Re-Engineering Pho at Sao Mai

Cross a sandwich with a bowl of pho and you'll get something like Sao Mai's pho banh mi. This messy, saucy Vietnamese spin on the French dip sandwich brings together the ingredients of pho—including the noodles and bean sprouts—on bread. lucyj finds it "absolutely delicious."

More conventional banh mi are good here as well, says hungrycomposer, who notes that heat-seekers can spike them to taste with potent fresh chiles (not the typically underpowered jalapeños). She also recommends the beef and watercress salad and tender, well-seasoned grilled pork chops over rice.

Sao Mai opened a month ago with a head chef from Xe Lua, a Chowhound favorite in a city with few first-rate Vietnamese restaurants, so locals are cautiously optimistic about it. But erica says the new place is off to an uneven start: Fried squid and rice-flour crêpes were quite good, but the pho broth was pallid and the fried red snapper, though skillfully cooked, was flavorless. Still, hounds remain hopeful. "Sao Mai is a real asset to the neighborhood," says hungrycomposer, "and I wish them well."

missmasala's go-to Vietnamese restaurant of late has been Nam Son. It isn't that the place is outstanding overall, she says, but Nam Son does make at least one stellar dish that merits repeat visits: whole fried fish with chiles and lemongrass. It comes to the table fried to a turn and showered with a mince of sautéed peppers and lemongrass. "In a perfect world the chiles would be a touch hotter," she says, "but it's pretty addictive as it is."

Sao Mai [East Village]
203 First Avenue (between E. 12th and 13th streets), Manhattan
212-358-8880

Nam Son [Chinatown]
245 Grand Street (between Bowery and Chrystie Street), Manhattan
212-966-6507

Discuss: Anyone tried Sao Mai on 1st Avenue?
Fried whole fish with chilies and lemongrass at Nam Son