Banh Appetit: This Vietnamese restaurant could become your special place, too
There are certain spots that beckon from the far corners of the MTA, luring us with the promise of savory and fresh dishes that satisfy the appetite and our nostalgic sense-memories. Pho Hoai is my siren call. The straightforward Vietnamese restaurant has two locations, one in Sheepshead Bay, the other in Bay Ridge. Both served as my comfort foods, the first close to my childhood home and the latter near my first apartment. But personal history aside, after hundreds of pre-packaged summer rolls and overpriced bowls of pho at other establishments, I’ve yet to experience anything that comes close to Pho Hoai in either locale and as such, have dragged more friends and lovers here than I can count, most often to its Bay Ridge outpost. (All due respect to the magnificent Madam Vo BBQ, whose BBQ oysters I daydream about, but its price point and demand sit squarely in the ‘treat yourself’ lane.)
On a recent Sunday, I made a pilgrimage out to the Bay Ridge location, with its bamboo-adorned counter and beaded curtains, and made some very strong decisions about what constitutes brunch. There are no bottomless mimosas, but beer is always an option, as are a variety of fruit shakes, including durian for those reckless and bold enough. I opted for a coffee with condensed milk, which sat dripping through its phin filter, thick and rich, until I was ready for it as dessert.
After much debate, and my not so gentle directives, my brunch mate and I opted to split the Banh Hoi Chao Tom, a barbecued sugar cane shrimp served with a platter of fresh romaine and mint, along with lightly pickled carrot, cucumber and tiny rice stick noodles. All are meant to be rolled together and enjoyed with a fish-sauce based dip. We also had a serving of Com Suon Nuong, a thin and tender grilled pork chop on rice, and of course summer rolls, with their perfectly chewy rice paper skins and fresh peanut sauce.
In the decades I’ve spent revisiting this space, from my days of strictly pescatarian living to a more omnivore existence, I’ve yet to be disappointed or hear a complaint from whomever I convinced that the walk or ride was worth it. The fried squid is always light and crisp, the Pho aromatic and rich, and the curry hearty. Best of all, these feasts, balanced with fresh herbs and lean meats, tend to run under the $20 mark per person, even when you’re indulging.Maybe it’s just me, but there are few things more satisfying than making a tactile connection with your meal, and every option on this menu welcomes said connection. Sauce running down a forearm is my Michelin star.
8616 4th Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets, Bay Ridge, near the 86th Street R train stop, Sun-Thurs 11am-10:30pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm
1906 Avenue U at E. 19th Street, Sheepshead Bay, near the Avenue U Q train stop, 10:30am-10:30pm daily