The Pho Bac Boat Sails On

A Little Saigon landmark returns, with spicy noodle soup.

By Allecia Vermillion February 25, 2020 Published in the March 2020 issue of Seattle Met

"The boat" has been closed for renovations since 2018, but it's back in business.

After nearly two years of limbo, Yenvy Pham and her siblings reopened the red, dinghy-shaped landmark where, in 1982, their parents established what’s likely Seattle’s first pho shop, before the neighborhood became known as Little Saigon. Its official name is still Pho Bac, but it’s tough to find a Pham, or a customer, who doesn’t just call it “the boat.” Especially since the family relocated the original restaurant to a handsome vintage building across the parking lot and rechristened it Pho Bac Sup Shop. Over there, additional dishes, decor, and cocktails beckon a new generation of pho devotees. But the boat, says Yenvy, honors the origin story: “It was always just a pho shop, really low-key and fast.”

White tile now climbs the walls, and the haphazard flock of round Formica tables made way for a row of booths that lend affable midtown diner vibes. Ditto the counter that wraps around the newly open kitchen, where longtime Pho Bac cooks preside over enormous broth pots.

The Phams added a patio, longer hours, and some unfussy booze options, but gave the boat a dish all its own. It’s the only one of their four Seattle restaurants to serve bun bo hue, its broth charged with lemongrass and chili-infused beef fat. A length of beef rib juts out next to more classic components—meatball, tendon, and a quivering wedge of blood cake. Like before, the boat’s menu exists only on the beige plastic board on the wall. “It’s the original,” Yenvy exclaims with pride. “That’s why it’s so beat up.”

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