Pho 96, Denver

Pho 96
2990 W. Mississippi Ave.
Denver, CO 80219

One of my mom’s favorite foods to eat that wasn’t Chinese was pho. Thanks to her, I practically grew up on Vietnamese food and learned to really love it. My love for Vietnamese dishes like pho rapidly increased when I attended UC Irvine, which was only a 15 minute drive to Westminster, the heart of the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam.

I was very fortunate to discover when I was campaigning to help reelect Senator Bennet in 2010 that Denver had some amazing Vietnamese food. In fact, I have had the best Vietnamese food here outside of Southern California. What is even better is that several Vietnamese restaurants open rather late on weekends (though not my favorite), which made the decision on where to eat very easy last night after I finished work.

Pho 96 is one of those late night Vietnamese restaurants. Sitting at the corner of Mississippi and Federal, the building and parking lot is rather unassuming. However, entering inside you are treated to nice decor, with well kept booths, fake-granite tables, bright green paint, and flat screen TVs with ESPN on. It is certainly a step up from typical bare-bones formica table and chopsticks stand pho restaurants in Westminster, CA.

As I sat down, the waiter handed me a menu. The menu is pretty straightforward, unlike the voluminous menu you would find at Saigon Bowl up the street on Federal. One page was devoted to pho, another to appetizers and rice dishes, and another to sweet drinks like Thai Ice Tea. No fuss, no nonsense: this is a pho restaurant where one item rains supreme.

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I ordered a large combination pho as well as an order of egg rolls. The egg rolls came out first and was beautifully presented, with fresh accoutrements including lettuce, sliced cucumbers, pickled and julienned  carrots, and rice noodles tossed in fried garlic. While this all made for a beautiful egg roll-lettuce “burrito” of sorts (which is what I’ve learned should be done to enjoy the egg rolls), there was one big flaw: the egg rolls were over fried. The egg rolls were so crispy at parts that it was hard to chew. I’ve had their egg rolls before, which were much better fried, so I am not sure why yesterday was so disappointing.

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Fortunately, the pho was much better. The bowl was tremendous and filled with well prepared cuts of sliced beef, beef brisket, tripe, tendon, and meatballs. The slices of beef were slightly disappointing in that it came to my table cooked almost well done (it should be rare). The broth was also a little salty. However, the noodles and other beef items were well cooked, the accompaniments were fresh, and the portion was excellent.

The service was also good for a pho restaurant, which typically is so busy busing tables they forget about your experience. A waiter regularly refilled ice water and asked me in the end if I needed a box, which I did. My waiter was also great in steering me toward pho when I was debating between pho or a rice dish, as he pointed out the fact that pho is better later in the day when the broth has been simmering the whole day.

All in all, Pho 96 is a great place to go for a late night Vietnamese food craving. It may not serve food as good as Saigon Bowl or Pho 95, but it certainly ranks high for hospitality and ambiance. It’s also a great value where you can eat like a king for less than $10.

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