It was only on my second visit here that I noticed the place had a second name. As well as its better known "Pho 18 Ave" which adorns the menus and business listings, the awning also declares this "18 Ave Soup Corp." Thankfully, this second visit had come about because the first visit was so good. Given the state of Vietnamese restaurants in New York City, I wanted to doubt myself and return for what would certainly be a lackluster meal.
Before this post, clicking on the Vietnam tab on this website would show results of which July 2012 was the most recent. I rarely write about Vietnamese restaurants here, not because I do not try all the new ones, but because the meals eaten around town do not deserve to be written about. I have tried them all, including more modern takes on the food that got a lot of buzz.
And all along is the pho shop we all wanted that cannot be described close to lackluster, it just happens to live in Bensonhurst, for better or for worse. Inside the space nothing stands out or is memorable except for the food, the oversized booths and walls are just background.
The crisp cha gio ($4.25, below) are served with a heaping side of fresh lettuce and a tiny portion of other herbs, close to what you should find in all Vietnamese restaurants. On both occasions we ordered this, the rolls were perfectly fried up and full of minced pork.
It makes sense that a soup corporation should make such a good bowl. The pho xe lua ($7.95, below) is listed first, is more expensive than others, more massive than others, and absolutely the nicest bowl north of Atlantic City. If you do not require any spice, the broth is so good as is, and does not need any additions. It is the kind of warmth your body craves on a chilly day, and the six different cuts of beef within make for quite a varied meal.
Good Vietnamese is hard to describe in comparison with bad Vietnamese, but half growing up in Northern California, I was given the treat of the former for many years. There is just a freshness to every bite and ingredient, and that is mostly true of the food here. The bun thit nuong ($6.75, below) is one of my favorite dishes, and did not leave me unsatisfied. The pork chop (more on this later) is well marinated and just a little tough. Dump the fish sauce that comes with the order right on it, and mix all the greens and sauce underneath the rice vermicelli noodles.
On a second visit, we were surprised that the com bo kho ($6.75, below) was served as a stew, as it is listed under rice dishes. No matter as again the broth is top notch and all the beef parts within are tender to the point of melting. Rice does indeed come with the bowl, but seems an afterthought of both the chef and eventually for the diner in love with their soup and all its beefy, salty, bony goodness.
In the appetizer section is suon nuong ($2.95, below), which is called out as one pork chop. As shown though, we were given two very large pieces, making this an absolute steal. The marinades here are quite good, but as mentioned, the meat is just a bit tough and gristly.
Rounding out the meals was the banh mi thit nuong ($5.25, below), which came on a big pillowy baguette that was toasted so well it seemed like art. The tomato wedges seemed odd, and the pork was more of the same, but the sandwich is satisfying and very large for the price.
It seems the bar for Vietnamese has been raised a bit for New York City. We can only hope for a similar renaissance like we are seeing for Thai food around town, as we continue to starve for most cuisines of Southeast Asia.