“I’m headed to The Pho Spot. It’s brand new — still in soft opening in Conservatory. They use a family recipe and it’s really good. I’ve been there three days in a row already, wanna come try?” my friend Jimmy said.
That was last Friday evening. I had just finished a late lunch of my favorite truffled egg salad sandwich at Local Foods Downtown. Jimmy had seen me through the window and wouldn't take no for an answer. I wasn’t hungry in the least, but I am always down for a good bowl of pho. Especially one where a person like Jimmy, a self-professed foodie who travels the world, made strong proclamations like: “I think you will like it. It’s probably Top 3 in the city.”
It was my second time at Conservatory, a place that I’ve been raving about since I visited for the first time a couple of months ago. Houston’s first underground food hall, the space has this industrial, artsy cooler-than-cool vibe that just draws you in. I love the huge “Houston” neon sign blazing from the back wall — a relic salvaged from the Houston Chronicle building when it moved a couple years ago — and the fact that it’s become sort of an incubator for first-time restaurateurs in Houston.
The Pho Spot is the latest addition to the roster of permanent vendors at Conservatory. Taking over the booth that used to house Melange Creperie — which has moved on to its own brick and mortar space in the Heights — the build-your-own-pho stand fits in perfectly with Conservatory’s vendor lineup.
Currently, there’s the beer garden and wine bar, Moku bar (poke), El Burro and the Bull (barbecue), ArTe Pizzeria (pizza), with Easy Does It (food with an egg on top) and Gordi’s Arepas both coming soon. But since Samurai Noodle was replaced by Moku bar, there hasn’t been a space for a bowl of steaming hot, slurpable noodles.
That’s where The Pho Spot comes in. Billed as a Chipotle-style concept where you can choose what toppings you want as you order, it’s a dream project for first time owner Danny Pham, a transplant from Long Beach, Mississippi, whose family has been doing big Vietnamese family cookouts several days a week since he was a child.
When he moved to Houston after Katrina, he became fast friends with Phi Nguyen, who owns the gourmet Waffle Bus food truck. For the past two years, Pham has been general manager of The Waffle Bus, but a few months ago, his uncle and cousin moved to Houston, and they needed jobs. The idea of The Pho Spot was born, with Nguyen and Pham as partners. Nguyen would be majority owner and contribute the financial end of things, while Pham and his family would make their family recipe pho and run the place. The timing was also fortuitous, because Melange Creperie already had plans to exit Conservatory. Nguyen says that from concept to opening — they were supposed to open on September 1 but were delayed due to Harvey — the project was realized in two months.
The Pho Spot has been in soft opening since the first week of October. On the day that I came, their sign hadn’t arrived yet. Even so, the smell of their pho broth lured people over.
The basic bowl, which comes with one choice of protein and unlimited fresh vegetable toppings, is $8. Protein topping choices, which you can add for $1 each beyond the basic bowl, include fried tofu, quail egg, shredded chicken, imitation crab meat, seafood meatballs, seafood meatballs, beef meatballs, flank steak, brisket and tendon. The seven veg toppings are cilantro, basil, green onions, onions, bean sprouts, limes, jalapeno. Premium proteins — bone marrow, beef rib and oxtail — are $3 each.
In lieu of build-your-own, you can choose from two specialty bowls. The Dac Biet 1 special is $10 and includes brisket, flank steak and meatballs. Dac Biet 2 is $15 and includes oxtail, a beef rib and bone marrow.
I did a build-your-own with brisket, flank steak, meatballs, beef rib and bone marrow and it was pretty phenomenal. Their broth is definitely one among the best I’ve tasted in the city: rich, elegantly spiced, full-bodied. Using his family’s own unique recipe, it’s cooked for 16 to 20 hours, and is made of beef bones with bone marrow, brisket, oxtail and beef rib for added depth.
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Behind the counter, Pham’s mom Linh is building bowls of pho for customers. His cousin Noah is taking orders. His dad Quang and uncle Paul are preparing the noodles and carefully ladling broth over each bowl of lovingly made pho. The menu also features shrimp and pork spring rolls, and a Pham’s own special recipe cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee).
During the soft opening phase, they’ll be perfecting new items which will be added to their menu after the grand opening next month. Pham was particularly excited about his pho French dip sandwich, which debuted this week — a small banh mi roll, slathered with bone marrow butter, stuffed with flank steak and brisket and pho vegetables, served with a side of pho broth for dipping.
The Pho Spot, located within Conservatory at 1010 Prairie, is now open Mondays-Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11. a.m. to 3 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.