Chicken Sate Soup at Nho Saigon
My neighbourhood Vietnamese restaurant is fast, inexpensive, fresh and tasty. The chicken sate soup – number 17, $8.95 – is so tasty that I could happily slurp a bowl a few times a week. What makes Nho Saigon’s sate soup different is that instead of a brown, coconut-based broth, Nho’s broth is a creamy, bright red, spicy combination of ground peanuts and chili paste. It’s an unusual, but extremely satisfying flavour -not too spicy, but hot enough to make your nose run. The best part is the final few spoonfuls at the bottom of the bowl, thick with ground peanuts, chilli paste and the last few bites of shredded chicken breast. Perfect on a cold February evening or enjoyed with a frosty beer on a warm summer day. Heck, I’d drink a mug for breakfast. It’s just that good.
(2111 33 Ave. S.W., 403-264-1388)
Pho with Rare Beef at Pho Chu The
For years, no matter what Vietnamese restaurant I walked into, I ordered the same thing: vermicelli noodles with as much variety of pork as I could possibly get. That’s because pho at the majority of pho joints around town left me unimpressed. Watery, bland noodle soup with a few pieces of marginal beef thrown on top didn’t do it for me – and that’s what I came to believe all pho was.
Until my first meal at Pho Chu The, where the homemade broth raises this pho above all others. It’s not merely good – it’s excellent. The depth of flavour in the broth and the aroma of the spices won me over from the first spoonful. And it’s not just the numerous varieties of beef pho but the chicken and various sate pho as well. They’re all good and plentiful, and cost $8.45 (small) and $9.45 (large).
This modest family-owned and -run restaurant puts as much effort into the other items on the menu as well: spring rolls, chicken wings, barbecued pork, sate chicken and beef. All are universally good food made with care. But the pho is the best. -Jay Winans
(4633 Macleod Trail S., 403-457-3455)
Pho Sate at Pho Huong Viet Noodle House
The pho sate at Viet Huong is the alpha and the omega of pho in Calgary, in my humble opinion. The alpha, because it was the first pho I tried when I first moved here; the omega, because I rarely stray. At any given time, it’s likely the most-recent pho I’ve devoured.
And when I say devour, I mean devour. It’s all about the broth here. It’s rich and spicy and salty and piping hot. I have no idea what goes into making the perfect pho, and quite frankly I don’t want to know. I like the magic. It’s like the Internet or telephones – I’m constantly in awe.
I go for broke and order the large. It’s $8.95, a dollar more than the smaller size, and you get a bowl that’s almost embarrassingly large – akin to the brontosaurus burger Fred orders during the opening credits of The Flintstones. But it’s worth it. I eat as much as I can, and by the time I’m full, I’ve consumed the good parts – the rare beef, the noodles and loads of hot broth. -Ricky Zayshley
(3855 17 Ave. S.W., 403-686-3799)
Pho Tom Sate (Cay) at Co Do Vietnamese Restaurant
I’m one of those creatures-of-habit types who discovers the one thing she loves at a handful of restaurants and then orders that item exclusively on every visit. One of these creature comforts is the Pho Tom Sate (Cay). It’s a peanut sate tiger prawn rice noodle soup (spicy), at Co Do, the Vietnamese place on the same 17th Avenue S.W. block as the 100 Percent Legit barbershop and hip-hop clothing purveyor.
The sate broth has a nice heat to it without being overrun with those annoying little chili flakes that get stuck in your throat. Each bowl contains a nice handful of plump prawns, while adding the “extra veggies” for $1.50 provides a pat-on-the-back boost of carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Topped off with the de rigueur handful of sprouts and Thai basil, spicy little number 16a cures everything from hangovers to broken hearts.
A medium bowl is $7.95. There’s a large for $8.95 too, but I couldn’t tell you what that’s all about – a medium is all this stomach can slosh. -Shelley Arnusch
(1411 17 Ave. S.W., 403-228-7798)