Vietnamese Food in New York: Pho Bang

Ever since I was young, I’ve loved Asian food. Growing up, there wasn’t anything better than Americanized Chinese food. Give me some of that General Tso’s, what could be better? As I got older, I discovered Japanese food and quickly realized it was probably the best cuisine on the planet. Thai food came later in life, as did Indian and with each new culinary discovery, I would feel like a fool to have never known such delicious things existed before. It wasn’t until 2007, on my third date with Chandra, that I first experienced Vietnamese food.

Chandra enjoys Pho in Saigon in 2007

Chandra enjoys Pho in Saigon circa 2007

My third date with Chandra was fairly unique in that it took place in Vietnam so this was definitely the place to try Vietnamese food! I remember sitting under a plastic tarp, in the rain on a pedestrian only alleyway in downtown Saigon being served my first bowl of Pho by a massive Vietnamese woman who didn’t speak a word of English. What was this elixir unlike any I had tasted before? What were these flavors and how were they working together to create something so special? Pho had once again rocked my culinary world.

The modest exterior of Pho Bang. Honestly if it didn't have a B grade I'd be concerned that it wasn't authentic.

The modest exterior of Pho Bang. Honestly, if it didn’t have a B grade I’d be concerned that it wasn’t authentic.

New York City must have as many sushi restaurants and crappy combination Chinese food + taco joins as it does Starbucks and yet, good luck finding any Vietnamese food. You would think in this glorious American melting pot that Pho would be flowing freely on every corner, right? Wrong. So very wrong. Recently, however, we made a discovery. Real, authentic Vietnamese food does exist in New York. You just need to go to Queens. Queens! Of course! Why didn’t we think of that?

Not a white person in sight. Just like I like my Vietnamese restaurants.

Not a white person in sight. Just like I like my Vietnamese restaurants.

Pho Bang is a chain of no-frills Vietnamese restaurants in New York with a strong emphasis on the no-frills. You don’t go to Pho Bang for the ambiance or the customer service. You go for real-deal Vietnamese food and Pho only scratches the surface.

Cha Gio spring rolls are so good they may as well be deep fried crack

Cha Gio spring rolls are so good they may as well be deep fried crack

Start off with an order of chả giò. These Vietnamese spring-rolls make their Thai and Chinese counterparts taste like garbage. Super crispy and almost too hot to touch, they are so good you’ll immediately realize you ordered too few of them for the table.

Pho Bo Vien with Vietnamese beef meatballs

Pho Bo Vien with Vietnamese beef meatballs

Of course, the main event is always the Pho. Be prepared for it to come out about 30 seconds after you order it. If you’ve never ordered Pho before you may be overwhelmed by all the choices but they are basically all the same thing with different things on top. I like the Phở Bò Viên which is a Pho base with small Vietnamese beef meatballs in the soup. It’s pretty great, especially when you douse those meatballs with Sriracha. Unless you are absolutely starving, I would not suggest getting the large size. It’s massive. Once you get your Pho, I’m told the way to eat it is to grab some of the noodles with chopsticks and lower them into a broth-filled spoon.  I could never quite master this technique.

Pho always comes with all these goodies on the side. Feel free to toss them on in, or ignore them completely like I do.

Pho always comes with all these goodies on the side. Feel free to toss them on in, or ignore them completely like I do.

If you’ve had your fill of spring rolls and Pho I’d recommend trying a Bun. This is basically a plate of noodles and vegetables with sliced marinated meat laying across the top and usually cut up spring rolls. It’s like Pho without the broth. You can’t go wrong with a Bun Cha Ha Noi.

Every Vietnamese restaurant I've ever been to has this exact same assortment on the table. I should order a set for my dining room.

Every Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever been to has this exact same assortment on the table. I should order a set for my dining room.

A delicious, incredibly filling meal at Pho Bang will run you about $13 per person. If I could, I would eat lunch here every day. Have you discovered good Vietnamese food in your city? Tell us where so we can check it out.

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