100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes: Pho at Wonderbowl Vietnamese Restaurant

No. 42: Pho at Wonderbowl Vietnamese Restaurant
925 S. Federal Blvd.

The best pho combines complex and mysterious flavors with simplicity and comfort. Pho may have its origins in the street markets of Vietnam, but it's still nothing more or less than beef and noodle soup. Whether eaten in the morning to drive away the chill or on a hot summer night to induce a cooling sweat, pho doesn't give a glimpse into the mind of a chef so much as it envelopes you in the soul of a cook.

Wonderbowl opened last year next to Pho Duy, a simple joint with a short menu that has been long established as one of Denver's favorite stops for pho. Operated by members of the Pho Duy family (more specifically, by the owners of Pho Duy 6 in Broomfield), Wonderbowl offers a broader menu of entrees as well as less familiar bowls with a variety of noodle types, broth bases and ingredients. The pho, though, stands as evidence of Wonderbowl's deft touch: Undercurrents of spice form intriguing eddies of flavor, but beef is the dominant force that draws you in and keeps you eating. Onion, ginger and touch of star anise add to the blend without creating havoc on the palate, allowing the slow-cooked stock's bone-derived depth to be the star. 

While the list of possible ingredient combinations is as long as at other typical pho houses, the #1 combination gives the most variety of textures and flavors, with rare steak, flank, brisket, tendon and tripe.The meats are piled so high that they form an island in the center of the bowl and you must dig deep before encountering any noodles. There's just enough room to stir in hanks of basil and whichever other fresh add-ins you choose from plate heaped generously with options. Big shreds of clean white tripe give a delicate chew to the mix, while the other meats range from thin-sliced and tender steak to falling-apart brisket. The tendon is sliced small and helps thicken the broth without being too obtrusive. Even a small bowl is a filling lunch, packed full of homey goodness and warming seasoning: Someone in the kitchen at Wonderbowl is definitely looking out for you.

In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're been loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city before the issue hits the streets on March 26. If there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section, or shoot us an e-mail at [email protected]

Hungry for more? All the dishes in our countdown are linked below.

No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta
No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant
No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class
No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch 
No. 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa
No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's
No.94: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle
No. 93: Kettle Chips from Amerigo Delicatus
No. 92: Pork Belly Confit at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar
No. 91: Tacos Campechanos from La Calle Taqueria
No. 90: Biscuits from Denver Biscuit Co.
No. 89: Clams and Chorizo at Gozo
No. 88: Aburi Sushi at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den
No. 87: Kimchi and Sausage Torta at City, O' City
No. 86: Mar y Tierra Molcajete at Paxia
No. 85: Crispy Pork Spare Ribs at Table Top
No. 84: Chips and Dip at Euclid Hall
No. 83: Chile Relleno Burrito at El Taco de Mexico
No. 82: Scallop Crudo at Stoic & Genuine
No. 81: Ceylon Curry Dosa at Khazana
No. 80: The Lambada Torta at La Torteria
No. 79: Pork Bulgogi at Dae Gee
No. 78: the Pulled Pork Pig Pen Sandwich at Boney's
No. 77: IPA Mac & Cheese at Hops & Pie
No. 76: Chiles en Nogada at Chili Verde
No. 75: Udon Noodle Bowl at Bones
No. 74: Cinnamon Rolls at the Duffeyroll Cafe
No. 73: Smoked Turkey Croque-Madame at Acorn
No. 72: Pickled Lake Michigan Perch at Trillium
No. 71: Oysters at Jax Fish House Glendale
No. 70: Venezuelan Tostadas at Empanada Express Grill
No. 69: Tahini Cauliflower from Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
No. 68: The Ham and Cheese Tartita from Maria Empanada
No. 67: Ronnie's Favorite from Rosenberg's Bagels and Deli
No. 66: Shoo-fly Pie from the Long i Pie Shop
No. 65: Czech Potato Pancakes at Sobo 151
No. 64: Fried Chicken at the Post Brewing Co.
No. 63: Braised Brisket Sandwich at Masterpiece Delicatessen
No. 62: The Scotch Egg from Argyll Whisky Beer
No. 61: Butternut Squash Ravioli at DiFranco's
No. 60: Sesame Balls at Vinh Xuong Bakery
No. 59: Curry Puffs at Suvipa Thai Food
No. 58: Diavola Pizza at Pizzeria Locale
No. 57: Chorizo Breakfast Stew at DJ's 9th Avenue Cafe
No. 56: The Rare Beast Sandwich at Salt & Grinder
No. 55: 48-Hour Short Ribs at Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
No. 54: Marrow Bone Brulee at Mercantile Dining & Provision
No. 53: Prawns and Pork Belly at Blackbelly Market
No. 52: Belgian Waffles from Waffle Up
No. 51: Nashville Hot Chicken at Lou's Food Bar
No. 50: Breakfast Burrito from Chickee's Lil Kitchen 
No. 49: Monkfish and Romanesco at TAG
No. 48: Cabeza Tacos at Taqueria El Trompito
No. 47: Pupusas Revueltas at Pupuseria San Salvador
No. 46: Sesame Pockets at Golden Plate II
No. 45: Tuna Mousse at Cart-Driver
No. 44: Tavern Tots at the Highland Tavern  
No. 43: Carne Asada Fries at North County

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation