Alfresco lunch at Pho Cam Ly

A few months back, my buddy Anne and I enjoyed lunch at Pho Cam Ly on Magazine Street. Over the years, I’ve eaten a lot of pho at a lot of different Vietnamese restaurants but there are always a few that can’t help but stand out. Pho Cam Ly is on that list.

Why?
So many reasons! First, Anne and I arrived right after the lunch rush at noon and were able to score a seat on the porch of their gorgeous sidehall-turned-restaurant. After perusing the menu, Anne and I ordered a veritable Vietnamese feast, and settled to sipping sodas and gabbing till our lunch arrived.  
We started with an appetizer of steamed buns (banh gap) stuffed with grilled pork, fresh cilantro and pickled carrots that was flavorful and plentiful, seeing as you got three large buns for only $5.50.  We also ordered the fried egg rolls that were crispy, meaty and pretty much gone about as quickly as you can say “cha gio.” 

In short order, our soups arrived. I chose the pho tai with raw eye of round which was huge, even though it was a regular-sized order. The broth had that wondrously delicious depth present in any great pho, the beef and noodles were tender and plentiful, and the price was happy dance-worthy at only $6.75. I can’t recall if Anne got the pho chin with brisket or the pho bo vien with beef meatballs, but I do recall her devouring it almost as quickly as I did. 

Overall, it was a satisfying, traditional Vietnamese lunch savored at a surprisingly stellar price, and who could say no to that? Certainly not I…

Pho Cam Ly on Urbanspoon

New experience at Namese

Since it sometimes feels as if I’ve tasted virtually everything, it’s always a wonderful surprise when I get the opportunity to sample something new. That’s exactly what happened when Lorin and I enjoyed a lunch at Namese a few months back.

Located on the corner of Tulane and South Carrollton Avenue, Namese was once a convenience store that sold Chinese food to-go. What with the surge of interest in Vietnamese cuisine and the changes that are slowly-but-surely happening in this previously unloved corridor, the owners sensed it was kismet to get back to their roots and open a full-service restaurant.

Though it was cold the day we visited, I could totally see returning in the springtime (and I have!) to lounge on their spacious and comfortably-furnished patio out front. But on this particular occasion, Lorin and I sat inside. After placing our order, we munched on complimentary prawn crackers and talked about all things food-related while we waited.

First to arrive was an appetizer we ordered to share, a dish of shrimp and avocado spring rolls with a rich, dark peanut sauce for dipping. Needless to say, the rolls were fresh, flavorful and gobbled up in no time at all. Shortly thereafter, our entrees arrived and I couldn’t help oohing and aahing … at least a little.

Lorin ordered their Shakin’ Steak that was marinated, pan-seared and served with jasmine rice and pickled vegetables. Me? I was in the mood for pho, so I chose the filet mignon. Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve ordered filet mignon pho at almost every Vietnamese restaurant in the city, but not once has it ever been served up like it was at Namese.

Instead of just a bowl of soup, Namese took it one step further bringing out the pho (with noodles and veggies, of course) with a separate plate of raw, thinly sliced beef. Essentially, I was cooking each piece of meat in the piping hot broth right before stuffing it into my face. It was fantastic! Especially with their spicy, sate chili sauce that I added to each bite. Although it might not seem like much, this added dimension to the meal made all the difference. I just love trying new things … especially when it’s food!

Namese on Urbanspoon

More Vietnamese!? Mint Modern Bistro & Bar

You’re thinking to yourself, “Another Vietnamese restaurant?” just like I am. Don’t get me wrong, I love Vietnamese food, but the explosion of this particular cuisine in New Orleans is going a bit overboard. Fortunately, my experience at Mint was quite good … it’s a keeper. And I’m not only saying that because their iced coffee knocked my socks off.

A couple months ago, Lorin and I had lunch at Mint, which is not only one of the latest Vietnamese restaurants in town to pop up, it’s also one of the newest eateries on Freret Street, a corridor whose growth seems to know no limit. We arrived fairly early in the lunch hour and there were only a couple of other occupied tables.

