Pho Restaurants in the United States - Pho on the Move

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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 with number of pho restaurants

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 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

Stay tuned for more stats from the analysis.

28 comments

  1. Inthewater 18 September, 2009 at 06:13 Reply

    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 18 September, 2009 at 09:37 Reply

    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 22 September, 2009 at 13:01 Reply

    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 22 September, 2009 at 13:26 Reply

    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 14 November, 2009 at 01:55 Reply

    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. Peter Cuong 7 April, 2010 at 22:36 Reply

    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

  7. Cuong Huynh 9 April, 2010 at 10:01 Reply

    @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.

  8. Peter Cuong 9 April, 2010 at 10:26 Reply

    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

  9. Cuong Huynh 10 April, 2010 at 13:37 Reply

    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 😉 

  10. Peter Cuong 11 April, 2010 at 10:36 Reply

    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 🙂

  11. Vanessa 14 July, 2010 at 23:10 Reply

    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!

  12. petercuong 14 July, 2010 at 23:55 Reply

    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.

  13. Cuong Huynh 15 July, 2010 at 05:03 Reply

    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).

  14. Cuong Huynh 15 July, 2010 at 05:04 Reply

    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).

  15. Laqeesha Jones-Tran 12 April, 2012 at 15:37 Reply

    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.

  16. Billy Bob Nguyen 12 April, 2012 at 15:48 Reply

    @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.

  17. Cuong 12 April, 2012 at 16:31 Reply

    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.

  18. Cuong 5 January, 2013 at 22:40 Reply

    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.

  19. Petercuong 5 January, 2013 at 23:05 Reply

    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.

  20. Cuong 6 January, 2013 at 02:55 Reply

    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.

  21. Frank 19 March, 2014 at 14:59 Reply

    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.

  22. Cuong 20 March, 2014 at 11:26 Reply

    @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.

  23. athena zeusova 3 February, 2016 at 00:38 Reply

    Prague-Cezskoslovakia 1987, STZ headquarter, chief command of diplomatic and international organizations surveillance squad was deliverying his report”…there was another minor symptom that recently, many Vietnamese come and leave Vietnamese embassy through out delivery gate since 7am to 9pm, seven days a week”. Despite of considering that was a minor thing on the weekly report, the chief command, colonel Josef, a man who do the job in full inspiration and sense of humor, had released his directive:” submit to me a full report in two week. What has been happening at Vietnamese embassy?”
    Sunday morning, Vietnamese guy văn việt left the building of flats where Vietnamese live. He didn’t rely that from a red Skoda parking at the road side, one young man left the car and silently followed him. At the Hlavny Nadrazy, after paid train ticket to Brno, he came toward the tunnel lead to the rail-way, but two policemen appeared:” good morning, under the law of Cezskoslovakia, would you mind to show us your belonging”. There were 200 electric watches, the smuggling commodities:” you are under arrest, please follow us!”
    At the police-station, the young man is under officer uniform now:” who you bough stuffs from?”
    Vietnamese guy:” I bough from an Yugoslavia man”
    “Where is he?”
    “I don’t know”
    “How contact to him?”
    “We’ve just met first time to deliver the commodities”
    “The punishment would be harder due to lie. There was no Yugoslavia guy. Where you were since 7pm to 8.30 pm on Friday?”
    “I came to supermarket to buy food”
    “no, guy, you came to block y where Vietnamese supplier lives there” he showed Vietnamese guy a photograph:” you came at 7pm with empty bag, and now you left at 8.30pm with full bag” he showed the guy second photograph:”and now you are going to distribute smuggling stuffs in Brno. tell me who you contact with at Vietnamese embassy?”
    “No one”
    “Where were you since 9am to 9.45 am Thusday?”
    “I came to our embassy”
    “And contact to whom?”
    “No one, I came to eat Vietnamese noodle. The cooking house serving over-there”
    “Are you trying to fool me? Vietnamese embassy set up a cooking house to make money?”
    “Yes sir, embassy set it up to raise fund to support daily spending of the embassy”
    “How much is a plate?”
    “A bowl sir, is ten korunas each”
    Just a weekend, ten Vietnamese guys have been arrested in the same way with the same testimony that there was a cooking house set up by embassy. Price is ten korunas a bowl.
    Now, the there was the need of a final check. Monday morning five Vietnamese, three men and two women, were walking to ward delivery door of the embassy. Few skinheads came toward them:” hey I’d like to buy electric watch”. Vietnamese scared so much:”I I s so sory I don’t carry it along”-“do you want us to search your bodies all?” another skinhead stopped his friend:”oh don’t do it!” he turned to Vietnamese:”do you have a cigarette?”-“Yes, here you are”-“oh Sparta proof box. It is a good cigarette. Lighter please!”- Another Vietnamese quickly lighted on. Each guy got a cigarette. He put his hand on Vietnamese:” good cigarette, good friend” and walked. Vietnamese got away from the threaten, but none of them knew that a bug has been attached under winter cloth of the Vietnamese guy. The bug record had been fully translated. There were sound of Vietnamese greeting each other, the orders for Vietnamese noodle and the voice of waiteresses.
    Dear commrad colonel
    Under the directive No, I fully responsibly report to you. There is a cooking house serving Vietnamese food at Vietnamese embassy

    The purpose: to raise fund supporting daily spending of the embassy.
    The supply: beef, bone, chicken are bough localy at butcher store. The noodles and seasoning vegetables are supplied from Vietnam. The foods are delivered in diplomatic box. There is advance to do the job that diplomatic boxes are transported by our CSA, so we have checked the box on OK flight. The box was full of noodles and vegetables.
    Supporting document including testimonies, bug record, photograph of in side Vietnamese Diplomatic box and the original sale record of butcher store.

    At the Vietnamese embassy, security commissar harrily meet ambassador:” uncle ambassador, our diplomatic boxes have been opened on transportation. This is unacceptable. We should send our diplomatic oppose”-“which boxes have been?”-“ the boxes carried noodle and vegetable”-“no we shouldn’t”-“but this is our respectable affair, uncle”-“what would happen if they let all of the diplomatic world know that we deliver huge volume of food for merchant purpose in diplomatic box daily via air-bone? So we’d better ignore that, commrad commisar”

    • Cuong 3 February, 2016 at 16:48 Reply

      Thanks for sharing the story @athena zeusova. I enjoyed it. Not sure about the story’s source, but I’d say it’s totally within the capability of Viet people and what we do.

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