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Appears in the March 2024 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Naperville’s Pho Chicago & Cajun serves up the real deal

Bun bo hue (left) and Pho Chicago
Bun bo hue (left) and Pho Chicago

It should come as no surprise that the owners of Naperville’s new Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Chicago & Cajun, have no interest in divulging the “secret spices” used to season their pho—a bone broth said to be so medicinal that a single bowl has the potential to cure the common cold, reverse inflammation, and break even the most stubborn of hangovers.

Owners David Hoang, Tuan Truong, and Leon Nguyen, all of Vietnamese descent, won’t go so far as to say their pho is a panacea, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic pho anywhere in the western suburbs. Their pho is so clear that you see straight through to the bottom of the bowl. It’s packed with noodles, of course, strips of beef, and those aforementioned “secret” herbs, which give the soup an undercurrent of genuine sweetness, which Nguyen says is the way that southern Vietnamese families like their soup.

But here’s the real secret: In addition to offering other classics—spring rolls, two pages worth of noodle dishes, and seafood boils (hence, the “Cajun” in the restaurant’s name)—the restaurant serves a second soup that’s twice as aromatic, four times as spicy, and arguably eight times as rich as their pho.

It’s called bun bo hue. Whereas pho is as clear as consume, your bon bo hue will arrive looking like liquefied rubies. It’s served with two different meatballs, pork and beef. And flavored—we did stress that this is real Vietnamese cooking, didn’t we?—with gelatinized pig’s blood. It’s so authentic, Huang says, that one day an elderly Vietnamese customer pulled him aside and said it was the first dish, after a half of century of living in America, that reminded him of home.


Photo: Jen Banowetz