A craving that I always keep having is for pho. For those who do not know what pho is, pho is a popular Vietnamese dish consisting of broth, rice noodles, a few herbs and a variety of meat (depending on your order). Learn more about pho here. Every time I enter a Vietnamese restaurant, I almost always order pho. If you haven’t tried it yet, you need to try it. The best place I’ve tried so far in Hamilton is Ben Thanh but that was before they relocated. Ben Thanh used to be located on 115 Park St. N. but has since moved to 113 James St. N. I’m not sure if they changed management but I am really disappointed in the quality of their pho since their move. I was an avid fan of Ben Thanh’s pho since 2009 when I first came to Hamilton for school. It has always been top quality, hearty and delicious. Granted the location was pretty far (especially for McMaster students) but it was well worth the travel. After they relocated, I had the opportunity to travel down quirky James St. N. and sit in to eat.
I must say that they interior design has definitely upgraded from their Park St. N. location. It looks a lot more upscale and the atmosphere was more ambient. I was definitely impressed. It was no longer dominated by fluorescent lighting and it was a lot more spacious. The seating was definitely more comfortable.
However, I guess that’s the trade-off: quality seating to even out the not-so-great quality of food.
When you order pho, it always comes with a side plate of garnishes. The garnishes consist of bean sprouts, chili peppers, culantro, lime wedges and Thai basil. You also have the choice of additional sauce for a more flavourful pho, you have the options of hoisin sauce and/or chili sauce. Just a side note, most Vietnamese restaurants actually have these sauces in bottles rather than in little dip dishes. For me personally, I squeeze the lime wedge over my pho (this enhances the flavour of the broth) and I squeeze the crap out of that chili sauce bottle (which I later asked for, I’m clearly an avid fan of spicy foods). That’s how I indulge in my pho. The most popular way to eat pho is by putting the bean sprouts, culantro, Thai basil and squeezing the lime wedge in the pho. A lot of people love to put hoisin sauce (and chili sauce) in the pho. Hoisin sauce is typically loved by those who want their broth to be a little sweeter (not me though!).
Now back to the main reason why I’m writing this post. The pho. Okay, so the pho does still like pho. I ordered menu item #101 (I memorized the number since I really do always go there and eat that specific pho) which is their “special” pho consisting of lean beef, flank brisket, soft tendon, tripe and beef ball. The basic pho taste is there but it doesn’t taste as flavourful as before. What’s different from this location to their old location is the price point and the amount. Back on Park St. N. I swear that the price of the pho was a dollar less (but don’t quote me on that). I can’t help but feel that I am not getting my moneys worth. The amount they give you is 1/3 less than the old location. The bowl is significantly smaller and the amount of rice noodles and meat within the pho is less.
Here is a photo I took of the pho I had back when Ben Thanh was on Park St. N. Notice the difference in the amount I received. This was also the pho in a small size. You get your moneys worth. Yes I did “mix” it up in this photo but, I mean come on, you can clearly see that this pho has much more meat and noodles (and the bowl is bigger too) than the first photo.
Basically, in Westdale there’s a Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon Asian (1024 King St. W.) which I always avoided. I only avoided it due to their over-priced and under-quality pho. However, now that my favourite Vietnamese restaurant has decided to be pretty much identical in quality and price to Saigon Asian, I find no reason to travel out of my way to eat pho anymore. I am beyond disappointed in Ben Thanh. I mean, what happened? Has the new location and renovations suck them dry of their quality?
By the way, only have you been to both locations will you notice the difference in price, amount and quality. Let me know in the comment section below for a Vietnamese restaurant you recommend!