Category Archives: Pho

Sai Gon Dep

Sai Gon Dep is a new pho-focused casual joint by acclaimed former Hanoi House chef John Nguyen. He’s a master at making pho – the best I’ve had outside of Vietnam.

While Hanoi House is focused on northern style beef soup, Sai Gon Dep focuses on southern style chicken soup from the region where John was born.

Although beef soup is still served here (as well as full-on 45-day dry-aged tomahawk chops, available only on weekends – 8/10) and other protein entrees are available on the menu, the main focus is on fowl.

They even have balut, for those looking for either an authentic or Zimmern-esque experience.

At $15 a bowl, these soups are a steal. The rich, hearty poultry flavor is like nothing else I’ve had. Not even the most rich paitan broths come close, and this soup eats much lighter than those salty sweat-bomb bowls at ramen shops.

While the noodles here come with shredded meat and an egg yolk in the broth, you can order a half or whole chicken to go with it.

Pull some meat off the bones and drag it through the ginger chicken fat oil and scallion sauce that accompany the dish, and munch away at the delicious bird between slurps of noodles… or just plop it into your soup.

Honestly, the broth alone is so soul-satisfying and delicious that you might not even need the additional meat. But if you do order the extra chicken, don’t be alarmed: you may get a plate of feet and heads along with your order. Nothing goes to waste here, just like where John was born in Vietnam. The entire bird is used, and that’s why the soup tastes so fucking great.

Keep an eye out. This place opens next week. I was there for a special media preview, and I can’t wait to start eating this more regularly. The chicken pho is a top dish of the year for me.

SAI GON DEP
719 Second Ave
New York, NY 10016

Em

The owner of Em, Patrick Lin, invited me in to try some of their awesome noodle dishes and sandwich creations. I was really excited about this menu.

We started with some smoothies: the classic avocado, and the watermelon. Both were really refreshing and delicious. HOLY SHIT SOMEONE ARREST THEM BECAUSE THE STRAWS ARE PLASTIC!

Then we moved right on to the sandwiches.

The first one I hit was this bacon egg and cheese banh mi sandwich:

This is perfect. It has all the familiar flavors of banh mi, but with bacon, egg and cheese to go with it. That’s a winning combo. I could eat this every day, so this was well worth the hour-long subway ride out here to Bensonhurst.

Next up was the banh bi burger.

This is actually the one “burger” that I would almost prefer to be served without cheese. This one has provolone, but I didn’t think it was necessary (clearly some might love it though). The bright, fresh herbs and acidic pickled slaw are really all you need, except for a sauce or mayo. This, too, was really tasty – cheese or no cheese.

Next, we moved on to the soups.

Hu Tieu is a pork based broth with pork rib, ground pork, and a mix of seafood (shrimp, fish balls, etc). This was light and flavorful. My wife liked this one the best out of the two.

The pho here is really nice. The broth is flavorful but not heavy, and the addition of short rib really turns this into a satisfying meal. There’s lots of brisket, eye round and meatballs in there, yet this still manages to stay light. This was my pick between the two.

For dessert, we had Vietnamese coffee tiramisu. This was super creamy and fluffy, and the coffee flavors came through nicely.

I’ll definitely be back here again to eat my way through the rest of the menu. And the good thing is that this place was packed on a Sunday for lunch. People are really digging this place, and so am I.

EM
1702 86th St
Brooklyn, NY 11214

Hanoi House

My wife and I went to Hanoi House with some friends. I wasn’t expecting such a great showing of Vietnamese food, as NYC is notoriously not that great for the cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised.

We started with a beef tongue sandwich that we split among the four of us. I didn’t shoot it, but man was it delicious. The tongue was braised and super tender, and dressed with chili, lime, cilantro, and a coconut curry type sauce. Just the right balance of savory, spicy and sweet. A must order.

