You may remember Paris Sandwich in Chinatown from our Manhattan banh mi tasting, where its pre-made and reheated sandwiches came in last place. Since then they opened a second location on Grand Street where the sandwiches taste a little more fresh and balanced. Which had us wondering: does the neighborhood really need two Paris Baguettes five minutes away from each other?
Apparently the owners asked the same question, because in late 2012 they redrafted the Mott Street store and transformed it into Paris Restaurant, a sit-down restaurant with a full menu, including, we were told, some decent pho. The long story made short: this is a happy addition to the neighborhood's Vietnamese offerings, friendly and affordable even if it's not New York's Vietnamese restaurant messiah.
Let's start with that pho ($6 to $7), which regardless of flavor comes with a plate of Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chili slices on the side. Our Pho Chin Nan (Beef Brisket Noodle) featured a mild but balanced broth that was beef-forward with a hint of anise. The thinly sliced brisket is tender enough and the rice noodles offer some resistance to the teeth. It's not going to rock your pho-hungry world, but it's a substantial bowl of well made soup, one that's greatly improved with some of those basil leaves.
More noodles done right come in the form of bun, hefty bowls of cool rice noodles topped with an assortment of grilled meat and pickled veggies. The Bun Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork; $6) is all about the meat's sweet crisp edges enhanced by a restrained nuoc cham. Stir it together with extra chili paste and you have a lunch I'd eat happily any day of the week.
Several sautéed dishes fall into the category of "protein cubes with sauce," and some are well worth an order. We had no problem polishing off the Bo Luc Lac (Beef Cubes; $12) with a helping of rice. Sweet red onions, lightly pickled carrots and daikon, and a hint of fish sauce funk round out the caramelized brown sauce flavor the beef takes on. It's on the sweet side, but not overly so—a trend we saw throughout our meal.
But Dau Hu Sa Ot (Tofu Lemongrass; $8) is two thirds the price and a more interesting dish. The tofu is is pleasantly meaty beneath its sauce-slicked crust, and the thinly sliced squares keep each bite lively. Lemongrass comes through loud and clear in this dish, which is less sweet and a little more spicy than the beef cubes.
Our only disappointment was this Banh Xeo ($8), the so-called "crispy crepe" made soggy by excess oil, with a filling so dominated by beansprouts as to be rendered flavorless.
But four out of five isn't too shabby, especially when few dishes rise above $10 and you have interior decor as lovely as the framed baguette print in the photo above. Plus there's plenty more that catches our eye: beef wrapped in grape leaves, then grilled; crispy frog legs; mussels steamed in coconut milk.
As for those sandwiches, yup, they're still available at the to-go counter at the front, pre-made, -wrapped, and awaiting your order for a re-toasting (perhaps you can also order them fresh for eating in). But right past them is some food we're far more pleased about.
113 Mott Street, New York, NY 10013 (map) 212-226-7221