Searching for my favorite bowl of bún bò Huế
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Shrimpy goodness

Restaurant: 
New Tự Do (102 Bowery St., between Grand and Hester)

Accepts cards? 
Yes

How much was a bowl? 
$6.95

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
No cilantro but no onion either

How tasty was the soup? How spicy was it? 
I like the soup. It’s quite heavy on fermented shrimp paste so it can turn a lot of people off. It’s also not quite spicy enough for me so I added 2 squirts of Sriracha. It’s definitely not an expensive-tasting soup. It tastes like a bowl you’d get at a hole-in-the-wall. But I really like it actually.

Did they give enough noodles and how were they? 
Not really enough noodles. The weird thing was that most of the noodles were too soft but some were a bit undercooked. I’m not sure how they managed that.

Meat? 
I wish the beef was a bit more tender. They don’t stand out as super tasty but it’s fine. It also came with chả lụa and it was fine. Basically the meat was pretty ordinary.

Pig feet? 
The pieces I got were meaty and easy to eat. Unfortunately, they weren’t marinated well enough. I actually sprinkled a little bit of salt on them. They also could’ve been a bit more tender.

Pork blood? 
Yes actually. The pieces were a bit hard and not marinated or seasoned enough. Still, kudos for having them at all.

Side of veggies? 
Bean sprouts, lime and Thai basil.

Last words on this experience: 
I would definitely come back for another bowl if I’m craving one that’s shrimpier and saltier, especially at $6.95. I’m not sure if I would bring a first-timer here though since the shrimpiness might be a bit too much.

Déjà mangé? (translation: already eaten?)

I have had this same bowl of bún bò Huế before.. at Nam Sơn.

I’m not sure how I missed this, but Thái Sơn and Nam Sơn must be owned by the same people! I should have known based on how similar their signs look! Anyway, they both serve up solid bowls of bún bò Huế so I’m not complaining.

Restaurant: 
Thái Sơn (89 Baxter St., between Walker and Canal)

Accepts cards? 
Yes

How much was a bowl? 
$7.25

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
Not sure. I didn’t get cilantro but I didn’t get any onion either.

How tasty was the soup? How spicy was it?  
Pretty tasty even though it’s a bit light on the fermented shrimp paste. So for those of you who are not a fan of fishiness, this is the bowl for you! It’s also not too spicy. Instead, it’s pretty peppery so it still has a bit of a kick.

Did they give enough noodles and how were they?  
Not enough noodles. Or maybe my craving was too strong.

Meat? 
The beef was a little thicker than usual. The bowl also came with some chả lụa. It was all good.

Pig feet? 
It was a bit bland.

Pork blood? 
Nope

Side of veggies? 
Bean sprouts, Thai basil and a lime wedge.

Last words on this experience: 
I actually really like this one (and Nam Sơn’s). It’s definitely not the same as Nha Trang in LA but I can be happy with a peppery bún bò Huế!

Oh and I forgot to mention that bún bò Huế is not actually on their menu. So if you ever want to order it there, you better learn how to pronounce it!

The most disappointing bowl yet

Ugh! Never again!

I know that’s kind of harsh.. but I really wouldn’t go back there for their bún bò Huế again! To be fair, it is not the worst bowl of bún bò Huế I’ve ever had (I would put this just above Ninh Kieu), but it is certainly the worst value. At $9 a bowl, I should have gotten so much more!

Restaurant: 
Pho Pasteur Restaurant (85 Baxter St., between Canal and White)

Cash only? 
No

How much was a bowl? 
$9 and a rip-off! The restaurants along that street tend to be a little more expensive just because they’re closer to the court house. It’s almost like ripping off tourists.

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
I asked for no cilantro and this is what they gave me:

How tasty was the soup? How spicy was it?  
The soup was bland.The flavor was superficial and watery. Not spicy at all.

Did they give enough noodles and how were they?  
Not much noodles at all and they were on the soft side. I would have minded the small portion if the soup was actually tasty.

