Hold the sriracha: A good bowl of this vermicelli soup doesn’t require any squirts of the garlicky chili sauce. “It’s kind of like adding ketchup to a bowl of chicken noodle soup,” says Nguyen. Instead, flavor the steaming beef-bone broth—clear, delicate and slightly sweet—with fragrant add-ins like basil, lime and chopped green chilies, to your liking. Pho first-timers can stick with whisper-thin slices of cooked beef tenderloin, but offal lovers will want to order the works for a mix of tripe, tendon and other cow parts.
Bun bo Hue
Unlike pho, this noodle soup—named after the beachside city of Hue—isn’t subtle of flavor. Teeming with pork hock, sliced beef shank and rice vermicelli (resembling thick spaghetti), bun bo Hue packs a punch thanks to a fiery topping of red chili paste. “It’s very Central Vietnamese,” says Nguyen. “They can’t grow much, so what they do with their food is spicy and gutsy.”
While the translation for the term kho is “to simmer,” here it signifies plates made with nuoc màu, a bittersweet fish-sauce caramel. The hearty, stick-to-your-ribs sauce, a staple of home cooks throughout Vietnam, is best with seafood—Nguyen recommends shrimp or catfish.
Nguyen calls this Southern Vietnamese beef stew an easy gateway to the country’s cuisine. The main ingredients (chunks of shank, carrots and tomato) are familiar, but the flavorings (star anise, ginger and lemongrass) are classically Vietnamese. “If you don’t want to attack a plate of herbs and a bowl full of weird beef parts, here’s a beef stew, and you can eat it with bread.”
This Franco-Vietnamese sandwich features four cuts of pork: headcheese, pâté, giò (a Vietnamese mortadella) and garlicky pieces of shank. And a good version doesn’t skimp on pickled daikon and carrots. A French-style baguette—with the interior scooped out—is the best vehicle for the filling. There’s a crunchy crust, but the airy crumb shouldn’t overshadow the ingredients.
Brooklynites don’t need to trek to Chinatown to find good Shanghainese food—just head to Greenpoint to dine at M Greenpoint. Plop down at one of the tables and go to town on the menu of dim sum favorites. Think hot and sour soup ($8), scallion pancakes ($7), the juicy pork buns also known as xiao long bao ($9 for six) and ma-pao tofu ($11.50). Vegetarians will be happy to hear that M Shanghai Bistro offers both a vegan and vegetarian version of their menu to make ordering sans meat that much easier. Wash down all the steamed dumplings and spicy stir-fried vegetables with big pots of oolong, chrysanthemum or green tea ($4 for a small, $6 for a large).