In Denver, if you’re craving the real-deal Saigon pho experience, there are generally two choices: Eastside and Westside. Eastside pho restaurants are in Aurora, mostly in the Havana corridor, typically focus on pho and similar rice and noodle bowls. Westside pho is found on and around Federal Boulevard and the menus are often more expansive, with many restaurants featuring more unusual and regional Vietnamese specialties. In my opinion, to quote Jim Morrison, “The West is the best.” Fortunately, Pho Le brought some of Federal Boulevard over to us Eastsiders.
Pho Le’s original spot is on Federal, where it holds its own against strong competition from Denver pho titans like Pho Duy and Pho 95. In the past year or so, Pho Le opened its second branch in Aurora, where the menu and flavors stand out from the crowd. Along with the standard pho with the usual brisket, rare steak, etc., Pho Le also offers choices with duck, fish balls, pork blood, and many other variations of Vietnamese diverse cuisine. If you’re adventurous, this is an invitation for repeated visits. But Pho Le’s standard pho is worth the trip as well.
On a recent trip, we started with Vietnamese national appetizer, the fresh spring roll gỏi cuốn. We opted for shrimp (vegetarian and meat options are also available), which were expertly rolled and bursting with fresh flavors. While a peanut sauce almost always accompanies gỏi cuốn, Pho Le raises the bar with a super flavorful version peppered with pickled Vietnamese vegetables. Even after finishing the rolls, I was digging into the sauce, picking out the veggies and even eating the sauce plain.
The Pho on this visit was also phenomenal. I opted for the spicy broth with tofu and vegetables. The spicy soup, which is something you don’t see much on Denver pho menus, was delicious but not scorching. The tofu was nicely fried and crisp, with a yummy assortment of fresh vegetables as well. My wife and kids got the standard pho, which impressed with an extremely flavorful broth. In all of our bowls, the rice noodles were perfectly cooked for optimum slurping. The Meatball Pho is the favorite of a friend’s daughter. Put Italian meatballs out of your head when envisioning this version which has Asian-seasoned, thin slices of meatball, swimming in a fragrant broth.
While this visit focused on pho, Pho Le has long list of Vietnamese specialties, some soup based and others not, including their rice noodle bowls. Get the combo with pork, shrimp and egg roll that’s resting on a bed of rice noodles with shredded lettuce, and slivered cucumber. Pour the accompanying fish sauce over it and load up with mint and basil leaves, mung bean sprouts and jalapeno slices that accompany every dish.
Pho Le took over its Aurora branch from Pho Yo, which combined pho and frozen yogurt, and kept the yogurt as a dessert option. If you choose the spicy pho or eat too many of the chilies accompanying all soups, it’s a nice cooling option. Another relic of the prior operation is Korean BBQ tacos, which is not something you ever see in Vietnamese restaurants but perhaps appropriate in a neighborhood full of outstanding Korean joints.
While there’s no alcohol at Pho Le, we enjoyed the beverage options. Lotus tea was deliciously aromatic and another detail, normally only found on the Westside. The kids loved the Boba Tea selection, choosing Honeydew and Mango with lychee jelly and boba pearls. Finally if you need a jolt after chowing down, the Vietnamese coffee will put pep in your step.
The extremely reasonable prices of Pho Le deserve mention. With large servings, bowls are typically under $10 each! A family of four can feast for less than $50.
Pho Le is our go-to Vietnamese restaurant, saving a drive to Federal Blvd in Denver’s increasingly horrific traffic. For Eastsiders with pho cravings, it’s a dream come true.
Pho Le’s address is 2719 S. Parker Road. It is directly across from H Mart, an Asian grocery store-extraordinaire. Be sure to go there in conjunction with your visit to Pho Le.
— Review by Mike B., InGoodTasteDenver.com