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Restaurants

Pho Tien Thanh

Posted by Devon Scoble / Reviewed on March 9, 2009 / review policy

Pho Tien ThanhThe first thing I notice walking into Pho Tien Thanh on a Saturday evening is the crowd: every table is full. The second thing I observe is the hush. Pho Tien Thanh is packed with people, but human voices are just a murmur, a muffled refrain in a symphony dominated by sips, slurps and slops.

I sit down and look around. Pho Tien Thanh isn't much to look at: it's grungy and small. When I visit the bathrooms later, I find them cramped in a damp corner of basement, missing their locks. Never mind. As long as I'm upstairs, I won't need my eyes. I close them, and my nose tells the real story: rich broth of cracked bones, deep beef and aromatic star anise.

For my ears, communion: the peaceful sloshing of fellow diners a reminder that I am truly with my people. Give me an endless bucket of this broth, and I will give you a world of quiet contentment.

Pho Tien ThanhA bone for the less poetically inclined: service is fast, prices are cheap, food is excellent. In addition to redolent rare beef and brisket phos, the spring rolls are crisp and light, and chicken pho is light and tangy. Blue-eyed diners may raise server's eyebrows on ordering crackled pork skin spring rolls--are you sure you don't mean salad spring rolls?--but staff and patron alike will smile when the crumbs are removed. Mango shakes are a little stringy, but it's winter and a world away from mango trees. Jackfruit shakes are smoother, and their coconut cousin is rich and mild.

For the sycophants: Susur Lee, a believer in the quality of Vietnamese food in Toronto told me he loves the pho here. I interviewed him recently, and he and I had a moment when Pho Tien Thanh came up, both of us excited to discover our shared love for its broth. This is why I'm back, but not why I'll keep coming. Celebuchef endorsement is nice, and I'm thankful to the blogTO reader comments that brought me here the first time, but neither is the reason for my return. I'll come back here--repeatedly--because this place is an escape from sensibility to senses, a reminder that the best food can bring us to only the necessary senses, a present moment that is juicy with flavour and as pleasant for the ears as it is for the taste buds.

Discussion

33 Comments

Brandon / March 9, 2009 at 01:11 pm
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My favourite Phở joint in all of T.O.
Hell, I'm Vietnamese, I should know.
Nothing to dislike about this place,
unless it's about you not having anymore
food in front of you to gobble up.

+ Great location
+ Great prices
+ Great foot
+ Broth for the phở is always piping hot !

Two thumbs way up!

Torontogal / March 9, 2009 at 04:27 pm
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The Golden Turtle just down the street is also incredible with a huge menu and lots of vegetarian options. And it's also recommended by Suser Lee!
Moneesha / March 9, 2009 at 09:57 pm
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Rare beef in a "grungy" restaurant?! How safe is that? I suspect someone's going to get a bad case of the runs.

BTW, I'm Chinese, so I should know how to get food poisoning.
Moneesha replying to a comment from Moneesha / March 9, 2009 at 09:59 pm
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Hell, I'm Chinese, I should know how to get food poisoning.
Andrew / March 10, 2009 at 11:25 am
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Pho is decidedly more delicious when served in a grungy restaurant. It's some sort of law. And if the broth is as hot as Brandon says, I wouldn't worry about it at all. In fact, I've never thought twice about eating the rare beef at even the sketchiest Pho joints, and I've never had any regrets.
Mark / March 10, 2009 at 01:45 pm
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The Pho at this place, in my opinion, has better quality ingredients than the Pho in Vietnam...

I've had lots of Pho in Vietnam, and never had a problem with the runs...



Pho King / March 10, 2009 at 01:50 pm
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Try dipping pieces of Chinese doughnut in your pho next time (that's if the restaurant sells Chinese doughnut).
bill / March 10, 2009 at 01:54 pm
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funny.
Pho Tien Thanh and the golden turtle have been there for quite some time. and only NOW, you people say these places offer great pho ?
we (meaning our studio people) have been regularly visiting these restaurants long before this BLOG has given them any credit, including the chef....
thanx blogto but this is OLD NEWS...
tell me something NEW for a change...

sippy replying to a comment from bill / March 10, 2009 at 02:26 pm
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Well done Bill. I wasn't aware that you could duplicate DNA. Perhaps you could forward your new-found technology to the dozen staff that work for blogTO so that they too, can multiply themselves, taste test the few hundred pho places in Toronto and report back to the blog in a timely manner so that you can continually have "new" content.

I've contacted the Nobel society. They should be touching base with you shortly.
Torontogal replying to a comment from sippy / March 10, 2009 at 02:37 pm
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Sippy: I think you forgot the "n" in your name between the "S" and the "i" but if there was some way for me to "like" your post like you can on facebook, I totally would have clicked that.
Pho King replying to a comment from Mark / March 10, 2009 at 03:16 pm
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Pretty bold statement to make, although I would have to agree to a certain degree. I would imagine that its due to the beef bones used - the cows in Vietnam are hella skinny vs. the fat ones in Canada!

bill izadouche / March 13, 2009 at 11:45 am
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Wow, you're a douche Bill!
Jo / March 13, 2009 at 12:15 pm
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Call me old (at 39 yrs) but grungy restaurants just don't have the same appeal to me that they did when I was a student...no matter how 'tasty' the food is. A clean restaurant is an important factor when I decide to dine. I guess I'm weird that way.
Devon / March 13, 2009 at 12:24 pm
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Yikes! Let me clarify, 'cause I don't want to give Pho Tien Thanh a bad name. The decor, the furniture, the basement: these things all showed signs of wear. The tables, cutlery and dishes, however, were clean. Also, the front counter provides a view into the kitchen, so would-be diners can check for themselves whether it's up to their standards.

