If you live in Seattle long enough, with its abundance of Vietnamese restaurants, a steaming, fragrant bowl of pho tastes like home. But to Yenvy Pham, pho is home. When she was born 30 years ago, her parents were already five years into running Pho Bac, the popular ramshackle pho shop on the corner of Rainier Avenue S and S Jackson Street that has grown over time into an empire of four restaurants. Now retired—as much as lifelong entrepreneurs ever retire—her parents have passed along Pho Bac’s recipes and reputation to Pham and two of her four older siblings. And this second generation has kicked things up a notch with Pho Bac Sup Shop. Opened in January, it has a clearly younger look and a few new menu items. (And we haven’t even started talking about the wine options.)
“[Our parents] really taught us to be community oriented, because without the community, they wouldn’t be anywhere,” Pham says. She could have opened this latest Pho Bac iteration in a far hipper neighborhood, but she gives a great deal of credit to the Chinatown–International District community for its location. After all, when her parents arrived here as Vietnamese immigrants, it was that community that built them up and kept coming back for pho. They were pioneers, yet many diners are of the opinion (myself included) that Pho Bac still makes the best broth in the city.
That’s not to say the Pham siblings haven’t pushed boundaries at Sup Shop, which sits in a boxy black building that shares a parking lot with the original red Pho Bac shack (currently under renovation). Diners will find a menu expanded beyond the tried-and-true beef pho options, though of course those are here, too ($10–$11). Short-rib pho is Pham’s creation; it’s become a best-seller, possibly for the comically large bones that arrive jutting out of the bowl. The siblings have also added bar snacks—a salty-sweet fortune cookie snack mix ($3), intensely flavorful chicken wings ($10–$18) and even french fries ($5)—meant to complement the new cocktails.
There’s a custom neon sign that reads “Phocific Northwest” in one part of the dining area; in another, a photo booth sits in the corner, unused for the most part. And along the northern wall is perhaps the most unexpected element of all: Vita Uva, a wine shop—a booth, really, as it occupies just a small section of wall space—dedicated entirely to natural wine. (For the uninitiated, this current darling of the wine community refers to wines that have been both farmed and made with minimal intervention. The result is sometimes a little funky and cloudy, but full of interesting natural flavor.)
As it turns out, Pham is good friends with Suzi An, the former JuneBaby/Salare creative director who left Edouardo Jordan’s popular restaurants last year to chase her dream of owning a natural wine shop. “Her passion is wine, and we had the space, and I just thought, why don’t you just do your thing here?” Pham says. An stocks about 50 bottles for sale and curates the restaurant’s wine list to match the flavors of Vietnamese cooking yet also be approachable; she and Pham really want to introduce this community to something they say can be seen as “bougie.”
Pham has done more than just give An a place to launch her wine shop. “It’s been really refreshing to be around Yenvy and her family, because they’re really in touch with their culture,” An says. She is Korean-American, but grew up on Mercer Island, more familiar with Shabbat dinners than the Lunar New Year, she says. “It’s been really helpful to get in touch with my identity as an Asian-American.”
On several visits, my singular criticism is that service was generally inconsistent and servers unfamiliar with the wine list—mildly irritating, until Pham put my expectations in context: The Phams employ mostly Vietnamese immigrants, as they always have, hired from ads placed in local Asian papers.
Much has changed at Pho Bac with the changing of the guard. But the important stuff—the heart, that broth—has stayed the same.
JUST WINE: Within Pho Bac Sup Shop is Suzi An's Vita Uva, a small space where she sells natural wines
Pho Wine Nerds Only
If servers at Pho Bac Sup Shop can’t guide you to the best wine pairing for your meal, rely on the cheat sheet put together by Vita Uva owner Suzi An:
Pair the slow-stewed short rib pho with:
Le Bergey, a blend of Merlot (85 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (15 percent) that’s hearty enough to stand up to the comically Flintstone-esque nature of this dish. $10 per glass
Pair the classic beef pho with:
Le Piane, an easy-drinking field blend from Italy that’s vibrant with red fruit and pepper to complement the various cuts of meat in the bowl. $8 per glass
Pair the lighter chicken pho with:
Domaine de la Patience, a Chardonnay fermented in tanks and aged in concrete, giving it minerality and citrus notes that complement the broth’s aromas. $8 per glass
Pair the flavorful dry noodles with:
Inazio Urruzola txakolina, an acid-driven rosé with a slight effervescence that cuts the tamarind dressing and works well with the delicate hints of turmeric in the noodles. $8 per glass