One recent afternoon, I went to meet up with James of The Eaten Path and another friend for some barbecue, but due to unforeseen circumstances (they were closed to clean the smoker), we wound up wandering Jackson Heights before we decided on pho. We walked into Thai Son, which wasn’t crowded… which is my friend TC’s favorite place for pho. We often argue with each other over whose pho place is better, mine – Pho Bang – or his, Thai Son.
The menu was pretty straightforward, so I ordered the dish that most closely approximated what I order at Pho Bang – for comparison’s sake, you see. The pho thai nam gau gan sach at $5.25 sounded closest, though not entirely the same (it includes tendon, of which I am not a fan). I added beef balls for good measure.
In the mood to try new things, I also ordered a ‘salty lemonade soda’ – which, upon further reflection, I’ve had before. In any case, a salt-preserved lemon is tossed with a bit of sugar, then squeezed the bejesus out into the bottom of a cup, then seltzer poured on top. This is a taste not for everyone; I enjoyed it initially but as it got further down, I had to add more seltzer and in the end I couldn’t finish it. What’s it taste like? Well, it tastes just like its name suggests: salty lemonade. Interesting… and I might order it again, but not all the time.
Then my pho arrived. Compared to Pho Bang, Thai Son is a little more expensive. But I must admit that the brisket is softer at Thai Son, with a little more flavor, and was overall pretty good. The soup was less oily but still tasty, though not quite as deeply nuanced as the broth at Pho Bang. They also give limes instead of lemons, which I prefer. So – pretty good. But it boils down to a few key differences for me: this is a little farther away from me, there’s no parking lot, and they’re slightly more expensive. So while I concede that the pho is pretty good – and I’m super picky about pho – it’s unlikely to take over as my pho place, for a variety of reasons. (Also, Pho Bang is close to my Asian supermarket – around the corner – so it’s easy to pick up pho after shopping.)
James ordered the pho ga, or the chicken pho. I know last time I went to San Francisco, I ordered the chicken pho and wound up falling in love with it, but his looked different. It really looked almost like water that had boiled chicken and had some noodles thrown in without much seasoning. He said it was alright, but definitely needed the addition of peppers to make it sing.
Yvo says: I can definitely see why TC likes this place. The pho was great, and it’s closer to where he lives than Pho Bang (even marginally so). But I wouldn’t choose this place over Pho Bang for much the same reasons: where the pho at Thai Son is definitely good and worthy of a visit, it’s also right next to a big train station (Roosevelt Ave./74th Street), and has absolutely no parking with lots of congestion. Pho Bang is marginally closer to where I live and has its own parking lot (even though that parking lot is occasionally crazy packed). Since I thought the pho at Thai Son was good, but not better than Pho Bang, I probably won’t go to Thai Son regularly… but I certainly won’t object to going if someone requests it!