West Orlando's Pho Ga Hien Vuong specializes in superlative slurps

Noodle house dedicated to chicken pho also serves top-quality chicken dishes of all sorts

West Orlando's Pho Ga Hien Vuong specializes in superlative slurps
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Even before the accolades for Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen came flooding in from near and far, owners Hien Pham and Huong Nguyen had their sights set on opening a noodle house solely dedicated to serving superlative slurps of phở gà. So, when the couple opened Phở Gà Hiền Vương in the Chinatown Plaza on West Colonial Drive late last year, the concise menu duly placed a focus on the namesake chicken noodle soup (phở gà), and all things chicken, like chicken and rice, chicken salad, chicken gizzards and other fowl things.

In the ensuing months, however, the menu ballooned to include a sampling of the same dishes offered five miles down the road at Z Asian. And while you can get a proper-good bowl of phở gà at the East Colonial Drive restaurant, it won't be the same as the giant bowl of phở gà ($16.50) at the West Colonial eatery.

"We want it to be a special dish here," says Pham, and by "special," he's referring to the farm-fresh chicken delivered daily by A-Poultry in Winter Park. The free-range, certified halal, antibiotic- and hormone-free birds are used to create an absolutely perfect broth for their phở. "We start making the broth at 6 p.m. ... it's done at 9 a.m. the next morning," he says.

The flavors of the 15-hour liquid are as pure, clean and unadulterated as you'll find anywhere this side of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. "We have so many elders who come in and thank us for making chicken phở like this," says Nguyen. "They all say it reminds them of when they would eat phở gà on Hiền Vương Street in Saigon."

Prior to the fall of Saigon in 1975, Hiền Vương Street was the place to go for the clucky slurp, so seeing the occasional teary-eyed diner here is not an uncommon sight. Nguyen, unquestionably one of the finest chefs of Vietnamese cuisine in the city, even makes the pickled chili peppers sitting in containers on every tabletop.

"Phở gà isn't phở gà without these pickled peppers," she states. The woman clearly doesn't cut corners, and it shows. When I went with a Viet-Laotian pal of mine on one visit, he immediately noticed a dish called bún dậu mắm tôm ($23) listed on a placard on the table. "My dad was from Hanoi and he loved this," he said about this platter of poultry-free delights.

click to enlarge West Orlando's Pho Ga Hien Vuong specializes in superlative slurps
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Set on the plate were square sheets of rice vermicelli, deep-fried tofu, house-made pork blood sausage, sliced pork, fried spring rolls, and fritters filled with pork and glutinous rice, along with lettuce, perilla leaves and fish mint leaves. We rolled some of the items into the lettuce and dipped it into the star of this funky smorgasbord — fermented anchovy paste laced with Thai hots. "You eat this like an Asian," Pham said to me. "I am Asian!" I countered with a bit of sass. "Yeah, but you write like a white man," he said, and the food came spurting out of our mouths in laughter.

No joke, though, Nguyen's dishes rouse. The chicken salad ($17.50), a tossed mound of Vietnamese coriander, fried onions, crushed peanuts and Thai chilies lightly dressed in a vinaigrette, is a mayo-less wonder — as is the dish of stir-fried gizzards ($16), which also features chicken liver, chicken hearts and chicken ovaries (they taste like egg yolks) in a jumble of still-crunchy sautéed onions, coriander, ginger and a house sauce. When I ask Nguyen about the nature of that sauce, she keeps mum: "It's a secret." I dip the bits of offal into another sauce served on the side. It's made from salt, pepper, lime and a secret ingredient Nguyen also closely guards. "You should eat it with rice," she says when I start asking too many questions.

The flavor and texture of the sticky-ish, turmeric-tinged heap cooked in chicken broth had me wobbling my head the first time I tried it with the Hainanese-style chicken ($17.50). The poached bird is a true test of the product's flavor, and there's no doubt the chicken they procure is top-quality. It's served with pickled vegetables, topped with a bit of ginger paste and served with homemade ginger dipping sauce

On yet another visit, I try the pho ga but with miến noodles ($17.50) Nguyen imports from Hanoi. The chewy-crunchy strings made from mung beans have a gray hue and add another textural element to the soup teeming with chopped, skin-on chicken. This soup and the traditional pho ga with rice noodles represent the acme of chicken noodle soup in this city.

I'm actually slurping some leftovers as I write these very words, and it has me craving the beverage I never fail to order when I'm at the noodle shop — freshly made sugarcane and kumquat juice ($7.50). A cup of "three color dessert" ($6.50) with ice, condensed milk, beans, jellies and crushed peanuts lends the sweet finish many will inevitably desire. But if you're coming to Phở Gà Hiền Vương, you're coming for the phở gà, because here, it's the chicken that struts its stuff.

Location Details

Pho Ga Hien Vuong

5282 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando West Orlando


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