Holy Basil Pho Puts Pho Front and Center
Restaurant Chu finds a new niche for the humble rice noodle dish.
Holy Basil Pho serves comforting pho in a modern setting.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
A time existed in America before pho was a household word.
Not just before it was a household word pronounced correctly — fuh — but pronounced any way at all: It seems like ages ago now, before many millennials were born. Before a lot of other current culinary household words and phrases leaped from tongue to tongue around the world: boba, say, and ceviche.
Vietnamese food was little known stateside before the war that bore its name ended and tens of thousands of refugees arrived here.
It took some 20 years to become mainstream, but now dozens of pho restaurants throng Oakland, specializing in the hot rice-noodle soup originally sold on the streets of Hanoi at dawn and dusk a century ago by wandering vendors hauling cauldrons and ingredients on shoulder-poles.
One of the newest, Holy Basil Pho, opened this spring in the same space where its owners Philip and Dana Chu had formerly owned and operated Restaurant Chu.
“After eight and a half years, we felt we needed a change and that Rockridge needed a pho restaurant” where diners could enjoy “good comfort pho in a modern setting complete with a full bar,” Philip Chu explained.
True to its name, and true to the personal and regional variations that have emerged since the dish’s early, exclusively beefy days, Holy Basil Pho serves several versions, including a classic steak-shank-brisket version, chicken and seafood versions, and a seasonable-vegetable version.
Broth choices include traditional beef broth, spicy beef-lemongrass broth, chicken-curry broth, roasted ginger/lemongrass/daikon/mushroom broth, and more.
“My personal favorite kind of pho is southern style — which is slightly sweet, with fish sauce, and has bolder beef flavors from a variety of beef cuts,” said Chu, who sources all of the restaurant’s ingredients in Oakland.
“It is also served in a bigger bowl compared to the northern style.”
Holy Basil Pho, 5362 College Ave., Oakland,