Looks like Shanghai’s Year of Pho will soon have its first cage match. Yes, our pleas for decent pho through the years have been thoroughly drowned out by the sound of so many pho restaurants popping up left and right, front and back. But something intriguing is happening on Wujiang Lu, where Pho Sizzlin’ has, up until now, laid claim to its pho-main with is colorful personality but decidedly average noodle offerings. A challenger has set up shop on the same street, and Pho26 is no glass-jawed pretender.
As with most pho joints, the prices vary depending on how many ingredients you choose (one of the few establishments on this planet besides Fox News where on has to actually pay more for the privilege of being served tripe). Pho26 steps it up a notch by offering a bowl served with A4 grade kobe beef, which clocks in at 100 RMB, though we were too humble try anything other than their combo bowl. Our skepticism at having a side dish with only peppers and a lime wedge (the bean sprouts and basil are already in the bowl when served) slowly dissolved as we dug into the very deep and ample bowl. The thin noodles were of the soft and fragile variety, but being overcooked added much appreciated flavor to them. Beef slices were rare and tender and delicious; the broth was a fragrant consommé that surprisingly refused to take on a sheen of oil on its surface. Note: our friend who shuns all things beef tried the pork neck rice and said it was really dry, so until we delve further into the matter stay with the pho.
The owners of Pho26 cut their teeth on having successfully run the first four shops in this chain in fickle Hong Kong, and they ostensibly have enough confidence in their product to park themselves but a few meters away from one of the most popular pho servicers in town. While it may lack the warmth of service and cheerful disposition of Pho Sizzling (they scored points with us long ago with their semi-campy instructional videos on how to eat their dishes), Sizzling should take notice: the new guys serves a very good bowl of pho.
Pho26 – 2/F No. 178 Wujiang Lu, near Shimen Lu (越旺餐厅 – 吴江路178号二楼. Tel: 5228-6597. Price: 28-35 RMB per bowl of pho
Eric Hu is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news and gossip about Shanghai’s food scene to food at shanghaiist.com.