Pho letter word: Moto Pho Co. opens it doors

Charlottesville diners jonesing for a pho fix can rest easy– as Zinc owner Vu Nguyen opened the doors of Moto Pho Co. today, Wednesday August 1. Open for lunch and dinner, the new spot features the hard-to-make-at-home Vietnamese beef and noodle soup for $6.95 and $7.95 per bowl ($1 extra for ox tail). And yes, the restaurant’s name is playing on the expletive that comes to mind (as well as Momofuku, the nouveau-Korean cuisine stylings of celebrity chef David Chang). 

“I liked the idea of the name because it rolls off the tongue, and it sounds like motherf*****,” says a smiling Nguyen.

In what was until recently an auto repair shop, Moto Pho Co. is located at 511 West Main Street across the street from Zinc, whose trendy décor and enthusiastic staff seem to have been transplanted seamlessly to the new restaurant. While such restaurants as Saigon Café and Lemongrass make occasional forays into the dish, Moto Pho Co. is Charlottesville’s first eatery focused almost entirely on pho.

Nguyen described the restaurant’s first lunch shift as hectic, with about 70 customers stopping by to see what all the fuss was about.

“It turned out better than I thought it was going to be, but I still thought there could have been more people,” says Nguyen. “On Monday we had a free day, and we did 150 people in three hours.”

(On Monday, Moto Pho Co. ran a promotion of free pho in exchange for customer feedback on the menu, which in addition to the savory steaming bowls, also offers a selection of pan-Asian side items like pork buns, edamame, and garden rolls.)

Nguyen points to Northern Virginia powerhouse pho cookeries like Pho 75 as his inspiration— with wide communal tables, a simple menu, and lots of soup cooking in the kitchen to keep wait times alarmingly low. He notes however that while most pho-centric places push customers to order at a counter and wait for their soup, Moto Pho Co.’s servers will take diners’ orders as they sit inside the restaurant or out on the patio.

In the months leading up to the grand opening, Nguyen got some recipe tips from his aunt who runs a noodle shop in Vietnam.

“The Pho is different there,” says Nguyen. “So it’s funny when people say whether or not this is authentic enough. What are you trying to compare it to? If you’re talking about Vietnam, there’s nothing here that’s the same over there."

Read more on: Moto Pho Co.Vu Nguyen


Although I have not tried this pho place yet--there is something in the article that bothers me. It states that Lemongrass only serves pho occasionally, but in fact it serves pho every single weekend. It isn't a once in while kind of thing.

Actually, Pho is available everyday of the week at Saigon cafe.

other names that were in contention for Moto Pho Co. -

Pho King Awesome, Pho Queue, Pho Real, Pho Sho!, Pho The Win, Pho: Get About It

I don't think the name sounding like one of the most vulgar terms known to mankind is something to be proud of.

Love the name! Can’t wait to try it!

They should offer a serverless option for lunch. We have a general no servers at lunch rule around the office. A counter would make it faster and keep the price down with no tipping.

I have been waiting for a good pho restaurant ever since I moved here. It is available at Lemongrass, but not whenever I want it and at Siagon Cafe, but without the extra basil, choice of proteins and all the bells and whistles. I went last night and the food was awesome -- the price was the best, even my 7 year old LOVED the Pho. We ordered everything on the menu and still paid less than $40 for the three of us. This place promises to be our new favorite Charlottesville eatery for a long time coming!

I think the editor should focus more on blocking bigoted comments like yours.

Self Ordained Expert is a phrase that I find to be far more vulgar than any other on this page.

Now I see why comedians never perform in Charlottesville.

@Liberalace: Thank you! Please avoid this place. Pho is delicious,as I'm sure you don't know, and your presence there would certainly diminish the experience for everyone.


Get with it, the sensitivity in this place is disgusting, get a prescription for some thicker skin. It's a joke referring to David Chang's reason for naming his company Momofuku found in the introduction to his book. Nose pickers.

until the article informed me I thought Moto Pho Co. was inspired by taking over a car (motor) repair shop. guess I have a clever, but not dirty, mind.

So i just went there for lunch there and thought i would share my experience:

First of all, they are obviously new and it is a bit hectic and my food took > 30 minutes to come out. I expect they will get much faster, because most pho places are extremely fast.

