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30 Restauants in 30 Days: Dai Loi #2

dailoiGranted, I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that you will like pho if you try it.

There are scores of Vietnamese pho parlors around the city, and I suggest you just walk into whichever one is closest and order a bowl of “pho tai.” This will come with rosy slices of rare beef and none of that tendon and tripe that can put some people off.

Did I say tendon and tripe? OK, please forget about that for now.

Instead, think about these happy words: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander and star anise. These are the warming, smile-making spices that infuse each pot of limpid beef stock. Imagine a big bowl of this soup, steaming hot, and plumbed with noodles and slivered onions.

Are you hungry yet?

OK, more: That rare beef will come on top, and I suggest you immediately snatch it from the soup and place it on a side dish to keep it from overcooking. You can swish it through the broth later.

Take a sip of the broth and appreciate the beefy richness. I know you will like it.

Now, you will have a side plate of bean sprouts, lime wedges, jalapeno slices, basil leaves and a spiky leaf that looks like a weed, tastes like cilantro and goes by the name of “sawtooth.” You may put any or all of this into your soup and give it a good swirl. You can also goose your soup with a squirt of spicy sriracha sauce or one of sweet hoisin sauce. It’s all there for you.

As I said, you can get pretty good pho pretty much anywhere. I like a place called Dai Loi #2 that sits toward the southern end of Buford Highway. The soup is standard rather than exceptional. But the scene here is a total trip.

The restaurant first opened in 2001 as Vietnam House — a much fancier operation that totally duded up this corner  space with chandeliers, fish tanks and weirdly soft pink light that made everyone look sallow. It did not last.

Dai Loi, a branch of a successful Forest Park restaurant moved in, thumbed its nose at the fancy trappings and began dishing out pho fast and furiously to an always packed house. One table may hold three generations of an extended Vietnamese family, from crying babies to near-mute grannies. Another unites stylish young women in high stilleto boots.

You won’t believe how quickly your food comes. You have barely placed your order before a waiter comes hurtling through the room with a steaming bowl of pho in his hands. Talk about immediate gratification.

You can get servicable cha gio imperial rolls to start, but I’d personally get my face into the pho without delay. All I really want with it is a ca phe su dua — a little press pot of Vietnamese coffee that brews over a mug holding a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Once it finishes brewing, you stir the coffee into the milk and then pour the whole business over ice. Dessert!

By the way, Dai Loi also serves many other entrees, such as  rice noodle bowls and beef stew. I’ve never looked past the pho menu.

Look for a visit to Nam Restaurant on Sunday, where a somewhat gussied up pho appears on the menu at lunch.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear if there’s a place in the metro area that serves exceptional pho. It seems to me that some places are a little better than others, but not enough to merit a huge search. Am I wrong?

40 comments Add your comment

Mary

November 21st, 2009
8:07 am

I would love to find some pho that was made with vegetable broth. Any ideas John Kessler? As a vegetarian, I know I’m really missing out on something. I used to live in New Mexico and could find vegetarian pho there; haven’t found that here yet.

Alison

November 21st, 2009
9:19 am

I actually think the Dai Loi #2 is among the best. The restaurant’s clean, they have that ridiculous chandelier, and the food is fresh and delicious. Their pho is nice and clear; not oily or cloudy like at other place. I just went to Pho Truc the other day, because it’s less than a mile away from my house. The food took forever (how? The soup takes hours to make, it’s not like they’re starting from scratch. And we were the ONLY ONES in the restaurant), their were children running around screaming and watching Family Guy on tv, and the whole place made me feel like I had to take a shower. The soup was ok, nothing great. I’ve been up and down Buford Hwy looking for the best one, and I don’t think any of them are as good at the Dai Loi #2. I can’t wait to hear what everyone else says!

Thatguy

November 21st, 2009
10:01 am

Saigon Cafe does a pretty serviceable version, for being a chain. Also, over on Pleasant Hill, try What the Pho.

Joy

November 21st, 2009
10:18 am

John, Can you provide some insight as to why most Pho restaurants have numbers associated with them?

