My four-year search for the perfect vegetarian soup.
It took just three minutes for our dinner at Pho 95 to arrive—but the wait for me had been more like four years. Since I became a vegetarian in 2008, my quest for the perfect veggie pho has taken me from ritzy establishments to the diviest dives. I’ve been hunting for that heavenly umami—the rich and satisfying savoriness my palate lost when I stopped eating meat.
At Pho 95, my small vegetarian pho, or “pho chay,” came with long-stemmed broccoli, onions, carrots, and a thick lime wedge resting on tender rice noodles. Deep-fried tofu, thinly sliced into perfect half-moon strips, bobbed in the broth. I tossed in some bean sprouts, basil leaves, and spicy jalapeños—but held off on the plum sauce and Sriracha. It’s a good thing I waited. The broth was robust all on its own: hearty, peppery, and snappy, but also sweet, thanks to an infusion of Chinese cabbage and tomato extracts, tofu, soy sauce, oil, pepper, salt, and sugar—not MSG.
Across the table, my husband enjoyed a bowl of chicken pho, “pho ga,” a darker soup than mine due to the meaty broth—and the Sriracha. He ate the substantial bits first—the salty-but-sweet pieces of chicken, the soft rice noodles, the bean sprouts—and finished by tilting his head back and drinking the rest of the broth from the bowl. A couple nearby packed up their leftovers—but we knew we’d finish every bite. 1002 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-3322; 6879 S. Vine St., Centennial, 303-797-9535, pho95noodlehouse.com 
Pho Chay (small bowl, vegetable and tofu pho) $5.50; Pho Ga (small bowl, chicken pho) $5.50; Them Ga (extra chicken) $1.50; Ca Phe Sua Da (espresso & condensed milk) $3.50; Mango Boba $3.99