Just like Louisiana’s gumbo, a warm, comforting bowl of Vietnamese pho can vary depending on the region. In Baton Rouge, there are more than a dozen restaurants in town that serve up the flavorful noodle soup, and most subscribe to either the northern or southern Vietnam versions of pho.
Northern pho uses a wider set of rice noodles with a clearer, simpler broth. Chicken or minced rare beef are the proteins of choice, with lots of green onion, rice vinegar, fish sauce and chili sauce.
Southern pho has a sweeter and spicier broth, with a whole variety of red meats and other proteins as focal points. It’s typically topped with bean sprouts and herbs, along with lime, hoisin sauce, chili sauce and sliced chilies.
So, which version are you having at local restaurants? We took a closer look.
Family owned and operated Dang’s has served traditional Vietnamese cuisine on Florida Boulevard since the mid ’90s. That includes spring rolls, banh mi, hu tieu, vermicelli bowls and bubble milk tea.
Regional influence: Manager Tina Truong is originally from Saigon, and says Dang’s pho is most similar to the southern Vietnamese style.
What’s in it: Although there are numerous proteins one can add, they are all served in beef broth. Dang’s spicy combination, eye round brisket and spicy seafood pho are the most popular options, Truong says. “We cook [the pho] for hours and hours,” she says. “We cook ours for 12 hours-plus.”
Dang’s is at 12385 Florida Blvd.
Pho Cafe not only serves Vietnamese cuisine but also frozen yogurt and coffee in its brightly lit space on Sherwood Boulevard.
Regional influence: The restaurant’s recipe and its presentation are similar to southern Vietnam, according to server Tommy Nguyen.
What’s in it: He says the top four proteins are represented in the “standard order” of rare eye round steak, combination (rare eye round, brisket, flank and meatballs), chicken and seafood. Pho Cafe’s key ingredients for the broth are cinnamon and clover, according to Nguyen. The restaurant serves bean sprouts and herbs like basil and cilantro on the side.
Pho Cafe is at 3851 South Sherwood Forest Blvd., Suite, 2, 3 and 4.
Despite the name, this restaurant doesn’t just serve pho and tea. Simply Pho & Tea’s menu includes egg rolls, spring rolls, po-boys, rice plates and banh mi.
Regional influence: The owner says their recipe is most similar to southern Vietnam’s style of pho.
What’s in it: Its most popular version of pho is the combination (beef steak, brisket and meatball). The restaurant’s presentation consists of rice noodles, diner’s choice of protein and green onions served in hot beef broth. On the side: basil, cilantro, jalapeño pepper and lime.
Simply Pho and Tea is at 9878 Jefferson Highway, Suite A.
Right off LSU’s campus, you can step into Pandan Vietnamese Teahouse & Cafe for a quick meal or to play board games with friends.
Regional influence: Its recipe is more like the southern region of Vietnam, according Pandan’s Jonathan Nguyen, thanks to the addition of grilled onions seasoned with plenty of cinnamon and ginger.
What’s in it: Although the beef pho is the only pho option on the menu, Nguyen says, it remains one of its most popular items. “It takes about 12 hours or more [to cook pho],” Nguyen says. “The key [ingredient] is probably the beef bone.” Nguyen adds the seasonings for hours to the beef bone broth, slow cooking it overnight and finishes seasoning in the morning.
Pandan Vietnamese Teahouse & Cafe is at 3260 Highland Road, Suite 9.
One of the differences between Drunken Fish and the numerous Vietnamese restaurants in the area is that it also serves Japanese cuisine.
Regional influence: “Our pho is cooked the southern way and is topped with fresh vegetables such as basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, jalapeños and lime,” says owner Chris Vo.
What’s in it: Customers can customize their pho with either beef, meatballs, brisket, chicken, combination (the beef, meatball, brisket and tripe), tofu or noodles.
Drunken Fish is at 4410 Highland Road.
Cafe Mimi in downtown Baton Rouge not only serves Vietnamese cuisine, but also serves Southern comfort food and vegan options.
Regional influence: Its version is a Louisiana take on the southern Vietnam style of pho with local spices, says co-owner Julie Carlson.
What’s in it: The pho consists of rice noodles and fresh herbs with the option of either beef and brisket or shrimp, served in beef broth. Although only in business since 2017, the restaurant’s pho has remained one of its most popular dishes. Cafe Mimi’s pho is cooked overnight, low and slow, for 12 to 14 hours.
Cafe Mimi is at 329 Florida St.
Other places to try
Of course, we can’t fit every local Vietnamese restaurant in this story. But here are some other favorites around town to check out: Ava Street Cafe, Bao Vietnamese Kitchen, Viet Garden, Little Saigon and Saigon Noodles.
Which ones are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!