A popular trend in Vietnamese restaurants has reached the greater Houston area. Stone pot pho, also known as hot pot pho or hot stone pot pho, is being served at newly opened Ong Jas Viet Kitchen in Pearland. The restaurant is the latest endeavor from husband-and-wife team Jas Phan and Thanh Nguyen, the duo behind Migo Saigon Street Food in the Asiatown’s Bellaire Food Street development.
So what is stone pot pho? Essentially, it’s a deconstructed dish of pho in which the broth is served bubbling hot in a stone bowl, with the meat, noodle, and vegetable components presented on the side. The pho can be enjoyed in a manner similar to hot pot, wherein you dip the meats and noodles in the hot pot, and eat as you go. Proponents of stone pot pho love it because the broth stays hot, the noodles don’t get soggy, and the meat toppings — especially cuts of rare filet mignon — don’t get overcooked. But, there are no rules against putting everything in all at once and enjoying it as you would a regular bowl too.
Though the origins of the trend are fuzzy — evidence of people eating this style of pho as early as 2018 can be found on YouTube — it can be speculated that stone pot pho originated in Hanoi before it began spreading among the Vietnamese diaspora. Today, it is seen in places with cooler climates like Canada, West Coast cities like San Jose and Los Angeles, and midwestern cities like Chicago, where stone pot pho is all the hype during frigid winters.
“Most Vietnamese restaurants have the same menu of pho and rice,” says Phan. “I needed one special thing in my restaurant to keep people coming. If they hear about hot stone pho, I think it’s not news in California, but it’s news in Houston, or even Texas.”
Listed on the menu as “OJ’s Pho Hot Stone,” a bowl is $14.50, and comes with four standard toppings: filet mignon, brisket, beef meatballs, and tendon. The toppings are customizable with additional meat choices like fatty brisket and flank. The style of the broth is Northern Vietnamese, “because that’s where pho originated” according to Phan. The pure beef bone broth is simmered for 12 hours, seasoned with Phan’s own proprietary blend of spices, and does not contain any MSG.
“I think if people hear about hot stone pho, they’ll be like, ‘What’s that?’ They’re going to be curious; they’re going to want to come check it out,” he says. A TikTok video showcasing Phan’s stone pot pho that went viral with more than 400,000 views is proof of that.
At Ong Jas Viet Kitchen, Phan also offers traditional pho, chicken pho, shrimp pho, and vegetarian pho. The rest of the menu is standard Vietnamese fare, with a contemporary flair. Expect appetizers, rice and vermicelli dishes, specialty drinks like panda milk tea, and a couple of chef signature dishes, like the fan favorite garlic noodles with shaking beef, and fried tomato rice with a choice of shaken beef, grilled shrimp, or crispy-skinned chicken. Soon, he plans to roll out a sizzling hot plate series, serving bo ne (Vietnamese steak and eggs) and pork xiu mai meatballs on sizzling platters.
Phan, who always had an artistic flair and briefly studied design at the Art Institute of Houston, designed the restaurant himself. Ong Jas Viet Kitchen is stylish, while still being casual and family-friendly. The open and airy space boasts picnic-style tables and is decorated with two wall murals and a large Buddhist altar for good luck. Five large hanging fish sculptures represent each member of his nuclear family. The sculptures, along with custom stone tableware, were imported from Vietnam.
Phan and Nguyen moved to Pearland last year, and are optimistic about success. They’re hoping that Ong Jas Viet Kitchen’s suburban address won’t deter people. With the newly constructed HOV lane connecting the Medical Center and Pearland, a piping hot bowl of stone pot pho can be had in a short 15-minute drive from central Houston.