The Vietnamese food scene in San Jose is a competitive environment, especially in the noodle soup category. One of the longtime established top contenders is Pho Kim Long on North Capitol Avenue near the Great Mall.

The line is long on weekend mornings but luckily the turnover rate is quick. An employee stands near the front, shouting across the room to get the number of patrons dining and directing them to an available table.

I have been to Pho Kim Long numerous times in my life, typically after a shopping trip. Only as an adult who has attempted to cook some of these dishes at home have I come to truly appreciate how much better Pho Kim Long’s food is versus its competitors.

The secret is all in the broth and the consistency. Three of the most popular Vietnamese noodle soups are pho, bun rieu, and bun bo hue, and the restaurant does well with all three. The soups are served with plates of fresh herbs and standard condiments at every table are hoisin sauce, Sriracha sauce, and thinly sliced pickled jalapeños that go well with any savory dish.

The beef pho ($7.75) broth is intense, aromatic, with just the right amount of fatty unctuousness achieved from slow cooking beef bones. The ratio of noodles to broth is well balanced to avoid the dreaded expansion of soggy noodles. They do not skimp on meat portions, either, with thick cuts of various types of beef, tendon and tripe.

Bun bo hue ($8.25) is the second most popular noodle soup and is made with pork broth. Kim Long’s version is chock full of large cuts of pork and a block of pork blood cake. While the broth flavor is still satisfying, it lacks a level of layered complexity achieved by other bun bo hue shops. The herb plate is also missing shaved banana flower, which is a must-have for this dish.

Bun rieu ($8)—made from pork broth with crab and shrimp pastes—contained large balls of mixed pork, shrimp and crab meat that are soft and airy and fall apart in the soup. The broth is red from tomato and crab paste and provides a range of flavors from salty and sweet to an edge of sour. The bun rieu here is one of the better versions I have had in San Jose.

To round out the menu selections, Pho Kim Long does a good job with vermicelli bowls ($9) as well. The portions are large, the barbecue pork is caramelized and crispy, and the shrimp are decently sized. For the bowl with egg rolls, a pair of freshly fried egg rolls is added to the bowl, providing the crunch to go with the noodles. The nuoc mam (fish sauce) dipping sauce is a tad too sweet and could use more pickled daikon and carrot slices. Unfortunately, the spring roll appetizers ($3.75 for two) are full of lettuce, little meat, and they come with a dipping sauce that has too much peanut.

This is not the sort of place for quiet meals, as the noise level is always high, with staff members shouting, dishes clanging in the kitchen and large families dining with young children. It is also not the place to enjoy a detailed breakdown of the day’s specials—there are none and the staff spends a mere few minutes providing any service. And between the cramped tables, other customers, waiters with trays of piping hot soup and busboys, there is hardly room for efficient chopstick maneuvering. In the manner of many Vietnamese casual restaurants, it is a place to speedily get a great tasting noodle soup for a cheap price in a no frills environment—just how Vietnamese food should be served.

Pho Kim Long, 2082 N. Capitol Ave., San Jose. 408.946.2181.