Pho--Vietnam's famous soup--has a near-perfect ratio of satisfaction (high) to price (low). But overlooking Southeast Asia's other steaming, soupy meals-in-a-bowl is to do a disservice to your appetite.
Bun bo Hue (beef soup from Hue, in central Vietnam) is pho's spicier, meatier, dark red sibling, with chile-flecked beef broth amped up with lemongrass and spices.
Pho 777's bowl nearly overflows with beef, knobs of pork, spongy Vietnamese sausage, spaghetti-like noodles and a pile of pepper-dusted herbs, greens and onions ($7). Hai Yen's bun bo Hue broth is thicker, with a deeper chile flavor and brisket-like slices of beef ($6). Scallions and cilantro bob on top, but it benefits from a heavy-handed sprinkle of bean sprouts, mint and perilla.
For a subtler bowl, try Hai Yen's hu tieu--ground and roast pork, shrimp and noodles (request the chewy, slippery clear ones) in a delicate pork broth with chiles, pickled garlic and chrysanthemum leaves on the side ($6).
Or head west to Sticky Rice (and Northern Thailand) for khao soi (kow soy on their menu; pictured), a Burmese-influenced curry soup that's famous in Chiang Mai. Rich, gingery yellow curry broth holds egg noodles, fried chile paste, meat (chicken or beef) and fried noodles for crunch ($7). Garnish it with pickled mustard greens, shallots, scallions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime for a rollicking spoonful of flavor.
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