Pho Haus didn't invent the pho burrito — or phorrito, as we prefer to call it. In fact, the young restaurant, which opened about seven months ago at 540 East Alameda Avenue, doesn't even list the unusual dish on its regular menu — yet. But Instagram photos of fat burritos filled with thin-sliced brisket and rice noodles posted by owners Annie Tran and Aaron Lam have created a steady stream of customers looking for something new and delicious.
Credit for the first commercially available phorrito likely goes to a Los Angeles eatery called Komodo, but Tran says she initially heard of it while living in the San Francisco area. Still, she and Lam didn't plan on offering a phorrito at Pho Haus until they noticed that their noodle-soup sales were dropping as the weather warmed up; the pho lovers who'd been stopping by their place to shake off the winter chill were now looking for other options. So Lam added white and whole-wheat flour tortillas to the restaurant's inventory and began selling pho burritos as an off-menu special advertised on Instagram.
Lam's family owned the original Thai Basil that occupied this building for years before they decided to close the place in order to focus more on their real estate business. (Other Thai Basil locations around the city are independently owned by other family members; the Park Meadows outpost was recently shuttered.) After Thai Basil left West Washington Park, the space briefly became My Ramen 2, but the owner closed up shop last fall, leaving a full kitchen of stock pots and other cooking equipment to Lam and Tran. They launched their Vietnamese menu with Tran's mother's pho recipe, along with a few other classic creations and hard-to-find specialties.
Pho is the main attraction, though: Pho Haus serves a traditional broth with ginger, star anise and a touch of sweetness, but also lists the "Haus Pho," which is spicier and brighter than standard pho, with mild shrimp paste standing in for the more pungent fish sauce found in most recipes. Protein options range from rare steak, brisket and meatball to shredded chicken and tofu, with an all-vegetable bowl also available.
The pho burrito is equally customizable. Tender brisket is an obvious choice, but Tran also recommends the grilled chicken or beef used to top the restaurant's rice and noodle bowls. The burrito comes with a side broth for dipping, so you choose between the Haus or traditional broth. Cilantro, a smear of hoisin sauce and a nest of rice noodles tucked inside the tortilla complete the dish; you could also add a squirt of sriracha, though the Haus broth packs a decent kick on its own.
Pho Haus also strays from tradition with its banh mi, served as a trio of sliders with a choice of pork belly, brisket, fried tofu or Vietnamese pork patty, which has a texture similar to that of Spam, but with a less processed flavor. The kitchen modernizes a few other time-honored dishes, too. The crepe-like banh xeo, made with rice flour and turmeric (giving it a distinct yellow cast), normally comes with sliced shrimp and pork embedded in the batter, but here you can order it with the same protein options found in the banh mi sliders.
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Lam says he was originally worried about competing with the myriad pho shops on Federal Boulevard, a quick drive away along Alameda Avenue. But Wash Park neighbors like to walk the area, and they've welcomed a nearby option whose dishes are more adventurous. "We want to be the first to incorporate traditional dishes and also offer something new," he adds.
Our recommendation? Go now for a pho burrito lunch if you want to maintain your cred as an adventurous eater, then head back with friends (you can tell them you discovered the place; your secret's safe with us) to dine on Pho Haus's fragrant soups, banh xeo, and such traditional Vietnamese entrees as thit kho (cubes of braised pork belly with hard-boiled eggs cooked in the braising liquid) and ca ri ga (chicken curry).
While Lam says he's been hesitant to add the pho burrito to the printed menu, he'll continue ordering flour tortillas — the only ingredient not already part of the regular offerings — at least through summer. Get yours now before Pho Haus calls it a wrap.
Pho Haus is located at 540 East Alameda Avenue and is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 9:30 p.m. (it's closed on Tuesdays). Call 720-710-9918 or visit the Pho Haus website for more details.