Global Cuisine

Short Stop: Pho, Minus the Broth, at Pho & Bar

The pho roll is loaded with flavor-boosting garnishes.
The pho roll is loaded with flavor-boosting garnishes. Molly Martin
Denver's dining scene is making a big post-pandemic comeback, and we're hungering to get back out. With so many new ventures and old favorites to visit after more than a year of restaurant shutdowns and restrictions, the choices can be overwhelming. So we're serving up Short Stop, with recommendations for things that should definitely be on your culinary short list. This week, it's all about pho rolls from Pho & Bar.

What: Pho roll

Where: Pho & Bar, 1600 East 17th Avenue

When: Open 1 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays)


For more info: Visit phoandbar.com

click to enlarge Cocktails, sake and more are available at Pho & Bar. - MOLLY MARTIN
Cocktails, sake and more are available at Pho & Bar.
Molly Martin
The place: Pho & Bar opened in the fall of 2020 at 1600 East 17th Avenue, the former home of Jack's Uptown Grill (which is slated to reopen at 1475 South Pearl Street this summer). In the process, it brought Asian flavors back to a spot that once housed chef/restaurateur Mary Nguyen's P17.

Pho & Bar is owned by Annie Tran and Aaron Lam, the people behind East Alameda's Pho Haus, where former Westword food editor Mark Antonation found off-menu pho burritos in 2018.

Even so, Pho & Bar wasn't on my radar until I spotted a big bowl of pho on local food Instagram and TikTok-er @denverfoodscene's feed on July 6. While I love the flavor of pho, I rarely find myself craving super brothy soups, so when I swiped through the photos on the Pho & Bar post and saw a pho roll, I knew it had to be mine.

Two days later, I arrived right as the restaurant opened (1 p.m.) and was the first guest of the day. The space is airy and inviting, with ample outdoor seating. I chose a place at the bar, in front of the shelves filled with empty green Lucky Buddha beer bottles; on the wall to the left is an eye-catching mural by Jon Pucci. As its name implies, Pho & Bar does indeed have a full bar with house cocktails (the Lychee Mule was tempting, but I stuck with water), wine, beer and sake.

Three other parties arrived while I was there, all of which were returning customers. I soon saw why.
click to enlarge The crispy VFC wings are another must-try here. - MOLLY MARTIN
The crispy VFC wings are another must-try here.
Molly Martin
What you're eating: The pho roll is just under the small plates section on the menu, along with "fresh rolls" (spring rolls) and egg rolls. The dish is popular in Hanoi, although it doesn't appear to traditionally include all of the garnishes added at Pho & Bar. Here, sheets of pho noodle are rolled around lemongrass beef and shredded, pickled carrot and daikon; the roll is topped with a smattering of red onion, chile oil, fried shallots, mint, Thai basil and fiery fresh red Thai chile. It's then sliced into four pieces and served bathed in fragrant fish sauce.

I picked up a whole slice with chopsticks — a slight challenge given its size and the number of toppings, but the right way to eat it if you want to experience every flavor and texture at once. Herbaceous, bright and spicy notes hit simultaneously with crunch from the onions and shallots, and the veggies inside the roll. The overall flavor was definitely reminiscent of pho, but the fish sauce gave it an unexpected boost: a satisfyingly salty smack that will keep you going back for more. This might be an appetizer made for sharing, but I'd prefer to have one all to myself.

I also tried the crispy VFC wings which were similarly flavored, though more simply, with the same fish sauce, bits of Thai chile and crispy fried garlic — another winner.

While I didn't try Pho & Bar's eponymous dish, this spot, like the sibling Pho Haus, offers a traditional broth, a spicier house broth and a vegan option, all available with your choice of protein and extras including a robust umami blast from black garlic oil. (For research purposes, I did dunk a chicken wing into that; no regrets.) Rice and noodle bowls, banh mi and additional small plates like edamame and Vietnamese cotija corn round out the menu.

If you love pho — with broth or without — Pho & Bar's pho roll is a unique alternative. I haven't found anything similar on other menus around town, and it's an ideal snack-sized bite on a hot summer day.
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin