gà Hương Quê Cafe

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Oakland’s top destination for pho ga, aka chicken pho, has been a fixture in East Oakland for its tender poached chicken, fresh noodles, and soul-warming broth. Everything tastes twice as delicious slathered in the restaurant’s scallion-ginger sauce — including whole. bone-in chickens if you’re in the mood for something other than the restaurant’s namesake dish. Bonus points for being open bright and early at 7:30 a.m., when a hot bowl of pho makes for an especially invigorating start to the day.

Phở Ao Sen Restaurant

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For many years, Ao Sen was, in the eyes of many Vietnamese food connoisseurs, the be all and end all of Oakland’s pho scene — the one spot where you could score a consistently satisfying bowl. These days, pho enthusiasts have more options, but Ao Sen’s clean, rich beef broth is still a reliable favorite. The restaurant also has a newer location in Albany.

Pho Tan Hoa | Vietnamese & Chinese Cuisine

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This longtime Tenderloin favorite is a neighborhood staple for its dark, flavorful Southern-style beef pho, but its most distinctive offering is probably the #26 pho kho — a dry-style beef pho that comes with all the fixings, but with the broth served on the side for sipping. And for those looking for a spicier, punchier Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho Tan Hoa is also one of a handful of spots in the city that serves a reputable bowl of bun bo Hue.

Turtle Tower Restaurant

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All conversations about Vietnamese food in SF tend to begin and end with Turtle Tower, the Tenderloin mainstay that’s spun off additional locations in SoMa and the Outer Richmond. Turtle Tower is best known as the city’s top destination for chicken pho — as belly-warming and comforting a bowl of soup as you’ll find in the city, especially the version with gizzards (for those who partake). But the beef pho is just as notable, especially because Turtle Tower is one of the only spots in the Bay Area that serves the clearer, less aggressively spiced Northern style that doesn’t come with the usual tangle of raw herbs.

Vietnamese-born chef Rob Lam (Perle) made a name for himself in the Bay Area cooking French and upscale Cal-Asian food before opening Lily, his first Vietnamese restaurant, during the pandemic — maybe the most forward-thinking and contemporary of the city’s upscale Vietnamese spots, even in its current takeout-only iteration. His take on pho ga, or chicken pho, features a confit chicken leg and pieces of fried cruller. Meanwhile, a side of intensely rich beef pho broth is the star of Lam’s take on a French dip sandwich.

Sidestreet Pho

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Pho is the namesake dish at Alameda’s top Vietnamese restaurant, which gussies up an array of classic Vietnamese street foods, including a wide range of different versions of pho. Slightly nonconventional options include a vegetarian pho, an oxtail pho, and a luxe version that features sliced rib eye.

Bac Lieu Restaurant

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This relative newcomer in Bernal Heights has garnered a following for its big bowls of savory, generously meaty pho. Beyond that, the restaurant specializes in the home-style cuisine of the southern Bac Lieu province, and it serves a wide range of dishes not commonly found at the city’s Vietnamese restaurants: shrimp-topped banh khot; bun bo Hue; hu tieu nam vang; and, especially, bun mam, the umami-laden noodle soup famous for its pungent hit of fermented fish paste.

Noodles Pho Me

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Probably the most idiosyncratic pho shop in the East Bay, Noodles Pho Me is a Laotian restaurant, primarily, and features a strong selection of traditional noodle soups from that cuisine — the khao soy is especially great. As for its namesake dish, the pho, too, is served in the style that you’d typically find in Laos — a darker, more heavily seasoned and intensely flavorful version that comes with all of the herbs already incorporated into the bowl (rather than served on the side).

Lao-style pho Noodles Pho Me

Pho Seven

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Opened during the pandemic, this San Lorenzo newcomer already has a strong local following for its flavorful beef pho broth, as well as its selection of somewhat harder-to-find Vietnamese dishes: The bun bo Hue and crab-infused bun rieu are both strong additions to the local soup scene.

Super Super Pho

Overhead view of a bowl of pho topped with bean sprouts and fresh herbs, with slices of still-pink beef visible and a pair of chopsticks laid across the top Luke Tsai

This neighborhoody Vietnamese restaurant in West Berkeley does double duty with a menu that’s equally divided between pho and banh mi — and does a solid job in both categories. The pho dac biet here is a very respectable rendition, with a beefy, slightly sweet broth and a generous portion of meant highlighted by some nice, fatty slices of brisket. Bonus points for how tidily and efficiently the restaurant packs up its to-go orders.

Overhead view of a bowl of pho topped with bean sprouts and fresh herbs, with slices of still-pink beef visible and a pair of chopsticks laid across the top Luke Tsai

Monster Phở

Lori Eanes

During the coronavirus crisis, Monster Pho has distinguished itself in the way it has given back to the community — giving away thousands of bowls of free pho, among other philanthropic-minded initiatives. But even before that, the restaurant — along with its sister location in Emeryville — had already cultivated a following for its solid, aromatic beef pho, notable for its broth’s notes of warm spice.

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Phở Vy Vietnamese Cuisine

Arguably Oakland’s most reliably delicious pho spot, this friendly, family-run restaurant serves one of the richest, most flavorful bowls in the area — all the more so if you doctor up the broth with some nuoc beo, or rendered beef fat with scallions, available by request on the side. (If you know, you know.)

Phở Gà Hương Quê Cafe

Oakland’s top destination for pho ga, aka chicken pho, has been a fixture in East Oakland for its tender poached chicken, fresh noodles, and soul-warming broth. Everything tastes twice as delicious slathered in the restaurant’s scallion-ginger sauce — including whole. bone-in chickens if you’re in the mood for something other than the restaurant’s namesake dish. Bonus points for being open bright and early at 7:30 a.m., when a hot bowl of pho makes for an especially invigorating start to the day.

Phở Ao Sen Restaurant

For many years, Ao Sen was, in the eyes of many Vietnamese food connoisseurs, the be all and end all of Oakland’s pho scene — the one spot where you could score a consistently satisfying bowl. These days, pho enthusiasts have more options, but Ao Sen’s clean, rich beef broth is still a reliable favorite. The restaurant also has a newer location in Albany.

Pho Tan Hoa | Vietnamese & Chinese Cuisine

This longtime Tenderloin favorite is a neighborhood staple for its dark, flavorful Southern-style beef pho, but its most distinctive offering is probably the #26 pho kho — a dry-style beef pho that comes with all the fixings, but with the broth served on the side for sipping. And for those looking for a spicier, punchier Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho Tan Hoa is also one of a handful of spots in the city that serves a reputable bowl of bun bo Hue.

Turtle Tower Restaurant

All conversations about Vietnamese food in SF tend to begin and end with Turtle Tower, the Tenderloin mainstay that’s spun off additional locations in SoMa and the Outer Richmond. Turtle Tower is best known as the city’s top destination for chicken pho — as belly-warming and comforting a bowl of soup as you’ll find in the city, especially the version with gizzards (for those who partake). But the beef pho is just as notable, especially because Turtle Tower is one of the only spots in the Bay Area that serves the clearer, less aggressively spiced Northern style that doesn’t come with the usual tangle of raw herbs.

Lily

Vietnamese-born chef Rob Lam (Perle) made a name for himself in the Bay Area cooking French and upscale Cal-Asian food before opening Lily, his first Vietnamese restaurant, during the pandemic — maybe the most forward-thinking and contemporary of the city’s upscale Vietnamese spots, even in its current takeout-only iteration. His take on pho ga, or chicken pho, features a confit chicken leg and pieces of fried cruller. Meanwhile, a side of intensely rich beef pho broth is the star of Lam’s take on a French dip sandwich.

Sidestreet Pho

Pho is the namesake dish at Alameda’s top Vietnamese restaurant, which gussies up an array of classic Vietnamese street foods, including a wide range of different versions of pho. Slightly nonconventional options include a vegetarian pho, an oxtail pho, and a luxe version that features sliced rib eye.

Bac Lieu Restaurant

This relative newcomer in Bernal Heights has garnered a following for its big bowls of savory, generously meaty pho. Beyond that, the restaurant specializes in the home-style cuisine of the southern Bac Lieu province, and it serves a wide range of dishes not commonly found at the city’s Vietnamese restaurants: shrimp-topped banh khot; bun bo Hue; hu tieu nam vang; and, especially, bun mam, the umami-laden noodle soup famous for its pungent hit of fermented fish paste.

Noodles Pho Me

Lao-style pho Noodles Pho Me

Probably the most idiosyncratic pho shop in the East Bay, Noodles Pho Me is a Laotian restaurant, primarily, and features a strong selection of traditional noodle soups from that cuisine — the khao soy is especially great. As for its namesake dish, the pho, too, is served in the style that you’d typically find in Laos — a darker, more heavily seasoned and intensely flavorful version that comes with all of the herbs already incorporated into the bowl (rather than served on the side).

Lao-style pho Noodles Pho Me

Pho Seven

Opened during the pandemic, this San Lorenzo newcomer already has a strong local following for its flavorful beef pho broth, as well as its selection of somewhat harder-to-find Vietnamese dishes: The bun bo Hue and crab-infused bun rieu are both strong additions to the local soup scene.

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