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I just spent two weeks eating my way around Vietnam and am having a bit of a craving for their national soup Pho (pronounced fuh – kind of like fur) so the other day I nipped into Vietnamese chain Pho Cafe to get my fix – and left stuffed.
Which was interesting because my meal of a massive bowl of chicken Pho complete with noodles and beansprouts was only 347 calories – my normal homemade salad at lunch contains more calories than that and I have to eat again at 3pm!
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In fact,as I update this post in May 2023 the Pho Nutritional Information tells me that there more than 28 main courses that weigh in at under 400 calories – and just 14 on the whole Pho Cafe menu that contain over 600 calories.
That’s incredible – sometimes when I write these posts I’m struggling to find more than 15 under 600 calories!
However, I know what it’s like when you’re sitting looking the menu and you’re not sure if the Pork Spring Rolls starter is going to be a better choice than the Banh Xeo (not on the new menu they’re not) so, as per past posts of this nature (see the one on Wagamama here) I’ve gone through and pinpointed the lowest calorie choice for each option on the Pho Cafe menu…..
And here they are…
The Lowest Calorie Dish at Pho Cafe is
The absolute lowest calorie option on the Pho Cafe menu is the Papaya Salad with Prawn which has just 129 calories – a number so low I had to check it wasn’t a side dish.
This comes with a serving of Prawn Crackers which adds 59 calories, which if you eat them (and why wouldn’t you) takes the whole dish to 184 calories.
The lowest calorie option without a side dish is the Veggie Salad which combines veggies with herbs and a chilli and ginger dressing. This has just 153 calories.
While both of these options are super low, it’s actually not a good idea to cut calories THAT low for a main meal.
In fact, the NHS actually suggest a main meal should be closer to 600 calories if you’re not trying to lose weight – 400-500 is a good idea if you are.
So, you might want to add the salad to another meal – or, add some Chicken, or THIS Isn’t Chicken Summer Rolls (183 or 196 calories) or an extra side of protein like the Vietnamese Chicken and Prawn Pancake – 226 calories – on to the side to bulk things out a bit.
But what if you don’t feel like a salad what other low-calorie options are on the Pho Cafe menu…
The Guide to Low-Calorie Choices at Pho Cafe
Lowest Calorie Starters and Sides
You’re looking at the Spicy Salad Rolls at an incredibly low 44 calories – these are also super low in carbs if you’re following any kind of low-carb regime.
The numbers don’t include any dipping sauce, but if you feel like one then pick Nuoc cham chay which adds just 37 calories to the dish.
You could also use a dab of Sriracha Chilli sauce instead which is on the table and only contains 5 cals a serving.
NB: I’m using the British descriptions on the dishes where I can in this post as I don’t know where the accent thingies are on my keyboard.
While I was away I got told that one Vietnamese meat dish said without the accent actually translates as human flesh. Who knows what I could be saying if I type without them – and I don’t want to offend any Vietnamese readers. I’ve taken enough of a risk with the Banh Xeo!
The Lowest Calorie Pho to Choose
You’re looking at the Steak Pho version which contains just 287 calorie per bowl. Or, if you’re feeling in a veggie mood, the 3 Mushrooms Pho comes in a very close second at just 290 calories.
That’s astonishing considering how filling these are.
But you don’t need to limit yourself, absolutely every Pho-style soup in Pho comes in at under 500 calories.
This doesn’t apply to the Curry Noodle Soup though where calories range from 559-648
Lowest Calorie Curry and Rice at Pho
Calories creep up a little bit when you get to this part of the menu – and if you pick the wrong dish and serve it with Broken Rice, your meal could creep past the 1000 calorie mark.
If you’re in a curry and rice mood though, the lowest-calorie option is the Classic Chicken Curry (587 calories) on a bed of Cauliflower Rice (64 calories).
I do note the nice little note from the Pho team on the nutritional information explaining that the fat- and therefore the calories in this dish – mostly comes from coconut milk!
How Much Difference Does Cauliflower Rice Make
As I said above, you get the option to the curry meals – and the Rice Bowls on the Pho menu come with the choice of Broken Rice (370 calories) or Cauliflower Rice (64 calories) and you might be wondering whether it’s worth making the swap.
The answer is yes it is – you save 306 calories a portion. That’s enough for a whole other meal in here – or at least a delicious starter!
Lowest Calorie Rice Bowls
Despite the fact that these are full of tasty toppings – including peanuts, you can easily make a meal on this part of the menu for under 400 calories.
The lowest calorie option on this section would be the ‘THIS isn’t chicken and veg’ toppings (205 calories) on a bed of Cauliflower Rice – that combination comes to 269 calories.
You could even easily pick Broken Rice here and still come under a healthy 600 calories.
The word ‘fried’ should give you a small clue that this isn’t going to be the lowest calorie section on the Pho menu, and it’s not. Everything on here is over that healthy 600 calorie cut off – but the lowest calorie option is the Chicken and Dried Shrimp at 794 calories.