Meat? 
NO BEEF! Can you believe it? What’s a bowl of bún bò Huế without beef? They did have some chả lụa in there but they were terrible! They looked hand-ripped and bumpy. I wish I didn’t eat them.

Pig feet? 
Not good either. There was barely a bite of meat and the skin was still hairy.

Pork blood? 
Nope (not surprisingly)

Side of veggies? 
Bean sprouts, lettuce and a lime wedge

Last words on this experience: 
The bowl left much to be desired. To make matters worse, I spent 5 minutes picking out all the cilantro (I don’t like to send back food unless I’ll seriously get sick eating it) and by the time I was done, the soup wasn’t nearly hot enough to cook the bean sprouts. It was pretty much a fail all around. The music playing was a super cheese-fest but I can put up with it if the food was decent, which it really wasn’t. I don’t mean to trash place this much, but I must admit that I actually went over to Popeyes right after just so I can taste something not super disappointing. On the one plus side for this place, my bf thought the bò lúc lắc (shaking beef) with red rice was a little salty but very flavorful.

Not really a 2-month hiatus

Yes, it has been a little over 2 months since I last posted on tumblr, but if you think I actually went 2 months without eating a bowl of bún bò Huế, you will find yourself very sadly mistaken. Anyway, I decided it’s about time I picked up where I left off. The search is not over and I must continue to document my quest.

2 months ago, I thought I found a restaurant that made a fairly high-grade substitute for Nha Trang in LA. I actually went back twice but I found myself getting more and more disappointed with each visit. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t that biased the first time. I really think the first bowl was the best one. Perhaps the main chef was in the first time and not the others. Anyway, I’m not saying it’s not a good bowl of bún bò Huế on its off days. It’s just not good enough to be compared to Nha Trang.

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Restaurant: 
Xe Lửa Vietnamese Restaurant (86 Mulberry St., between Canal and Bayard)

Cash only? 
Nope

How much was a bowl? 
$8. I believe it’s an additional $1.50 for extra noodles.

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
Yes. The bowl came without cilantro and I got the onion and scallion on the side in a small bowl.

How tasty was the soup? 
I thought the soup was really delicious the first time. It was a perfect blend of beefiness and fishiness. My bf even said it’s a “flavor explosion in your mouth!” However, on my subsequent visits, it wasn’t that amazing but still satisfying enough. Unfortunately, I’m not professional enough of a food critic to tell you why.

How spicy was the soup? 
It was not spicy enough for my taste but adding the jalapeño slices and a splash of Sriracha quickly solves the problem without changing the taste very much.

Did they give enough noodles and how were they? 
It’s probably enough noodles for the normal person but I would’ve preferred a little more. The bowl is huge and there’s certainly more room for it! Like I mentioned earlier, it’s likely an additional $1.50 for more noodles. I didn’t ask for more noodles in my 3 visits. I guess I wanted to make sure it’s consistently good before I do that. The noodles could’ve been a little bit thicker. They’re on the skinny side even for NYC but if the soup is anywhere as tasty as that first visit, I couldn’t care less about the skinniness of the noodles.

Beef? 
Pretty delicious though not enough. But it does come with tendons (yay!).

Pig feet? 
Also delicious!

Pork blood? 
No. I’m starting to think that it’s the norm not to have pork blood in bún bò Huế in NYC.

Side of veggies? 
Thai basil, cabbage, jalapeño slices, lime wedges, and some other leafy thing I don’t know the name of. I don’t really like putting cabbage in my bowl even though it’s traditionally how it’s eaten. I prefer bean sprouts. On my first visit, I stole some bean sprouts from my bf since he ordered phở. On the other visits, I just asked for the bean sprouts side plate instead.

