3030 Superior Ave E
Cleveland, OH 44114
by Duke Grinder
There is ancient mystery that oft streaks through Superior Avenue in the form of whispers on the lips of self proclaimed Chinatown experts, downtown-lunchers and the usual riff-raff who drift upon the nexus of two of Cleveland's Goliaths of pho. Which is truly better, Superior Pho or #1 Pho? On Superior Avenues' south side, they are just across the 31st Street intersection from each other. Both serve some of Northeast Ohio's finest Vietnamese Cuisine; legend has it that the two restaurants started as one until a familial fallout caused a schism. The result: Superior Pho sprouted across 31st St before the hipsters got hip to the highly coveted soup.
Though the casual sandwich-blog reader might think, "Why do I care about the minimal differences and pseudo-lore about two soup joints?" The answer is this: Superior Pho, not #1 Pho, has these totally-incredible sandwiches. I mean the kind of sandwich that makes you order another sandwich even though you just ate one and have a bowl of soup coming. Ya, ‘ril good.
Bánh mì, a traditional Vietnamese pork sandwich, served with thinly sliced pickled carrots and daikon, onions, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeño peppers is reason enough to distinguish between the delicately furnished #1 Pho (where in the background you can usually hear easy-listening Vietnamese versions of older American top 40s songs) and the dungeon of Superior Pho (located in a strange strip mall across the hall from a nail salon and away from any windows to the outside world).
Similar to pho restaurants I’ve seen on the west coast, Superior Pho is a plain restaurant with a bunch of tables - no booths - on top of which reside containers full of chop sticks, spoons, Sriracha and assorted other sauces. It’s really not a great place to take a date, as it is dark, with an elementary-school-cafeteria vibe. Again, though, it has these totally incredible sandwiches. The kind of sandwich that would make you single-handedly convince a car full of people to change lunch plans, or else.
Served on a baguette, Bánh mì is a tasty example of French influence on Vietnamese cuisine most typical of South Vietnam. The French bread's crunch and chewiness, followed by crispy herbs, vegetables and tender pork make the sandwich easy to hold and easier to taste. Though a casual diner may suddenly find him/herself eating two in a sitting, it's pretty healthy, evenly balances the vegetables with the meat and doesn't leave the lingering heaviness of overindulgence.
You may even read a Yelp thread in which pho enthusiasts claim that Superior Pho’s soup recipes is actually better than #1 Pho’s. Have the courage to dismiss these claims as the misguided banter of self-righteous tasters with an inability to submit to reason. You see Superior Pho, well, they have these really amazing sandwiches. A sandwich that is chewy and crunchy and sexy and Frenchy and Vietnamesey and just so so not at #1 Pho. So, for this blogger, there really is only one pho spot on Superior, and it has nothing to do with soup.