If you’re ever in a funk (campus looks grey, everyone walking around has a dead glaze over their eyes), and you’re just itching for a change of scenery (not Rittenhouse because it’s the same old Philly cobblestone rowhouse scene, not Center City because been there, done that) then make your way down to the edge of Bella Vista in South Philly, and find the little Vietnamese strip mall where Pho Ha is located. There, Penn (and the rest of Philly) will feel far, far away.
The ambiance is a bit lacking in the traditional sense, but if you’re looking for a really immersive “Vietnamese diner” experience, this is it. Cue cheesy Asian music playing a bit too loud in the background, curt but speedy waiters, a large selection of sriracha and other assorted sauces and unforgiving fluorescent lighting.
The food itself is standard pho fare: rich, spicy (only if you want it to be), hearty and down–to–your–soul warm. For those who haven’t tried pho before, it’s a type of Vietnamese soup traditionally made with rice noodles and topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, thinly–sliced beef and other miscellaneous proteins and vegetables.Pho Ha’s selection of pho choices is overwhelmingly large. Who knew that a bowl of soupy rice noodles could be infinitely customizable? You could stick with a basic steak pho, or you could take a walk on the wild side and get the brisket, flank, tendon, tripe and fatty flank pho. The latter is delicious and less intimidating than it sounds. A small bowl of pho costs $6; large is only 60 cents more. But small should be plenty unless your appetite is gargantuan (in which case, you have my full permission to size up). The restaurant also offers a variety of curious vegetable additions that come at a dollar an item, including qué, coriander, scallions and bean sprouts.
The non–pho selections are hit or miss. The spring rolls came out suspiciously fast, as if they had been pre–cooked and tossed in the microwave for a few seconds beforehand. And as for taste, they were so fried that the taste of all subtler components were overwhelmed. Altogether, pretty forgettable.
The drinks (non-alcoholic), however, are another thing entirely. Try the red bean milk concoction for a unique drink–turned–dessert. It’s made with semi–mashed red beans, milk, ice and coconut flavoring, and it tastes like Vietnamese heaven in a shake glass. While the service may be cold and swift, a big bowl of soup from Pho Ha will get you out of any funk and leave you feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside.