Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pho Cali

There are some restaurants in Jacksonville that you would never find unless you'd been told about them. Neither wrong turns nor detours would be likely to bring you by their door and, even if they did, you probably wouldn't even notice.

pho cali

Pho Cali, one of Jacksonville's small handful of Vietnamese restaurants (and I think for a while, the one-and-only), is almost completely hidden and, like Vietnam's own Perfume Pagoda, you might just need a guide to get here.

Located in a Ramada hotel off a small street that bridges University and Bowden, one can't be blamed for never noticing the place as it's in a rather obscure part of town on a street that sees relatively little traffic. The sign is a little more prominent now than when I was first brought here for lunch a couple years ago but I still don't think I'd notice it were I to accidentally drive by.

pho extras

In many previous posts I've stated my fondness for a good hole-in-the-wall and this restaurant is basically the textbook definition. I won't risk making any offensive remarks by describing the interior but I will warn that general decor and atmosphere, seemingly unchanged since the 70s, could be enough to send some people running. However, I personally believe it only serves to enhance the experience and prefer that all the effort remain focused on the food.

The service is prompt and courteous. Being family owned and operated, it's always the same mother and son duo taking orders and delivering the food while the patriarch toils away in the back to concoct the authentic Vietnamese cuisine for all who know well enough to stop by.


The name comes in part from the primary food served: Pho. Pho is a Vietnamese soup made from thinly sliced meat, rice noodles, and spices (typically including Saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, and cloves). It is often served with basil, lime, sprouts and peppers on the side that can be added at will by the consumer. I started referring to it as swamp soup to my co-workers who would often frequent Pho Cali for lunch because it really does look and feel like you're devouring a small swamp or pond. Please excuse me, I have a vivid imagination.

The Pho comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large (take that, Starbucks), all for very reasonable prices. I must caution you that these sizes run a little large. I have never been able to [comfortably] finish a small by myself and a medium is more than sufficient for two very hungry people to share. Looking to go large? Just make sure to bring some goggles.


For those not interested in the soup, there are plenty of rice and noodle based meals. The one pictured above, a spicy chicken dish whose name escapes me (number 32 on the menu, I can remember that much) has an incredibly varied flavor as the different spices hit your tongue, the most intriguing of all being the lemongrass which provides a subtly sweet contrast to the savory overtones.

Being that we're planning a trip to Vietnam later this year, I think we'll be obliged to stop by a bit more often in order to fully prepare for the trip. This also means we'll have to sample some of the other local Vietnamese restaurants I discovered in the process of gathering details for this post.

Pho Cali Vietnamese Restaurant
5624 Cagle Rd
Jacksonville, FL 32216-5911
(904) 730-7333‎
Monday - Saturday: 10am - 9pm
Sunday: 10am - 8pm

Cali Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

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