Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oh No, Pho

There are some 60+ Vietnamese restaurants listed on Menu Pages NYC, with a few more in Brooklyn. And I would imagine a whole bunch more in Queens as well, and googling confirms that. (Oh by the way, menu pages, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx are in NYC too.) But, are any of them good? I mean, I know Michael Huynh's food is good (I swear I've tasted it), but now I'd have to head up to the upper west side and Bar Bao, that is at least while he's still there, and who knows for how long that'll be?

And, what to do when all I want is a nice, simple bowl of pho, without schlepping on the No. 7 or taking the car out of the lot for an hour's drive to deepest Brooklyn or who-the-heck knows where?

In Vietnam, so I'm told, pho is street food, or at least street cafe food. It originated in Hanoi, following the French occupation of the late 1800's (see how good it is to have a couple of Vietnamese cookbooks in your collection). One legend says that pho is called pho because Vietnamese cooks learned how to make pot-au-feu from the French, and that feu, which means fire, sounds like pho. Another says that it's actually a Chinese concoction, evidenced by use of various seasonings and noodles. But, I digress. And, if you really want to know more, get Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, by Mai Pham, a wonderful, absolutely delicious cookbook, with tons of info.

Anyway, back to pho and decent, inexpensive Vietnamese food in Manhattan. IS THERE ANY?
Being cooked by Vietnamese peeps, perhaps. Cause really, most of the "Vietnamese" restauarants are actually being staffed by ethnic Chinese, and while there's nothing wrong with that, they're not, ummmm, Vietnamese.

Our last favorite, Pho Grand, has slid dramatically, in my opinion. And Significant Eater's, too. There used to be a tiny, little place on Pike St. that's now gone. So, I'm continually searching.
And while I don't think I've found the holy grail, what I have found is this:

Yes folks, Cong Ly, at 124 Hester Street, may now be our go-to place for a hot steaming bowl of pho, and even some of the other dishes. First of all, it's apparently owned and staffed by Vietnamese people, who are really nice. So, to start with, we had these rice "crepes," whose name I conveniently forget...but they were really good.

Significant Eater then went with the Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong, which is roast pork with fried spring rolls, served over rice vermicelli, along with assorted pickled vegetables, and it was one of the better versions she's had in a while, even causing her to comment on the freshness of the vegetables (something not always evident at other places, and something she doesn't like to do while eating).

I needed to have the pho, since after all, that's what this post is mostly about. And my choice was the Tai Nam Gan Sach. What a pleasant surprise it was, with it's tasty broth informed by the sweetness of rock sugar, charred onions and star anise, laden with my favorite cuts - rare eye round, well-done brisket, omosa (don't ask, I can't even find it on google), and tendon, which is fun to pick up with your chopsticks and show your dining companions. Once again, fresh herbs and sprouts made an appearance, and overall this pho ranks pretty high compared to what else is available on our tiny island.

All that food, plus a diet coke (she's incorrigible) came to $16.50. Not bad, and that's Cong Ly, a worthy neighborhood restaurant. Oh, and there's this really cool Chinese sausage maker right across the street, so bring home some lap cheung or whatever and get cooking.


  1. thanks for the tip! i love Vietnamese food, and cheep eats:)

  2. Have been by that place a number of times and wondered about it. This is good to know as all the other Viet places I tried in Manhattan were so-so at best. There are plenty of ethnic Chinese in the northern part of Vietnam but the best Viet food I've had has always been cooked by Vietnamese people with deep roots in that country. Speaking of that country - pho is a restaurant, cafe, street cafe and street food there. Some of the best pho is cooked in makeshift kitchen with charcoal burner that are set up in the morning and broken down again at night. Seating is at plastic kiddie tables and chairs...