Last words on this experience: 
The bowl also came with chả lụa, which was also pretty tasty. What made the first visit so incredible was the tastiness of the soup. The soup really makes or breaks the dish. You can have the best ingredients otherwise, but if the soup is not good, I am not coming back. Based on my first visit alone, I would say this is the best bowl of bún bò Huế I’ve had in NYC. Based on my second and third visits, I would say that it’s still pretty good and I will continue to come back if I just want a solid bowl of bún bò Huế (plus my bf really likes their phở), but it’s definitely not good enough for me to call off my search!

Bún bò Huế from a sandwich shop

Ok, so it’s not really just a sandwich shop anymore. It used to be called Paris Sandwich Restaurant and it’s been renamed Paris Restaurant. They serve all sorts of dishes from bánh mì sandwiches to soup noodles to rice dishes. But still, I was surprised to find bún bò Huế here.

I must admit that I visited this restaurant over a week ago. It wasn’t terrible at all but it wasn’t anything special either. I actually don’t remember this visit too well and I’m simply going off the notes I took during my visit so please excuse me for not being super descriptive here.

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Restaurant: 
Paris Restaurant (113 Mott St., between Hester and Canal)

Cash only? 
No

How much was a bowl? 
$8.25

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
They seemed to understand cilantro but there were still little bits in there. Not a big deal though.

How tasty was the soup? 
It was pretty tasty but too sweet.

How spicy was the soup? 
Not spicy enough. I had to add 4 slices of jalapeño.

Did they give enough noodles? 
Good thing I wasn’t too hungry because there wasn’t much noodle at all.

How were the noodles? 
Good.

Beef? 
Good.

Pig feet? 
Meaty and tasty. Great!

Pork blood? 
Non-existent.

Side of veggies? 
Thai basil, bean sprouts, purple lettuce, cabbage, lime and jalapeño slices (I guess they knew their soup’s not very spicy).

Last words on this experience: 
Like I said earlier, the experience wasn’t terribly memorable. It’s not bad for a place that used to specialize in sandwiches but I won’t be back, especially not at $8.25 a bowl.

The search continues…

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Restaurant: 
Nam Sơn Vietnamese Restaurant (245 Grand St., between Bowery and Chrystie)

Cash only? 
No

How much was a bowl? 
$7.25

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
I guess not? The bowl didn’t come with cilantro but there was also no onion.

How tasty was the soup? 
The soup was pretty good but I wouldn’t say it was spectacularly tasty. The soup was quite bright orange with a layer of oil at the top, which I usually take as a sign that the soup is tasty (rather than greasy and unhealthy). It didn’t have much of the fishy taste, which some people might prefer. I like it more when there’s a good balance of beefy and fishy tastes.

How spicy was the soup? 
It wasn’t super spicy. It was actually spicy in a very peppery way and the spiciness sort of hit in the back of the throat. So be careful when you sip or you’ll likely start coughing.

Did they give enough noodles? 
I could always eat more but it was enough.

How were the noodles? 
Pretty good. The noodles weren’t as thick as Nha Trang in LA. Maybe that’s just how they are in NYC?

Beef? 
It was a little bit bland. Not too memorable.

Pig feet? 
It was salty and delicious, although a little bit too chewy for me.

Pork blood? 
Nope.

Side of veggies? 
Bean sprouts, Thai basil and lemon wedges.

Last words on this experience: 
The bowl also came with chả lụa (Vietnamese pork roll) that was really tasty. I’m not sure if I should give them credit for this or if their supplier for chả lụa deserves it more. In any case, the bún bò Huế was pretty good and I would come back again since the price is decent and they take cards. But next time, I’ll be sure to ask again for onion and maybe I’ll drizzle in some fish sauce.

Bún bò wHếrế?

I’m going to start this post with some info on bún bò Huế. What should it taste like? Where did this dish originate? Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in bún bò Huế or Vietnamese cuisine, nor have I ever tasted an authentic bowl in Huế (the former imperial capital of Vietnam). I’m not even Vietnamese and I don’t speak the language. I’m just an enthusiastic fan (translation: addict) who has had a fair share of bún bò Huế and who actually bothered to look up recipes and some info on Wiki. So here goes!

