Tyler Pham, the chef who helped make pho popular in the Iowa City area, is opening a second location of his restaurant, Saigon’s Corner, in the Old Capitol Town Center on Tuesday. Pham was a partner in Pho Zaika and I Love Pho, before striking out on his own and starting Saigon’s Corner in Coralville last year.
“I felt like I was ready to show people here what authentic Vietnamese food is,” Pham told Little Village about his decision to open Saigon’s Corner. “I feel a lot of the Vietnamese food Americans are familiar with is different from it really is in Vietnam.”
Members of Pham’s family have worked in restaurants in his native Vietnam for decades. It’s where he learned to make the pho that’s the main attraction at his restaurant.
“Pho is everywhere in Vietnam,” Pham said. “It’s just a part of everybody’s life. Like hamburgers here.”
Of course, pho, a soup with rice noodles and, usually, meat, is more versatile than a hamburger.
“You can eat it any time,” Pham said. “When the weather is cold, you need hot soup. When the weather is hot and you’re tired, the hot soup will make you feel better. It’s good for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The key to good pho is the broth, and good broth takes time, Pham explained.
“We make the pho broth starting with beef bones,” Pham said. “You can come into my kitchen any time of the day, and you will find it cooking, low and slow.”
The broth simmers for a minimum of 24 hours before it’s ready.
“It takes a lot of care and attention,” Pham said.
The new Saigon’s Corner will be located in the former Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack space in the Old Capitol Town Center. Pham said he intends to keep the basic set-up of the restaurant the same.
“I think it’s comfortable,” Pham said. “And it’s important for the people to be comfortable when they are enjoying their food.”
That attitude won’t surprise anyone who has been to the Coralville location, where Pham is known as a genial and attentive host.
“I came to America to study electrical engineer, but I wasn’t happy doing that,” Pham said. “I couldn’t find any pho [when I was a student], so I started cooking pho myself.”
“My love for serving people authentic Vietnamese food has grown over the years,” he said. “It’s become my passion.”
“I love being in the mall,” Pham added. “I feel I’m ready to make Vietnamese food more popular in this area.”