Until recently, Argyle Street in Uptown, long the epicenter of Chicago’s Vietnamese community, had the market cornered on pho (pronounced “fuh”). And to be sure, it’s still one of the city’s premier destinations for those seeking a taste of Vietnam’s famously meaty soup, which is typically made with a long-simmered beef bone stock and served with fresh, leafy accompaniments. But in the past year or so, new spots have begun bubbling to life, both in Uptown and elsewhere. Here are the five that serve the best bowls.
1055 W. Argyle St., Uptown
Diners often overlook chicken pho on menus loaded with more familiar beef options, but Hai Yen’s version ($9) is worth a second glance: a pale gold stock sprinkled with just the right amount of scallions and cilantro. And unlike chicken pho elsewhere, the shredded chicken in this bowl isn’t too chewy.
2218 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Park
Quan Dao invites guests to round out beef, chicken, or veggie stock with whatever proteins, vegetables, and garnishes they’d like, including such unorthodox options as cilantro-lime chicken, cabbage, and honey-ginger soy sauce (most bowls are $14 with add-ons). Purists may groan, but the silky noodles are toothsome, and the DIY model allows for creative experimentation.
1542 N. Damen Ave., Wicker Park
For his stock, chef-owner Bill Kim eschews the traditional beef bones in favor of dried shiitake mushrooms that have been roasted until they’ve attained the concentration and color of a good demi-glace. The broth is heady enough to accommodate other flavorful additions, including red miso, mirin, tofu, and jalapeños, all of which make Kim’s “faux pho” ($11) one of the most nuanced—and spicy—vegetarian soups in town.
1800 S. Carpenter St., Pilsen
Thai Dang serves his pho ($15) only during weekend brunch because it takes 50 pounds of bones to faithfully re-create his mother’s recipe. The result, studded with meatballs, brisket, and thin-sliced rib eye, has the oomph of roasted bone marrow, but it’s Dang’s handmade rice noodles—thick ones, like those you’d find in Vietnam—that really elevate the soup. Pickled onions add a welcoming lilt of acid and sweetness.
4925 N. Broadway, Uptown
The house special pho—listed on the menu simply as No. 55 ($9.75)—packs in the most protein per cubic inch of soup of any place in town. Tender meatballs, slices of brisket, strips of beef tendon, and pieces of tripe swim in a broth so rich it would make foie gras blush.