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Best place for pho in NYC?

Hey all. I recently went to Pho 75 in Arlington, VA, had the Pho Tai, and became depressed that I couldn't think of any place offhand in NYC that was as good. I live in the East Village, and neither Bao Noodles nor Saigon Grill (back when I used to eat there) compares.

I'm sure that there's fantastic, inexpensive pho joints out there, I've just been too lazy to look. More than willing to head to the outer boroughs as well. What's good? Thanks!

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  1. This was recently discussed:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/591308

    You should post on the outer boroughs board for advice about the outer boroughs.

    1. I don't think there are any phantastic phos in NY.

      1. I have the same problem -- I went to Pho 75 every weekend when I lived in DC for six years and I've not been able to find anything as good as that in NYC. There's a new Pho place, Pho Sure, in the West Village that I just checked out. It was ok (review here: http://www.atigerinthekitchen.com/200... ) I'll keep checking this thread to see if anyone suggests anything better!

         
        15 Replies
          1. re: chuynh

            Thanks. Her list is interesting:

            Bo Ky - 0 Bayard St. [sic; should be 80 Bayard] • 212-406-2292
            Bun SoHo - 183 Grand St. • 212-431-7999
            Indochine - 430 Lafayette St. • 212-505-5111
            Le Colonial - 149 East 57th St. • 212-752-0808
            Mai House - 186 Franklin St. • 212-431-0606
            Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich - 369 Broome St. • 212-219-8341
            Silent H -79 Berry St. • 718-218-7063 (Williamsburg)
            Slurp - 84 Stanton St. • 212-982-8895
            Tet - 86 Avenue A • 212-253-0800
            Tu Do - 102 Bowery • 212-966-2666

            Bo Ky is really a Chao Zhou restaurant. Banh Mi Saigon Bakery on Grand is better than Saigon on Broome, unless Saigon on Broome has improved quite a bit since I forsook them for Banh Mi Saigon Bakery.

            Do you have any comments about some of the other places on the list?

            1. re: Pan

              I went to Le Colonial a few years ago (both in downtown Chicago and in Manhattan). If I remember correctly, the food was kind of bland and the cost was pretty high... I would say it's the Vietnamese version of Chinatown Brasserie except that the food is not as good.

              1. re: Pan

                Mai House, if not officially defunct, barely has a pulse ... http://eater.com/archives/2009/05/mai...

                1. re: Pan

                  Probably the best I've had in the city is Pho Tay Ho, in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. I never understood the props for Cong Ly, which I found decidedly mediocre. The mostly ethnic Chinese VIetnamese restaurants do some dishes well, but most don't seem to have the pho down.

                  http://petercherches.blogspot.com

                  1. re: Pan

                    As I do not live in NYC I'm not familiar with all Viet restaurants there. The one we decided to visit when in NYC a few years back was Thai Son Restaurant because, from a Viet standpoint, the place looks "right" from the outside and inside, packed with Viet and non-Viet clientele. We notice things that non-Viet do not. The food turned out great and the place was packed.

                    I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's pretty hard to screw up pho if the restaurateur knows anything about Vietnamese food. I'd look for places that maintain authenticity by attracting a large Viet clientele. In NYC you have large enough Viet community to use this as a gauge, unlike smaller US cities where there is no Viet people present but still have pho restaurants! So if a Viet restaurant has no Viet clientele then I'd continue my walk.

                    It's kind of funny, but just East of Los Angeles in South El Monte area there are more good pho restaurants than customers! http://bit.ly/APEKY

                    1. re: chuynh

                      Your post makes me curious about Vietnamese people's expectations, standards, and ideals for Pho vs. non-Vietnamese. If it is pretty hard to screw up pho, why do so many people say there is zero good pho in NYC?

                      Can you describe the characteristics of great pho from your perspective?

                      1. re: Al1

                        I think it's pretty extreme that someone can say "there is zero good pho in NYC." There are large Viet communities in NYC so of course there are good Viet foods, pho included. It's like saying "there is zero good Chinese fried rice in NYC," or "there is zero good pizza in NYC."

                        Admittedly "good" is always a personal judgement. For Viet people growing up with pho, we know what pho is supposed to be and taste like. Except for a bit of discussion about how much MSG may be in the broth, Viet people just don't analyze pho, the way this post does for example :) So by the natural law of pho authenticity, bad pho restaurants will not survive and will disappear.

