Houston: One Tough Town for Noodles
Tho Lam, a waiter at Pho One on Westheimer at Wilcrest, told me his life story the other day. Tho works for his parents Thamh Lam and Kim Oanh Vu who own the place. The name of the restaurant is a wordplay on his mom's middle name. Kim Oanh Vu comes from a famous pho family. Her father and Tho's grandfather, Y Van Vu, opened one of the most famous noodle shops in Saigon in the 1960s -- it was called Pho Tau Bay.
In 1975, the year that Saigon fell, Y Van Vu and his six kids moved to the United States The family opened a noodle shop in Gretna outside of New Orleans, which they proudly named Pho Tau Bay. The business took off and the Vu family opened three more Pho Tau Bay restaurants in the New Orleans area. A fifth was scheduled to open in the fall of 2005 -- then Katrina hit. All of the restaurants were closed.
Tho's aunt returned to New Orleans and reopened the original Pho Tau Bay in Gretna. It's still considered the best pho shop in the Crescent City. Kim Oanh Vu and her husband decided to stay in Houston and open a noodle shop here, but the name Pho Tau Bay was already taken in Houston.
Pho One does a steady business, but hasn't achieved the kind of fame that Pho Tau Bay had in Saigon or New Orleans. Tho believes that eventually more people will sample the pho, which is still made according to his grandfather's exacting recipe, and the restaurant will rise above its competitors. I've been eating at this restaurant for several years. I have to agree that the soup broth is very good and the vermicelli salads are excellent. But fame is elusive -- and Houston is a tough town for noodles.