We also shared an order of summer rolls, which were filled with shrimp, pork, herbs, and crispy egg roll skin (all inside the soft rice paper wrap). These were the best I’ve had in NYC (I also failed to get a photo of these – apologies).

The pho was fantastic. The broth was more robust and murky than other places I’ve been. While many pho bowl slingers strive for a clear, almost consomme-like broth, this place embraced the opposite. I could taste the herbs and spices that simmered for hours.

I added the marrow and braised oxtail into the mix, which upped the cost by $8, but it was totally worth it. This is currently my favorite bowl in NYC. Hands down.

My wife ordered this beautiful and delicious lobster noodle dish, which also had some pork roll in the mix as well. The noodles were perfectly cooked, and the portion size was generous, especially considering it was a good sized lobster.

I highly recommend this place for anyone looking to get their Vietnamese food fix.

HANOI HOUSE
119 St Marks Pl
New York, NY 10009

The Norm at the Brooklyn Museum

The Norm is the restaurant inside the Brooklyn Museum. I was recently invited in to try their burgers and to help promote them on social media.

The space is gorgeous here, and it truly fits with the nice artwork and artifacts on display in the museum.

I browsed the menu while drinking a bloody Mary. This was nice and savory, and had just the right amount of spice to it.

The burgers were delicious. The first one I tried was “The Norman.” Topped with cheddar and bacon, and some house made pickles, lettuce, tomato and onion.

The second one was an interesting Japanese fusion type burger. The patty contained mushrooms as well as beef, and it was glazed with a teriyaki sauce, and topped with caramelized onion,  pickled daikon and carrots.

I also tried the pho flavored ramen. This was an interesting fusion of Vietnamese and Japanese soups. The Sun noodles were perfectly cooked, but the addition of too much fish sauce muddied the flavors that were cooked into the broth with the various cuts of beef.

It definitely smelled like pho though, because of the herbs. The soft boiled egg and flank steak on top were also perfectly cooked, like the noodles.

This ramen was indeed tricky. My wife and I both liked it enough to finish it – even after crushing two burgers with fries – but we were perplexed by the competing flavors within. Not bad by any means, just different.

I think the mushroom burger embodied the same feeling, only we loved that one and the ramen we just liked. I’d definitely go back to try more stuff here. They do a great job, and are definitely thinking outside the box.

THE NORM
at The Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Pkwy
Ground Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Madame Vo

Madame Vo is a Vietnamese joint on 10th Street near 2nd Avenue.

My wife and I have been itching to go, since we have been on a quest to find good Vietnamese food in NYC since the early 2000’s. I think we finally found it here, so let me give you the rundown of our meal.

First, Autumn Rolls. These are soft rice wrappers filled with jicama, egg, sausage and shrimp. The brilliant thing about these is that they’re sauced with a brush of hoisin prior to wrapping. Just a little hit of sri racha and you’re all set. They’re delicious.

Next up, the “Madame Pho” soup. This is served with short rib.

Awesome deep, rich beefy flavor. No sauces needed whatsoever. The broth is on point. And the meats are all high quality. It has a variety of cuts like flank, brisket, meatballs, eye round and marrow. But that short rib! So good. And the noodles were cooked perfectly.

The Bun Bo Hue, however, was even better. It’s very hard to find good pho in NYC, but it’s even harder to find good bun bo hue.

So many times, bun bo hue noodles are overcooked and fall apart when you try to pick them up with chopsticks. Here, they are nicely cooked and hold up to pulling and grabbing. The broth has a great pungent richness, bright with herbs and lime, and really deeply satisfying. Just the right amount of heat, too.

Last, the rib eye Bo Luc Lac, or “Shaking/Shaken Beef.”

I’ve often seen this made with lean cuts like sirloin and sometimes filet. This is the first time I’ve seen it made with rib eye, and also the first time I’ve seen it served with an egg.

