We South Bay denizens are no strangers to pho. Home to the second largest Vietnamese population outside of the motherland, Santa Clara County is brimming with restaurants serving up brothy, beefy noodle bowls.

Southeast Asian flavors have an outsized influence on the growing San Jose culinary scene. Vietnamese newcomer Pho 24, located a stone’s throw from Oakridge Mall, is one of the latest contenders in this arena.

I recently spent a cold and drizzly Saturday schlepping around Oakridge, and I was drawn to the soul-soothing promise of a hot, tangy bowl of pho. I headed to Pho 24—opened in December 2018—to find a neatly decorated space. I was greeted by an impressive and welcoming arrangement of orchids and floral bouquets alongside the eatery’s front desk. We were seated promptly and given menus with the usual extensive array of appetizers, rice plates, vermicelli bowls and, of course, noodle soups.

We started simple, with an order of vegetarian and pork and shrimp spring rolls ($6 each). Served alongside a flavorful and rich peanut sauce, both were made to order and stuffed with the usual suspects: lettuce, veggies, mint leaves and vermicelli noodles. While the pork and shrimp rolls were stuffed full with meat, the vegetarian rolls felt a little sparse as they didn’t come with tofu or another type of veggie-friendly protein. Nonetheless, they were tasty and fresh.

Alongside the spring rolls, we also ordered sizzling crepes, or bánh xèo ($11)—a must-eat appetizer at any Vietnamese restaurant. Made with rice flour, coconut milk and a touch of turmeric powder, these thinly fried pancakes are stuffed with bean sprouts and shrimp and served next to fresh herbs, crunchy lettuce leaves, a heaping helping of julienned carrots and slices of radish. While the portion size was huge and the pancake did come out piping hot, the bland flavor and somewhat chewy texture of the pancake was disappointing. The dipping sauce, which was far too fishy and not tangy enough for my palate, was also a letdown.

We were barely a few bites into our sizzling pancake when our main course appeared: a rice plate of grilled jumbo prawns and onion beef served with crispy egg rolls and a side salad ($13.25), and a bowl of vegetarian pho ($10.75) loaded with fresh vegetables and tofu. While most would argue that no pho experience is complete without trying the most popular and classic round steak pho, I feel that a restaurant that can find space on their menu for a rich and flavorful vegetable-based soup is far more rare and just as appetizing. (Full disclosure: I also don’t eat beef.) The portion size for a small soup was substantial, as was the amount of noodles, vegetables and tofu that were all neatly displayed in the bowl. Topped with carrots, cabbage, broccoli, onion slices and tons of chopped cilantro and scallions, I was appreciative of the variety of vegetables used for the broth. Despite that, the broth was somewhat bland. Adding hoisin sauce, sriracha and fresh squeezed lime helped significantly.

The rice plate, on the other hand, was sparse and underwhelming. For starters, it only included one shrimp, three small strips of beef and one eggroll—far too little for a full-price main entree. Instead, the plate was mostly made up of salad with cucumbers and tomato, and a large scoop of steamed rice. While the one solitary shrimp was grilled and seasoned well, the beef strips were coated in a sticky and saccharine glaze, which, according to my companion, became overwhelming quite quickly despite the small portion size. The eggroll was, well, an eggroll—cooked and flavored well, but not enough to make up for the rest of the entree.

It’s worth mentioning that Pho 24 also boasts a huge menu of traditional Vietnamese coffees, smoothies and boba milk teas that are made to order. With all the classic add-ons, from fruit jellies to egg pudding and pearls, restaurant-goers can customize drinks to their liking. I opted for a classic Vietnamese iced coffee ($4.25) and a less traditional (but apparently just as popular) Thai iced tea boba drink ($4). Both were delicious, refreshing and came in to-go cups, making for the perfectly sweet ending to a meal that had a few bumps along the way.

While everything about Pho 24 wasn’t perfect, one hopes that with time, the restaurant will come into its own and solidify its vast menu.

Pho 24
5592 Santa Teresa Blvd, San Jose