Growing up in warm, season-less Southern California, I was never introduced to Vietnamese food – particularly the popular meal soup, pho. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest and saw a pho joint on practically every corner that I learned what it was. When I realized that many places in Seattle created totally vegan options for the traditionally meat-laden dish, I knew I had to try it. Soon after, my pho love was born. When you’re sick, it’s rainy and cold out, or you’re feeling too lazy to cook, a steaming bowl of take-out pho is truly a wondrous sight.
When I moved to Tacoma, I didn’t know any other vegans, and thus avoided Vietnamese restaurants. I presumed that there wouldn’t be any phoptions (get it?) for me, and quick Yelp searches didn’t yield anything to prove me wrong. Eventually, I got the courage to start asking at restaurants that I knew served pho. I think my requests were lost in translation, and on a few occasions I realized that I’d received pho that was in meaty broth, an awful feeling for any vegan.
Disappointed and honestly grossed out, I quit my search again. That was, until I discovered a few places a year or so later.
People on Yelp finally started dishing out the good news that yes, animal-free pho does exist in the city, and I went to all the places I could find that cooked 100% vegan pho. I know I’ve heard from a few others that there are other places that serve veg-friendly pho, but I’m so smitten with my staples that I have yet to try them. With all that said, here are my top four recommendations (in order) on where to grab you vegan pho in Tacoma.
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4) Pho Than Bros. – Full disclosure: I’ve yet to eat at either the Than. Bros. location on Pacific Ave. in Tacoma or on S. Tacoma Way in Lakewood. Despite that, I’ve eaten at four Seattle-based locations of the family-owned chain, and thus feel qualified to comment on their South Sound locations. Pho Than Bros. keeps things simple: they just serve tasty pho (and their free cream puffs – but pass these to a friend, they’re not vegan), minimal ambiance and they only accept cash. The pho broth is salty sweet and filled with veggies, but there’s a trick to ordering your pho vegan here: even if you ask for the vegetarian tofu pho, make sure to specify vegetarian broth. It doesn’t always come with the order. They definitely use MSG here, but it’s tasty enough if you need a quick, cheap dinner with leftovers to spare.
10435 Pacific Ave. S.
Tacoma, WA 98444
P: (253) 548-8886
8515 S. Tacoma Way
Lakewood, WA 98499
P: (253) 582-5120
Other resources: Seattle Vegan Score’s review of Than Bros. in her “Vegan Pho Tour of Seattle” post: http://www.veganscore.com/2010/12/vegan-pho-tour-of-seattle.html
3) Pho 701: Located on busy Pacific Ave. in downtown, Pho 701 has a lot going for it. Other pho places are a bit away and many downtown employees are constantly searching for a new place to run to on their lunch hour, (myself included!). I’ve been to the restaurant a few times now, and I’ve noticed a trend: dependably delicious food every time, sometimes spotty service. I’d say that I’m more patient than the average person when it comes to food service, but I’ve gotten back to work late a few times while eating at 701 for lunch. Maybe it’s just due to the time I go, but regardless, I will keep going back. All right, let’s focus on the good: employees are super sweet, and a regular-sized bowl of their tofu vegetable pho will run you $6.95. The broth is a little less flavorful than some other local places, but the abundance of fresh veggies used in the soup more than makes up for it. Their vegetable spring rolls are wonderful, and I’ve heard they have vegan bahn mi, but have yet to try it. Pho 701 was formerly a quaint bistro/bar called Seven-Oh-One, and thankfully, the new Vietnamese restaurant has kept up the inviting and modern decor that was left from the prior tenants. It’s a great spot to people watch and sit outside during the summer. Whether you dine in alone, with friends or on a date, you can’t go wrong. Added bonus: full bar (!), and a great happy hour: 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
701 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
2) Pho King: Pho King caught my attention before their doors opened for two reasons: 1) the name, (yes, I am a 12-year-old) and 2) the fact that they placed a typed notice to their door that said: “we have 100% vegetarian pho!” Sign me up, pals.
Pho King’s vegan pho contains vegetables, but they’re minimal: just carrots and broccoli. Some are happy with the lesser veggie-filled bowls, but I prefer my pho teeming with ‘em. One thing Pho King’s soup really has going for it: an insanely flavorful broth. I think about their broth days after eating there. Gingery, spicy and perfectly rich, it has to be one of the best I’ve ever had. They also do not skimp on the tofu in their veggie pho! You can’t tell from the picture above, but every bowl I’ve had has been generously filled with their flavorful, tender tofu, and I love it. I sometimes get their spring rolls which are decent, but I have yet to try their tofu bahm mi, which I’ve heard friends rave about. Beware of the non-vegan cream puffs here as well. Pho King is really lacking in the atmosphere department, but that doesn’t sway me at all. My food has always been quick to arrive, they stay open later than most nearby Vietnamese restaurants, service is friendly and prices are just right. Eat in or to-go, Pho King is always an excellent choice.1020 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Tacoma, WA 98405 (253) 272-6287
Other resources: Pho King’s Yelp page. Check out reviews by my friends Roxanne, Leah C. and Susan, (S.N.) for deets on their vegan experiences there: http://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-king-tacoma
1) Pho V&V: The #1 winner for the best vegan pho in Tacoma for me will always be Pho V&V. Always. I can’t even recall how I first heard of them, but ever since that first visit, I’ve been one of their biggest supporters and tell everyone I know to go there – vegan or not. All of Pho V&Vs phos are MSG-free, the owner loves jazz music so there’s always some playing, their spring rolls (and peanut sauce) are my favorite around, and the proprietors are really nice, albeit quiet people. I had the pleasure of interviewing the owner for an article, (see below), and he has an interesting story. He used to teach music in Vietnam, and jazz has always been his favorite. Cooking was more of a hobby, but when he moved to the US, it became his livelihood. I’m so glad he did move here, because he and his wife understand that vegetarians and vegans need delicious Vietnamese food, too. As I mention in my Yelp review, the trick to optimizing your tofu pho experience at V&V is to order it with extra veggies. If you don’t say “extra veggies,” there won’t be any, so if you’re a purist go that route. I’ve ordered it with extra tofu, too, but found it to be a bit much and thus am fine with the traditional serving. I always have leftovers the next day, and dress it up with the leftover Thai basil, jalapeno, rice noodles, lime and of course, ample Sriracha. The decor is minimal, but the service has always been friendly, quick and the food is downright delicious.5434 S Tacoma Way
Tacoma, WA 98409 (253) 475-6165
Other resources: Pho V&V Yelp reviews, (including mine): http://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-v-and-v-vietnamese-restaurant-tacoma
My review of Pho V&V in the Tacoma Weekly, (printed March 31, 2010): http://www.tacomaweekly.com/news/view/get_your_pho_with_a_side_of_jazz/
Tacoma vegans: where are your favorite places in town to get pho? Have I been missing out on a spot that I should check out soon?