The first thing you realize upon entering Friend or Pho, on West Main in the Fan, is the stark contrast to typical pho joints. The attention to atmosphere, design and ambiance is a nice (if not cheeky – chalkboard on the ceiling?) twist on the normally stripped down, efficient and banterless experiences had in the West End. With the exception of Mekong, personality has not been the hallmark of Pho dining. This place has it in spades. The name alone shows their tongue in cheek approach to presenting this traditional Vietnamese dish.
What they do, they do well. The rolls are hot and fried or refreshingly not – depending on your choice of six made-to-order options. The Seoul Fried Chicken is a great alternative to the mainstream wings fascination and satisfies with complex flavors and that sweet/tangy/salty mix that inspires food addictions.
The noodle and rice salads are perfectly portioned and herbed – a great light lunch or dinner that will fill you without inducing naptime. The pho is traditional enough to satisfy the purists but unique enough to strike a different note from the old standard favorites in Richmond.
The beer selection is “Whoa.” I don’t know of another establishment besides Mekong (again) and Cap Ale that so gleefully revels in its beer list. From Founders to Bells and back to pounders of PBR, Friend or Pho boasts more than 40 beer options bottled and on tap.
The jukebox they’ve installed and filled with hep sounds bound to make a music snob dig for quarters (don’t bother, it’s free) is a nice touch but rarely surpasses the effortless cool of the playlisted tunes coordinated by management. All in all, it’s a head-nodding good time I recommend with a smile.
The bar scene is finding itself but is slowly favoring those edged out by other area bars’ tendency toward obnoxiousness. Friend or Pho doesn’t take itself too seriously though doesn’t seem to encourage the bro-tastic adventures of local collarpops and troublemakers. It’s a small spot – perfect for a Fan bar escape pod.
In short, go experience a culinary favorite with the added benefit of a social atmosphere, a friendly (and good-looking, hehe) staff that’s in the neighborhood.