Anyone else find it tough to get really great Vietnamese food in Manhattan? It's almost like the Vietnamese restaurants here serve their own distinct cuisine. Vietnamese in name but not really in substance or flavor, like Vietnamese food extrapolated through the lens of Chinese-American grease-forward food.
Not that it's bad food per se, just different.
Thai Son often comes up on lists of favorite Viet spots in Chinatown, and it's got a few things going for it, namely speed and price. Pho is the benchmark for Vietnamese lunch dishes, and it's somewhere between fair and good at Thai Son. Heavy on cinnamon, not quite as rich as I'd like it to be, a little skimpy on the side of fresh herbs and bean sprouts, but big enough to satisfy me for at least two meals. The dac biet version with mixed beef parts comes with braised brisket and navel, crunchy tripe, chewy and slick tendon, thin sliced eye of round and flank.
I've yet to find a bowl of pho in the city I've been blown away by, and this one falls somewhere in the middle of that pack. Anyone have better suggestions?
Better are the Banh Cuon ($6). Freshly made, this is one of my top ten favorite dishes ever. Steamed rice noodles wrapped around seasoned ground pork served with cinnamon-scented Viet bologna and a sweet sauce with fried shallots (see how it's made here). At Thai Son, what you get is a much heavier version of the same dish, the noodles coated in a thin layer of oil (I'd guess they're steamed ahead in the morning and coated with oil to prevent them from sticking while they're held all day). Satisfying in its own way, though not the ethereally light and delicate sticky rice crepe I'm looking for.
Ah well, the search continues. Meanwhile, a $5-6 lunch ain't a bad thing, even if it's not the real deal.
89 Baxter Street, New York, NY 10013 (between Walker and White; map); 212-732-2822
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