First off, what does the name mean?
bún means rice vermicelli. It is cylindrical and is similar to spaghetti in terms of shape (but not in texture).
means beef.
Huế is a former capital of Vietnam and it is associated with the cooking style of the former royal court.

How is it made?
The broth is usually made from simmering beef shank, pig feet and lemongrass. It is then seasoned with fermented shrimp paste, fish sauce and a mix of other seasonings. A splash of spicy chili oil is added and it is served up in a bowl of noodles with slices of beef shank, chunks of pig feet and blocks of pork blood. It’s topped off with slices of onion, scallion and cilantro and served with a side of lime wedges and assorted veggies.

Now, onto the review. The bowl I had recently did not taste like other bowls of bún bò Huế I’ve had in the past. That’s not to say it wasn’t tasty, but it made me question the authenticity of this dish. That’s what made me look up all this info on bún bò Huế again. I must emphasize that I’m not necessarily searching for the most authentic bowl of bún bò Huế in NYC, but it should still be pretty close to what an authentic one would taste like from what I’ve gathered.

Restaurant: 
Phở Việt Huong Restaurant (73 Mulberry St., between Walker and Canal)

Cash only? 
Nope

How much was a bowl? 
$7.50. Like Ninh Kieu, the menu on the window lists the outdated price of $6.50. Some of these places in Chinatown seriously need to update the stuff they put on the windows.

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
Yes

How tasty was the soup? 
It was actually pretty tasty. However, it did not taste like the typical bún bò Huế I’m used to. Bún bò Huế should have a pretty clear, bright orange broth. This broth was a little bit more milky and it tasted a bit basic (as opposed to acidic). I would also like to add that the soup wasn’t quite hot enough for how much bean sprouts I usually like to put in there.

How spicy was the soup? 
My mildly-spice-adversed boyfriend didn’t think it was spicy either, which is a sign that it’s not nearly spicy enough.

Did they give enough noodles? 
Almost. A little bit more would be nice but I probably wouldn’t need to order it with extra noodles unless I’m starving.

How were the noodles? 
Pretty good!

Beef? 
It was pretty flavorful but it could’ve been more tender.

Pig feet? 
They gave a generous serving with meaty pieces so I liked that. The strange thing was that the pig feet tasted like canned 回鍋肉 (twice cooked pork) I had while growing up in Hong Kong. As much as I love 回鍋肉 and as delicious as it was, that taste is very strange in a bowl of bún bò Huế.

Pork blood? 
Pork blood came in small slices and it was pretty bland. The texture was pretty good though.

Side of veggies? 
Thai basil, bean sprouts and lime wedges.

What was the bowl topped off with? 
The bowl came with a little bit of Thai basil and mint in it already. There was also some cabbage and it was topped off with crushed peanuts.

Last words on this experience: 
As delicious as the bowl was, I don’t think I’ll be coming back when I’m craving bún bò Huế because it just didn’t taste like bún bò Huế. I don’t know what area of Vietnam inspired the taste of this bowl. Maybe it’s a take on bún bò Huế for spice-adversed people. Anyway, I doubt this is what bún bò tastes like in Huế (hence the title of my review). BUT, would I come back if I just want a delicious tasty bowl of noodles? Certainly!

The dreaded review

This post is long overdue. In fact, I actually went to this restaurant a week ago. The experience was so underwhelming that I couldn’t even get myself to review it. Nonetheless, I can’t give up on my blog after one post so here I am.

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Restaurant: 
Ninh Kieu (87 Chrystie St., between Canal and Hester)

Cash only? 
No

How much was a bowl? 
$7.50 (The menu in the window says $6.50 but it’s outdated. This goes for the other items on the menu.)

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
Yes

How tasty was the soup? 
The soup was very bland. I was actually surprised when I took the first sip. It didn’t even have enough taste to be the soup for pho. It just tasted very watery.

