Pho at Kim's Restaurant

pho overhead kims restaurant albany

By Jeff Janssens

At some point over the past few weeks, I'd venture to say, we officially transitioned into soup weather. With gray skies and chilly winds blowing, there are few things as satisfying as getting out of the cold for a bowl of soup. For me, a large, steaming bowl of pho is the most satisfying soup in these conditions.

This traditional Vietnamese noodle soup can be found in a number of area restaurants, but in my opinion Kim's Restaurant in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany is making the best pho in the area.

For the uninitiated, pho -- pronounced "fuh" -- features a bowl of broth flavored by simmering beef parts (traditionally leg bones, oxtail, maybe flank or brisket) along with onions, ginger, and spices. Served with that broth are rice noodles, scallions, cilantro, and a protein -- Kim's offers thin slices of beef eye round and brisket, along with small beef meatballs. On a plate beside the soup you receive bean sprouts, large Thai basil leaves on the stem, jalapeno slices, and quarters of lime. And in a small bowl, Kim's provides both hoisin and chili sauces.

pho with garnishes kims restaurant albany

Ever since I had my first truly great bowl of pho, about a decade ago in a steamy hole in the wall in Boston, I've learned that there are distinct differences between good pho and average pho. That difference inevitably lies in the broth. There are some restaurants where the broth will simply not be cooked with -- or not long enough with -- the aforementioned beef parts (they opt for using bouillon instead). Recipes for making pho specify about six hours of cooking time for that broth, enough time for the fat and proteins to break down and infuse the broth with depth of flavor and a rich mouthfeel. Also present in a good broth are the traditional pho spices, the most prominent of which are clove, cinnamon, and star anise, the latter of which infuses the broth with a black licorice-like taste; the spices work in harmony with the deep beef flavor.

Kim's broth is a standout -- rich, full of layers of flavor, and likely to leave you slurping until you've finished the final spoonful.

pho broth kims restaurant albany

The rice noodles are the ideal complement for this broth because of their mild taste and ability to absorb the broth's flavor. While I always enjoy putting some of the chili sauce (it tastes like Sriracha) on my noodles, the rice noodles alone, after soaking in that broth, provide plenty of flavor.

I've had all three of the beef options with the pho at Kim's. The first time I ordered it with the thin slices of beef round and well-done brisket, the second time I added meatballs to the mix. On my initial visit I found the beef round cooked just a bit long, but the second time it retained a pinkness that gradually dissipated as it lingered in the hot broth. The round is a lean cut, while the brisket is fatty, and I find it enjoyable to sample both within the same bowl. Meanwhile, the meatballs are small, cut in half, and, as is typical of Vietnamese meatballs, somewhat rubbery.

The garnishes served by Kim's are useful additions both in terms of texture and taste. The bean sprouts have a nice crunch, a good contrast to all of the softer elements in the soup, while the Thai basil leaves provide a combination of sweetness and bright, anise-like flavor. The lime pieces can be squeezed to add some tartness to the broth or noodles, and the jalapeno slices are useful if you're looking for heat.

kims restaurant albany exterior

Kim's is a modest restaurant featuring a fairly nondescript storefront. The service is friendly and fast, and options abound beyond the pho, from a delicious appetizer of crispy fried pork and shrimp spring rolls, to a fresh and bright papaya and shrimp salad, to a number of classic Vietnamese noodle and rice dishes.

The restaurant opened earlier this year to little fanfare and has been quiet on my visits. This is a shame, because Kim's is putting a lot of time and love into their signature dish, their pho. With the temperatures outside falling, Kim's should make for an ideal place to stop for a flavorful way to warm up.

Jeff Janssens writes about food and beer at The Masticating Monkey.

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Find It

Kim's Restaurant
791 Madison Ave
Albany, NY 12208

Note: Kim's is closed on Tuesday.

Comments

Thank you so much for writing about Kim's! It's in my neighborhood, and it's been quiet every time I've been there, too. I am completely self-serving, so I applaud every effort to make sure I personally have a place to get delicious Vietnamese food within walking distance. :)

Seriously, though, people, try Kim's! I haven't had a bad meal there yet.

I've driven by here a few times and haven't stopped. I'll definitely be picking up dinner soon.

My daughter and I just had pho from Kim's for breakfast on Sunday. Great service, the pho was very good, and the price was right. I hope they get more business. It's been very quiet whenever I've been there.

Seems like the TU critic disagrees with your about their broth: http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Choose-carefully-4967252.php

Of course, it's a matter of opinion and must be decided by the diner. Thanks for the recommendation!

@Jessica R - I really don't know what's up with that new guy at the TU. But it's not just Jeff who speaks highly of the pho at Kim's. The good folks at Chopstsicks Optional are also big fans, and they know their pho.

http://chopsticksoptional.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-take-on-tus-review-of-kims-vietnamese.html

Two out of three local food writers agree, Kim's pho is a winner.

I've been to Kim's a few times. Haven't had their pho, but I've always been happy with my meal. I was in there one time and a regular was raving to the owner about their amazing pho.

Are you talking about pho 88 in Lowell Massachusetts? Hands down, greatest phone I've ever had.

Wanted to see this place be successful.
Don't forget this is the student ghetto.
Soups range between $6.50 and $14.95, outrageous!
The first time i was there i tried the Com Bo Nuong.
Asked for the steak rare it was well done, rubbery, and everything was TASTELESS!
Thought i would try it again for an appetizer .
The Goi Cuon Tom was a nice portion, but alas tasteless.
Never see many people in this place.He needs to give his food flavor,and lower the prices!

I'm going to have to go against the grain here and say the one time I went to Kim's, I didn't enjoy the pho! I may have very particular tastes, and thanks to this review, I would like to go again to see if I have the same response. I'm used to pho from a number of restaurants in Philadelphia, and that wasn't what I love to drink (I always have noodles left in my bowl, but I drain the bowl of soup!). Granted, I'm not sure if they use bouillion cubes or not.

Ah, but do they offer tripe and tendon as an option? Van's does not which is why I tried once and have never returned. If you are serious about pho you need to offer patrons the chance to get down and dirty with the offal parts.

Do they serve pho with fish balls? I love pho with fish balls.

@ Burnt My Fingers: No tripe and tendon, I'm sorry to say. I do agree that it would be good to at least offer it.

@ rob: No fish balls, either. The only seafood option for pho at Kim's is one with jumbo shrimp and scallops.

I think the pho here is quite good. Equal to the other good Vietnamese place in albany (my linh doesn't count). Can't wait to try the bun - that's the real test for me. A real neighborhood gem.

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