These do a bit better than the rice as every option comes in under 600 calories. The absolute lowest option thought is the ‘THIS isn’t chicken’ Wok Fried Noodles at 419 calories.
Lowest Calorie Vermicelli Noodles
These rice noodles with a wok-fried lemongrass and chilli topping come with an added Spring Roll which adds 79 calories to the meal – but, because they’re all relatively low in calories to start with that’s okay – tuck in!
The lowest calorie option is the King Prawn Vermicelli Noodles which, with the Spring Roll, has 315 calories.
This is one of the really interesting things about the Pho menu – usually when you write these things, the same topping tends to come up time and time again as the best one to pick – it’s usually a sea of chicken or veggies, but it’s great that Pho have a real variety of lowest-calorie choices with different toppings.
As we said, the absolute lowest calorie salad eaten as served is the Veggie Salad at 153 calories.
As you probably guess, we’re about to tell you that that’s a bit too low for a main meal and so, you might want to add the salad to another meal – or, add an extra side of protein like one of the Vietnamese pancakes on to the side to bulk things out a bit.
What’s the Lowest Calorie Veggie or Vegan Option?
Again, it’s that Veggie Salad, which is also vegan – and if you want to add a vegan starter to add a little more protein, then you’d be looking at the Veggie Summer Rolls with THIS is not Chicken.
The 15 Lowest Calorie Options at Pho at a Glance
|Name of the Dish||Calories as Served|
|Green Papaya Salad – Prawn||184|
|THIS isn’t Chicken Salad||233|
|Green Papaya Salad – Chicken||244|
|Green Papaya Salad – THIS isn’t Chicken||262|
|THIS isn’t chicken Rice Bowl w Cauli Rice||269|
|3 Mushrooms Pho||290|
|Hot and Spicy King Prawn Pho||301|
|King Prawn Pho||305|
|Chargrilled Chicken Thigh Rice Bowl w Cauli Rice||313|
|King Prawn Vermicelli Noodles||315|
|Hot & Spicy 3 Mushroom Pho||335|
That’s quite the impressive list – but remember, you might want to add a starter to most of those dishes to increase the calories to at least 400, or grab a yogurt or something for dessert, so you’re not undereating.
If we haven’t mentioned your favourite and you want to find the rest of the Pho Cafe nutrition information, here’s a link to the table on the PhoCafe website
Is Pho Healthy?
As I said, much of the fat in Pho is skimmed off as part of the cooking process and so most Pho soups are very low in fat – the King Prawn Classic Pho at Pho Cafe for example has less than 1g of fat a bowl.
Because it contains noodles Pho isn’t low carb – but, rice noodles used within it are gluten-free which is good if that’s something you’re choosing to avoid.
In fact, most of the Pho Cafe menu is gluten-free – exclusions include the Spring Rolls – and, these can be removed from the dishes they come on as a standard to make those gluten free. The Hoi Sin sauce also contains gluten to skip that as an option. Ask your server about the other dishes.
Pho Cafe also have gluten-free accreditation from the Coeliac Society which means they class them as as safe as possible for people avoiding gluten for medical reasons to eat it. Pho do suggest you also tell your server that you’re gluten-free so they’re fully aware.
One thing to watch is that some Pho came be high in sodium which can be a problem if you’re watching your blood pressure. Pho Cafe don’t list their sodium count so I can’t say how there’s stack up
Five Reasons Why You Should Try Pho
Chances are if you’re reading this post you’ve found it via the magic of google looking for words like ‘pho restaurant calories’ – and therefore are well versed in the magic that comes in a bowl of Pho – if however, you found this another way and have never tried Pho before – here’s five reasons why you should
- It’s said that the mix of spices within it help tackle colds and flu. It does clear your nose for sure.
- Traditional Pho is a breakfast food and is therefore said to be an awesome cure for hangovers – I have also tested this one. It’s true.
- A good pho stock is made by boiling bones for hours and skimming off the fat. This accounts for its low-calorie count but also ensures it’s high in minerals. Pho Cafe say their phos are high in folate, iron and magnesium.
- Pho was once described to me as a ‘democratic’ food – ie you add your own flavouring ingredients like mint, coriander, fish sauce and chili to create your own perfect bowl. This makes it good for groups with different tastebuds.
- The fact that I don’t have super sensitive tastebuds (if you do, you might be a supertaster) means what I add most is liberal amounts of chilli and Sriracha. This, in turn, means Pho is amazing at giving your skin a glow. I was off to a photo shoot after my lunch and didn’t need blusher.
Want to Try and Make Your Own Pho?
There’s a whole load of recipe books out there to help you. Have a look at these…
Rated five stars on Amazon, in her book Simply Pho author Helen Le teaches you how to whip up a tasty bowl of pho with all the trimmings but also a heap of other Vietnamese favourites. You can find it here.
Who knew you could create 50 different types of Pho? But that’s the promise in Mattius Matthews Pho Cookbook. Here’s where to find out more.
If you like this post on the lowest calorie options at Pho Cafe, you’ll also find a whole load of other calorie guides to UK chains in our calorie guides section, here.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.