A Vietnamese resto in Maginhawa is the owner’s love letter to Saigon
Get to know Saigon through this Vietnamese joint in Maginhawa
Since restaurants first appeared within the then quiet neighborhood of Maginhawa years ago, the now bustling food street has sustained its popularity. But for Vietnamese national The Vinh Hoang, it is still not comparable to the food-lined streets of Saigon. He recalls how Saigon locals would stop by a shop to grab a banh mi and eat it on their bicycles, or how they would enjoy bottles of beer every night after work. Every restaurant there is focused on specific food, he explains.
That experience is what he is trying to bring to Maginhawa through Saigon Pho, a nondescript restaurant offering authentic Vietnamese cuisine that Hoang grew up with.
As its name suggests, Saigon Pho still highlights the popular Vietnamese noodle dish, cooked Saigon-style. When their pho bo arrives on your table, it’s presented without any fuss: an assemblage of herbs, some slices of beef, and bean sprouts sitting atop flat rice noodles. It looks almost too simple, but a spoonful of the hot, clear soup instantly reveals a rich savory flavor—the result of the beef being boiled for 10 hours. The soup also maintains fresh notes from various herbs. The dish is already flavorful, but you can still build on its taste with generous additions of hoisin, chili sauce, or lime.
With pho already gaining traction among the local dining crowd within the past couple of years, this hole-in-the-wall also included in its menu a less popular noodle dish called bún bò.
The primary difference between the two is the noodle’s shape: While pho uses flat rice noodles, bún bò features cylindrical ones swimming in reddish broth. When probed whether the noodle’s shape has a culinary implication, Hoang explains that it’s simply a matter of cultural preference. The bún bò has the same base soup and herbs as pho, but it’s slightly spicy. If you want to make it even more pungent, add an appropriate amount of their satay.
Saigon Pho’s menu is relatively short. According to Hoang, he intended to keep the menu that way so it could really center on the food he had eaten back in his hometown. Aside from the noodle dishes, they also offer other Vietnamese fares like banh mi and goi cuôn or Vietnamese spring rolls. Their spring rolls come with two choices of dips: their original sauce—tangy and spicy with a fish sauce flavor that is bolder and a bit sweeter than what Filipinos are used to—and the much sweeter peanut sauce that was created to cater to the Filipino palate. Hoang’s partner Joanna Gabiran explains how some diners associate their goi cuôn with lumpiang sariwa, which has a similar nutty sauce.
A meal here can be capped off the Vietnamese way with ca phe sua da or Vietnamese coffee, though to cleanse your palate, you can opt for their green tea. Their green tea is infused with jasmine flowers, making it more aromatic and relaxing.
Saigon Pho stays true to the refreshing taste of Vietnamese cuisine. Aside from its authenticity, it’s also Hoang’s love letter to his hometown. Opening it on the busy street of Maginhawa was like bringing home with him wherever he went.
Both Saigon Pho’s bún bò and pho bo use broth cooked for 10 hours. The bún bò has spherical rice noodles, while pho has flat ones.
Vietnamese coffee; Com tam with pork and egg