When it comes to Vietnamese eats, I’m a huge fan. Mostly because of two things, the diversity of its food categories and organic take on Asian-fusion cuisine. So what do I mean here? First, Vietnamese food spans a wide variety of entree types: rice plates (com), noodle bowls (bun), sandwiches (banh mi) and soups (pho). And given its history, their are French influences in Vietnamese cuisine but integrated in a truly natural progression over time. So I was curious when I ran into the menu for No. 1 Pho out in Cary. While our Vietnamese dining options have really improved over the last several years, No. 1 Pho had a broader and more diverse menu than I’ve seen elsewhere. So I decide to take a trip out to W. Cary to check out this newest, Vietnamese find!
Heading out on I-540 south, No. 1 Pho sits in a newer shopping plaza with La Farm Bakery and Whole Foods. Step into No. 1 Pho and you definitely get a different vibe here. Polished concrete floors, modern metal chandeliers hanging overhead, and a lot of natural, wood paneling in the dining room that catches your eye. There are a handful of line art, Vietnamese prints which gives the space a more ethnic feel. Looking over the menu you’ll find a longish menu covering the usuals (com, bun, pho, banh mi) along with some more interesting items like hu tieu rice noodles (pork-based broth), banh hoi angel hair vermicelli crepe, nem nuong meatballs, and cha gio spring rolls. It’s a larger menu so you may need some time to figure out your meal! With entree prices at the $10 to $20 range, I’d have to say that No. 1 Pho is a slightly pricier Vietnamese options than most others in the area.
To start with, I usually love Vietnamese rolls. Their goi cuon (summer rolls) are beautifully assembled. Translucent, soft white rice paper over rice noodles, shrimp, lettuce, and herbs. They skip the pork that’s often in summer rolls but it’s a wonderfully fresh version of a summer roll with the herb flavor popping out. One area of improvement, I wished the peanut sauce had more depth and punch here. The cha gio (fried spring rolls) are excellent, wrapped in rice paper vs. the more typical spring roll wrapper. It’s the first time I’ve seen this style of spring roll in NC and feels a bit more authentic to me. Paired with some dipping sauce, it’s a great treat!
On the pho side of the menu, I tried out the #2 with fresh eye of round, brisket, tendon, and omosa (tripe). No. 1 Pho serves up a smaller, deeper bowl with about the same amount of primary ingredients. There’s plenty of noodle, scallion and onion but if you’re expecting a huge bowl of pho, you may be disappointed. I found the broth here a bit lighter and more basic but still a satisfying slurp. Where No. 1 Pho shines is the fresh plate of condiments (bean sprouts, jalapenos, basil) which is pungent and plentiful.
One other item that caught my eye was the nem nuong (grilled pork meatball) served as a main. It’s a complicated dish, a plate of meatball served up with a plate of greens, pickled veggies, peanut sauce, fish sauce, and then rice paper discs and water. You assemble the meal as you go, twirl the rice disc in the water bath just long enough to get soft, too long in the water will make it hard to work with. Pile some meatball and veggies on top, roll it up and you’re ready to eat. It’s a fun dish and one that’s probably best shared with friends. No. 1 Pho also serves up this dish as an appetizer and pre-made.
Service at No. 1 Pho has been excellent for my visits although I have seen some complaints in online reviews. It’s a family-run restaurant so there might be a wait at times due to the pandemic and staffing issues. But overall I like what they are doing here and appreciate the breadth of what they offer. If you’re looking for a fresher, lighter take on Vietnamese cuisine I can definitely recommend a visit. I’ll be back to try more off the menu but if you live in W. Cary or S. Durham, No. 1 Pho is definitely worth the drive over.