I've only remember five times where I've had truly great pho in a restaurant. The first was way back in the early 90's when Pho Hot was still in Eden center. Another one was an absolutely amazing Pho Ga in little Saigon in California where they served you freshly steamed sliced chicken on the side with the skin on. The three others were Pho Cong Ly at its old location, Pho Golden Cow, and Pho Factory. Pho Cong Ly that one time served what had to be one of the most authentic northern style pho I've had. Pho Golden Cow was drinkable to the last drop, and just a few weeks ago Pho Factory served me a pho that had such a heavenly spice aroma.
Unfortunately these experiences are like the coming of Halley's comet or the galactic alignment...it happens just once and the rest of the times I eat there the Pho is just terrible and mediocre at best. I just don't understand why this happens really. It seems that all the Pho restaurants around the area do it...they just converge onto a standardized broth that all tastes the same. Watery, loaded with MSG, not much flavor or aroma, just a vessel for tons of condiments and hoisin sauce and sriracha. Clump of noodles at the bottom, tasteless meat.
It might seem petty but I get really bad Pho cravings and I always think back to those times where the pho was amazing, but I get astoundingly disappointed when I go to places with stark raving mad reviews like Pho 75 or Pho Hot (I believe both of those won some awards in the Washingtonian or Northern VA magazine?). Pho Hot is just absolutely nasty, and I remember going to Pho 75 (the famous arlington location) and not only consuming Pho that tasted like reconstituted chicken powder but waiting in line for half an hour and being seated in an environment that felt more like a cafeteria with angry waiters. Pho Xe Lua also seems to have legendary status among the old timers in the vietnamese community. Yet I remember the last time my grandmother took us there, the pho ga was so salty, dark brown, and the chicken was shriveled and gristly. Ugh.
What is the deal? Does good Pho no longer exist in this area? Does no one give a crap about this amazing dish anymore?