The Spot: In the French Quarter, not far from a couple of posh hotels, this pho cave stands between a double-decker bia hoi restaurant and some 'ma and pa' grocery and vegetable shops on Le Phung Hieu, just off Le Thai To Street.
Space and Atmosphere: Small, family-run and supported by the neighbours, everyone seems to know everyone, except me, the big awkward blonde one who sneaks to a table behind grandma's tea and fag stand. Each family member contributes here. Dutiful daughter delivers to table, Ma preps, portions and deals in dong, aunty wrings out the laundry in the tiny bathroom out back and country cousin squats in the walled wet zone in the corner washing dishes, one nut hanging low on show!
Shopfront Style: A mad clutter of primary colours.
Sticks, Condiments and Crockery: Nothing out of the ordinary here, each element complying to Hanoi standards
Serving Station: This area extends from a blackened tree on the pavement which acts as a kind of hearth where coal brick fires are lit and kettles boiled. Behind a glass cabinet with a stainless steel bench, Pho Ma expertly throws the ingredients together. Grandma, who used to be in charge, casts her expert eye over proceedings, offering her two hao's worth every now and again.
Meat Generosity: On Saturday morning at quarter to ten, it's well past the rush hour and the house is out of chin, the thinly sliced corned beef that makes up one half of my usual meat order. I settle for pho tai, the simplest of pho dishes - beef cooked rare under the pour of the ladle. As there's no corned beef, I'm compensated with a larger than usual serving of the latter. On a green note, I must say I do prefer pho joints that include a handful of blanched spring onions rather than just a scattering of chopped ones.
Service to Delivery Gap: At this hour, it's instantaneous.
Stock Factor: Steaming and robust, shiny yellow oil pills dotting the surface.
Cost: Under the pho industry average, at 10,000VND a bowl.
Rank: The rankings are a fine mess which I'll rectify soon. I'm putting this joint amongst the middling. Nine of sixteen.