Eating More Pho Is The Best Resolution You Can Make In 2021
This Guy Eats - Pho
This might not be a popular take, but when I think about the state of restaurants in NYC right now, I feel pretty good. I’m helping support local restaurants by not cooking at home, I get to live out my dream of dressing like the Phantom of the Opera, and I’ve discovered that a delicious bowl of pho - and okay an entire bahn mi - is the warm hug I’ve needed to make sense of dining during a pandemic. But before I get into that - and where you can find some of the best in NYC - I want to throw this out there to put you at ease.
Am I sad that so many restaurants have been forced to close and many individuals must now seek employment elsewhere? Yes. But rather than preach doom and gloom and scream at readers to SUPPORT RESTAURANTS BY USING ALL CAPS AND NOT MUCH ELSE, I’m taking a different approach. I’m letting you know what IS going to happen.
Tastes change. Businesses adapt. People get hired. Influencers take credit for saving restaurants. The hospitality industry survives. And I’ll continue to slurp my bowl full of pho while dipping my banh mi in every once and awhile because I don’t live by someone else’s rules.
I’m not going to claim I “discovered” pho or banh mis while exploring Vietnam, so I know what authenticity tastes like. Usually, stories that start like that taste like bullshit. I’m just an awkward white guy from Long Island trying to navigate my way through the politicized, sanitized, and overall pretty tasty world that is America’s current restaurant scene. And I want to highlight Vietnamese American food today.
I’ve had banh mis and phos before 2020, but the pandemic really made me appreciate the comfort in salivating, smelling, and slurping rice noodles floating in warm beef broth. I’ll preface my selections on where to find them by saying this: I like spice. I like mixing flavors, and traditional pho usually includes a combination of any or all of the following: broth, a creature that used to be alive, cinnamon, clove, cilantro, hoisin sauce, sriracha, star anise, vegetables, rice noodles, and bones. The more ingredients, the more the variety of flavors, which is why I personally like to pick a house special or add in different combinations of meat rather than picking one type like a chicken or beef pho.
The most decadent banh mi and pho combo I’ve come across in NYC belongs to Hanoi Soup Shop. The classic banh mi sandwich here comes with pork terrine, Vietnamese ham, chicken liver pate before being topped off with pickled vegetables, cilantro and jalapeno. And when choosing a pho here, opt for the house special pho dac biet because you get a breadstick with it along with filet, brisket, oxtail, and bone marrow. It’s a take out spin off from the team behind Hanoi House, and the focus on the quality of ingredients is evident here. It’s one of the pricier options out there, but the portions are big and you get what you pay for in terms of taste and presentation. Having eaten a bunch of banh mis over the last year, this is the one that’s most memorable. But if you’re already on to this spot, I’ve got a fresh opening for you.
Non La located in the East Village should be on everyone’s must visit list. In addition to their phos and house special bun bo hue, a spicy beef and pork lemongrass soup, they offer a selection of canh ca. These are sour soups made with a tamarind base with ingredients like taro, a sweet and vibrant switch from the savory soups you might be used to. I’m clearly going down a Vietnamese soup rabbit hole at this stage of my life, so finding this spot should be super helpful for someone who is also looking to branch out beyond pho.
Though there are plenty of other spots worth exploring, a few notable spots that opened recently or have good standing in terms of restaurant reputation include Madame Vo and Saigon Shack if you’re into the Instagram feed, Bahn Mi Co Ut for the value, and Bahn for Upper West Siders.