Tag Archives: Pho

Vietnamese Pho Sure

It’s the middle of midterms and everybody’s procrastination and exhaustion is catching up with them. So the only thing that can really make you happy this time of year is a good meal. All this cold weather and snow has had me craving pho, so I decided to venture not too far out to Saiguette on 106th and Columbus. I really love Vietnamese food, but there are so few of these restaurants in the New York area. I was first introduced to Vietnamese food many years ago while visiting my cousins in Washington D.C., where there is an abundance of restaurants. Saiguette is not the best Vietnamese food, but with the limited options around Columbia, it suffices.

Vietnamese cuisine is popular for its use of fresh ingredients and low amount of oil, which also makes it considered one of the healthier cuisines around the world. The most common flavors are lemongrass, ginger, mint, lime, and chili. Each dish has either a variety of these flavors or a strong feature of one. Some interesting philosophy behind Vietnamese food is that, traditionally, each dish incorporated five fundamental tastes: sour, spicy, salty, bitter, and sweet, to correspond to the five organs: large and small intestines, gall and urinary bladders, and stomach. Clearly, there is a deeper meaning behind the food and its taste, which makes eating it more of an experience.

Saiguette is a really small restaurant better for take out, than eating in. So the good thing about it is that everything comes very well packaged. Their pho is simple, but good. I would request more toppings be included: more lime, basil and sprouts, because these ingredients are what freshen the dish up. The only complaint I have about their pho is the oiliness of the broth, which leaves you feeling heavy rather than cleansed after eating it.




I also ordered the summer rolls, which lacked flavor. They were filled with a lot of rice noodles, but not too much shrimp or mint, which is where the flavor comes from. However, the peanut sauce that it comes with makes up for this.



When there is a craving for pho, nothing can quite replace it. But, if pho is not a priority, the best things to order at Saiguette are those that include grilled meat of some sort, all of which are marinated with a mouth-watering blend of lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, ginger, scallion, chili, and lime. On the bright side, their grilled chicken thigh and banh mi are delicious. The grilled, boneless chicken thigh entrée is a very generous portion and well priced. It has a nice sweet, barbequed flavor to it. There is a sweet, chili sauce that comes on the side, with some cut up vegetables and rice. Overall, the dish is satisfying and worth ordering. The banh mi sandwiches are really good at Saiguette. I did not order one when I went this time, but I have had it before and highly recommend it. The bread is light and crunchy, with a deliciously well-flavored grilled meet inside in addition to vegetables and a spicy mayo spread. A friend of mine ordered the chicken satay, which was very similar to the grilled chicken thigh, but with peanuts, and she enjoyed her meal.image

imageNote for vegetarians, Saiguette does not offer the most variety in veggie options, so I would steer clear. My friend who is a vegetarian came with me and ended up ordering a noodle dish that was very plain, because the sauce could not be put on since it contained meat. However, I have looked on the menu since my meal at Saiguette, and they have a vegetable section, but I am not sure how it tastes. So there may be choices, and we happened to order the wrong thing.



I do not want to give Saiguette such a bad rep, because it is definitely an easy and quick place for take-out and the food really is not that bad. If you know what you like, then that is what is best to order. Do not go expecting a delicious, traditional Vietnamese meal and you will not be disappointed. I seem to always build up Vietnamese meals in my mind, because I so rarely get them. Hopefully, this kind of cuisine will become more popular in the area and there will be more options in the future!






$13 of Happy: The Village, Vietnam and India

Last week we dealt with the infamous ramen noodle.  This time, my four buddies and I head into the world of Pho and vermicelli, the rice-based cousin of wheaty ramen.  We do so at Saigon Shack, a Vietnamese sandwich and noodle shop at 114 Macdougal Street, a few short blocks away from Washington Square Park.

