It’s easy to throw the wealth of food to be found in Chinatown under a single obvious category – Chinese food. Unfortunately (or the opposite in our case), it’s never as simple as that. Chinatown covers a whole lot more ground than the mass of land and sea that is China. In fact, a veritable East Asia can be found here if you know where to look. Untapped Photographer Chuck Lau recently joined the ‘Sunday in Chinatown’ gang, and suggested we seek out some of the Vietnamese offerings to be found below Canal street. We settled on Nha Trang One.
We were there, Chuck told us, in search of Pho. A classic Vietnamese rice noodle dish that found its way onto the world’s culinary stage in the 1920’s, Pho is simple, and, when done correctly, quite an experience. While Chuck did his photographer duties (thanks for shooting this round, Chuck!), Michelle and I explored a menu foreign to both of us.
We started with shrimp rice vermicelli summer rolls, a scant $3.75 for two. Packed with shrimp, sprouts, spices, and more texture than New York’s garment district, they’re a welcome stimulation among a wealth of texture-neutral dishes.
While not necessarily the most daring or exciting path to take, placing your bets on a Chinatown restaurant’s ‘number one’ is always pretty safe. Officially the ‘Pho Dac Biet,’ the number one boasts a ‘special rice noodles soup with beef brisket, eyeround, tendon & omoza.’ Not yet desensitized by the term special, a favorite choice for Chinatown’s culinary copywriters, I let myself be won over.
As a meat-eater, there was something extremely comforting about the idea of an animal giving so much of himself to a single dish. After all, the more you use, the better, right? For $5.75, you’ll earn a massive bowl of fresh noodle soup teeming with rare beef that slowly cooks itself in the hot broth, releasing delicious juices into a dish that only gets better with time.
If you’re willing to look a little further toward the end of the menu, the L6 is ready to prove that Nha Trang has a ‘deep bench’ of Pho options. Pho Bo Satee, as its name suggests, is all about satee. It’s a spicier member of the extended Pho family, and a great contrast to the more naturally bland L1.
The simplicity of Pho, one of Vietnam’s signature dishes, is a double-edged sword. While easy to describe to someone who has never tried it, it’s nearly impossible to explain it in a way that will get anyone excited. Pho is, in essence, a leap of faith. As Nha Trang sits on Baxter street, only a few blocks from the center of old Chinatown, it’s really not a difficult one to take.
Nah Trang can be found at 87 Baxter Street, New York, NY 10013.