Buckeye Pho

vietnamese food columbus761 Bethel Rd., Columbus, OH 43214
Open Mon-Thurs 11am – 10pm, Fri-Sat 11am – 10:30pm, Sun 11am – 9pm

Click here to map it!

Buckeye Pho is one hell of an interesting experiment.

As the name might suggest, the interest comes from how they wed an ethnic cuisine (in this case Vietnamese) to resolutely Ohio-centric branding. A few have gone down this path before – the ill-fated Buckeye Sambusa, to name one – but none have committed to the concept so completely.

And by commitment, I mean investment. Few new independent restaurants in recent memory have debuted with such a bright and shiny interior space, and I can’t think of any (true) ethnic restaurants in town that can boast of such refinement. A brilliant glossy stainless-steel kitchen gleams from behind a glass-tile-clad kitchen bar counter. Three large flat-screen TVs above the kitchen show a mix of news and sports. Rich red wood tables gleam with multiple coats of lacquer. Earth tones and OSU crimson adorn the walls, as does a stripe comprised of hundreds of real buckeyes. We were seated by a tie-wearing host, and the rest of the front-of-house staff wore customized black Buckeye Pho polo shirts. Kitchen staff wore strictly chef’s whites.

The effect, in sum, is that of a small localized Champps – not a whiff of ‘ethnic hole in the wall’ vibe anywhere and nothing so much as a nod to the culture that spawned the cuisine.

columbus vietnamese restaurants

At least until one opens the menu. As we waited for our food, we felt a gaze upon us. A group of six men, by appearance probably construction workers, peered in through the window… and apparently liked what they saw. They entered and were seated next to us, and began perusing the menu. We’re not above listening in and observing, and what we heard and saw was puzzlement. The server walked them through their options, they ordered, and cracked self-depricating jokes regarding their cluelessness about ‘Oriental food’. Their food came, they ate, they seemed to enjoy.

This is clearly the idea behind the place – to entice those who are unlikely to try Vietnamese to feel as comfortable as possible in doing so. Like I said, a bold play… and one that might just work.

And it’s a worthwhile introduction to make, as Buckeye Pho’s owners are related to the owner of Mi Li Cafe. It shows in the food – the banh mi rolls have the same satisfying crunch, and the pho comes with a similarly rich and satisfying broth. This is true, unadulterated Vietnamese cuisine done well.

vietnamese restaurant bethel road columbus
Pictured (clockwise from top left): signature pho; grilled beef banh mi (Vietnamese sub); Saigon soup (wonton like chicken broth with shrimp, crab sticks, chicken, chicken liver and roast duck) and bun thit nuong cha gio (vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls).

Interestingly, on a strip that has long been known for its many Asian restaurants, this is the first Vietnamese Restaurant on Bethel Rd. It makes the strip all the more compelling as a destination. If you’re into pho and the like, Buckeye Pho is a great new option. If you’re saddled with ‘that one friend’ whose lack of adventurousness limits your dining options, tell ’em you’d like to try out ‘a new restaurant’ and take ’em here. They won’t know what’s you’ve done until it’s too late, and they might just like it.

In spite of the spiffy atmosphere, prices are entirely reasonable. Apps start at $3.00, banh mi sandwiches run from $5.00 to $6.00, and larger dishes range from $4.50 – $10.50. Vegetarians will likely have a tough time here.


18 responses to “Buckeye Pho

  1. Sounds good. How was the sub? I think Lac Viet would actually count as the first Vietnamese restaurant on Bethel.

    • The sub was good. We tried the beef version, which few Vietnamese restaurants have, so tough to make a direct comparison… I’d guess if we went with pork it’d be darn near the equal of Mi Li’s banh mi (which we tend to think of as being the best).

      Regarding Lac Viet, good point!

  2. When are we going to get a restaurant that serves phở for breakfast? My craving for phở creeps in at about 7:30 a.m. and usually leaves before lunchtime…

  3. I’d love to see a Pho breakfast truck downtown!

  4. First on Bethel was Bamboo Cafe and second on Bethel was Lac Viet, so that makes this the third Viet restaurant on Bethel. Bethel also has three Korean restaurants that are worth the visit.

