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Mar 22, 2008 09:32 PM

Xe Lua Vietnamese restaurant

Xe Lua - 212 577 8887 at 86 Mulberry, between Canal and Bayard. It's at the most 2 years old. Never went in there in the past. Tonight I walked in and got myself a bowl of pho (Beef Eye Round medium rare, brisket, tendo & tripe noodle soup - $5. The clam in House Special sauce (tomato, pineapple bits, garlic, too sweet for me) as appetizer wasn't that great, so i was worried. When the pho came though, it looked pristine. Broth by itself was very pure tasting. I drank a few spoon full before adding some lime juice and later, half way through the bowl i added a little hot sauce. The basil, bean sprouts, jalapeno slices were all fresh and clean. The brisket and tendon were very flavorful. eye rounds weren't as tender except for the first few pieces that were a nice pink medium rare. The tripe was a bit too hard, not crunchy enough. ...But all are sliced and prepared meticulously. There wasn't the usual over dose of noodles, and by contrast there were a generous amount of the meat.

I wondered if the chef who prepared the broth was out of the French cooking school. Despite having eaten just not long ago, I could not leave a drop of the soup. This is probably my first "bottoms up" bowl of pho. At the end, I realized, at least to me, that the mark of a great broth is when it taste good hot as well as cold. The underlying sweetness is so well balanced that if refreshes and warms at the same time.

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  1. Thank you for posting this....will take a look soon.. Long menu of the usual dishes in addition to pho??

    2 Replies
    1. re: erica

      Yes there is. I ate there soon after it opened. Had quite a good salmon casserole. Place crowded with happy families. But I never returned. So many restaurants to try!

      1. re: erica

        Like Brian says, there are many other dishes besides Pho. Judging from my appetizer clam though, I'd first stick with the Pho. Later I might try some of their grilled stuff over rice next time. Also, looking at their menu now I noticed that they have 6 different kinds of hot and sour soup (including a vegetable one) that I'll be wanting to try. The Frog legs section offers 4 dishes. Then there's a section called "No Meat Allow", one called "Where's the Beef", another "Porky", and "Chicken Little". It seems vegetarian friendly over all.

      2. Came back to this place the other night. The broth was still good, though not quite the same. It was sweeter and more intense, but less aromatic. An addition to the usual plate of fresh herbs is something I don't quite know the name of, it was a long leaf, about 4 inches long, one inch wide. I liked coming that as part of my pho, along with the basil, lime, bean sprouts and jalapeno pepper. The tendon was in larger pieces - tender and delicious!

        When i did a search for this place, all that came up was of a place with the same name in Philadelphia. Am wondering if it's a branch or just the same name.

        3 Replies
        1. re: HLing

          Would that long leaf have been culantro?

          1. re: erica


            You guys are right, I just found this picture. It is what they served this time in addition to the basil.

          2. re: HLing

            Yeah, sounds like Culantro, aka Thorny Coriander

          3. Wow, thanks for sharing this with us. In other restaurants, I love drinking the pho broth but I hate that thirsty bloated feeling afterwards (salt and/or msg) so I try hard not to drink it after several slups and just finish the noodles and beef. However, I never get that feeling when its homemade soups. Did you feel like that here?

            1 Reply
            1. re: DarthEater

              DarthEater, I know what you mean about the thirsty bloated feeling. I get that almost immediately if I drink conventional soft drinks with HFCS in it these days! I didn't get that here at Xe Lua, My usual drink with my meal is the regular restaurant tea.

              It's funny you mention "homemade soup", which is what I would have expected from the smaller Bahn Mi place a couple of doors down from Xe Lua, but whose seafood soup last time made me alarmingly thirsty.

              Erica and Ephramzz, the leave I had was not "Thorny" at all, but maybe that's just a name? It's almost like a dandelion leave, but the edges are not serrated.

            2. Another bowl of nice Pho tonight at Xe Lua. This time perhaps the chef was a mind reader. The beef had more of the tender fatty part that I love, and there were only a few strands of sweet red onions (i usually pick those the aroma, but not the taste of raw onion), just the right amount of noodles (not to over crowd the soup), the sprouts, basil, got pepper slices and culantro were all very fresh, and the strangest part of all, was that I had wondered in my mind, whether I could ask them to add some beef balls, but I didn't say anything....yet the soup came with some tasty beef balls thrown in (beef balls weren't part of the order). Our side orders of grilled shrimp were tender and juicy, garnished with extra tasty pickled carrots and daikon....

              I must have been having a lucky chow night!

