Well, we’ve had another chilly few days, and when the weather gets cool, my thoughts turn to hot, hearty soups. Pho Huong Lan (https://www.facebook.com/people/Pho-Huong-Lan/100063544778514/) is my new favorite restaurant in Orlando for the two Vietnamese noodle soups I love so much: pho and bun bo hue. For the uninitiated, pho is a hearty beef noodle soup featuring rare beef that cooks in the hot broth, as well as meaty add-ons like sliced brisket, chewy beef meatballs (nothing like Italian or Swedish meatballs), tender and unctuous beef tendon, and tripe. Bowls of pho are infinitely customizable, as they come with basil leaves, bean sprouts, sliced fresh jalapeño peppers (much hotter than the standard pickled variety you get in jars), lime wedges to squeeze into the broth, and condiments like hoisin sauce and spicy sriracha.
Bun bo hue is a spicy red broth that usually contains thicker noodles and different cuts of beef and pork, and it also comes with fresh herbs, vegetables, and lime wedges to make every bowl unique. I’ve tried them all over town, and Orlando is blessed with many Vietnamese restaurants that serve excellent bowls. I can’t think of many disappointing experiences I’ve had with either kind of soup. They warm your body and soul — perfect for chilly weeks like this one — but pho is one of the only soups I seek out to enjoy in the summertime, because it is so light and surprisingly refreshing. But that said, of all the restaurants I’ve tried these two soups at, Pho Huong Lan makes the souperior versions of both.
Here are photos of the menu. Pardon the contrast — yellow text on a white background is not the greatest combination. You may want to right-click on the menu images and open them in new tabs for larger images.
This really cool mural livens up the dining room, where hot pots simmer off to the side.
Lucky maneki neko cats decorate the front counter, greeting customers.
For our first takeout order, I ordered pho for both my wife and myself. Like any good Vietnamese restaurant, they package the fragrant broth separately in takeout orders, so the tender rice noodles don’t turn to mush before you get to enjoy it. Mine is on the left, and it doesn’t look as clear as my wife’s broth on the right because it has oxtails (one of my favorite meats!) swimming in it.
My wife ordered pho tai dap, with rare flank steak. That’s her usual, but most local Vietnamese restaurants serve it with small, paper-thin slices of rare beef. Pho Huong Lan surprised us both by serving it with a large piece of tender rare flank steak, served like chopped steak — not exactly in the form of loose ground beef, but close. It cooked perfectly well in the hot broth at home, so don’t worry about that one bit. The rice noodles were thicker and more tender than the rice vermicelli most local restaurants served. We both liked them a lot.
Here’s a close-up of the rare flank steak we both got. I preferred this a lot to the slices of rare beef we are used to. It was a lot more tender than those slices once it hit the broth.
I got a smaller portion of the rare flank steak because I chose the pho dac biet, my usual at most restaurants, with rare flank steak, brisket, beef tripe, tender beef tendon, and beef meatballs (which were also floating in the broth with the oxtails I added on for an upcharge).
Here is my beautiful bowl of pho, fully assembled at home, as perfect as such a thing can be:
On my second visit, I tried the bun bo hue, which came with thicker, chewier rice noodles and a different assortment of meats than the pho: “rough” flank steak, beef shank, the chewy and unctuous tendon I love, congealed beef blood, and a round slice of pork bologna. I also paid the upcharge for beef short rib, another fatty and tender meat I love. I am so happy that Pho Huong Lan offers oxtail and short rib options, which I don’t mind paying extra for.
(In addition to the short rib and oxtail add-ons for the pho and bun bo hue, you can also add ox pennis [sp] to your noodle soup for an upcharge, something I’ve never noticed on any other local Vietnamese menus. But as many times as people have told me to “Eat a dick,” I’m just not there yet in my development as an adventurous eater.)
Here is the assembled bun bo hue, which was so warm and comforting and refreshing on a chilly day. It was spicy, but not nearly as spicy as other dishes I’ve had from other cuisines, and not even quite as spicy as other versions of bun bo hue I’ve had in Orlando. Here, the heat complimented all the fresh flavors without overwhelming any of them.
Pho Huong Lan only serves pho and bun bo hue, with multiple options in multiple sizes. If you’re looking for rice dishes, grilled meats, summer rolls, banh mi sandwiches, or any other Vietnamese specialties, the good news is you have many other great options in Orlando, especially in the same Mills 50 district. I have reviewed plenty of them, and I remain a fan. But if you’re in the mood for these two iconic noodle soups, I argue that Pho Huong Lan makes the absolute best versions in Orlando. I’ve tried most of them, and this restaurant is streets ahead of its competitors. Your mileage may vary, and I would love to hear what my dozens of readers think, but I feel pretty confident recommending Pho Huong Lan as the best I’ve ever had.