After reading Gabe Thompson’s Chelsea Neighborhood Guide on SeriousEats, I became inspired to branch out of my typical West Village confines to explore the bordering neighborhood that he so loyally promoted. Omai was the restaurant that stood out most on his list, and as a recent fan of Baoguette for delivery, I was curious to see if there really was a better nearby Vietnamese restaurant that I had been missing out on. I’m not one for settling when there’s potential for improvement. My conclusion? Omai has knocked Baoguette off my delivery list – bittersweet given my recent love affair with Baoguette’s grilled chicken pho.
Everything at Omai is done with a little more care and attention to detail than usual. The typical tom cuon shrimp rolls, for example, are made with plump grilled prawns as opposed to cold sliced shrimp. The eggplant hasn’t absorbed loads of grease because they’ve flash sautéed it in a gingery, vinegar-fish sauce. And the bun ga nuong, rice noodles with grilled chicken, lettuce and herbs, is utterly addictive tossed in their tangy vinaigrette.
rice noodle salad with chicken
Most remarkable, however, is the Pho. It took my tasting awe-inspiring pho to realize that what I had been eating for so long was actually not that great. The cinnamon-scented broth that was so simple, yet so rich in flavor, and it tasted like it had been brewing for hours. The noodles are wonderful too; long and thin, they perfectly capture the broth between each strand to make each bite a soupy one. I only wish there had been more bean sprouts. Either way, this is the type of food I love because it doesn’t leave you feeling heavy and gross.
In terms of service, the rhythm of our meal was a little spotty: everything came out one at a time with odd spacing in between. Given that, it’ll likely (as planned) be my go-to for delivery as opposed to a night out, though it got pretty lively with the techno music they were pumping.
Location: 158 9th Ave btwn 19th and 16th Streets
When it’s close to 20 degrees outside, there’s not much else I crave but a steaming bowl of noodle soup, which is why I’m now ordering Baoguette’s chicken pho on a weekly basis. Sunday night rolls around and sure enough my tasters for earthy beef broth with rice noodles and flavorful dark meat chicken kick in before I’ve even had the chance to browse for something new on Seamless web. Baoguette delivers in record time even on the coldest nights and they even take the time to separate all the fixings in individual containers – awesome so I can microwave the broth without destroying the noodles and bean sprouts. It’s the little things that count when there are over 100 places to choose from for delivery each night. In the age of inundation, being sure about one thing like your noodle choice is all that you need.
pho with beef
There are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants offering soup downtown, but I’ve never had a bowl with as generous a serving of tender chicken as Baoguette. I wouldn’t recommend eating onsite – the spot is tiny and sandwiched between no-name restaurants (and my old apartment) on sketchy Christopher street – but a large, deep soup bowl is a must for serving at home. Ask for extra hot sauce if you’re a true fan of spice.
Location: multiple; I order from 102 Christopher Street btwn Bleecker and Bedford
*photo from Flickr
In an attempt to find a quick meal in the middle of a drinks-only birthday party, I stumbled upon this eclectic Vietnamese restaurant, reminiscent of the dark, Christmas-light decorated garages that I’d stumble through at college parties. I’m not even sure if there were lights on string hanging, but it felt like they should be there. The place is cramped but has an inviting, eighties-style feel with waitstaff in cut off denim shorties and belly shirts. The vibe is nothing short of cool, and the menu is covered with affordable Vietnamese options.
Along with a Tiger beer (hello semester abroad in Asia), I sampled the classic pork and shrimp summer rolls, the chicken bun (rice noodles with veggies and vinegar sauce), and the beef pho. The pho arrived sans a bounty of herbs and raw veggies (which is what I look forward to), but the broth itself was so earthy and flavorful that it almost didn’t need it. Still, after having real deal, hole in the wall Vietnamese in San Francisco recently, the chicken bun was a little disappointing. The meat was moist and grilled, but the vegetables were paltry and the sauce a little flavorless. And in my opinion, summer rolls are summer rolls…they all pretty much taste the same to me – refreshing and healthy.
one of An Choi’s Goi Cuon
beef noodle soup
Still, I’m a sucker for quaint little joints where you can be seated with food and drink in no time. This place serves a purpose. It’s not high class food, but when you’re out in the Lower East Side, Barrio Chino is insane, and you want something other than fried grease to snack on between drinks, An Choi can help you out.
Location: 85 Orchard Street off of Broome
*photos from Flickr and this blog