From almost any standpoint—historical, moral, cultural—the French occupation of Vietnam was a really bad thing. But as someone who really enjoys food, I am totally okay with reaping the benefits of French influence on Vietnamese cuisine. Pho Ha, a Vietnamese spot about five minutes from campus, presents the benefits pretty clearly, serving incredible coffee and menu options like banh mi, which is one of the best sandwiches found anywhere.
The first thing worth explaining about Pho Ha is probably pho itself. Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a noodle soup laced with spices like ginger, cinnamon, black cardamom, green onion and cilantro and is usually served with beef (another French introduction).
Making pho is a fairly arduous task—traditional pho broth is meant to simmer for around 12 hours. So it’s not a surprise that pho is one of the most critical dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. And it’s also not a surprise that most of the Vietnamese restaurants that we see in Los Angeles are called Pho-something, where the “pho” is the essential descriptor and the “something” is really a wildcard. (My personal favorite is Pho Superbowl.)
But pho is not the best thing at Pho Ha, even though it’s still very good, worth getting and cheap ($5.25 for an individual bowl, $6.95 for a gigantic bowl). It’s not even the best noodle soup at Pho Ha. That would be its bo kho, a beef noodle soup that is absolutely phenomenal. Bo kho is the perfect dish imaginable for a cold night—warm, full of flavor and spice and, like the pho, cheap.
Pho Ha also has most standard Vietnamese dishes and some that aren’t standard, and it does them all competently. Its egg rolls and spring rolls are good. Its bun—vermicelli noodles with shrimp or meat on top—is also good. Its fried rice dishes are good. But what separates Pho Ha from the other Vietnamese spots in the Claremont area is its not-so-standard dishes, including a variety of noodle soups that, again, could be even better than pho and a large list of various small dishes like jicama tofu rolls, which are exactly what they sound like and taste better than you’d think.
Their fresh fruit juices, milkshakes and smoothies are also excellent. I tend to order the mango smoothie, but don’t hold back if you’re more inclined to order their pennywort and mungbean smoothie, which has a complexion that is roughly similar to the vomit-flavored jellybean sold by Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.
As for the French influence, it’s entirely worth trying Vietnamese coffee. Pho Ha has the best coffee in Claremont.
The only real obstacle in claiming Pho Ha as Claremont’s best restaurant is the fact that it’s not actually in Claremont—it’s officially in Pomona. But it’s close enough to campus, so it’s still the winner in my mind.
695 Indian Hill Blvd, Pomona, CA 91767