This tiny little 5 or 6 table restaurant is definitely the best of Manhattan Chinatown's Vietnamese joints. The old proprietor is one of the nicest men you will ever meet, and all the food is incredibly fresh and good. The menu is of near-perfect size, with many options but not overly daunting. The soups here are magnificent, with all the pho being well above average and spicy when they are supposed to be. Nothing is sweetened up, and never will be. The hu tieu is also excellent. For a culinary test of yourself, try the chao long even if every server in the place tries to dissuade you!
The goi cuon ($4 for 2, below), like anywhere, are pretty standard and depend a bit on the time of day. Come at closing and you can tell they have had fresher times. Lunch is always perfect for them.
The meats are deliciously seasoned here, whether beef or pork is the choice. Everything is marinated to perfection and then grilled precisely to char the edges and give them a delightful crunch. One of the most expensive dishes ($10, below) is a plate of vermicelli noodles thinner than usual and described as a crepe bed for the beef. That might be ambitious, but it still feels good to devour the thinly sliced cuts of beef.
It is safe in most restaurants, but the bun here is done masterfully. My bun thit nuong ($5, below) was just the right proportions of everything even before I drowned it in nuoc mam. This dish always makes me feel very healthy after eating with all the fresh leaves, carrots, daikon, and cold vermicelli noodles. The bowl is big and full, but never induces food coma.
An added bonus is that they will allow you to carry your own beer in, as they serve no alcohol. On warm days, Cong Ly's freshly made lemonade or lemon soda ($2 each) are perfect. Don't drink too much, as a trip to the bathroom here requires a bit of a trudge through the always flooded kitchen. It's all experience though.