Pho 88

June 2006 Cheap Eats

Pho begins as humble oxtail bones floating in water and ends up, 12 hours later, as an aromatic elixir that many claim has curative properties.

Every pho place waters down its giant stock pots throughout the day to extend the life of the broth. So it matters that this Beltsville cafe, whose cheery warmth stands in contrast to the brusque efficiency of some pho parlors, begins with a liquid that's extra rich–an almost oleaginous broth that results from the collagens in the connective tissues of the simmering oxtail bones.

Even when the broth gets thinner than it should be, the difference is appreciable. Much as an oily chicken noodle soup provides a boost of homey comfort, this beefy richness gives the tired and the rundown–a prime pho-eating demographic–a sense of being nursed back to life.

Oddly, the add-ons of beef–including beef brisket, beef tendon, beef flank–are not quite as soft and tender as they could be, but a platter of mint, holy basil, and sprouts is as fresh as any you'd find in a farmers market.

An assortment of freshly prepared bubble teas and smoothies might not be an ideal fit with your meal, their intense sweetness tending to obscure the subtler charms of the pho, but they make a good finish.

Appetizers $3.09, entrées $5.72 to $10. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.