Perhaps "decrepit" would've been more apt a description than "grungy", and I apologize for any misconceptions caused by my choice of adjectives.
Jo / March 13, 2009 at 01:08 pm
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Thanks for the clarification Devon.
Huy / April 16, 2009 at 04:31 am
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This is by far the most authentic northern style pho that you can find in the city. I've recently come back from Hanoi (Vietnam) and tasted the best phos in my life. Pho Tien Thanh is not too far behind and it is without a doubt the best pho in the city of toronto.
Nguyen / January 8, 2011 at 03:53 pm
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Pho tien thanh runs the pho game in Toronto! Best tasting pho and an extra friendly staff. This place is way better than golden turtle.
Joe Tackspaier replying to a comment from sippy / January 17, 2011 at 06:36 pm
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Lol this has got to be the greatest reply in blogto history!
Jenny / June 9, 2011 at 01:33 pm
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stopped in on a cold and rainy day last winter and tried my first ever pho, completely unknowing. and now i am hooked! the experience made me completely agree with andrew that "Pho is decidedly more delicious when served in a grungy restaurant. It's some sort of law."
hooray for pho!
gorf / September 15, 2011 at 11:06 am
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By far the best Pho in the area (if not downtown). I don't understand the Golden Turtle loyalists one bit.
gorf / September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am
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Another little known secret is they do Pho to go. The broth comes in one container and the rest of it in another. Mix it together when you get where you're going. All the trimmings in a bag on the side. Just great!
Anon / October 30, 2011 at 02:44 am
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Can't wait to try this place as I love pho (the only place I've tried pho in Toronto is Pho Pasteur). Does anyone know if this place serves Vietnamese curry chicken as well?
colborn / November 19, 2011 at 04:43 pm
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Just had there Pho today and it was great. I have tried a few other places on this list of best Pho and this places needs to be moved up on the list. Great amount of meat for the money, I will be going back for sure!!!!
Jaime aka The Tomato Snob / January 24, 2012 at 06:22 pm
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This place is amazing... deserves to be #1 even better then The Golden Turtle! Pho Hung as #2 is kinda bs.
Chris replying to a comment from bill / January 30, 2012 at 01:32 pm
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Yeah Bill's a f-ing douche...but thats not surprising as thats all there seems to be in that area these days. Dont forget your neon sunglasses a high top converse.
Chris replying to a comment from bill / January 30, 2012 at 01:37 pm
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Oh, and the Pho here is SPECTACULAR. Very similar to Pho Linh in the freshness of their ingredients but with a slightly tastier broth. For a slightly oilier version, but equally just as delicious is Pho Phuong on Bloor.
Mikey / March 13, 2012 at 08:22 am
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I've started eating PHO in Toronto since grade 3. I used to passed out when my older brothers would take us to PHO Tien Thanh late at night after karaoke and pool games on ossington. Way before Golden Turtle exist. At those days, Pho Hung and Pho Tien Thanh were the only 2 PHO joints that was competing it's; ''who's got better tasting Pho''. Pho Hung was matchless when It was up the street(Baldwin St) at the corner. However, they weren't known to the public til they actually moved down the block(where it is now) Their PHO was off the hook than and over the years, is changed to the worst. Although is still the second best in my opinion. PHO Tien Thanh is absolutely the best right now and was second best for decades. The third best PHO joint in the city is PHO Cali(A sandwich joint in Chinatown) you'll get a taste of Vietname PHO there guaranteed. But I gotta say; none of the places is good as the early 90s. Oh yeah, PHO 88 when it was on dundas across from PHO pasture in the back of the mini mall, They were delicious too. Their broth was distinctive from the rest. Believe me, I know PHO!! hahaha
JF / March 27, 2012 at 08:16 am
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Actually, @Huy the owner of Pho Tien Thanh (Tuan) is from Southern Vietnam but has been taught a number of different cooking styles over the years from his long time mentor including Vietnamese of all sorts, Malay and Chinese. @ Mikey Tuan used to work with Golden Turtle for a number of years when he came to Canada in the 80s but split from them over 15 years ago. He's the nicest guy and will usually be pleased to share a story or two with you if you as while you're in. This is hands down the best Pho in the city. They make everything with care and with pride and they're so much friendlier than their often cold neighbors down the street at Golden Turtle. (I'm actually a convert from being a loyal Golden Turtle patron after trying Pho Tien Thanh one night when the Turtle was closed).
helen / April 11, 2012 at 02:52 pm
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unfortunately, their vegetarian options suck though. it's nice they have options at all, but they need to put the same care into cooking that stuff up as they do with their meat dishes.
Christina / October 11, 2012 at 08:54 pm
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I love this place. My boyfriend and I visit at least once a week. We love everything about this place, the staff is always friendly and they make in our opinion the best pho in the city ! :)
Easy / November 30, 2012 at 10:20 am
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Was going to The Ossington for a book launch and needed a place to eat beforehand and decided to try Pho Tien Thanh and I am so glad I did. It is so delicious. The broth had an incredible amount of flavour and the noodles just seem to soak that flavour right up. I went with a super picky eater who rarely shows enthusiasm for any food who was completely enamoured with the food here. Thanks blogto for the review and recommendation. I've been back since that first time and i was worried it was just in my imagination how good it was but it held up and was as good as I remembered! Can't wait to go back again! Also the service is very friendly! No other Pho compares that I've tried in TO.
Suzanne / February 14, 2014 at 03:05 pm
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The broth is always consistent. I have cravings for this place all the time. Best pho in Toronto!
Amy / June 24, 2014 at 03:39 am
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Great pho and great location! But honestly, they REALLY need to renovate...

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