The result is a nice sticky sweet molasses flavor, with a great sear from the sizzling cast iron skillet. The fat rendered out nicely, making for a delicious sauce sludge through which to drag your rice. I really enjoyed this dish, and it’s a perfect example of what a good chef can do with a choice grade cut of beef when he – in this case, Jimmy – knows how to coax out great flavor. 7/10.

For dessert, we shared a nice avocado shake. While pricey at $8 (avocados are expensive these days), its filling and well made. Not too sweet, and super creamy.

MADAME VO
212 E 10th St
New York, NY 10003

Vietnam Restaurant

My wife and I hit this place before catching a bus back from Philly. Generic name aside, this place was pretty good at satisfying our cravings for Viet food.

We started with an order of banh cuon; rice noodle crepes rolled with ground chicken, mushrooms and herbs, served with a tangy, sweet and savory fish sauce and bean sprouts.

This is one of my wife’s favorite Vietnamese dishes, so we pretty much always try to order it if we see it on a menu. This one was pretty good, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve both had better.

Next were a pair of soups.

First, the classic beef pho noodle soup, with thinly sliced eye round beef (my go-to Viet soup of choice).

This packed a good amount of flavor, but, again, we have had better. Nonetheless, this bowl was still better than good portion of NYC Viet joints, which are known to suck on the whole.

Second soup: My wife had bun bo hue, which is typically a spicy lemongrass pork- and variety meat- based soup that contains everything from tripe to congealed pork blood.

This version had brisket as opposed to all that offal. It was still super spicy and had a great lemongrass kick to it. Also, the noodles were good. Lots of times the noodles used in this style of soup get too soggy and overcooked. These held up nice to strict scrutiny.

I still liked the pho better, but that’s a subjective thing for me. I think, objectively speaking, the bun bo hue was the better bowl here, even though it was dumbed down and “Americanized” a bit to avoid the use of offal meat.

VIETNAM RESTAURANT
221 N 11th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Bo Caphe

Vietnamese food is a tough nut to crack in NYC. Most of it sucks here, and the few places that people rave about just don’t really do it for me. I’ve been to places where they get one dish right, but fail on others. They have a great sandwich, but the soup in bland. You can literally go to almost any other city in America and find better Vietnamese food than you can in NYC, which baffles the living shit out of me. New York is the best at everything, so why not Vietnamese food? Who knows. The answer eludes me. Maybe the Vietnamese community just isn’t big enough here, or there aren’t enough courageous Vietnamese chefs that are willing to stretch their neck out and take a financial risk in the highly competitive and quick-to-closure NYC restaurant scene.

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Goddess Kali: house sake, sparkling wine, chia seeds, hibiscus, lemon and pineapple.

In any case, Bo Caphe isn’t like those lame joints that attempt to offer traditional Vietnamese food and then fail to deliver because there is not one single Vietnamese person on staff who would know how to make the dishes. Bo Caphe is embracing the non-traditional by proudly offering fusion dishes that you can get excited about, like the Bao Burger with taro chips.

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The burger had a nice char on the outside, with what seemed like diced onions mixed into the grind. It was juicy, and the steamed bun was the perfect Asian version of a soft and pliable yet strong potato bun. The addition of cilantro and green pepper sauce made it pop. The taro chips were a nice touch as well. They were thin, crisp, well seasoned and only occasionally greasy.

Being a French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant is nothing too outside the box, since binding the two cultures makes sense from a historical/colonial perspective. But Bo Caphe dives a bit further into French territory by offering a few selections that feature cheese, something largely not featured in Vietnamese cuisine, let alone Asian cuisine generally. Both the spring roll menu and bun menu featured cheese. The spring roll item, Vach Kiri, which literally translates to “laughing cow,” is a fried rice paper wrapper that’s filled with cheese and quinoa.

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The fried chicken bun had some goat cheese. I enjoyed it, as it added a different texture and flavor combination to compliment the pickled carrots and daikon on top, but I can see how this might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

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The braised beef bun, on the other hand, was pretty straight forward and delicious. No cheese that I could taste. And while I was eating this one I remarked that I was surprised the Bao Burger didn’t feature any cheese. Of all places to have it, that seems like the most proper fit for cheese in Asian cuisine.

