87 Baxter Street (Chinatown)
New York, NY
In the belly: pho, a Vietnamese soup, traditionally made with beef broth, noodles, and meats. But of course, I had vegetarian pho. Also tried the summer rolls.
Rating: so very lickable, want to go again this weekend.
Last week, Waqas and I had dinner at Nha Trang, a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. I wanted to go there because my roommate Anthony told me that they served vegetarian pho and of course, I got super excited, started dreaming vegetarian pho dreams – you know, the typical reaction I have to new vegetarian food. After we stopped in Kam Man, (a gigantic cutlery/grocery store also in Chinatown) to pick up a tea set for my tea party (recipes and photos coming soon), we found Nha Trang.
I’ve been on an Asian food kick recently, and I was particularly excited to try pho, that soup meat eaters can’t stop praising. I never thought I’d have the opportunity because it sounded so full of gore: rice noodles in a beef broth made by boiling an oxtail, full of various animal body parts, including chicken legs, tripe, and other organs…in fact, when I told my Vietnamese friend, Mr. Ngo, that I was going to eat vegetarian pho, he said, “Pho is not veggie friendly at all…so whatever you’re eating is imitation pho at best.” I don’t know, Mr. Ngo: my pho was made with vegetable broth and full of long, stringy noodles, soft tofu, fresh spinach and celery stalks, instead of meatballs and chicken hearts, but since it was on a menu with twelve other non-veg, “authentic” phos, I think it should pass the test.
Now one of the most fun parts of eating pho is adding more seasonings to an already full bowl. My pho broth was lightly flavored with thinly sliced scallions, ginger, and star anise but I made it spicy, crunchy, and tart by squirting in Sriracha (a garlic chili paste) and other hot sauces, pouring in hoison sauce, squeezing the lime, and gradually adding watery-fresh bean sprouts and fragrant mint leaves for a clean, cooling crunch. This ritual of seasoning your pho to perfection is a built in way to personalize your meal. Heat it up, cool it down. Fun!
We also ordered the summer rolls (pictured in the top right-hand corner of above photo), which complemented the pho perfectly. Full of ultra-skinny, rice vermicelli and a proud, thick stalk of mint, the rolls, when dipped in the bowls of thick brown peanut sauce, were nutty, mild, and refreshing.
All in all, my first pho was such a success. Hot, savory broth, silky-soft tofu, necklace-like noodles, leafy green vegetables: I felt so healthy, eating these foods. Everything we tried was fresh, the service was quick, and we were both so full after a bowl of pho and two summer rolls each. The restaurant is large, well-lit, and clean. A steady stream of customers were in and out of the doors all night, which made me feel good about eating there. I also appreciated how the waiter clarified when I ordered vegetarian pho by saying, “vegetable pho in vegetable broth.” That phrase allowed me to enjoy my food with no nagging thoughts like “maybe this has fish oil in it…”
Pho Chay [rice noodle soup with vegetable]: $4.50; Goi Cuon [shrimp or vegetarian spring rolls] (2): $3.50