My friend Rebecca says that diners seek out one of two kinds of restaurant experiences: the novel or the comforting. I think she’s onto something, and for me, Pho Tay Do falls happily into the latter category.
Pho is Vietnamese soup. Rice vermicelli, vegetables and thin slices of meat or chunks of tofu float in an anise-lime scented broth that you can garnish with Thai basil, lime and bean sprouts. It’s light yet deeply comforting,
This hole-in-the-wall spot has become so beloved among many pho fanatics that they fight about it — should people dare to mention they prefer a different one. There are a handful of pho spots at West Broad and Horsepen and if you don’t already have a fight-worthy favorite, Pho Tay Do is a worthy candidate.
Pho Tay Do is usually crowded, but I’ve never had to wait long to be seated. It’s often dotted with solo diners so no awkwardness in eating alone, although you may be asked to share a table.
The funkadelic decor features murals that mix ’50s-era waitresses, beach babes, Vietnamese landscapes and celebrities. A big screen TV catches you up on the latest American soap operas. Classic metal and pleather restaurant chairs flank melamine-topped tables.
This is a restaurant industry favorite, so don’t be surprised if you see a familiar server hunched over a steaming bowl of hangover cure, or a bartender picking up takeout before a shift. Between the shared tables and running into acquaintances, eating at Pho Tay Do can often be a group experience.
Many regulars don’t even bother with the menu anymore. They either know the name of what they want or its menu number. This is smart, because there are some dishes that don’t impress.
Menu item No. V6, the vegetarian pho, tasted like warm saltwater, with big chunks of flavorless tofu and the occasional onion slice. The fried spring rolls, No. A1, were so greasy they exploded in my mouth like soup dumplings.
Go for the meat options instead: oho with some mix of brisket, tendon, flank, tripe, meatballs or eye of round steak. The broth in our eye of round pho had notes of anise and citrus, even before we added the side basil and lime. The fresh spring rolls with grilled pork, No. A6, were a little bland, but ramped up by a rich peanut sauce.
Chicken pho, No. 17, had a refreshing lemony broth with tender slices of white meat. My favorite was the stir-fried beef with vermicelli, No. B8, which the server recommended. The thin slices of steak atop a bed of rice noodles were surrounded by fresh cucumbers, bean sprouts, lettuce and pickled carrots. The bowl looked huge, but the dish was light enough that I finished the whole thing but didn’t long for a nap.
Forget the laptop, this is not a place to spread out and lollygag. Also, there is no Wi-Fi. Instead, go to Pho Tay Do to take a quick break from your workday, focus on the food and head back to the office recharged.
This is also not the best place to take work people who you want to impress with a little swank. Between the crowded tables and the big-screen TV, there are no frills. It is, however, a perfect spot to suggest for a lunch meeting with someone who appreciates interesting food or stays in touch with the Richmond food scene. One of the broth-free noodle bowls is also a smart option for midday takeout. Slurping pho can be a messy desk lunch.
When the restaurant isn’t packed, I’m usually in and out in half an hour. Service can get backed up when the lines grow, especially because this is a bare-bones operation that often has one man greeting, serving and ringing up customers.
On a recent busy Sunday our small group waited longer than we liked to order. The food was slightly delayed, but we only spent about an hour total over lunch.
One of the most comforting things about Pho Tay Do is the friendly service. I am always met with eye contact, a big smile and a little chit-chat about my day or how I’m feeling. If I’m waiting, the host keeps me up to date on the table status and makes me feel like he can’t wait to make a table available because he is sincerely glad I am there.
With large bowls of pho at $7.50 and extra large ($11.50), Pho Tay Do will fill your belly without emptying your pockets. Fried or fresh spring rolls cost $3, noodle bowls are $8. A warming pot of jasmine tea, large enough to share, is $1.50.
The wrinkle in the affordable pricing is that Pho Tay Do is cash only. Who carries cash these days? I’ve had to zip over to the nearby 7-Eleven more than once when I got a yearning for pho but had a wallet full of plastic.
Pho Tay Do is a Richmond cult favorite for good reason. The combination of kind-hearted service and flavorful food is the holy grail for any restaurant. Vietnamese food may be novel for some diners, but after a few visits Pho Tay Do is likely to become a comforting standby. S
Pho Tay Do
6328 Rigsby Road
Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Thursdays - Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sundays 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.