I split garden rolls with my wife. The rolls and average to good, but a smaller and not as well wrapped as other places I have been (hopefully this will get worked out as they get some time under there belts). The peanut sauce was good, but thicker than normal which made it a bit harder to work with.

I got flank steak pho, which was very good. My only complaint was that a large pho here is smaller than small pho's at most other places I have been. A large bowl would not be enough by itself to fill me up.

The people are friendly and will definitely go back.

@liberalace: I think your last post was the same speech that Jack Nicholson gave in 'A Few Good Men' except with "You can't handle the truth" at the end.

I'm happy there's more pho in Charlottesville. Regardless of who YOU think has the best pho, more options are necessarily a good thing - right?

@Logan so what you're saying is that it was not Pho King Awesome?

charlottesville needs good pho. how about calling it pho king? then, under the logo, it says 'good soup'. then, the oo's in good could have eyes drawn in them with a mouth and tongue underneath? pho king good soup. i want some of that!

So you played both sides in 'Nam Liberalace? Consider yourself lucky your platoon mates didn't "ridicule" you with their bayonets for supping with the enemy.

Pho is the magical hangover cure. large bowl of pho, 20 minute nap, and you're good to go. this is overdue in Charlottesville

Was eagerly awaiting this. Food was very good, but I echo the comment above that the portion size is significantly smaller than I was expecting based on other pho-shops around the country.

Why does this guy think mimicking a truly obscene phrase is cute. What is wrong with this town where so many other 20 and 30somethings also think it's so cute?? A*** and immature children they all are. No one I know will go there to eat knowing the phrase is so offensive that not enen the Hook will let it pass.

I'm confused. I posted a response to an article about a new restaurant that wants to call itself Moto Fo Ko because that's just so clever and alluring, yet my post is deleted? There was nothing offensive about it except that it offered, quite ironically, as in "this would be offensive and unthinkable" an ethnic slur that would also be easily incorporated into a restaurant name or slogan. And that in order to illustrate how low this language usage stoops.

What's it going to be here? Celebrate the allusion to the lowest level Oedipal expletive and welcome the challenge to it or play pristine verbal landscape?

Shame on you for being so hypocritical Hook.

First off, I'd like to thank everyone for their support and patronage. It has made the opening week a larger success that I had expected. Thanks to the Hook for the exposure. Free press is always good. Except when it can potentially hurt.
I find it unfortunate that the article highlighted the negative aspect of the name. I am not trying to backtrack on anything I said to the interviewer or claim that I was taken out of context because it's true, I do find the coincidence amusing. That being said, the actual genesis of the name comes from, as @Rick said, that the place was formerly C&R Auto Garage. I was trying to highlight that aspect because it might not be as obvious as it is with my other restaurant, Zinc, across the street which visually still retains the former function. (My original name for Zinc, when we opened as a French bistro was Gare du Nord but that was shot down by my then business partner.) And actually, Moto more appropriately refers to motorcycles, and Motor would've alluded more to automobiles, but I dropped the 'r' specifically because it sounded too much like 'mother'. When I stated that I liked how the name rolls off the tongue, I was referring to the fact that the repetitious 'O' sound flows nicely. The fact that I find the similarity in sounds to the expletive amusing was a separate thought. And hardly an original one as @You Kidding? brought up. The article makes it sound like I started with a bad word and sat around thinking about the all the clever ways I can make something sound like that word. I hope people can understand that that wasn't the case.
If anyone is still offended and chooses not to patronize the restaurant, then there is nothing I can do about that, nor will I try to ask you to lighten up or attack your opinions. Everyone is entitled to theirs and that's what makes the world go 'round. I simply ask you not to take my words from a limited article and extrapolate some sort of generalization about me as an immature person.
Thanks to everyone who has defended me. I realize now that being under scrutiny of the public eye, that I need to be more conscientious of my words and actions. I have learned my lesson and will be sure have more perspective.
As for the business aspect of things, all feedback and constructive criticism is helpful so keep them coming. I will revisit portion sizes as that has been a common critique as @Logan echoed. Please be specific and not vague like saying "it's not authentic enough". I don't know what that means.
As for anyone who thinks that their ethnicity or association with Vietnam or a Vietnamese step-relative makes them an authority on Pho, then, the logic would dictate, that I, being Vietnamese, would be a well equipped authority on the matter. But I'm not. All I know is what I like, which will most likely be different what what you like which will be different what what someone else likes. Lemongrass does do pho EVERY weekend and it's different from Moto's. I do like it though and used to go frequently. There is no Platonic Pho, neither here, nor in Vietnam, whose origins it has been claimed came from a French dish, Pot au Feu anyway during the not so long ago Colonization. That's one theory at least. Like i said, I'm no authority. I'm just a restaurateur.
I hope @liberalace and @flouter might one day be able to give Moto a shot and so that we can meet and laugh about how silly this all once was.
Meanwhile, join the 650+ folks on Facebook and like us to get updates and deals.
Thanks so much for your time.

