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Pho Restaurants in the United States – Pho on the Move

September 17, 2009

Updated 09-22-09. Here are some stats on Vietnamese pho restaurants in the U.S. – part of a market analysis project I’m working on. The results are still preliminary but worth sharing. I had many sources, but the data presented here came from PhoFever.com’s own Pho Restaurant Directory. Thanks to Tom Nguyen of PhoFever.com for keeping up the database. I’ll share other interesting info as they become available.

Caveat #1. The pho restaurant industry in the U.S. is quite dynamic, and with the popularity of pho on the increase, new pho restaurants are open all the time. I don’t think there is a list anywhere that can call itself a complete pho restaurant directory. Since many available pho restaurant lists are really voluntary efforts, meaning the restaurants are either submitted by the restaurateurs themselves, or by diners giving reviews, the “most complete” list would have to be one that is active and updated often. I think PhoFever.com’s directory is a good starting point.

One thing is for sure: the actual pho restaurant industry is larger than shown here. Once we can include them all, I’m sure adjustments of the rankings for some markets will need to be made. Not all, just some.

Caveat #2. Because of the dynamic nature of the pho market and the voluntary nature of these databases, absolute numbers are not available at this point. Much more important, though, are trends for relative comparison and quick glance purposes. You won’t find exact numbers here, or anywhere else.

Caveat #3. Many many Vietnamese restaurants offer pho, but some specialty restaurants do not. Though they exist, I don’t expect many non-pho restaurants present in PhoFever.com’s Directory.

On with the stats. Below are some snapshots of the data. The market analysis itself is much more extensive. Click on the graphics to get larger versions.

Top U.S. Cities With Pho Restaurants

The first graph shows the top 15 American cities with the largest number of pho restaurants. Many of us take for granted that we have a pho shop right around the corner, within driving distance, or multiple places to go for our pho fix. For many others, such luxury is not available to them. Much more detailed stats to come.

Top US cities pho restaurants Pho Restaurants in the United States   Pho on the Move

Pho Restaurants in California Cities

An overwhelming number of Vietnamese live in California, with many many more pho lovers who are not Vietnamese. Here are the number of restaurants doing business in California cities. San Francisco leads the pack with trendy places, high tech-mined population, cool young and old people (both restaurateurs and diners,) and a huge number of Chinese/Viet descents. My San Diego is not doing too bad at rank number 5. Collectively though, Orange County is still the place to go if large numbers matter to you.

Pho restaurants by CA cities Pho Restaurants in the United States   Pho on the Move

Pho Restaurants by States

Of course east and west coasts of the U.S. have the most pho restaurants. Houston, Texas stands its own ground smack in the center of the country, of course with a very large Viet presence there. So what’s amazing? It’s the fact that, though still sparse in many places, there are now pho restaurants in all 50 states, including Alaska, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota! The U.S. is a big place, so there’s still some more work to do.

Pho restaurants by states Pho Restaurants in the United States   Pho on the Move

Stay tuned for more stats from the analysis.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Inthewater September 18, 2009 at 6:13 am

The nice thing about having only a few places to get pho, as Iowa does, is that you know which ones are good and which ones are just okay.

:)

2 Cuong Huynh September 18, 2009 at 9:37 am

Excellent point. And in that case the good will survive and the bad will go away.
On the other hand, here in San Diego and Little Saigon in Santa Ana, occasionally it’s hard to decide where to go because there are so many good ones. Ahh the luxury we have …

3 Carmie September 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm

I am so sad!!! I can’t believe that Chicago isn’t on the list :-( and we have quite a few. The ones I know are mostly on Argyle & Broadway – Pho Xe Tank, Pho 777, Pho Viet , Pho Hoa, (do you sense a theme hehehe??) Hai Yan, Cafe Hoang, etc etc but also several in Chinatown, some on the northside like Hoanh Long and Le Colonial downtown. Not that I’ve tried them all, no such luck.

4 Cuong Huynh September 22, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Hi Carmie. I think Chicago is ranked just a few below #15, so don’t be so sad. In fact those you named plus a few others constitute a great selection of great quality pho. Also to be fair, I’ve just updated a statement regarding the fact that not all pho restaurants are necessarily included in this pass, and future updates will for sure adjust the rankings.

5 Cbodien November 14, 2009 at 1:55 am

I live in Tacoma and we have a lot of PHO restaurants. As a matter of fact, the best PHO I have had is actually in Tacoma. thanks!

6 Cuong Huynh November 14, 2009 at 3:38 pm

@Cbodien. Care to share some of your best pho restaurants in Tacoma? I’ve never been there and am very curious, in case I need to refer someone.