Edward

November 21st, 2009
10:33 am

With my partner being Asian, as well as having several Asian friends, I’ve tried most of the nearby pho houses and I always come back to Dai Loi #2. The pho is really good and similar to a few other places but it is the service that is exceptional and puts it over the top. I can also recommend Pho Hua, at Asian Square.

If you are at Dai Loi #2 and not in the mood for pho, do try some of their other dishes. I’ve not had a bad meal there.

Dan

November 21st, 2009
10:50 am

Pho Bac on Buford Highway near Chamblee Tucker Road. Having tried over a dozen Pho places all over the city, this one stands out as the best Pho in my opinion. They also have an extensive rice and noodle menu and Vietnamese sub sandwiches when going with groups who aren’t in the mood for soup. I love that Pho is getting so popular!

Atlanta Native - the original here

November 21st, 2009
10:50 am

I love Pho. The best I have had recently is in a small place called Saigon Deli in Asian Square. It’s accross from Pho Hua, and a little better. I will try Dai Loi #2.

I miss Bien Thuy and it’s spicy version.

Steve

November 21st, 2009
10:56 am

No need to take the meat out when you get it. Ask them to put the meat on the side (a very traditional Vietnamese thing to do) and they will. Then, marinate the meat in a little hoisin sauce, Siracha, squirt of lime, mix it all up, leave for a second and then put it in the broth.. Yummmmm!!!

Steve

November 21st, 2009
10:58 am

@ Joy Sometimes it’s the number of restaurants that they have e.g. Pho Dai Loi #2 is their 2nd location. Sometimes it’s a bit like a race car, it’s just a number because they all are call “Pho” so it’s hard to differentiate.

Atlanta Native

November 21st, 2009
11:14 am

Thanks for the tip Steve! Saigon Deli (not Cafe) in Asian Square is my present favorite.

Louis Prima

November 21st, 2009
11:42 am

It’s not vegitarian, but there’s a pho place on Bu-Hi next to Kermex…Pho 96 maybe? (Something numerical, and it backs up to a big festival-type parking lot near PDK airport). Anyways, it has a delicious chicken noodle soup that’ll cure what ails ya. Good and good for ya.

Brookhaven Mike

November 21st, 2009
12:27 pm

My wife and I eat pho at least once a week. We go back and forth between pho #1 across from Plaza Fiesta and pho dai lot #2 just for a change of pace. Hard to say that one is better than the other. Typically see more gweilo at #1 vs dai loi if that means anything.

John Kessler

November 21st, 2009
12:33 pm

Any veggie pho out there? I’d love to try some. Also, I’ve heard that the number sometimes indicates the year the owner emigrated.

Brookhaven Mike

November 21st, 2009
1:24 pm

Crispy lemongrass tofu is one of our favorites at Nam. We have had fried tofu at many asian places in ATL and this is our favorite.

The Big Maru

November 21st, 2009
1:35 pm

John -

I always thought the beef in Pho Tai was raw, not rare, but didn’t mind because the broth was so hot that it would cook the beef and there wouldn’t be any issues with undercooked meat. Any concerns with putting the beef back in the broth after it has cooled down?

Also, the Pho at Da Lat always seemed better and more complex than any of the other places I had it on Buford Highway. Sadly, Da Lat closed but I think there’s a new Vietnamese restaurant in its place (Shallowford between Chamblee Tucker and Buford Highway, in the clubhouse of the abandoned mini-golf course). Don’t know if it’s the same people, but if you can find out where the folks from Da Lat went, check it out.

J

November 21st, 2009
4:33 pm

Ask any Vietnamese person and they will tell you that Pho Dai Loi is the best.
Saigon Cafe probably has the worst and overpriced pho ever.
And if you want the best, nothing beats home made. :)

jc_atl

November 21st, 2009
4:41 pm

I have a nasty head cold and drove up to Pho Bac this afternoon. I get the Pho Tai Chin (adds well-cooked brisket to the standard rare eye of the round).

Jm

November 21st, 2009
5:06 pm

A great place in Smyrna is Huang Long at South Cobb Dr. and Pat Mell Rd (north of Windy Hill).

Dreadest

November 21st, 2009
5:33 pm

Pho rocks the casbah!! I had a vietnamese buddy who I used to work with and during a dinner with his family they served pho. Been lovin the pho for the past 8 years. I’m going to have to check this place out!