    • I definitely missed it on Lac Viet, but never really considered Bamboo Cafe to be a Vietnamese restaurant… more of a SE Asian hodgepodge in my mind.

  5. Oh, I like the Twitter sign in for comments, I’m hoping for no crappy email verification.

    This looks like a potential for the Friday night dinner, very nice!

  6. Lac Viet and Bamboo Cafe are the worst Vietnamese restaurants in Columbus. Buckeye Pho is better then both of them.

  7. mtallan@ggptl.com

    Went yesterday at lunch. A group of eight had just been seated and managed to spill a large container of hot chili pepper flakes all over the floor. The staff couldn’t seem to coordinate a smooth cleanup and for the first fifteen minutes we were ignored as every worker but the cooks tried to clean up the mess. Things remained clumsy-the waiter asked for our order before we were ever given a menu and the waiter had to come back and ask us to repeat our order. The concept is weird. What does OSU Buckeye-mania have to do with Vietnamese food? The decor just does nothing other than to cater to run amuk OSU football fans-most of whom won’t go for Vietnamese food. This leads to the menus which dumb things down for these would-be OSU-ethnic foodies by listing Bahn-mhi as “Vietnamese subs”. Huh what? C’mon. Then again, they have Pho with tripe, and who would think the average John Cooper, er, John Q. Public of Cowtown would eat Pho with tripe? Well I do. The tripe got an “A”, but the large sized order of Pho was only a C+. The broth was not as good as several other on offer in Columbus including the excellent pho on Lane Ave. The grilled chicken bahn-mhi was passable, but only that. I’ve had much better bread, and let’s face it, the bread makes or breaks the bahn-mhi. This was a bit too soft and not flaky enough. The inside is sterile and loud and garish in my humble opinion and the three large flatscreens do little to make up for that. All in all, a rather silly concept that I find condescending to those in Columbus who appreciate Vietnamese food.

    • “The concept is weird. What does OSU Buckeye-mania have to do with Vietnamese food? The decor just does nothing other than to cater to run amuk OSU football fans-most of whom won’t go for Vietnamese food. ”

      That’s certainly the flip side of how one might interpret the concept. It’s a legitimate opinion.

      That said, we did seem to enjoy the food more than you did.

    • With all due respect, not every ethnic restaurant needs to look and feel like an ‘ethnic restaurant’. As an Asian-American, sometimes i find it nice to walk into a clean, brightly-lit restaurant with a little bit of style and aspiration. Love the open kitchen at Buckeye Pho. Could do without the Buckeye homage, but heck, we’re in Ohio, after all. I’m perfectly happy eating at obscure authentic restaurants that make no concessions to atmosphere (e.g. Cafe Mi Li), but there’s nothing wrong with a restaurant that tries to break out to a larger audience as long as the food remains true to the culture. Buckeye Pho is in the solid top ranks of Vietnamese restaurants in Columbus, and fares pretty well when measured against the coasts. I’ve seen people eating here that didn’t look like the kind of people that might seek out a place like Cafe Mi Li, and that’s fine with me. A larger audience for authentic ethnic food makes Columbus a better place to eat for all of us.

  8. Tried this earlier this week. I had a beef stew with meat that was so tough I could not eat it. Wife had dish with very fatty pork. Broth was very good, but the beef really ruined the meal. Luc Viet is much better.

  9. I’m looking forward to checking this out this place. I’ve never had Vietnamese food but I’m definitely open to new foods. Of the dishes in your photos, the beef banh mi looks most appetizing. Are there “beginner” dishes you would recommend?

    • The two most popular dishes for non-Vietnamese tend to be the banh mi and the pho. Either (or both) would be a good place to start. Overall, I don’t think Vietnamese is any more challenging to the American palate than Thai is… if anything the flavors, on average, are less potent.

  10. Pingback: Friday Five: Things I’ve Eaten Recently. « itinerant foodies

  11. Wanted to like this place as it is close to us and the prices are downright cheap. But, alas –we give it a C at best. Nothing stood out–we ordered bun, pho, couple of appetizers and all were merely ok. Go across the street — pay a little more for a fantastic Vietnamese meal @ Bamboo Cafe.

  12. Owner of this place is a former Executive Chef for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants… it seems anything they touch is gold!

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