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The noodles here were fantastic. We tried two styles: one was cooked lemongrass beef, and the other was raw diced salmon. The salmon dish was reminiscent of a poke bowl but with noodles and fish sauce for dressing rather than soy-based sauces. It was refreshing and tasty.

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The lemongrass beef was my favorite of the two. The beef was really tender and packed with great lemongrass flavor and aromas.

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Both noodle dishes were topped with peanuts, shredded carrot and cucumber, fresh mint and a veggie spring roll.

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The next two dishes we tried run the gamut from traditional Vietnamese to traditional French. No real fusion here; two dishes in the style of two different countries. The first, of course, is pho.

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This aromatic, comforting soup is not bad for NYC pho, but my wife and I are just spoiled by the soups we had up in the mountains of SaPa in Vietnam. Nothing can compare. In any case, if you need a fix, this is not a bad bowl. The noodles are slightly different than the usual flat style (these are square spaghetti shaped, like “alla chitarra”), but the aromas are great and they use cilantro, which is what we saw in Vietnam fairly often. If you dress this bowl up with some hoisin and sriracha, you should be good.

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The second dish is a marinated skirt steak with salad.

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The steak was largely French-inspired, even down to the mustard seed sauce (which I liked very much). The steak was a bit over-cooked for my liking, but it packed a lot of flavor and was charred nicely on the outside. I’d order it again, for sure. 7/10.

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The watercress salad featured some nice ripe avocados, tomatoes and red onions.

The dessert menu has some interesting selections. First was a molten chocolate lava cake with coconut. The lava wasn’t very melty, but the sauce that came with it was delicious. The coconut here was similar to the inside of a mounds chocolate candy bar.

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This black sesame ice cream was more like a cream ice of shave ice texture and flavor; light, refreshing, icy rather than creamy. It was delicious, especially with the toasted sesame seeds on top.

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This next dessert was an interesting take on the avocado shakes that I love to get from Vietnamese restaurants. This was a chocolate avocado mousse. You could taste equally the avocado and the chocolate, which was a flavor combination that I never thought or expected to like. It was great!

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The only down side was that they didn’t have the spicy pineapple, sumac and mint salad dessert item. I was really looking forward to trying that out. Also just FYI: I was invited to this joint as an “influencer” – basically free food in exchange for pics and an honest review. So there it is.

BO CAPHE
222 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10012

New Dong Khanh

My wife and I hit this joint when we were in Boston for the weekend attending a wedding. My wife did some poking around to find this joint, which was highly rated and with good reason. It is better than anything we have for Vietnamese food here in NYC. NYC is known for having piss-poor Vietnamese food. Shameful.

So we ordered up a bunch of our regular favorites. First were the summer rolls and spring rolls. The summer rolls (goi cuon) were great. The ingredients were all nice and fresh, with good shrimp and pork inside.

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The spring rolls (cha gio) were not as good, unfortunately. They had a different wrapper than we are used to having (I’m not sure which is correct or more “authentic”), but the filling tasted more Thai or Chinese than Vietnamese.

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We also ordered banh cuon; broad noodles rolled with pork meat and mushroom inside, and topped with herbs, bean sprouts, crispy onions and thick-sliced Vietnamese bologne. It was excellent!

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For the soups, we tried pho with sliced eye round beef (pho tai), and bun bo hue (beef and pork noodle soup with thick spaghetti style rice noodles).

Here’s a look at the pho, which had a nice strong flavor in the broth, high quality eye round and yet a light and fresh feel to it.

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The bun bo hue had a great robust flavor, but I preferred the pho. The meat was all good quality and braised nice and soft, unlike many NYC places.

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We even had some avocado shakes, which are becoming increasingly rare by us in NYC, and when they do it, it is almost always bland. This one was perfect! Just the right amount of sweetness from the sweetened condensed milk.

