I would’t discourage anyone from trying any of the Vietnamese restaurants in New York, but even the most well-regarded of them pale next to what can be had in Westminster, California’s Little Saigon area. Being Vietnamese, I’m more critical of these establishments — and of how closely their cooking methods resemble my mother’s — than the average customer. But it’s not just a cultural thing, it’s a matter of dollar value, too. What you can get in Manhattan, in finer restaurants like Cyclo and Blue Velvet 1929 isn’t bad; it’s just disproportionately expensive given the inaccurate and uninspired dishes they bring to your table.
The Worse the Service, the Better the Food
In my experience, the Vietnamese cooking that can be had in Southern California comes dirt cheap, is served with little fanfare and almost atrocious wait service, and is startlingly, almost incredulously delicious. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the States; everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve looked.
That’s why I’m so happy about discovering a slightly closer approximation of that kind of dining experience at Pho Grand, a restaurant so apparently new, you can’t find a phone listing for it. It sits at 277C Grand Street in Chinatown, between Eldridge and Forsyth Streets, a quiet block close to the fledgling hipness of the Lower East Side. The food is cheap, it’s served erratically, and it’s better than the New York average — the dishes are more authentically prepared and priced than I’ve seen anywhere else in the city. It’s not phenomenal, but it’s very good — and, as I confirmed earlier this evening, they do in fact deliver to my apartment. That’s the most important detail of all.