We ordered drinks from our attentive and polite server and proceeded to peruse the menu. While I greedily slurped down my cafe sua da (a.k.a. Vietnamese iced coffee) we placed our order, starting with a shared appetizer of fresh, grilled pork summer rolls. The rolls were light and tasty, but (like many other Vietnamese restaurants) I couldn’t help thinking the rolls were light in the meat department. Thankfully Mint charges a modest price of only $4 for two rolls, so in this case I really shouldn’t complain.

After ordering another cafe sua da (yep, I’m addicted), our entrees arrived. Lorin opted for a “Pho Mint Combo” with NY strip, brisket and meatball while I chose their Crispy Hen. I didn’t try Lorin’s pho, but it sure smelled delightful and she said as much when I asked her how it was. My Crispy Hen was absolutely fabulous, a half of a small hen deep fried and seasoned with a house honey-mustard-type sauce that completely blew me away.

What surprised me the most is that I rarely order chicken when I go out to eat (unless I’m going to a fried chicken or wing joint), because I always have chicken at home. All I can say is that I am glad I didn’t skip the chicken dish this time, because it was wonderful and by the end of lunch, I was practically gnawing on the bones. The Crispy Chicken was served with a small, fresh salad drizzled with a simple vinaigrette and a mound of sticky rice topped with a fried, over-easy egg. There was nothing left on my plate but a few chicken bones. I can’t wait to get back over there and try the pho…

Mint Modern Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

Geaux Pho Bistreaux!

Let me begin by saying that I never understood nor appreciated the Louisiana fascination with transforming words containing a long “o” into “eaux.” I assume it comes from Cajun names like Boudreaux and Thibodeaux, and I have to admit that I see this phenomenon far more frequently in Baton Rouge (LSU) than anywhere else, but it still appears in New Orleans from time to time and when it does, it itches at me like a fleabite on my ankle. It’s kind of like saying “ax” when you mean “ask” or using “there” when you really mean “they’re” or “their.” I realize it’s a fun way of adding a Louisiana accent to common words or phrases and I really should get over myself already, but what can I say? It bugs me.

So, when I first saw Pho Bistreaux opening up on the corner of Oak and Carrollton, the name immediately turned me off. I thought to myself “Eaux neax!” (Okay, I’m lying. I didn’t think that but I thought that line would be funny.) The name was only the tip of the iceberg, though, considering that corner restaurant has changed from being an Indian food buffet, to a terrible “New York-style” deli (that would have appalled any New Yorker) and a steamed burger joint that was open for all of a few weeks…if that…due to some horrific neon signage that practically defaced the historic building in which the restaurant was housed. It was becoming one of those cursed locations where businesses never last and I was afraid Pho Bistreaux would soon become the latest victim.

Boy howdy, was I wrong!

Let me say that since my first time there a month or so ago, I have returned an obscene number of times because at long last, Oak Street has a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant and if I can keep them in business by my patronage alone, I will. But I don’t think I have anything to worry about. Since my first trip, this corner restaurant has been busy from the time they open their doors to the second they close. It’s that good.

Since I have been to Pho Bistreaux so many times, with camera in hand, it is hard to pinpoint one trip over another, so let me just tell you about some of the tasty dishes I’ve enjoyed thus far. And no, I have still not had everything on the menu, but that day will soon arrive.

I should probably start with the pho. I’ve only enjoyed the filet mignon, but John enjoyed the meatiest oxtail pho he’s ever experienced and Anne (my pho buddy) delighted in their wonderful meatball pho. The broth is rich with sharp, earthy spices and served with huge plates filled with fresh herbs and veggies to add (or not) to your soup. The prices are only a tad higher than I am used to, but the bowls are big, delicious and filling, so no complaints here.