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Other flavors available:

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This place is right near the south bus station, so when we are back in town again, I’m sure we will revisit.

NEW DONG KHANH RESTAURANT
81 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02111

New Tu Do

My wife and I stopped in here for a quick Vietnamese fix.

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I had the small bowl of Pho Tai (eye round beef only). The broth had good flavor. It was a bit salty, but overall it really hit the spot. The meat was good quality, and the herbs were fresh.

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My wife tried this version of bun bo hue (another hearty type of beef stew) but with added pork as well. The broth had a shrimp paste flavor to it that really threw us off. We weren’t happy with it.

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We also tried these flattened rice noodle cakes that were topped with dried shrimp powder, mung bean paste, scallions, fried onions and fish sauce. These were okay. Though I am not a fan of the dried shrimp powder in general, that flavor made much more sense here than in the paste form in the bun bo hue soup.

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My wife also had a durian fruit shake. I’m not a huge fan of durian (smells like rotting garbage), but if you can get past the smell then this was actually pretty tasty.

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NEW TU DO
102 Bowery
New York, NY 10013

Nha Trang Centre

I am stuck waiting to see whether I have to serve on a jury down here, but the plus side is that there are some decent cheap eats joints nearby in Chinatown.

This is my second or third time eating here. My wife and I used to live around the block from about 2006-2009, and during that time was probably the last time we went.

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I grabbed two of my four standard favorite Vietnamese items for lunch: pho and banh cuon. The other two are summer rolls (goi cuon) and spring rolls (cha gio).

The pho was a bit lacking in flavor. I missed the robust punch that should be associated with the broth. The noodles and beef were both of good quality though, and both the basil and the bean sprouts were nice and fresh. I generally order the Pho Tai, which contains just slides eye round meat, not the beef balls, tendon, tripe or brisket. So that could be why the broth was less flavorful. However I doubt they use different cooking vessels to create the base pho stock/broth, so diner beware.

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The banh cuon, on the other hand, was pretty good. For those who don’t know what this is, the menu calls it “Vietnamese ravioli.” It’s wide, flat rice noodles that are rolled or filled with seasoned chopped meat inside – typically pork – and then topped with fish sauce, crispy fried onion, scallions, and thick slices of a processed kind of pork roll that’s similar to a bologna style lunch or deli meat. That description may sound weird to your western eyes/ears, but I assure you it’s good. Here, it was served on top of bean sprouts and some chopped lettuce.

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Those two items, plus a beer, came to $21 with tax and tip included. Pretty great.

I was so pumped on the fact that I was back down in our old neighborhood with easy access to cheap Vietnamese food that I went back for dinner. There was this pork rice dish that caught my eye while I was there: Com Suon Bi Cha.

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This is barbecued pork chop, shredded pork and steamed egg cake with white rice. The shredded pork was a mixture of gelatinous bits and roast pork, which go nicely with the rice for texture. The thin-sliced BBQ pork was delicious and exactly what I expected. It was tasty and had no gristled fat, with an awesome lemongrass and charred grill flavor. The rice was a tiny grain that absorbed the fish sauce nicely, and the egg cake contained a mash of what I assume was fish sauce and more ground pork meat. It came with carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber and tomato.

I also grabbed an order each of Cha Gio.

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The spring rolls were crispy. I think they had more mushroom and veggies than pork inside, but I didn’t mind because all the fixings were nice and fresh. You wrap these fuckers in lettuce and then fill with cucumber, pickled daikon, carrot and mint leaves. Then you dip that shit in fish sauce and hot sauce. Delicious.

And that’s it. Tomorrow I’ll be hitting either another Vietnamese joint or a dumpling place. Nha Trang Centre is definitely good for a Vietnamese food fix. I’d skip the pho, but the other stuff is good.

NHA TRANG CENTRE
148 Centre St
New York, NY 10013