Housing Complex

D.C. Needs More Pho Places Than Its Vietnamese Population Can Support

Bienvenido a Pho 14. (Lydia DePillis)

Bienvenido a Pho 14. (Lydia DePillis)

Pho 14, the fabulous Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall that set up shop on Park Road in Columbia Heights, is expanding into the space next door. A smart move–the place has a line out the door most evenings, and has a thriving take-out banh mi business. I was mildly surprised, however, to notice that the help-wanted signs in the window are written in both English and Spanish. From purely anecdotal evidence, it seems that most ethnic restaurants tend to hire those of their own nationality to work in their kitchens. Clearly, though, there aren't many Vietnamese folks walking the streets of Columbia Heights. The Vietnamese American Community Service Center tells me there are only some 400 Vietnamese people currently living in the District; most of them move to Maryland or Virginia as soon as they get established. Those who stay are the ones–like Tommy Hoang–who run successful businesses.

It's perfectly wonderful, of course, for Spanish-speakers to work in Vietnamese restaurants. But it's probably less likely that they would graduate from that experience to start their own Vietnamese restaurants, which means banh mi won't proliferate like it has in New York and Seattle and other Southeast Asian destinations.

I would love to be proven wrong, though, because goodness knows I'd love to get some pho on a winter Friday night without having to wait half an hour for a table.

  • John

    No beer or booze of anykind at Pho 14 still? Now I don't consider myself a drunk, but I can't deal with a dry sit down restaurant. Also why doesn't DC allow BYOB places?

  • Scott Pomeroy

    I am still eagerly awaiting a Vietnamese Restaurant coming to U Street. I make monthly journies to Nam-Viet or to the Eden Center in Falls Church just to get my fix. Have not been able to manage the construction or lines when trying to go to Pho 14.

  • violeta

    The help wanted sign says "driver's license required" -- so maybe they're looking for delivery drivers, not cooks or kitchen help ... in which case, you're right, it is unlikely the people they hire will "graduate from that experience to start their own Vietnamese restaurants"

  • Warder Resident

    This is not really that surprising. If you go to some of the more popular Vietnamese places in the Eden Center, sometimes half the staff (particularly those who make the banh mi sandwiches in the back or grill the meats for sale) are all Hispanic. This is even the case in Little Saigon in Orange County, where there are probably plenty of Vietnamese--a few weeks ago, I saw an entire production line of 7-8 employees who just made garden rolls who were all Hispanic. There are even rumors that a few pho restaurants are owned and run entirely by Hispanics.