For appetizers, we’ve tried their grilled pork sliders, deliciously seasoned and only $5 for two, and crispy egg rolls, both regular and “Bistreaux” style which is wrapped with a different type of rice paper that makes for an extra crisp and bubbly shell.  We have also enjoyed the New Orleans Roll which combines the best of both worlds, stuffing a crispy egg roll into a spring roll wrapper alongside fresh herbs, vegetables and vermicelli noodles, and served with a super-thick peanut sauce for dipping.

Other entrees we’ve inhaled include a grilled pork “bun” or vermicelli bowl, grilled shrimp “com” or rice plate and a combination banh mi with grilled pork and pate. I think they might put crack in their grilled shrimp because it is quickly becoming one of my favorites and I find it very difficult to order anything else as of late. They also make a delightful flan, believe it or not, and almost every time I am in there, I see at least two other tables order it for dessert, aside from our table of course. Everything has been so delicious and priced so right, that it’s a wonder we don’t eat there everyday. All I can say is “Please don’t ever geaux, Pho Bistreaux!”

Pho Bistreaux on Urbanspoon

Magasin on Magazine

If there is anyone I can blame my Vietnamese food addiction on, it would have to be Leigh Landeche. We started working together what seems like ages ago out of a small, mostly empty office on Hickory Avenue when NewOrleans.com was owned by very different management. Anyhow, Leigh and I would work on the site all morning and then head out into the wilds of Harahan in search of an affordable, yet delicious lunch. It was Leigh who suggested we try a tiny Vietnamese restaurant called Kim Anhs Noodle House on Jefferson Highway for my very first bowl of pho. Yes, I loved it. Perhaps not as much as Leigh who could eat it everyday, at every meal, for the rest of his life, but I still loved it nonetheless.

Recently, I tried a fairly new Vietnamese restaurant on Magazine Street called “Magasin,” which is actually the French word for “shop” or “store” and I never really quite got the connection other than it sounding like a fancy way to say magazine. Regardless. my buddy Anne, John and I all decided to give it a go.

When we walked into the bright, white dining area, we saw that the restaurant was already packed. Luckily enough, we were able to score the last available table that was conveniently near a window. After a lengthy perusal of the menu, we finally placed our (massive) order and settled down to wait.

The first to arrive was a couple Goi Cuon or Spring Rolls, Chinese Sausage & Eggs and Shiitake Mushroom. Although both tasted nice and were stuffed with plenty of vermicelli and veggies, the main ingredients seem to be sadly lacking considering the price ($4 for 2 rolls) , though that still didn’t stop us from dipping them in lots of peanut sauce and making them disappear.

Next, Anne and I decided to split a bahn mi while John ordered a whole one for himself. John got the Pork Roll & Pate while Anne and I chose the “deli special” which happened to be Grilled Pork, Pork Belly & Pork Pate. Both sandwiches were tasty, served on the delicious, local Don Phuong Vietnamese po-boy bread, but even after all this, we were still hungry.

For our “main dish” we all ordered soup. John got the Pho Oxtail, Anne selected the Pho Filet Mignon and I chose the Wonton Noodle Soup. The dishes arrived one-by-one, the great ceramic bowls filled with steaming liquid set before us on a platter that included plenty of fresh herbs and veggies like bean sprouts, cilantro, sliced lime, basil and jalapeno. I really enjoyed the tastes of broth I stole from both Anne and John’s dishes, a rich beefy broth with earthy, exotic spices like cinnamon and star anise. My soup was a bit different though, it seemed to have the same beefy broth, but it was drastically changed by the addition of tomato. Besides strips of pork and fat, pork-filled won tons, my soup also had egg noodles, though I would have preferred the rice noodles that the menu detailed.

When we finished our soup, we all sat around breathing heavily, suddenly feeling much more sated than we expected. We rolled out of the restaurant, grinning from ear to ear, discussing the next time we could stop in and try some of the other items on the menu as their Com or rice dishes sounded (and looked) amazing. I betcha Leigh would’ve loved it…

Magasin Café on Urbanspoon