              1. This is really a good place for pho, HLing, and the folks there are so nice. I just had the beef eye round medium rare / brisket / tendon / tripe pho for lunch. The broth was great, about 20x better than Nha Trang's and not greasy or overly salty at all. On the down side, the meat wasn't sliced as thin as I like it and the noodles were a bit too soft. On the upside, as you mentioned, the ratio of meat to noodles to broth was very good and the vegetables / herbs were impeccably fresh. And they gave me beef balls, too. Really a nice find. Thank you for the recommendation.

                7 Replies
                1. re: cimui

                  Just had to chime in with my praise for the place since I ate there for the first time a few weeks ago. I think the pho might be the best I've had in Chinatown. Good amount of meat and interestingly, those beef balls. Good balanced broth that doesn't taste like it's bad for you.

                    1. re: bigjeff

                      Please tell us how it is when you get a chance.... I am curious to try too.

                      1. re: bearmi

                        we had a pretty good meal; 3 dishes (none pho) and . . . I would definitely want to go back because I saw some interesting stuff. we simply had spring roll bun (dry), a soup noodle special (bun rieu) which is crab paste w/ vermicelli, and the basic rice plate with roast pork, egg thing and shredded pork. we also had a joke of an shave ice dessert.

                        what was captivating was seeing the orders of the DIY wrap-type thing, barbecued meat served w/ the vermicelli squares, but they also served w/ the summer roll wrappers, as well as the bundle of lettuce and beautiful beautiful herbs. we saw a number of tables with that order but wanted to have other stuff. the spring roll bun was standard; neither outstanding nor poor although the spring rolls could prob. use another 10 seconds in the fryer. the rice plate (broken rice) was delicious; elemental dish, pork was good, all the elements good, the rice was tasty and greasy. the soup special was quite good; enormous bowl, lotta seafood, nice crab flavor (although it was prob just a tablespoon or two of the paste from a jar), lotta tofu, overall quite nice although I didn't find it salty enough. the "fresh fruit with snow ice" was literally a big bowl of ice cubes, with very rough shaved ice on top, and then topped with fresh fruit (cherries, apple, orange supremes and canned lychee). no condensed milk, no syrup, no cendol nothing at all. more like nice fruit on ice. really . . . . underwhelming yet, the fruit itself was nice. not horrible for $4, more like a fruit plate. but really nothing like ABC or bing-soo or anything.

                        I will definitely hit this place up again because the menu seemed kinda interesting, I really didn't think it was that different than the typical vietnamese place in terms of its offerings, and I read on some other thread that "the place was more vietnamese than the typical chinese-vietnamese places in chinatown" which I disagree with; I heard chinese being spoken all over the place! and, there wasn't anything I haven't seen on any other menu before so I don't know about all that. prices seemed a little higher than the usual pho spots nearby but the decor (funky, sure but nice) and service was good. right now, I still like New Tu Do (and World of Taste still lingers in my mind but I know its gone through a lotta ownership drama so I don't know the status of that place); I would like to return for their #1 sometime but . . . this place is definitely worth a visit for sure.

                        and yes, jalapeno in my plate of herbs/garnishes for the soup is a score!

                        1. re: bigjeff


                          This place is really good for pho but nothing else. Most of the other dishes are just average. When I go there I will only order pho or other soup noodles but not other dishes like stir fries or entrees

                          1. re: bigjeff

                            hey, great report, bigjeff!! i haven't branched out all that much from the pho, to be honest, but at the recommendation of my waiter, i did try a fried (unbreaded) calamari dish not too long ago. it was pretty good: tender and well cooked, well balanced by veggies (a bit too big to eat in one bite, though).

                            haven't seen the DIY wrap with rice wrappers. (this was really common to see in boston vietnamese restaurants when i lived there; i was surprised that most nyc vietnamese restaurants seem to send out the dishes pre-wrapped.) i'll have to try those. 'preciate the heads up.

                      2. re: cimui

                        Cimui and janethepain, I don't know why but I didn't see your posts back in May. (i think some of the updates show up ONLY if i sign in, while others show if i go to my page without signing in...and I've been lazy about signing in).

                        Nice to know Xe Lua is still doing well. There will always be a little bit of inconsistency here and there, whether it be the meat not sliced as thin one time as another....or that they noodles over cooked another time...even once when the soup was sweeter than usual.

                        But, hey, don't forget to ask for $4 worth of grilled shrimp on the side, if you like shrimp. I like the slightly charred flavor to make me appreciate the soup even more.