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Pho 50, Pho in Loehmann's Plaza Shopping Center on Route 50 in West Falls Church


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Our go to Pho 88 is somehow closed on Tuesday (!), so we gave Pho 50 a try. While they provided an uneven takeout meal last night, if we ordered more judiciously, we could have ended up with all hits. Of course, you need to limit yourself to only a couple items on the menu, but it's a small selection anyway.

I really liked the broth that formed the base of the soup. It was aromatic and flavorful, with a some good cooked in spice, so I didn't even feel the need to add rooster sauce. Toss in an ample portion of basil, cilantro, plum sauce, sprouts, and noodles to get a full-flavored pho and a filling meal. I got my order with the meatballs, which were terrible. Unidentifiable and inedible meat compacted into a tasteless, hard and yet somehow also spongy ball. Given that I didn't want what ended up being plain pho, this was a cruel twist. My wife got the chicken, which looked fine.

We also got an order of each of their rolls. One version (spring rolls, I'm assuming) was fried and quite tasty. That was due mostly to the hard frying and the taste of the oil they use, as opposed to the ingredients in the roll. Whatever, tasty is tasty. The other was their soft roll in the clear wrapping, which didn't appear fresh and were bland. You're only tasting the dipping sauce at that point, and even for me (a sauce hound!) that wasn't enough.

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Our go to Pho 88 is somehow closed on Tuesday (!), so we gave Pho 50 a try. While they provided an uneven takeout meal last night, if we ordered more judiciously, we could have ended up with all hits. Of course, you need to limit yourself to only a couple items on the menu, but it's a small selection anyway.

I really liked the broth that formed the base of the soup. It was aromatic and flavorful, with a some good cooked in spice, so I didn't even feel the need to add rooster sauce. Toss in an ample portion of basil, cilantro, plum sauce, sprouts, and noodles to get a full-flavored pho and a filling meal. I got my order with the meatballs, which were terrible. Unidentifiable and inedible meat compacted into a tasteless, hard and yet somehow also spongy ball. Given that I didn't want what ended up being plain pho, this was a cruel twist. My wife got the chicken, which looked fine.

We also got an order of each of their rolls. One version (spring rolls, I'm assuming) was fried and quite tasty. That was due mostly to the hard frying and the taste of the oil they use, as opposed to the ingredients in the roll. Whatever, tasty is tasty. The other was their soft roll in the clear wrapping, which didn't appear fresh and were bland. You're only tasting the dipping sauce at that point, and even for me (a sauce hound!) that wasn't enough.

I'm surprised we didn't have a thread for Pho 50. When I don't feel like driving to Annandale, I'll often choose this over Pho 75 (there's a Pho 75 a 3-wood west of here, on the other side of Graham Road). In fact, I've been here three times in the past couple of months, and have been meaning to write about it. Assuming you're talking about the Pho 88 on Route 7 in Falls Church and not on Route 1 in Beltsville, Pho 50 is a superior rendition (I've been to Pho 88 once or twice; Pho 50 probably ten or twenty times over the years). It's not as "deep" as Pho Hot, but it's a good, honest broth that keeps me coming back.

The basil here is always washed (I'm certain that I've mentioned this before here because this is often not the case), and the broth seems like it's long-cooked; not made with a starter mix. Wouldn't you know that the most recent time I was here, in early October, I took a friend after pretty much raving about it, and the broth, while very good, was mild to a fault - almost bland, yet still had that long-cooked aspect that shows up in the finish.

A small bowl is $7.20, and a large bowl is $7.85, the large being perhaps 25% bigger and worth the upcharge assuming you're hungry enough to eat it. On this most recent visit (the only one I have scrawlings for), my dining companion got a small #10 with rare steak, flank, and tripe; I got a large #11 with rare steak, brisket, and flank - somehow, some fatty tendon snuck its way into my bowl (I like fatty tendon as a broth-enhancer since it's so full of collagen, and always let it sink to the bottom of the bowl before eating it (if I eat it at all - it's very tough and gelatinous)). We each got a cup of Cí  phè sữa ní³ng($3.25), a hot rendition of low-quality, canned, finely ground French espresso that you let drip onto sweetened condensed milk, stirring for a good 30 seconds when it's finished dripping to integrate the extremely thick condensed milk, turning the drink into a sugar- and caffeine-laden amusement park ride.

The coffee is quite potent, but of low quality, very much like your meatballs - now that Ba Bay Bistro on Capitol Hill has closed, there are no high-quality Pho meats in the DC area that I'm aware of. Even the worst ramen in the area that I know of (which might be Tanpopo in Annandale) has much higher-quality meats than the best Pho in the area that I'm aware of - as to why this phenomenon is, I just don't know, but Pho meats - and especially those nasty meatballs that I always eschew - are just plain bad, with the brisket sometimes even having a greenish tint (you seem like you might be implying that you like the meatballs at Pho 88 - I don't think I've had them there).

It sounds like you also got a "mild version" of the broth at Pho 50 which is consistent with my most recent visit, but very different than my previous two. In general, I only lightly doctor my Pho broth, but on this occasion, I really went to town - when I squeeze lime juice and shake fish sauce, that's a rare moment indicating that the broth is under-seasoned (although I do usually add just a touch of plum sauce and Sriracha, with as many sprouts and as much basil as I can get, immediate flipping the noodles onto the top so they can stop cooking, and allowing the sprouts to cook at the bottom). Do give Pho 50 another try - it is consistent and reliable.

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The basil here is always washed (I'm certain that I've mentioned this before here because this is often not the case), and the broth seems like it's long-cooked; not made with a starter mix. Wouldn't you know that the most recent time I was here, in early October, I took a friend after pretty much raving about it, and the broth, while very good, was mild to a fault - almost bland, yet still had that long-cooked aspect that shows up in the finish.

...

It sounds like you also got a "mild version" of the broth at Pho 50 which is consistent with my most recent visit, but very different than my previous two. In general, I only lightly doctor my Pho broth, but on this occasion, I really went to town - when I squeeze lime juice and shake fish sauce, that's a rare moment indicating that the broth is under-seasoned (although I do usually add just a touch of plum sauce and Sriracha, with as many sprouts and as much basil as I can get, immediate flipping the noodles onto the top so they can stop cooking, and allowing the sprouts to cook at the bottom). Do give Pho 50 another try - it is consistent and reliable.

Pho 50 still washes their basil, but based on a Large #6 ($7.95) today, I'm a little worried about their broth. This used to be a reliable source for rich, beefy Pho, but the last two times I've been, it's almost as if it was made with chicken stock - and not much of it.

There's a certain "register" that different stocks play on your palate: beef stock is heavy on the bass tones; chicken stock is heavy on the treble - but both have a long, undeniable finish that sings, "Meat!" Today's broth had that high-toned chicken quality (which should have been beef with steak and brisket as the add-ons), but what's worse was that the finish dropped off quickly - too quickly. It was correctly salty, but that long, deep, satisfying, unctuous note that long-cooked Pho broth features just wasn't there. I'm not saying they used a starter mix, but I'm also not saying they didn't. There were a few tiny bubbles of meat-fat on top of the broth, but not enough of them for my taste - I don't need a reduced, thickened broth, but I need something with a little more intensity than this.

Next time I go down Graham Road and cross Route 50, I'm going to take a left into Pho 75, instead of a right into Pho 50.

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