Long confined to pho shops and neighborhood joints with overly broad menus, Vietnamese food is currently experiencing a renaissance in New York as young chefs look to the food-obsessed country for more specific inspiration. You can now experience flavors from every corner of Vietnam by making just a few stops around town. However, with so many Vietnamese restaurants to choose from now, it can be hard to narrow your search without the help of someone who really knows Vietnamese cuisine well.
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"It’s really exciting for me to be in New York right now because of how much attention Vietnamese food is receiving. I’ve grown up with this food basically my entire life and I feel like it gets this bad rap where it has to be this cheap food. In that sense though, I feel like it's super underrated. The more people who cook Vietnamese food, the better it can get. If more people are exposed to it and can learn about it then the more there are that see that Vietnamese food is about more than a bowl of pho."
Pho Viet Huong, Chinatown
Pho is the go-to Vietnamese dish for many people, but chef La prefers the bold and pungent flavors of bún bò Huế from this spot on Mulberry Street. "Pho Viet Huong in Chinatown is really great," he says. "I had some really good bún bò Huế there, which is definitely my favorite soup of all time. It was nicely seasoned and had a really nice lemongrass taste to it. You can get pho anywhere, but a really good bún bò Huế is hard to find." Chef La should know—his mother's family is from Huế and he's been eating the soup all his life.
An Choi, East Village
For a great vermicelli bowl, chef La visits this beloved spot on Orchard Street. "I really like An Choi over in the East Village," he says. "The décor is super cool, the staff is really cool, and the food’s great. I had bún thịt nướng chả giò when I was there and it was really nice. The dressing, the spring rolls and the filling were all really nicely seasoned."
Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli, Little Italy
To round out his favorite Vietnamese bites, chef La swears by this banh mi shop on Broome Street. "Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli in Little Italy is another great spot I went to during my first visit to New York," he says. "Their banh mis are really nice and probably the closest I’ve had to what you would actually find in Saigon. I also just really like the owner a lot. He’s about my dad’s age and we got to chat the last time I was there about how he made his way to New York and his experience as a war vet, it was pretty cool to talk to him about that."
Reservations are still available for chef Bao La's three dinners at Chefs Club (4/4-4/6). To book, go here.