Tanya

November 21st, 2009
6:01 pm

Pho 79 at the corner of Winters Chapel and Peeler Road has good pho. She doesn’t have rare beef pho on the menu but you can order it. We’ve been going there for almost 20 years. (It used to be on Buford Highway in the Plaza Fiesta and looked like a dive but had good food.) The “new location” (she’s been there since 3/07) is nice, cloth tablecloths, subdued lighting, etc. My kids have grown up eating Pho and really enjoy it.

D

November 21st, 2009
6:02 pm

By far the best pho in Atlanta is Dai Loi 2. The rest have an artificial smell or have a flat flavor. Saigon Cafe, Pho Bac, and Pho Hoa while always busy are seriously inferior in terms of flavor and freshness of their veggies.

While not like the Pho in Vietnam, Pho Dai Loi is a close second.

Dellis Mustelli

November 21st, 2009
6:07 pm

Try Pho Cali in food court at Hong Kong Supermarket II in Norcross and you will never go back to other places. Its address 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd, Norcross, GA 30093

Pho (beef noodle addict)

Darin

November 21st, 2009
9:16 pm

jc_atl: I’m the same way. I caught one of my son’s ‘daycare colds’ as I call them this week and the only thing I want to eat is Pho.

Dai Loi is close to my office so I’m there most often. The Pho Ga is great for a sore throat, though I find their chicken meat to be a little too tough. I’m loving this recommendation here for asking to have the beef slices for the Pho Tai put on the side. I hope I’ll have the nerve to try out that request some time.

I can recommend a type of pho at Lee’s Bakery that I embarrassingly don’t know the name of — it’s the one with beef pieces, carrots and tripe in a dark broth that’s served with a baguette. I’ve had it at Dai Loi and other places but Lee’s makes my favorite version.

A

November 22nd, 2009
12:23 pm

Would also appreciate a good veggie pho place. Not just veggies in the soup, but a vegetarian broth too.

BeezieB

November 22nd, 2009
12:43 pm

Thirding request for a non-beef broth pho. I can make pho in meatless broth at home and since the spices are the same as in the meaty stuff it tastes pretty good (and really it’s all about the hot broth contrasting with the crispy veggies for me anyway), but it would be nice to have an eating out option. Heaping Bowl introduced me to pho via their vegetarian version. Not authentic by any means, sure.

Charles

November 22nd, 2009
10:04 pm

Question for the fans. Was it love at first sip/bite? Or did it take a while to aquire the taste? Anyone like the pho tai but not the versions with the tendon and tripe? I’ve only tried Pho once, and I figured I’d go all in and get the one with tendon, tripe, etc. I wouldn’t try and make an objective evaluation of it, but it wasn’t that enjoyable to me. This discussion makes me want to give myself another try and see if I can acquire the taste – hit me with you pho love stories people.

RACER X

November 23rd, 2009
11:35 am

are the noodles in Pho typically 100% rice flour?? I don’t eat wheat flour anymore and was wondering about trying a few of the noodle houses.

Kar

November 23rd, 2009
12:13 pm

I’ve heard that the numbers such as Pho 96 refer to famous soup recipes where basically everyone knows which is which. That’s according to mama-san at Pho 79. I miss Pho Uteri still though. They had the best pho broth I’ve ever had.

The sawtooth cilantro is called culantro if anyone’s curious.

I agree that this stuff is the best for colds. Nothing like a vat of hot broth and chili’s to clear the head.

GP

November 23rd, 2009
1:00 pm

re: Charles

The first time I had Pho I fell in love. I can’t get enough of it. turned most of my friends on to it as well. I haven’t been to Dai Loi 2 but will definitely try it.

Son H

November 23rd, 2009
1:18 pm

My brother and I always go to Pho #1 off of Buford Hwy in front of the QT / Hong Kong Market. We work in Atlanta and drive 20 mins there at least 3 days a week.

I was brought up eating pho that has a stronger taste with the cinnamon, star anise, etc and Pho #1 has never let me down. Pho Dai Loi and other pho restaurants in Atlanta area always a hit or miss for me. Either too bland or okay.

