Edible Bozeman

Siblings Julie and Ryan Truong started Pho Sai Gon in 2023 in order to offer cuisine inspired by their original home in Vietnam to the Bozeman community.

Balancing Homes, Old and New

In 2015, Julie Truong “stumbled” upon Bozeman, fell in love, and soon started attending Montana State University. When her brother Ryan came to visit from California, he was similarly smitten. “There was no rush-hour traffic, and it was so relaxing compared to San Diego,” he recalls. “It’s a little busier now, but you can still go up the M Trail and enjoy the quiet and the amazing views.”

But as much as the siblings found themselves enamored with Bozeman’s beautiful mountains and hiking trails, something was missing: a place to get the food they had loved growing up in Saigon before emigrating to San Diego in 2004.

“In Vietnam, our parents had a stand set up in front of our house selling crab noodle soup and various street food,” Julie says. Ryan adds, “We worked there and learned to make my mother’s recipes, and she taught us how to cook in the traditional style with classic Vietnamese ingredients.”

At one point during their early days in Bozeman, the siblings got so desperate for a taste of home that they made the six-plus-hour drive to Salt Lake City to get some authentic Vietnamese food. Rather than make a habit of that expedition, they were inspired to take action to fill Bozeman’s culinary void. “We opened Pho Sai Gon in honor of our mother and to enhance the diverse food scene in Bozeman,” Julie says.

While Julie continued at MSU, Ryan returned to San Diego, left his corporate job, and got a position at a friend’s Vietnamese restaurant. “He took me under his wing and let me learn all aspects of running a restaurant in America,” Ryan says. “I started as a prep cook and worked up to line cook. He taught me how to operate a successful business and all the practical aspects of ordering food and service.”

Ryan (at top) learned to prepare his mother’s recipes before emigrating to the U.S. in 2004. After working in a Vietnamese restaurant in San Diego, he and Julie started Pho Sai Gon as a tribute to their mother.

With what Ryan learned from his friend and their mom’s recipes memorized in their heads, the Truongs had everything they needed to start a restaurant—except, well, a restaurant. Enter Jay and Mary Bentley, the former owners of Bozeman’s Open Range steakhouse. “I talked to Mary about the idea of the restaurant, and she told me to try it out,” Ryan says. For ten Sunday nights in the winter of 2022, Ryan and Julie took over Open Range’s kitchen for a Vietnamese pop-up and instantly gained a following among Bozeman’s foodies.

Starting any business is challenging, but the Truongs had the extra hurdle of finding authentic Asian ingredients in a town without an Asian grocery. “We still have to source a lot of our produce like Chinese lettuce, Vietnamese coriander, and Thai basil from a supplier in Salt Lake City,” Ryan explains. “Some ingredients are so hard to find that we’re thinking of turning one area of the restaurant into a mini-mart for Asian products.”

One thing Montana has plenty of is meat, and Pho Sai Gon tries to get much of it from Ranchland Packing Co. based in Butte. The family-owned butcher and meat processor sources all its beef and pork in-state from smaller family farms and ranches. “We’re using the meat the same week that they butcher it, so it’s really fresh,” Ryan says.

The dish that best highlights the special combination of Asian and Montanan ingredients is the beef pho (pronounced “fuh”), the widely popular Vietnamese noodle soup. Its intensely flavored broth starts with simmering a beef knuckle bone for 12 hours before adding dry-heated cardamon, fennel, cinnamon stick, star anise, clove, and coriander to simmer overnight. It is filtered to obtain a clear broth and then simmered further.

“It’s my mom’s recipe,” Ryan says, “but the one thing we do differently is leave the broth in the cooler for two days to infuse and heighten all the flavors in the pho.”

If pho is the restaurant’s signature dish, the Saigon Chicken Wings are the most personal since it was their mother’s go-to meal for special occasions and parties. “The menu reflects the food from our childhood, and the wings were always our favorite,” Ryan says. “They’re simple to make but easy to mess up if you don’t get just the right balance of salty and sweet.”

With so many flavors—sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy—not to mention countless ingredients, colors, and textures, balance is the keyword in Vietnamese cooking. It’s also what Julie and Ryan, both married with young families, have come to Bozeman seeking.

“People often talk about the ‘American Dream,’ and for Ryan and me, this is ours,” Julie says. “We are proud of Pho Sai Gon and hope those who come into our restaurant enjoy a glimpse of our culture and food cooked with love.”

Pho Sai Gon
605 N. 7th Ave., Ste. 102

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