                        Now we bring in non-Viet clientele. By definition this group didn't grow up with pho, and because there are more chatters among those in this group, any misinformation/misunderstanding can easily propagate far and wide. For example, there is no such thing as seafood pho or pork pho or vegetable pho. But enterprising restaurateurs created them to attract non-Viet clients. Another example is there is no substitution for banh pho noodle in pho. But non-Viet clients may ask for egg noodles instead and the restaurant will oblige. They just sold another bowl and that's all they care about. In this environment, bad pho restaurants can survive or even flourish, further propagating the confusion about pho authenticity.

                        So what would I consider great pho? I'll just put it this way: it's both hard and easy to tell a non-Viet friend. It's hard because I can't tell you using words what pho is supposed to taste like even if I write a book on it; I can tell you about ingredients and freshness, etc but it won't help. And it's easy because you can find this out yourself. There are 3 ways so let me explain.

                        1. My assumption here is most non-Viet people who talk about pho must have had pho at least several times to have any opinion about it. It would take at least several bowls of pho for you to feel, smell, taste the goodness of the dish, either at the same restaurant or different ones. Maybe you like it the first time and decide to eat pho again. But there is no way for a non-Viet to say it's good pho or bad pho after one sitting. You may personally like or dislike it, but you can't comment on its authenticity. So only through several sittings will you be able to judge.

                        2. Obviously you can get help from a Viet friend, and make a judgement from there. Still your personal experience must come in sooner or later, but you now have some baseline to compare to.

                        3. Or, for both first-timers and the experienced, you can take the short cut as I wrote before. If a Viet restaurant has no Viet clientele then I'd continue my walk. A crowded pho shop with Vietnamese slurping away is a sure sign of great pho!

                        Sorry for the long post but I hope to have somewhat answered your question Al1.

                        Oh one more thing. If you run into a Chinese-run restaurant that offers Vietnamese foods, don't be too quick to question its authenticity. The Chinese have a large population living in Vietnam, so in all practicality their foods can be good Viet foods. If a Chinese also speaks Vietnamese, then you can be sure he/she came from Vietnam, and to a large extent, he/she knows Viet foods. If they didn't live in Vietnam, there's no reason for a Chinese to speak Vietnamese, unless he/she is a linguistic professor or a diplomat :)

                        1. re: chuynh

                          chuynh; your post is awesome and passionate (and I'm looking at your pho site too). will check out Thai Son, with your caveat that you haven't tried all that NYC has to offer.

                          1. re: bigjeff

                            bigjeff Thanks for the nice vote! I gotta get to NYC again soon. Four days weren't long enough. I envy New Yorkers, but then again I bet you all wish you were here in San Diego :)

                      2. re: chuynh

                        i love thai son for their pho, though on some evenings, it's not nearly as rich as it should be. those are the days i find no tendon in my broth. the price point is low (huge bowl of everything-in-it-except-for-meatballs pho is 6.95 and it would take three people to finish!) and the turnover steady and at a fast clip.

                      3. re: Pan

                        I am 100% Vietnamese and when my parents were in town, we discovered Tu Do on Bowery. I can tell you that the Pho Thai is consistenly very good and cheap as hell. It's the best I've had in nyc so far. It's very authentic and taste almost as good as my mom's. Decor is cheesy and nothing to fancy but you are paying like $5 for a meal so what do you expect. If you're not in the mood for pho, their grilled porkchop w/ rice is really good too.

                        1. re: pmelrita

                          I'm with you! (but I still want to give Thai Son a chance, just in case)

                          1. re: pmelrita

                            One question: Is this the old Pho Tu Do or New Tu Do?

                            1. re: pmelrita

                              I'm not Vietnamese but Thai/Lao and grew up with home cooked Pho on a regular basis. I've only tried a handful of Pho places in the city but Pho Tu Do is my favorite. The restaurant itself it's flashy but the food is good, cheap and the staff is friendly. The restaurant moved from the east side of Bowery right across the street pretty much...have to say i like the old spot better, the new place is just too damn bright.

                      4. I made a map of all the pho restaurants I could find in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. Hope it's a useful reference!

                        http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF...

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: brooklynaustin

                          Nice start, Austin. In Brooklyn, there's another Pho Hoai at 4th Ave & 86th. Then, in Sunset Park there are two branches of Gia Lam and Cho-Lon (also seems to be called Bik-Bay), and I think at least one other.

                          edit: here's a link to a menupages find-a-food search for the word "pho" refined by Vietnamese restaurants.

                          http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/...

                          1. re: Peter Cherches

                            how is pho cho lon? worth it or is there a better one in the area?

                        2. Take Amtrak to Philly and go to Pho 75 there. Honestly, pho is not a strong point of NYC.

                          1. There is a place in Koreatown (yes, I know pho is Vietnamese) that is pretty tasty. It's between 5th and Broadway on 32nd Street on the South side of the street. There is this big bowl/sign on the door. I think it might be called Pho 32. As far as a craving for pho goes, it will probably satisfy it. They have all the sides, great beef balls and brisket, and the noodles are usually perfectly chewy and tender. The broth is just pretty good...

