If you’re a fan of the Vietnamese noodle soup pho, or of former US president Bill Clinton (or both!), then here’s a place that you might like to visit: Pho 2000, an unassuming little pho shop in Saigon that has basically created a shrine to the one time, two decades ago, when Bill Clinton slurped down a bowl of noodles here.
They even call the place “Pho 2000: Pho for the president” in advertisements to commemorate the event.
As fans of both the delicious soup and the public figure, we made it a point to head in one afternoon after shopping across the street in the historic Ben Thanh Market (which, side note: dates back to 1870 and is definitely worth a look, even if most of what’s for sale there is souvenirs these days).
To get there, you have to walk through a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and up the stairs at the back. The pho shop is brightly lit (almost too much so), noisy, and crammed with people. Charming!
You’ll notice the metal tables, that the air’s got a slightly musty tang to it, and that the general background din is loud. A romantic noodle experience this is not.
We were quickly shown to a table (but, notably, not the one where Clinton sat). Apparently that one regularly has a wait. Customers who choose to wait can peruse old and yellowed articles on the wall, as well as framed photos, of that one time Clinton dropped in.
We ordered two fresh coconuts (VND35,000/US$1.52 each), one vegetarian pho (VND75,000/US$3.26 for a regular size), and one traditional beef noodle soup based bowl (VND75,000/US$3.26 for a regular size). One thing to beware of in this place: There are wet towels on the table, and if you use them you’ll be charged — our neighboring table learned this the hard way.
Our soups arrived — large portions (yay), hot and steaming (extra yay) and quickly, smelling sharply of fresh coriander and basil. My friend proclaimed her soup to be great — but, not the best pho she’d ever had.
Mine was one of the better veggie versions of pho I’ve tried in my lifetime — but it was full of sliced soy-based imitation meat, which I’ll be honest… I didn’t love. They weirded me out with their sponginess and odd flavor, so I just pushed them aside to focus on the fried beancurd sheets, basil, hot peppers, and bean sprouts floating amidst the rice noodles.
The place seemed to be full of local families eating, which we took as a good sign. We followed their cue and ate our noodle soup quickly, rejoining the throngs on the street outside within 20 minutes. We don’t know where they were going, but we were now on a mission for the ultimate Vietnamese coffee to counteract our noodle sleepiness.
Later, we learned that Pho 2000 is actually a huge stop for tourists, especially American retirees. For us — we found it to be a tasty, quick, and inexpensive lunch experience, but not much more than that. But, at least we got to take these photos of a photo of Bill Clinton.
1-3 Phan Chu Trinh
Phuong Ben Thanh
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam