Say “Pho Lang Thang” and many Cincinnatians will likely want to whisk out their chopsticks and make slurping noises. Pho Lang Thang, arguably Cincinnati’s most famous Vietnamese restaurant, opens at their new location today at 1828 Race St. — just around the corner from their original space at Findlay Market. Pho Lang Thang is ingrained in the urban core’s story of revitalization, even securing a spot on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in 2014.
Pho Lang Thang’s founders, David Le, and brothers, Duy Nguyen and Bao Nguyen, are second generation Vietnamese-Americans who were born and raised in Cincinnati. Determined to make their beloved hometown a place they want to be around, they decided to open a pho shop. “We wanted a pho shop to hang out at so we opened one,” Le once very simply said. In October 2010, the trio opened Pho Lang Thang at Findlay Market.
“Lang thang” sums up an attitude of not taking things – anything – too seriously. When they were kids, their concerned parents would fuss at them for being “lang thang.” Perhaps, as a playful homage to their parents, the group named themselves, the Lang Thang Group.
The business group has since expanded to include Danny Yant and Mike Dew.
The new location has been in the works for over a year and projects 1970s Vietnam, from the unabashed floral motif on the wall to bold, colorful wallpaper in the bathroom that resembles patterned tiles. “It reflects the time when our parents came to this country,” Duy explained.
The space is about three times bigger than the original location, and comes with a roomy bar — amply hosting the Vietnamese notion of “drinking and eating go hand-in-hand.” According to the press release, “customers will be treated to new ‘drinking food’ items specifically tailored to pair with a full cocktail menu, carefully selected wines, 10 draft beers with an extensive can and bottle selection.”
The availability of the full bar is pending the transfer of the liquor license from the old location. The Lang Thang group plans to hold a special event to open the full bar when the transfer is complete.
Perhaps the best indication of how the restaurant has grown is in a room hidden from view. Tucked away in the back of the house, three 60-gallon steam-jacketed kettles work overtime to produce stock for pho. Depending on the type of stock, each batch could take up to 24 or 48 hours. These industrial-scale kettles are a veritable cue how far the restaurant has come. Gone are the days of simply only using stock pots to prepare the soup for pho.
All the favorites from the original menu will transfer over to the new, expanded menu which includes Vietnamese iced coffee on draft, and specialty soda drinks. The new Pho Lang Thang will soon have a quick-service walkup nook for carryout lunch and dinner. The group is also planning to add a lounge and event space in the basement sometime in the future.
Pho Lang Thang will eventually open seven days a week but for the next few months, they will be closed on Mondays for kitchen training and dinner menu development.
Pho Lang Thang
1828 Race St. Cincinnati, OH 45202; 513-376-9177
SUN, TUE – THU 11:00 am – 10:00 pm; FRI – SAT 11:00 am – 10:00 pm