At Pho restaurants you can order the TAI (eye of round) on the side. I usually do this and create my own carpaccio (add basil, onions, and fish sauce)

Other recommendations:
Bun Cha Ca – Spicy Pork and Fish Patties Soup with Rice “Spaghetti Style” Noodles (must put mam ruoc (shrimp paste) and squeeze lime over in broth)

Com Tay Hen / Hai San – Stir Fried Veg / Seafood or Baby Clams on Crispy Rice Hot Pot

Hu Thieu Ap Chao – Fried Rice noodles with stir fried veggies / meat / seafood

I’ve tried just about everything at this restaurant. All have been good.

amy

November 23rd, 2009
1:22 pm

Pho #79 in doraville has great pho…and the owner is very hospitable.

Son H

November 23rd, 2009
1:30 pm

I’m still looking a restaurant that serves great pho with oxtail. There is one on buford hwy in the same shopping center of Chateau De Saigon, but the broth is a hit or miss.

Guess home-made is the way to go

John Kessler

November 23rd, 2009
1:32 pm

Thanks for the recs, Son H! I have to try Pho #1.
jc_atl: Pho tai chin is my usual order, as well.
I think pho has really become my ultimate comfort food. It really does wonders for my mood.

John Kessler

November 23rd, 2009
1:35 pm

Charles — I can sometimes find myself in the mood for tripe — I like the way it plays off the textures of the noodles and the bean sprouts, but I’ve never been able to warm up to tendon. It’s like eating a cow-flavored Gummi bear.

Kris 10

November 23rd, 2009
3:43 pm

Anyone have any recommendations for pho in Marietta/East Cobb? My sinuses are killing me!!

Reds

November 24th, 2009
2:12 pm

Kris 10 — there are a few Saigon Cafe’s that are… ok. There is one off Pat Mell Road that i know is pretty good. Pho Hoang Long is the name. Small little hole in the wall attached to a grocery store. It’s tasty, but more west cobb.

Steven A.

November 25th, 2009
12:43 pm

We were just at Dai Loi #2 this week. Must have missed you. Probably the best pho I’ve had in this town, out of the six or so places I’ve tried. But I think you’re right in that even lackluster pho is better than none at all. Add it to the litany with pizza and sex.

Pho Hoang Long is pretty much the only option that side of town, but I was not terribly impressed with it in either of my visits. Just OK.

Charles: Authenticity of pho is not dictated by the amount of stuff you get in it. I’ve been eating it for years and shun the tripe and tendon, and even the brisket. Straight pho tai for me (and yes, I’ve gotten the steak on the side many times with no problems), or pho ga if I’m feeling sick.

FerminaDaza

November 25th, 2009
2:42 pm

Dai Loi #2 is the best in town- I’ve tried Pho EVERYWHERE. It was recomended by my Vietnamese manicurist. PLEASE someone tell us where to get vegetarian Pho. Are you chefs reading this? Lots of customers out there for this. I would drive for miles and go regularly for veggie Pho…

Jerry

January 22nd, 2010
8:17 am

Son H — great pho with oxtail = LA Pho; it is a Korean/Vietnamese. It is on N Berkley Lake Rd. google it

redsmommy

February 21st, 2010
10:56 am

at the same pho stall i ordered cha gio which are fried egg rolls. after waiting 10 minutes for egg rolls they brought out a to go box-inside 3 egg rolls one freshly fried the other two were cold as ice. frustrated or waiting so long and then getting cold food i asked for my money back. they didnt want to give it to me telling me they just fried the egg rolls showing me a fresh pile of fried ones. i commented that he gave me the two old ons that had been sitting there for who knows how long and then just one freshly cooked one. he wanted to switch them out for resh ones but being angry as i was i declined and again asked for my money back. he finally returned my money. i am a vietnamese american. they really should be careful who they deal with, i understood everything they said about me. i also know the way to eat cha gio is with mints lettuce noodles dipping them into nouc mam. fish sauce. none of which were given to me with the cold order of egg rolls. they werent even cold, they felt frozen. lost a customer in me. terrible business practice. throw away the two older egg rolls that have been sitting there and give out fresh ones….cmon.