Pho-nomenon: Vietnamese soup comes to West Main

Pho, the hearty Vietnamese noodle soup filled with big chunks of beef or chicken and served with a side of bean sprouts, mint leaves, and basil that you add yourself, is hard to find in Charlottesville. Celebrity chef Peter Chang had a visiting chef prepare it once, Ten launched a "pop-up" pho restaurant, and Saigon Café has perhaps the best offerings, but we've yet to see a local place fully dedicated to the stuff– until now.

In mid-May, Zinc owner Vu Nguyen should be ready– he hopes– to open Moto Pho Co. in the newly renovated former auto service garage at 505 & 509 West Main Street, which is across the street just a tad to the west of Zinc. Formerly home to C&R Auto Service, the building was sold in 2010 to Main Street West LLC for $1.8 million. (Talk about appreciation– former building owner Wade Lee Crawford paid $42,500 for most of the property in 1974.)

The new pho place will join One Meatball Place as food anchors of the Main Street Market Annex, an across-the-street augmentation of the purple-painted cuisine collection featuring Feast! that opened ten years ago.

The architect is Greg Jackson. A Belmontian formerly with William McDonough + Partners, he oversaw the renovation of the buildings that house Tavola and The Local and now serves as president of the Belmont Neighborhood Association.

As for Nguyen, he says he's been experimenting with pho recipes, including vegetarian options, since last year, and even spent a couple of weeks last year in Vietnam to get some pointers from an aunt who runs a pho shop in the bustling coastal city of Nha Trang.

"It'll be a small 38-seat lunch and dinner place," says Nguyen. "We'll have a couple of other menu items such as garden rolls and edamame, but the main focus will be pho."


Pad Thai has an extensive Pho menu and Saigon Cafe offers great traditional Pho. Pho has been in cville for a while, you just had to dig around for it. Being said, I think this will be a welcomed addition to W. Main St and will be there on opening day, spoon in hand.

CB obviously isn't Vietnamese. There hasn't been genuine phở bò or phở gà in Charlottesville, and it's exciting to see someone who is actually Vietnamese try to bring it Charlottesville.
Can't wait, hopefully it'll survive in C'ville's tough restaurant world.

Vu is a great guy, a talented chef, and a savvy entrepreneur. I have no doubt his pho restaurant will be excellent and that he'll otherwise continue to do great things for Mid-town and the larger Charlottesville food scene.

@cc: Please educate us on the essentials of a Pho Restaurant. I've eaten at Pho restaurants in the Vancouver area. The soup at Saigon, made by a very nice Vietnamese man seems pretty much the same. I'm not a naif, although I don't know the unicode chars for Vietnamese characters, so clearly not one of the cognoscenti like you. Do enlighten please...I really hate it when people adopt the "oh you may think that's a Twinkie but I've had Twinkies made in Cleveland" bit, which in the absence of hard criteria is pose only.

I've been to Saigon and had pho there. I prefer the stuff they make in Northern Virginia. What's up with authenticity anyway? Pho is a type of soup not an appliance. There will be variations from place to place. That's partly what makes food interesting.

If this place is half decent, I will be here at least once a week.

Pho from Saigon or other places in Vietnam isn't necessarily the best Pho, judging from what my Vietnamese relatives have told me when they come visit the US. The best Pho I've had is in Southern California, where coincidentally the largest concentration of Vietnamese people in the US reside.

Not that hard to believe that some shop in cville makes better Pho than Saigon. They don't have high quality ingredients over there, and that makes a huge difference. Probably the same reason SoCal pho tastes better than what I had when I visited Saigon.

So excited about a pho place in downtown Charlottesville!!!!! I might be there every damn day.

When are we going to get our tastebuds standardized and calibrated so that we can all argue about the authenticity and validity of food with some concrete quantitative data?

Where is the purple building? Who is in this building? I like Pho and think it is good for the area to have a few Pho options. Saigon is certainly very good.

Big chucks?

@Desdemona: Hah-- thanks for pointing out our typo before the print edition--hawes spencer

Can't flipping wait to devour some delicious noodles, heavenly broth, succulent cuts of meat, and all the fixins! Wooooooooooooooooooooooo! Pho in this town has been very meh

This Is very exciting! Take note though that Lemongrass on the Corner offers excellent authentic pho...prepared specially on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Surprised I didn't see a mention by anyone above of the pho served on weekends at Lemongrass on 14th St NW. It's cheap, bountiful, and delicious, and the house is usually packed. It also seems pretty authentic, tasting very much like the pho I've enjoyed the numerous Vietnamese restaurants in the Little Saigon neighborhood in Richmond's West End, as well as the very first pho I ever tasted at a tiny restaurant in Georgetown in the 1980's. Vietnamese is one of my favorite cuisines. I was surprised, after the plethora of options all over Richmond, that there were not more Vietnamese restaurants in Charlottesville when I moved back here a couple of years ago.