Food Prowl is a yearlong series of stories in which we examine what the city's restaurants have to offer and choose our favorite foods in a dozen categories. The stories won't be comprehensive — we can't try everything. But they'll include our food writer's opinion, and the opinion of other Omaha food lovers who treat the city as a place for culinary adventure. We'll eat together, and then collectively make the call on the foods (and one drink) we like the most. We also invite readers to chime in online and tell us their favorite places, too.
>> February: Pho: Our picks (tie): Saigon Restaurant and New Gold Mountain
The best pho in town ... it's a tie between:
>> Saigon Restaurant
12100 West Center Road
>> New Gold Mountain
15505 Ruggles St.
The other contenders included:
>> Kimson Seafood Grill
333 N. 78th St.
>> Pho 382
605 Nelson Drive
Offutt Air Force Base, NE
The second in the Food Prowl series ended in a tie between two diners who like the more modern interpretation of pho and two diners who prefer the classic interpretation.
I liked the selection of toppings better at Saigon, but the bolder, spicier broth at Gold Mountain has stuck with me. It is my favorite.
Our guest judges were more partial to Saigon.
Read the full story here.
So what's pho?
Pho is foreign.
It's a soup that can be a bit scary — Is that raw beef floating in the bowl? What the heck is tendon? Is that white stuff tripe?
Let's face it: For a white girl from west Omaha (me) and people like me, it's even hard to properly pronounce pho.
(It's “fuh,” starting with a soft “eff” sound and ending with an “uh.”)
But here's the fascinating part: All that fear — all that otherness that goes with a bowl of pho — melts away when you watch retired Omaha teacher Trinh Tran neatly eat a big bowl of the richly-scented broth that's the basis for her homeland's version of chicken noodle soup.
She deeply inhales the scented broth and takes a sip, gauging flavor and spices.
Pho has just a few ingredients: a broth base, meat that can be either well done (brisket) or rare, green and white onions and soft rice noodles. Pho also can include tripe (the lining from beef stomach,) beef tendon and beef meatballs.
It always comes with the same condiments: white bean sprouts, cilantro or Thai basil, lime or lemon wedges, jalapenos and a big bottle of sriracha chili sauce.
Trinh chooses condiments from a big plate in the center of the table.
The soup originated in Vietnam during the early 20th century. The exact location of its origin is somewhere southwest of Hanoi in the
Nam Dinh province, which used to be a textile market. Cooks there aimed to please the palates of locals with the rice noodles and the tastes of French people with beef. Vendors sold it from large boxes until the first pho restaurant opened in Hanoi in the 1920s.
>> Pho is served in a bowl with a specific cut and style of noodles, called bánh pho. The thin cuts of beef can be steak, fatty or lean flank or brisket. Tendon, tripe and meatballs are other variations. Cooks simmer beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, onion, ginger and other spices to make the broth. Cinnamon, star anise, roasted ginger, black cardamom, coriander, fennel and clove can also be added.
>> Pho has some regional variations. In Northern Vietnam, the soup has wider noodles and many more green onions. Southern Vietnamese pho is slightly sweeter and has bean sprouts and more fresh herbs.
August: Fried chicken
September: The Old Fashioned (Cocktail)
October: Chicken Tikka Korma
November: Eggs Benedict