7 Peter Cuong April 7, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Hi Cuong, Do you have sources of good estimates for the total number of Pho shops in VN and outside of VN globally? Regards, Peter Cuong

8 Cuong Huynh April 9, 2010 at 10:01 am

@Peter Cuong. Hi. That’s always a good question with not so good answer. The challenge is multi-faceted. One, nobody is tracking pho restaurants (big or small, any size) because the payback for such activity is nonexistent. It just takes too much work for the little returns that such activity provides. Two, pho shops open and close regularly, so keeping your database updated is a big challenge in itself. And third, it may be easier for the U.S. markets and elsewhere where a commercial restaurant is clearly defined, in Viet Nam it’s not so easy. You will find street vendors and hole in the wall pho vendors in any neighborhood in Vietnam. And along any row of homes you’ll also find pho vendors. Finally, somebody even told me he finds pho restaurants in some remote place in Africa! So I guess the short answer to your question is, I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine someone having this information that is considered accurate.

9 Peter Cuong April 9, 2010 at 10:26 am

Understand the issues. Would you have a rough estimates or venture to guess on the # of pho shops in Vietnam and US? Curious on the numbers in comparison to say Mcd: +32,000 McDonalds globally and +13,000 in the US – none in VN yet? thank goodness. Regards, Peter

10 Cuong Huynh April 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Peter Cuong: here’s what I would do. Looking at a few pho restaurant “databases” available online, you can get a sense of the relative magniude or range but the numbers themselves can be misleading. Taking http://www.phofever.com as an example, you can come up with the following:

Aus. 85+
Canada 220+
US 2300+

I would venture to say, because of the nature of this db, it probably represents only 70-80% of the actual numbers. For the Pho shops in VN i wouldn’t even want to guess. One can probably guess based on assumptions about average people served per day for typical small, medium and large shops, then compare to regional population. There’s a way to do it, but  I’m just not ready to do this exercise right now ;-) 

11 Peter Cuong April 11, 2010 at 10:36 am

Thank you for the US/Aus/Can numbers. I am very curious on the numbers in VN – can you make an educated estimate based on your assumptions and VN population which is now ~87m people? Based on my rough estimate of 2500 Pho shop divide by ~1.5m Vietnamese in the US, the Pho shop ratio is ~.17% and extrapolating this .17% x 87m, I get 145,000 in VN. Do you think this is in the ball park? Many thanks :)

12 Vanessa July 14, 2010 at 11:10 pm

We have so many Pho restaurants in Denver but the best by far is Pho 95 so if you’re ever in the area make sure to check it out!

13 petercuong July 14, 2010 at 11:55 pm

What the pho? What is the meaning of pho? Why is this simple noodle soup is so important to the Vietnamese? Interested in people comments on this.

14 Cuong Huynh July 15, 2010 at 4:57 am

Hi Vanessa: Thanks for the suggestion. I will certainly check out Pho 95 if in the area.

15 Cuong Huynh July 15, 2010 at 5:03 am

Hi petercuong: Good question and I think on your quest to find the answer to this question you will find that this pho is not so simple, and therefore one shouldn’t expect a simple answer. Maybe you should approach it from the standpoint of recognizing pho as an intricate culinary creation, then take down each answer as an element of the overall answer. Only then will your mind be at ease ;)

Sometime the simplest of question sparks the most complex of answer(s).

16 Cuong Huynh July 15, 2010 at 5:04 am

Hi petercuong: Good question and I think on your quest to find the answer to this question you will find that this pho is not so simple, and therefore one shouldn’t expect a simple answer. Maybe you should approach it from the standpoint of recognizing pho as an intricate culinary creation, then take down each answer as an element of the overall answer. Only then will your mind be at ease ;)

Sometimes the simplest of question sparks the most complex of answer(s).

17 Laqeesha Jones-Tran April 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Pho is da bombizzle fo shizzle my nizzle. I be eating good. I wish it had bbq pho though for my appetite. I like chicken and watermelon pho but no bbq pho. We need some for the colored folks.

18 Billy Bob Nguyen April 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm

@Laqeesha where do you find watermelon pho? That sounds good. The best pho I’ve had was in a narrow alley behind a laundromat from a Taco truck. The guy said it was taco pholicious #4 combo. This was in Compton, CA near a Korean market and Hung Dong Phuoc nail salon.

19 Cuong April 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Laqeesha Jones-Tran: Did you mean you had “chicken and watermelon pho”, or “chicken pho” and “watermelon pho”? I don’t know about bbq pho, as the broth would dilute the bbq goodness, wouldn’t it? Or maybe you meant bbq flavored pho? Or how about this: Vietnamese do use the bánh phở noodle in many dishes, soup and dry including fried banh pho noodle. One of my favs is what we call “bò kho” or Vietnamese beef stew which is definitely western influenced. Many Vietnamese enjoy bò kho with baguette dipped in it, or over white rice which is classic, while yet many others like me love to eat it over, guess what, bánh phở noodle, the same kind used in phở! Yeah so it is not unthinkable that you can have bbq pho, with some fall-off-the-bone bbq beef tenderness! Sounds really yummy actually.

20 Cuong April 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Billy Bob Nguyen: Pho in a narrow alley should always be good as a rule ;) What would a taco pho look like and how is it served?

21 Ryan January 5, 2013 at 9:54 pm

What comes with popularity comes with a price, Americanization of pho! Hopefully that won’t happen

22 Cuong January 5, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Ryan: I think you are right, and the Americanization (or Westernization if one lives in Europe) of pho has already happened. Witness seafood pho and fish pho and shrimp pho and who knows what restaurateurs will dream up next to make some bucks. Vietnamese already have all the seafood, fish, shrimp in hu tieu and other noodle dishes. We don’t need them in pho because it’s not pho otherwise.

In my opinion, it’s those restaurants that try to gain new business every time someone who does not eat beef or chicken asks for a non-meat pho. In any case, the land of opportunity is always open for business, and if someone makes something people will buy, then more power to them. It’s a fine line between doing business and keeping authenticity. My approach in my own restaurant would be to educate and to help, and provide good services and great recommendations. I think changes are inevitable and wrote more about this in the article “Pho Is Changing – Chinese, French and Now American Influences.

23 Petercuong January 5, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Whats wrong with seafood pho? Food in general and even beloved national dishes such as pho is dynamic and constnatly evolving. The original pho from Hanoi changes and evolved as it moved south post the southern migration of over 1m people in 1954 after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. The southern style pho that most people know is very different from the original, more austere Hanoi style pho. Post 1975, as part of the exodus of 3m people we have pho going through another evolution in the US, Australia, France, Hong Kong and other places.

It’s the question of authenticity vs culinary inventions. Who is to decide if s dish is truely “authentic”? It’s depends on ones background and where you come from. There are many diffrent regional variations and each with their own distictive character reflecting the local environment, people and culture. I have great respect for the former but also believe that we must also be open to change because food and Foodways are dynamic, alive, fun and exciting.

24 Cuong January 6, 2013 at 2:55 am

Petercuong: There is nothing wrong with seafood pho, in the same way as there is nothing wrong with beef/pork sushi, or banana/mango pizza to some people. And pho is not revolving as much as you seem to indicate. Obviously if one lives in areas with no Asian markets or food supplies, then I would expect them to make do with what they find locally. On the other hand, those who know the food, or grew up with it, just don’t do it for authenticity, tradition, or other very valid reasons. If one wants to go fusion or creative after knowing and understanding the foundation or due to lack of ingredients, then that’s one thing. But if one gets creative due to lack of knowledge or ignorance, then that becomes junk food. The junk may become popular because it is really tasty then that’s okay too, though I think it may need to be called something else so not to confuse the uninitiated. In the end, the mass will decide obviously, and as I see it, the mass is still deciding with their pocketbook on beef and chicken pho, and not seafood pho.

No, there is nothing wrong with being creative, but to me, if there is no authority to define what’s “authentic” then one may as well throw tradition and respect out the door. Like anything else, I understand there will always be those operating at the fringes, but there should also be a body of traditional knowledge to maintain proper standards.

25 Frank March 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I’m a US caucasion “Vietnam Vet”. I never got Pho when I was in Vietnam (being a jungle rat), but I learned to love Vietnam and it’s people. Since I returned 43 years ago, I have a growing love and appreciation for the people of Vietnam and it’s culture. I love Pho, and I search it everywhere I go. In business before retiring so I’ve had Pho in many many cities.
I use YELP to get pre-information on Pho restaurants in new locations.
Thanks for your awesome site about what goes into a Pho restaurant. It’s facinating.

26 Cuong March 20, 2014 at 11:26 am

@Frank: I’m sure with the war going on, enjoying the foods would be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Regardless of whether you voluntarily joined or was drafted, thank you for being there and for making the sacrifices.

With respect to Vietnamese pho in this day and age of the Yelps and the Facebooks, it is amazing that a restaurant can benefit or go down from such social mechanism. All in all these sites keep everyone honest, and that’s a good thing. Thanks for the kind words about LovingPho.com.

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