Summer Travel Quest #49

Find a Great Bowl of Pho on Old Route 66

The country’s best Vietnamese beef noodle soup just might be found in Oklahoma City’s Little Saigon
by Robert Reid Posted Jul 2nd 2014 1:03p.m.
A Portland, Oregon-based travel writer, Robert covered the Great Plains for Lonely Planet’s USA guidebook.

For outsiders, the biggest surprise of OKC is what’s been brewing for a few decades: a Little Saigon that contends for the nation’s best bowl of pho, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

Around the so-called “Asian District,” centered along old Route 66 at NW 23rd Street and N Classen Avenue, are dozens of Vietnamese-run restaurants, groceries and other businesses. Even the historic Milk Bottle Building, a tiny triangular brick structure on old Route 66 topped with a huge white bottle, served the city’s best banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) until recently.

The main reason to come is the pho.

INSIDER TIP

Most Vietnamese consider fruit to be dessert. If you need something sweeter and stickier, Thanh-Son Tofu—next to Pho Lien Hoa—serves bowls of tau hu nuoc duong, or thinly sliced tofu in ginger syrup, a street snack straight out of Saigon.

“Pho is the ultimate food,” says Anna Dinh, who works at Pho Lien Hoa, a modest noodle shop and longtime neighborhood go-to. (Its beef pho is pictured above.) “You can eat it any time of day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

Anna grew up in OKC and started working here when her mother, an immigrant from Ho Chi Minh City, took over the restaurant. “I’ve been to Vietnamese restaurants all over—California, New York, Florida,” Dinh explains. “And, really, it just seems like Oklahoma City has the better food. I don’t know why.”

Pho shops like Pho Lien Hoa or Pho Cuong focus on fresh ingredients. A variety of cuts like brisket or round-eye steak are boiled in a long-simmered knuckle- or leg-bone broth. “No powder” is a local promise.

First-timers usually don’t go with tripe or tendon—"they might get freaked out," Anna notes—but it’s there when you’re ready for it. And so are these shops. They’re open every day.

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Robert Reid is a travel writer based in Portland, Ore. He’s covered the Great Plains for Lonely Planet’s USA guidebook and is now the Offbeat Observer for National Geographic Traveler.

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MORE SUMMER TRAVEL QUESTS

47) Eat Something Wild at a State Fair

48) Run With the Bulls (in the U.S.)

49) Find a Great Bowl of Pho on Old Route 66

50) Go on a Doo Wop Hotel Photo Safari

51) Make a Cowboy do your Bidding

>> All 99 Summer Travel Quests

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Use the hashtag #99SummerQuests to share your own summer travels, and follow along with us at @MapQuest and Instagram.

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