My first experience eating pho was in Santa Clara, California, when my colleagues took me to have lunch at a nearby Vietnamese place. It wasn’t anything special, but I quickly fell in love with the savory broth and slippery noodles. My favorite way to eat it is with a big squeeze of lime, a bit of basil and bean sprouts, a tiny dash of sriracha, and lots of sweet hoisin sauce.
Pho quickly became my go-to comfort dish. When I moved to Copenhagen a little more than one year ago, I missed it.
So one cold, rainy day, I found a place on Yelp with decent reviews and went there, in need of a warm bowl of soup. I was terribly disappointed. There were lemons instead of limes! No hoisin sauce! I concluded that Copenhagen just didn't do pho.
Until some colleagues recommended another place, which turned out to be decent. Okay, I thought. Maybe there is good pho here too—I'll just have to look harder!
Since then, I’ve given pho in Copenhagen a closer look. It's not as common here as in San Jose, which just makes it more of a challenge. I’ve tried five so far, and I figure this is a good point to report on what I've found.
Keep in mind that this is totally based on my Western taste-buds, and I’m comparing the soup here to what I ate in California (which I’m told is quite good, but it’s far from the source!). I’m planning a trip to Vietnam in April and I can’t wait to taste the real thing. Maybe my opinions will change after that; maybe not.
Until then, here’s the run-down of the first five places where I’ve eaten pho in Copenhagen, in the same order that I visited them:
1. Pho Saigon
Vesterbrogade 83, Vesterbro
Oh, how high my hopes were, and how quickly they were dashed! From the moment I was served lemons instead of limes I realized that it was not for me. The broth was not rich or layered, the taste was more like chicken soup. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Luckily, from here on things got better…
Abel Cathrines Gade 6, Vesterbro
I was told by my colleagues that "someone who used to go to Vietnam a lot liked the soup here". It’s not called “pho” on the menu – it’s called “Risnudelsuppe med oksekød” (Rice noodle soup with beef). But it is pho, and it’s good. I like the quality of the meat and the flavor, and I like that there are not too many onions. They also have hoisin sauce—bonus points!—you just have to ask for it.
This is my second-favorite place to get pho in Copenhagen – and at 85 kroner for a large bowl it’s a bargain. Their other dishes are pretty good too.
Dronningens Tværgade 12, City Center
I love District Tonkin’s bahn mi and their noodle bowls, so I had high expectations for the pho, which is only served after 6 pm. It is served with a lot of cilantro and bean sprouts.
My take? The soup was ok, but the broth itself is spicy on its own, which meant it’s harder to customize to your preferred level of spiciness. Maybe this is more authentically Vietnamese, but it’s just not my taste. Sadly, they didn't have any hoisin sauce to sweeten it up. I also found the meat gristly and chewy—such a shame as every other dish I've tried there was amazing.
I would still recommend District Tonkin overall, and highly recommend their sandwiches and noodle bowls. The atmosphere of the place itself is charming, located down a steep set of stairs in a cozy, cave-like atmosphere decorated with plants and teal-painted shutters. It's a pleasantly casual setting with chopsticks and condiments on the table and orders placed at the counter.
4. Bonjour Vietnam Café and Restaurant (pictured below)
Vesterbrogade 44, Vesterbro
I really enjoyed the pho here—rich, good quality of meat, served with chili sauce and hoisin sauce, and cilantro, lime, and bean sprouts on the side. The sauce portions were a bit small to start but they quickly provided more when I asked. I went with the Phở bò; they also have it with chicken.
My only complaints were that there were too many onions and not enough meat and noodles. To me, a good bowl of pho is going to have so many noodles that I can’t finish it, and with this one I was scraping the bottom of the bowl looking for more. For 149 kroner, this seemed a bit stingy.
We also tried the fresh spring rolls here, which were delicious, and my dining partner had a nice sizzling beef dish. The restaurant itself is dressed up a bit with white tablecloths; it seems to be popular with the theater crowd and they have a pre-theater menu.
5. Pho Hanoi (pictured below)
Vester Farimagsgade 6, city center
I inadvertently saved the best for last. My friend and I came here for lunch and ordered two bowls of pho and some fresh spring rolls. From the moment we received our nice chopsticks, lovely large plastic spoons, and saw the huge plate of basil, bean sprouts, and limes, I knew we were in for something good. The pho itself was delicious—hearty, layered, with tender meat and a generous portion of noodles. Large bottles of hoisin sauce and sriracha are on the table. Perfect.
The décor here is nothing special—it’s very similar to the places I used to go to in California, so I felt right at home. The fresh spring rolls with shrimp were lovely and hearty.
In the end...
My recommendation so far? Pho Hanoi hands down.
Good Morning Vietnam is a great choice if you’re at Mikkeller on Viktoriagade and need something quickly to soak up all the alcohol. Bonjour Vietnam is good if want a slightly fancy atmosphere and don't mind paying a higher price.
I’ll continue with my quest for the best pho in Copenhagen, and report back after I've been to Vietnam. I'm sure it will be an enlightening pho experience!
To be continued…