The Cleveland Pho Debate
Cleveland is a wonderful melting pot of many different cultures and cuisines. One great debate that has raged for years exists between the lovers of pho. For those who don’t know what pho is, allow me to educate you on my favorite Vietnamese comfort food! Pho is a noodle soup dish typically eaten for breakfast but can also be eaten all day long. The broth is made from steeping beef bones and meat with charred onions, ginger and spices including cinnamon, anise, and clove. Ingredients added to the broth tend to vary but the typical is some type of meat (chicken or beef), rice noodles, lemon or lime, bean sprouts, onions (green and/or white), jalapenos, Thai basil and cilantro.
There are many different purveyors of pho in Cleveland and the surrounding communities but the battle today is between Superior Pho and Number One Pho. Oddly enough, both restaurants are right next to each other on Superior Avenue just east of the city. Superior Pho is a part of a small mini-mall with a couple other restaurants and a nail salon while Number One stands alone in what looks like an old home. Both restaurants are very clean but the atmosphere of Number One is my preference with a swanky vibe compared to Superior’s tiny one dining room. Service was excellent at both restaurants- my order came up very quickly at both but my vote goes to Superior for giving me tea and a place to sit while my meal was being prepared.
My way home seemed to take FOREVER with the lovely smells of both pho wafting up at me! They were packaged very differently from each other. Number One came with a small carry out box with the basil, lime, jalapenos, rice noodles, and sprouts with the broth already containing the cooked meat and onions. Superior came with the broth, a baggie filled with basil, lemon and sprouts, and a box containing the noodles, onions, cilantro, and raw beef.
I took the time to smell and tasted each broth independently before adding the rest of the ingredients. Number One smelled more beefy, likely due to the beef already being in the broth, and slightly sweet with the taste being very savory and slightly salty. Superior had a very clear broth, the smell was subtle and sweet and the taste was clear, mild and well balanced. The better broth for my palate was definitely Superior Pho.
I cut up the basil and added all the ingredients (sans jalapenos) to both broths. First up, again, was Number One Pho. The broth was a bit more balanced with the addition of the lime but the meat was tough after sitting in the broth and being cut thicker. The noodles were a bit too soft and tended to turn to mush in my mouth. Overall, it was a bit more savory than I like as well as a bit too salty. I feel like the inclusion of cilantro may have helped the overall flavor.
Next I went to my bowl from Superior Pho. The beef was perfect- tender and cut very thin so that it partially cooked in the hot broth. The noodles were a little firmer than Number One, which was a plus, but I felt like the nuanced broth got lost with all the other flavors happening.
It was a tough call as both pho were absolutely delicious but to me, there was on clear winner. In my taste, Superior Pho was the superior pho! The biggest point that sold me on Superior was the fact that the beef was raw and so thinly cut. I enjoyed the broth much more with Superior and felt that all the ingredients were fresher and the portion was a bit more generous. I encourage anyone to go out and try the two for themselves and form their own opinions. For me, while Superior was the better of the two, Thai Basil in Westlake is by far my favorite of any I’ve had in the city so far!