Veggie Girl: Pho 95 dishes up steaming hot noodle soup

Pho 95, 1002 South Federal Boulevard, has won over other writers on these pages: first, Jason Sheehan, who titled his August 2009 review "Bowled over by Pho 95"; and again when the restaurant won Best Pho in this year's Best Of Denver. I haven't been to the new location at the Streets at Southglenn, which looks much swankier than the Federal digs, but I can confess to being addicted to Pho 95's noodle soup months before it was reviewed.

The story of how I found the restaurant is actually a tad Sheehan-esque, so I'll keep it simple for brevity's sake. I learned to love pho a couple of years ago; the restaurant I usually frequented made the mistake of serving me and my husband some raw shrimp appetizers once (back when we still considered ourselves omnivores); he (understandably) refused to go back; I was pissed off because that meant I didn't get to eat pho anymore; we argued. Then we started really scouring the city for a new place that served an honest-to-Gaia vegetarian pho -- no beef broth (yes, I know it's traditional). Pho 95 -- on that strip of Federal Boulevard littered with Vietnamese restaurants containing different combinations of "pho" and a numeral in their titles -- is where we ended up. When I walked in the door and saw dozens of Vietnamese waiting on or enjoying their pho, I had a feeling we were in the right place. And after one bite, it was clear the search was over. It was love.

Turns out, Pho 95 also serves a bun chay, rice noodles with vegetables and tofu in a bowl. But I couldn't tell you what it tastes like, because I've never tried it. Why would I? They make the best pho I've ever tasted. Period, end of story. You don't go to a restaurant that makes the best of something and order something else -- not if you're me, anyway.

I always start with the goi cuon chay, a spring roll filled with vegetables, rice noodles and tofu, wrapped in the thinnest of rice paper and served with a peanut sauce (topped with shredded carrots and crushed peanuts) that sure tastes house-made. I like to savor my spring roll (the $3.25 order comes with two sizable rolls) while gazing at the giant platter of fixings they drop off for the pho almost as soon as you order it: crunchy sprouts, lime wedges, jalapeno slices, Thai basil bunches and lengths of dandelion leaves. It seems like no matter how large a bowl of pho I order, I can never make a dent in that gleaming white platter of additions.

Not only is this some of the best pho you'll eat, but it's also at one of the most reasonable prices in town: $5.25 for a small bowl (which is sufficient for a decent lunch), $6 for a medium bowl (pictured at top -- and I almost always have leftovers to take home) and $6.45 for a large bowl. The large might not be quite as sizable as the $35 Pho King Challenge bowl, but I've never been able to finish more than half of it. If you love leftover pho, definitely go with the large.

I add my fixings -- a couple of squeezes of lime, two slices of jalapeno, a bunch or two of Thai basil that I tear up into my bowl, a handful of sprouts and a squeeze of Sriracha (Pho 95 does make its own house chili sauce, but call me uncultured; I prefer the stuff out of the bottle). This is one of the few times I've seen Pho 95 less than packed -- but it was early in the evening on Father's Day, so the half-full dining room might have gotten more business later.

When you order the vegetarian pho, be sure to specify that you'd like it with vegetable broth (if you forget, it's copacetic; the waiters always ask if you don't specify upfront). The tofu is lightly battered and fried, crispy on the outside and creamy inside, floating in the broth with sliced onion, sliced carrot, celery, broccoli and chives, all covering a heaping helping of rice noodles.

Pho 95 is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; they do carry-out for an additional 25 cents. They also offer boba smoothies, black coffee, Vietnamese tea and daquiris. Call 303-936-3322.

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.
Amber Taufen has been writing about people, places and things in Denver since 2005. She works as an editor, writer, and production and process guru out of her home office in the foothills.
Contact: Amber Taufen