I used to live in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa. It’s a pretty standard government city: lots of civil servants, lots of pretty buildings, and not much to do. Having said that, I loved living in Ottawa. I lived within a 20-45 minute walk of anything worth doing, but it was big enough that I could still get most things that I wanted.
However, I didn’t find a single decent Chinese restaurant in Ottawa. And, for a Chinese-Canadian from Vancouver, this is a tragedy of huge proportion.
What Ottawa lacked in Chinese food, it makes up for in Vietnamese food. Somerset Street runs through Chinatown (all five blocks of it, that is) and the whole street is peppered with places called Pho Bo, Pho Bo 2, New Pho Bo, Pho Bo Ga, New Pho Bo Ga, and my favourite, Pho Bo Ga LA.
Ask anyone who’s familiar with the stretch, and they probably won’t be able to tell you which place they go to. They just know what it looks like. I made a point of remembering that Pho Bo Ga LA is my favourite, but it’s also known as “the one with the blue awning and the short flight of steps”. Without fail, I ate number 26: noodles in beef broth with slightly fatty beef and beef balls.
No matter what time of day, the restaurant was packed. I went there when I was sick and wanted something soothing. I went there every night for 10 nights when Ottawa Bluesfest was on. I once went there with a dozen of my culinary school classmates, and we all loved it. That’s how good it was.
What distinguished Pho Bo Ga LA from all the others was their beef broth. It was meaty, unctuous, savoury and sweet. It tasted like beef, onions, cinnamon and star anise. It wasn’t too heavy, and it wasn’t too watery. It was just salty enough to carry flavour. It smelled amazing.
At $5.95 for a giant bowl of steaming broth, perfectly cooked noodles and assorted beef products, it was perfect.
Pho Bo Ga LA
784 Somerset Street West