How spicy was the soup? 
Not spicy

Did they give enough noodles? 
Ohhh yes. I was super excited when the bowl came. It was a huge bowl with a lot of noodles. Unfortunately, with a soup that bland, I’m not sure why I would even want that much noodles.

How were the noodles? 
The noodles were a bit skinny and they seemed to have been chopped short. It was actually slightly frustrating to eat as the noodles kept slipping off my spoon.

Beef? 
Bland

Pig feet? 
Bland

Pork blood? 
Non-existent

Side of veggies? 
Bean sprouts, thai basil, lime, lettuce

Last words on this experience: 
This bowl came with a sprinkle of green onion and some chả lụa, which was nice. However, the soup and the meat were so bland that I was extremely disappointed. I actually asked them if they have some chili oil or paste so I can make it spicier (and maybe tastier). All they could offer was satay oil, which did not go with bún bò Huế’s taste, and what’s already on the table, like Sriracha and soy sauce. They didn’t even have fish sauce on the table! Needless to say, I will not be coming back — for bún bò Huế or otherwise.

Starting off with a bang — Phở Bǎng, that is!

I have finally been convinced to start a blog. Of course, it’s food-related. Big surprise.

I fell in love with bún bò Huế a couple of years back while I was living in LA. I searched for my favorite bowl of bún bò Huế in the city and I quickly found it at Nha Trang. In the last year, I probably averaged a Nha Trang visit every other week (which is a lot for me since my mom is a great cook). Needless to say, it made me a bit of an addict.

Now that I’ve moved to NYC, I must search once more. However, since I don’t know the city as well as I know LA, I’m not going to rely solely on my memory. So here it is, my first review of bún bò Huế in NYC!

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Restaurant: 
Phở Bǎng Restaurant (157 Mott St., between Broome and Grand)

Cash only? 
Yes

How much was a bowl? 
$7.50

Did they understand what cilantro is? (I don’t like cilantro but I’m ok with onion)
Yes

How tasty was the soup? 
Pretty flavorful. I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

How spicy was the soup? 
The waiter who took our order reminded us it was a spicy dish when we ordered it, as if to say that it is super spicy. The bowl came out with a small side dish of chili paste. The soup originally in the bowl was very mildly spicy. With the addition of the chili paste (I put about 3/4 of it in at first but I eventually put in everything), it was moderately spicy. I ended up adding a couple slices of jalapeño in there and it got to about an 8 out of 10 (with 10 being the spiciest I’d want my bun bo hue).

Did they give enough noodle? 
No! I had to put in A LOT of bean sprouts to compensate for the lack of noodles. (Disclaimer: I can eat quite a bit of noodles.) I would definitely need to order it with extra noodles next time.

How was the noodle? 
The noodle was not as thick as what usually comes in bún bò Huế. It would’ve been nice if the noodle was thicker but I didn’t mind it too much. It was al dente, which I like.

Beef? 
I honestly don’t really remember how it was. I ate it too quickly.

Pig feet? 
Great! This was probably the best pig feet I’ve gotten in bún bò Huế. I’m actually not a huge fan of having to gnaw on the big piece of bone just to pick out an ounce of meat since I often drop it back in the soup and cause a huge splash of bright red/orange soup. This place gave pieces with big chunks of meat and skin on the bone. I’m a fan!

Pork blood? 
Non-existent

Side of veggies? 
It came with a side of bean sprouts, lime wedges, mint and thai basil. I actually don’t like thai basil so I don’t usually add it, but there was already at least one leaf torn up in the soup when the bowl came. I don’t mind its flavor in the soup, I just picked it out. The veggies were fresh but a little too wet.

Last words on this experience: 
I thought it was pretty delicious overall. I will definitely be back to try it again. I’m not going to get ahead of myself and give this a rating before I try at least a couple other places, but I liked it a lot. I can definitely sustain my addiction with this…