                            The best pho I've ever had in my entire life (and I've had a lot), I made myself. I found a great Vietnamese cookbook (Into the Vietnamese Kitchen), and followed the recipe to the letter (adjusting to taste at the end, but the recipe is the key). It takes some time, but the broth is like NOTHING I've ever had. Perfectly balanced, savory, beefy, beautiful.

                            The author of the book posted the recipe here:
                            http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/...

                            Take advantage of Chinatown's bounty of specialty Asian ingredients and take the time to find FRESH rice noodles (bahn pho, i think... but you'll figure it out), find the BEST fish sauce (three crabs brand; BEWARE OF IMMITATIONS!), and the BEST POSSIBLE BEEF BONES. That is the most important step. Find a great butcher or really fresh Chinese meat market and find VERY FRESH beef bones with LOTS OF MARROW.

                            If you take your time and devote about half a day to making this soup (no, it's not that ridiculous), I guarantee it will be the most delicious pho you've ever had.

                            As Andrea Nguyen says herself: "...nothing beats a homemade bowl. What inevitably makes the homemade version dac biet (special) is the care that goes into making the broth, the cornerstone of pho."

                            On another somewhat related note, if you have a passion for soul-quenchingly satisfying noodle soups, you would do well to explore as many restaurants as you can on that block/Koreatown. Kum Gang San looks almost like a theme park inside, but the soups are authentic and prepared with great care... 24/7. Trust me.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: iprobeattoomuch

                              I really didn't like Pho32 when I went there once, but maybe I ordered badly. My favorite place is Xe Lua on Mulberry Street. It's decent Pho.

                              1. re: bolletje

                                I really liked Xe Lua the one time I went there, too. Pho32 is Koreanized pho, in case you didn't know.

                                1. re: janethepain

                                  even if koreanized, that gives koreans a bad name serving the pho at Pho32. just had one of the worst bowls of pho ever; weak garnishes, amazingly weak, heavy-MSG broth that tasted solely of that, and made my lips and tongue pucker after the first sip. so incredibly bad that I can't understand why the lines are always packed. koreanized or not, it almost implies that koreans add msg to everything (well, they kinda do) but ya, that place sucks. damn! makes me mad!

                                  1. re: bigjeff

                                    yeesh, that DOES sound like bad pho, period. By Koreanized, I had thought all they did was leave out the cilantro and other non-Korean-friendly seasonings/garnishes. But sounds like it's worse than that.

                            2. My favorite pho joint in NYC is An Choi. It opened not long ago by two young Vietnamese from Virginia who want to bring Northern style pho to NYC (or just better pho in general). It's not as beefy and flavorful as you'd expect, it's more subtle but well crafted with quality ingredients.

                              http://www.anchoinyc.com/
                              85 Orchard St. | LES

                              1. I found the Pho at Cong Ly to be quite good. Does any more experienced people have an opinion on this?

                                -----
                                Cong Ly
                                124 Hester St, New York, NY 10002

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: MWinston

                                  You'll find plenty of Cong Ly supporters if you run a search on this board, MWinston. While the pho is ever-flavorful, it occasionally stumbles into territory a bit too greasy and salty to make it a consensus best-of-manhattan choice.

                                  Visitors are often put off by the extreme dinginess of both the restaurant's facade and its interior dining area, but the warmth and generosity of the elderly owner-manager wins me over every time.

                                  Subtlety is not their strong point, but the broth is never weak, the veggies are consistently fresh, and the seasoning on their grilled meats packs plenty a punch (just beware of hidden gristle-treasures in the chicken). At $5 or less for most soups and entrees, I have a tough time going anywhere else.

                                2. Went back to Xe Lua yesterday and had the best bun (the noodle dish) that I've had in NY. Not pho, I know, but I do prefer their pho above the ones I've tried in ctown so far as well.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: janethepain

                                    was deciding between there or thai son, purely for empirical purposes; like you, I didn't have pho: had chicken curry with bun, grilled pork with vermicelli squares, lemongrass squid rice plate. none were exceptional. onwards, the hunt!

                                  2. Just wanted to put out a vote for Nha Trang on Baxter St. Can't say if it's the best in the city, but I like it a lot, and it's gotten some good buzz on this site. Their Vietnamese spring rols are pretty great too.

                                    1. Xe Lua is my new favorite. Humongous and in my eyes a nearly perfect bowl of Pho. Not to mention the place is decorated and feels clean.

                                      -----
                                      Xe Lua
                                      86 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013