Vu I thought your response above was nice. Good on you for a sincere and open-hearted appeal. I'd suggest a rethink on the name and still have same criticism of it, but will be in to try the soup, Pho 'nuff.

What happened to @liberalace?? Don,t see tose comments. Did Spencer delete them on puropse? Why? Because they were too relevant. He has done this before. The new "disappeared".

Well, now the guy knows how the CEO of Chick-Fil-A must feel like, but without the grace of God. So whats next, you guys want to have a bar of soup in mouth sit in at Moto Pho Co.?

Haha, *soap. GET IT?

VC at summer camp:"Kumbaya,Moto Pho Co!"Numbah ten,GI.

So I there today and here was my opinion. I wanted to love it; I need a daily pho option (don't judge me!) and this was going to be perfect!

We hit the range of the menu- one order of pho, one order of pork bau (bun), shrimp spring rolls, and edemame.
The good: the edemame were fantastic! Seasoned w black sesame n salt- just awesome. Small portion, but whatever.
The shrimp rolls- tasty, fresh. Peanut sauce was very good. Nothing special in terms of flavor but well done and exactly what's described.
The service was awesome; very fast, very nice.
Now the bad:
The pho was tasteless. The noodles were still stuck together and it lacked any flavor at all. The portion was small for 8 bucks. I took one spoonful and stopped. After I paid up, I went over to lemon grass to get their 7 dollar bowl of pho which was nearly twice the size and at least 50 times better.

The pork bao I actually sent back since it contained almost no pork and was exclusively pork fat on a bun. I cannot describe the willpower it took not to spit out a mouthful of animal fat; it was repulsive.

So pretty much, unless I caught them on an off morning, I've gotta say pass. I'd rather wait till weekends and hit lemongrass where the Pho is so good it'll make you cry.
Hopefully, they fix the issues and someone I trust has a better experience.

Pork fat on a bun sounds like heaven to me!

It wasn't.
I mean, if flavorless plates of gristle are your thing by all means, enjoy.

I'm not sure I trust someone who can't do something as simple as tell the difference between fat and gristle to review a restaurant. Has your memory changed or just the story?

Wowza, hostile much? You are correct; gristle isn't the appropriate word. My apologies for not keeping my terms straight when trying to reply w a child in the room. What I got was a half inch thick slice of fat which was two inches long.
I wasn't trying to mess w people, only give an honest review. Really don't know where the hostility is coming from, dude.

@sadphoYomama. Thanks for your feedback. We will certainly review our recipes and portion sizes. We are constantly tweaking things in our first week and reviews like your helps point out where we need the most work. Thank you for mentioning the things we're doin right also. I hope you'll give us a follow up try to see if we have improved. Cheers.

@sadphoyomama. I should've said this earlier too, that if you absolutely did like like something, please let us know right away and give us a chance to fix it for you immediately or barring that, we will take it off the bill. We'd never make you pay for something you did not like. Next time you're in, let us know and it'll be our treat. Thank you.

@SadPhoYoMama, yours is the only hostility I'm seeing here. Calm down, its only soup but it sure has you wound up. Seems like all you had to do was nicely say something while you were there rather than coming here and being angry.

I enjoyed my visit on opening night -- it was not the best Pho I've ever had but it was good and I look forward to going back to see how it improves/changes. Can't wait to go get a big bowl of hot Pho when it's cold outside.

The salted lemonade was great as was the Vietnamese coffee.

There needs to be Hoisin Sauce and Sriracha bottles on every table.

One of my favorite Pho places in Northern Virginia (Pho 2000 in Herndon) had a Pork & Shrimp Pho that was awesome -- keep that as a future menu idea. :-)

I'm glad to see Vu is more mature than these giggly teen commentators, sadly self-righteous and indignant about their lack of taste.