There is no bad time for pho. It’s 10:30pm right now and the more I write about pho, the closer I am to convincing myself to hop in the car and go get a bowl as soon as I’m done.
While there are pho restaurants within walking distance of almost anywhere in Richmond, most of them close shortly after dinner and there are only a handful of Vietnamese noodle houses open past midnight. I count roughly 20 pho restaurants in Richmond but of those, only three are open after 12AM. And for two of those, that only applies on the weekend.
Pho 99 is a newer Vietnamese restaurant on Richmond’s “Food Street” or Alexandra Road. Compared to some old school pho places around town that have a perpetual layer of grease on everything, Pho 99 is squeaky clean in comparison.
The year-round palm trees with Christmas lights gives the restaurant an odd look but there is a bit of kitschy charm to it. The atmosphere is complete with various Asian concerts playing on the big screen TVs overlooking the dining area, much like you’d find at a lot of Hong Kong-style cafes.
Yes, that’s a plastic tablecloth underneath all that food.
The menu will be instantly recognizable by anyone that’s ever ordered Vietnamese beef noodles. Hot soup noodles, cold noodles, meat on rice or some combination of everything. At Pho 99, you can get your meal as a combo with a drink. Soupy pho combos even come with an appetizer.
Since it was a particularly hot summer day, I went with a cold vermicelli combo ($12.49, with a drink), which is strangely listed as “Veggie marinated prawns and grilled chicken with vermicelli”. While there are vegetables involved, this isn’t a vegetarian dish. The prawns and chicken are real prawns and chicken. The chicken was delicious and juicy, bursting with flavor from the savoury, tangy lemongrass marinade. The prawns are the tiniest, thinniest prawns I’ve ever seen and rather forgettable. As a whole though, this is a perfect summer dish. Toss the noodles with some fish sauce and give the whole thing a stir with some bean sprouts and you can satisfy your pho craving without overheating.
You can choose fried spring rolls or minced pork as options as well.
All the usual pho suspects like steak, flank and tendon were present and accounted for. There’s tripe but if you get a combo ($12.49 for a small with appetizer and drink, +$1.00 for a large noodle soup), you’ll have to ask for it since it isn’t listed on any of the options.
The soup is tasty and satisfying although not as rich and deep in flavor as some of our other favorite pho joints. The noodles are cooked nicely with a decent amount of spring and bounce.
There’s 8 options for the appetizer that comes with your combo. I wasn’t a big fan of the spring rolls but the chicken wings are delicious here.
As are the salad rolls. Pho 99 also has these wacky salad roll x sushi hybrids on the menu but we went with the classics.
If rice noodles aren’t your thing, you can just get rice ($12.49, with a drink and soup). While the lemongrass pork is also mouthwatering, the chicken is especially moist, tender and delicious. Along with some fish sauce and maybe a squirt of lime, this dish has an amazing balance of flavors with the savoury, juicy chicken, the rich egg yolk mixed into the rice and eaten with those tart, crunchy pickled vegetables. It seems like a simple thing to do but meals don’t get much more satisfying than lemongrass chicken on rice.
As with the noodles, there’s a number of different combinations you can go for. If you can’t decide between chicken and pork, well, why not both?
If there was any particular weakness in Pho 99’s game, it would be this soda lemonade. I usually get a soda lemonade at pho to balance out all the rich, salty flavours in my soup but my lemonade contained…very little lemon and a little too much sugar.
The good news is, the Vietnamese-style coffee is excellent. Someone needs to open a coffee shop dedicated entirely to Vietnamese coffee. If it were more convenient, I’d rather grab one of these than a Starbucks or a Double Double. The coffee flavour is so much stronger and if there’s something with sweetened condensed milk in it that isn’t delicious, I’ve yet to find it.
This rainbow explosion of a drink is called a (and I’m missing all the punctuation here) Suong Sa Hot Luu or palm jelly, jack fruit and coconut milk ($3.50).
I’m sure at least one of your Facebook friends has asked “Ramen or pho?” and my answer is usually along the lines of “Ramen reaches higher heights…but pho is far more consistant.” By that I mean that when ramen is really amazing, it’s really amazing but when it’s awful, it’s also really awful. The distance between them is enormous. I’ve had bad pho before too but usually even bad pho is still not bad. In my 15+ years of pho experience, there have maybe been a handful of bowls that were disappointing enough for me to put down my chopsticks.
That’s how I would summarize Pho 99: it’s excellent pho place but it isn’t going to blow your mind. It’s a comfortable, consistent choice where you know you’ll get food that you like without breaking your wallet in the process. All my friends agreed that our meal exceeded our expectations, even if there isn’t anything particularly stand out or special about Pho 99.
You can find Pho 99 at #180 – 8611 Alexandra Road. The parking situation here is actually better than most places on the same street since there are fewer shops sharing their lot but it’s still one of the busiest streets in Richmond. It’s open seven days a week from 11:00AM til midnight, except Friday and Saturday, when they’re open til 4:00AM.