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Sep 27

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Monster Pho: Nut Free Vietnamese Restaurant

Monster Pho: a Nut Free Vietnamese Restaurant Review

I recently read “Monster Pho,” an article written by Anna Mindess and published on Bay Area Bites. It’s a feel good story about a guy who wanted to start his own restaurant using his mom’s recipes. Despite many challenges, his restaurant is a huge success and 100% peanut free for those with food allergies…peanut free??…a PEANUT FREE Vietnamese restaurant! *scream with delight*

Usually Vietnamese restaurants incorporate peanuts in many of their dishes. Chopped peanuts are sprinkled on as garnish and some dishes are served with a peanut butter based dip on the side. The potential for cross contact is great and Vietnamese restaurants are off limits for those who are highly sensitive or react to airborne nuts.

Finding out about a peanut free Vietnamese restaurant is simply phenomenal news and an amazing resource for those of us who have peanut and nut allergies. We took a quick day trip to eat pho in Oakland during a long Labor Day holiday weekend. It was a 70 mile/2 hour round trip in typical Bay Area traffic but totally worth it.

(Disclosure: I was not solicited, paid, or received anything in exchange for this review. We paid for our own meal and I am sharing our experience and my opinions because I think you might find it interesting.)

monster pho nut free wok bowl

First Impressions of Monster Pho

We slept in, had breakfast, and headed to Oakland because Monster Pho is known for long lines. We arrived a few minutes before Monster Pho opened and to our delight, we entered a medium sized restaurant that was clean, sunny, and decorated with thoughtful design and simplicity. I immediately noticed on the menu the following statement:

*** 100% PEANUT FREE RESTAURANT ***

Perfect, right?

Even though the menu had other items such as vermicelli noodles and rice plates, we only wanted to have pho: a big bowl of beef broth with rice noodles, tender pieces of meat, and served with bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chili on the side. We also wanted to share an order of spring rolls. I would have loved ordering additional dishes but we just had a breakfast! Not to worry, we have more reason to go back again. I don’t often see nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashew, or other tree nuts in Vietnamese cuisine and we were able to verify with the waitress that the restaurant is also nut free.

Most Vietnamese restaurants have a canister of chopsticks and stacks of soup spoons and sauce dishes for their customers to help themselves. Instead Monster Pho would bring them out for each table on a little tray which is much more hygienic than the help yourself way. They also have bottles of hoisin sauce and sriracha (read my allergy aware review about sriracha here) available at the table and my husband noticed the bottle tips were clean.

monster pho nut free wok spring roll

The Ultimate Comfort Food for People with Peanut Allergies

When our orders arrived, our Vietnamese food deprived family thoroughly enjoyed every bite. The spring rolls had a bit of a flair with the pretty end of a lettuce leaf sticking out. The bean sprouts and basil were very fresh and the pho broth was light and clean, with very little fat floating on the top, low in salt or MSG, exactly the way I like it. Best of all, our food was NUT FREE, the ultimate comfort food that is free of worry.

Meet Mr. Tee Tran

I had the pleasure of meeting Tee Tran, the owner of Monster Pho, who was interviewed in the Bay Area Bites article. I thanked him for having a nut free Vietnamese restaurant and his answer is so humble, compassionate, and thoughtful. He explained that he has family members and friends with severe food allergies and he wanted to do something that hasn’t been done before, a nut free Vietnamese restaurant so that people with peanut allergies may enjoy Vietnamese foods. I think his restaurant is an expression of compassion for those who have food allergies.

Monster Pho Nut Free Wok

I also asked how he limits cross contact and whether people with allergies to other foods can dine there. Tee’s answer reassured me that he knew what he was talking about as he described how each broth is prepared separately (vegetable pho is 100% vegetables and chicken pho is made of chicken without beef, as described by Anna Mindess) and for example they don’t add fish sauce to beef pho. All the foods are separated in the back to prevent cross contact. It’s hard to generalize whether Monster Pho is right for you unless you call to ask about the allergens you are avoiding but it seems to me that there is a certain level of awareness that is very promising.

I am so happy to learn about Monster Pho, a nut free Vietnamese restaurant. Our family feels so grateful for Tee’s forward thinking about making his restaurant safe and inclusive for those with nut allergies. I loved meeting him, despite his success, he’s gentle, humble, and kind. I believe he’s our new BFF, please be sure to thank him if you have the chance to meet him. I hope other restaurants will see that it’s possible to be allergy friendly and successful.

Thank you, Tee and staff at Monster Pho, for making it possible for this peanut allergic and Vietnamese food deprived family to be able to enjoy your wonderful meals, we’ll be back!

Thank you, Anna Mindess and Bay Area Bites, for telling Tee’s story!

