I hail from the humble city of Bakersfield, California. We’re blessed with a great variety of delicious culinary options, but one dish that I am particularly proud of is our pho. Hearty, fresh, herbaceous and satisfying, this Vietnamese soup truly has it all. Pho is my personal favorite and a cult classic back home. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that my first instinct upon setting foot in Berkeley for the first time as a freshman was to find great pho.
My search has been extensive — and my caloric intake high — but through it all I’ve found two restaurants that I can safely and confidently recommend to anyone in search of a nice warm bowl of pho. However, I still have many more spots to try out, so by no means is this an extensive list.
Although unassuming from the outside, Super Super Pho located on San Pablo Avenue is what you dream every restaurant experience would be like: A hilarious owner that chats with you and makes you feel at home while you order, a spacious and pretty outdoor dining area (very important during the pandemic) and did I mention they also offer complimentary hot tea?
Super Super Pho’s food is just as great as the experience it offers. Of course, my go-to dish on the menu is their classic take on the beloved soup: pho. You can’t go wrong with their generous portions of broth, noodles and your choice of meat. There are no curveballs here, no gimmicks. If you’re looking for an authentic and traditional bowl of pho that’ll leave your mind and tummy satisfied, then this is the place to go.
If you’re in the market for a spicier broth or a more extensive menu, one minute down the road from Super Super Pho you’ll find Pho Le. Pho Le carefully blends Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese cuisine into one menu. Thai salad? They have it. General chicken with rice? They have it. Pho? Of course!
If you ever visit this place, you cannot leave without trying the house-style spicy beef noodle soup. The flavor profiles are parallel to traditional pho, but this dish transforms it into a whole new experience. The thicker noodles perfectly grasp the spicy chili oil and beefy broth. Add a pinch of lime to the bowl to brighten it up and allow your mouth to revel in the intense flavors.
Aside from the usual bowl of pho, Pho Le is also known for its fried chicken wings. The Pong Pong chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender and crispy. It’s also generously coated in their specialty sauce, reminiscent of a sweet and sour sauce but packed with an indescribable hidden punch. Do your mouth a favor and order the Pong Pong chicken. You won’t be disappointed.
Berkeley is known to be a city of hidden gems. I can confidently say that these two pho spots make the list. If you can’t decide on which of the two to try, they’re a minute’s walk away from each other, so why not try both out on the same day? Hop on board the next bus and go enjoy some great food!