Verify Safety Before You Dine Out

If you have allergies to any of the ingredients present at Monster Pho, call ahead of time to discuss with Tee or his staff. If you only have nut allergies, I feel comfortable in sharing our positive experience at Monster Pho. Regardless, it’s always prudent to verify safety before you dine out. In general, I do the following before trying any new restaurants:

  • Call during non-peak times and ask to speak to a manager and keep the conversation brief.
  • Ask questions such as “My child is allergic to xyz, are there dishes we should avoid ordering?”
  • Or ask “Do you have a procedure in place on how to prepare a meal safely for someone with food allergies?” and ask additional follow up questions as needed and as time permits.
  • I always thank them for their time and help regardless of their answers to make it easier for the next person who calls about food allergies.
  • Arrive early or at non-peak times for most optimal attention and service.
  • Order simply and be wary of sauces, deep fried foods, and desserts as well as hidden allergens inside stews or foods that are wrapped, covered, or layered.
  • Always let the the waitstaff or manager know about food allergies when ordering and verify again when the food arrives.
  • Tell a friend or share a review on Allergy Eats or YoDish.

Monster Pho is located at 3905 Broadway, Oakland, California 94611. You can also call them at 510-788-4459 or email them at care@monsterpho.com (that email address is a big clue about what kind of people they are, they care!). Check out their menu on their website, www.monsterpho.com

Are you as excited as I am about Monster Pho and Tee Tran? Are there additional questions that you ask when dining out?  Tell me what you think in the comments!

UPDATE (April 2017): Thanks to my friend, Irene, I recently learned that Monster Pho opened a second restaurant in Emeryville, CA and possibly added sandwiches to the menu? Whooo-hoo!! I cannot wait to check it out.

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I have not been solicited, paid, or compensated in any way to share this review with you. We dined at Monster Pho and paid for our meal and am sharing my opinion with you. Because restaurants may change ownership or menu items at any time without notice, this review may become inaccurate at any time. You are responsible to verify safety before eating and remember to bring your epi auto-injectors and other emergency medications. Consult your medical care team if you have any questions.

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8 comments

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  1. Caroline

    Oh Sharon! I am a PHO freak! I love it and the best place in Reno is at gas station. I love Oakland and the glorious food of that town. Now, you have brought to light that two of my loves are together in one nut free place!

    My son is allergic to sesame, so I will need to contact Mr. Tan to see if sesame and tree nuts are issues.

    Now you know my secret love. Okay, that is one of many culinary secret loves. Excellent post Sharon. You do a good job and I enjoy your site very much! Happy to joined the blogging world.

    1. Sharon Wong

      Awesome Caroline, let me know next time you visit the Bay Area…we’ll have to have a nut free Vietnamese food feast together! Thanks for always being so supportive and positive, you are so precious!

  2. D.

    I am so excited about this restaurant! My significant other has never eaten Vietnamese food (severe peanut allergy), and now we can together. Thanks for sharing, Sharon!

    1. Sharon Wong

      I’m so excited for you! Be sure to say hi to Tee and let him know about your significant other’s allergies. Enjoy! 🙂

  3. Linda

    Sharon, thank you so much for posting about Monster Pho! We finally got to go last weekend, and had great food! My 14 year old PN/TN son was able to order anything he wanted, and Mr. Tee Tran was amazing. I had called ahead the week before, and he couldn’t have been nicer. He really took care of us when we were there, and he and his staff work so hard to keep the place running clean and smooth. We live in the East Bay, and we’ve decided that this is our new go-to place when we want to go out to eat!

    1. Sharon Wong

      Hi Linda, whooo-hoo!! I’m so happy for your family and I love to hear the good feedback. It’s definitely our go-to pho place. Tee is fantastic, God bless him. 🙂

  4. Christine

    Ever since you posted a review of Monster Pho, we have been wanting to go, and I am happy to say we finally made it over to the restaurant, and for two weekends in a row!! From the moment Tee greeted us at our table with a welcoming smile, our worries melted away, and we knew that for the first time, our girls would be able to safely enjoy a delicious meal at a Vietnamese restaurant. I can’t begin to tell you how elated I was that our girls could enjoy another dining out experience, as we have only a couple of other “safe” restaurants. Tee was extremely kind, informative, very accommodating, and sincerely cared about our girls’ safety. Our girls devoured the chicken pho, while my husband and I ate more than we should have, and we ordered additional food to take to our parents’ home, too. We are so grateful to Tee for making it possible for those with severe nuts allergies, to enjoy eating at a Vietnamese restaurant. We can’t wait to dine again at Monster Pho, our family’s favorite restaurant now!! Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your experiences, and recommendations, with your readers. Keep up the fantastic work, Sharon!

    1. Sharon Wong

      Christine, thank you so much for sharing such kind words and for adding to the heaps of well-deserved praise for Tee and his staff at Monster Pho. It makes me so happy that they continue to serve our food allergy community so well. Now I want to go too…nom nom!

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