From the outside, it’s somewhat difficult to see the restaurant itself, as there is always a crowd waiting for seats and blocking the glass storefront. If you decide to be brave and shove your way through this crowd, though, you’ll see an equally packed, unpretentious interior made of brick and wood.  The crowd was somewhat deceptive, though; we had to wait only 20 minutes for our 5 spots at a common table.  Still, though, the wait wasn’t fun, and it would have been much worse if it had not been for Thelewala, an Indian Street food restaurant that we found right next door.

This place gets top marks for saving us from our pre-meal starvation without forcing any of us over our $13 cap.  We got a Thelewala Chicken roll, (Chicken, fried eggs, red onions, house blend spices and lime wrapped up in a warm, soft roti) and a Chicken Malai roll (the same, with lime and house spices) for $5.50 each to split between the five of us. $2.10 per person, we thought, was well worth it.  Thelewala’s approach is similar to that of other Indian street food vendors; neither of these rolls were unprecedented creations, but their execution made them stand out against their peers.  They were packed with complex flavor, they were hot and substantial, and most importantly, because this is not the case with most other rolls, they were moist and tender.  The rolls were relatively small, making them not ideal for five-way sharing, but they were good enough to makes us all happy with what little we got.

My only regret is that we had to eat them so quickly… As we were eating these outside Saigon Shack, our table was called after a reasonable 20 minutes (only 5 minutes longer than we were told it would take.)  Bringing outside food into the restaurant is taboo, so we had to scarf our rolls down.  Somewhat of a waste.  Still worth it.

After being seated at the common table, we got settled in quickly with menus and water.  We were so happy with out first 5-way appetizer split that we decided to do it again in Saigon.  We got Grilled Pork Chop Summer rolls: $5 for 4 rolls of crisp greens wrapped up with noodles and a generous portion of meat by a wide, translucent rice noodle.  (My friend Jen took one for the team and selflessly went without a summer roll; I’d like to take this chance to memorialize her noble action.  Thank you Jen Chan.  You, of course, missed out tremendously.)    These, again, were delicious.  Crunchy and chewy, warm and cool, they were just what we needed to clean away the lingering spice leftover from the Thelewala rolls.

Alex and Sarah are excited by summer rolls

Finally, it was time for the main course.  All four of my friends got the $8 S.S. Spicy Special Noodle, a spicy compromise for the indecisive meat lover: rather than just one type of meat, it featured smaller portions of beef, roast pork, and vietnamese ham, all of which were very fatty and tender, stewed to perfection.  Spiced with what I’m guessing was Sriracha, it was a little too  much for my delicate palate; I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to spiciness.  For the masochists, though, Saigon Shack provided us with plenty of extra chili peppers and Sriracha for an optional heat boost. The noodles themselves I thought were a tad over cooked. This may have been because I was only allowed to eat the scraps in the bowl fifteen minutes after it was first served, though, so I won’t be too harsh on this point.  All four of my buddies, after all, gave an enthusiastic two thumbs up to their pho, the classic, thin Vietnamese rice noodle that they had all been homesick for. (There aren’t many Vietnamese restaurants around Morningside Heights)

I, for the sake of diversity, got Roast Pork over Vermicelli for $8, with an extra egg for another $1.50. The dish was simple, but high quality: roasted meat over dry rice noodles, covered with a layer of chopped lettuce, served with a pungent orange colored sauce on the side.   The food was very accessible.  Further, the portions, given the price, were fantastic.   I actually ran out of noodles before I ran out of meat, which I’m pretty sure has never happened to me ever.  10 points to Saigon Shack for generosity with their protein.

Roast Pork over Vermicelli! (The noodles are hidden by the lettuce)

I have only two regrets.  First, I’m not sure the egg was worth it.  It was a tasty egg, for sure, and it looked nice on the dish, but it was too small to really affect my experience of the dish as a whole.  Second, our pork summer rolls were essentially a more expensive version of my dinner wrapped up in rice noodle, making my order somewhat redundant.  Next time I’m back, which I’m sure will be fairly soon, I’m planning on either trying out another appetizer or ordering the roast pork vermicelli, sans egg, as an appetizer.

In spite of our imperfect ordering, we got out of a double-restaurant dinner at Saigon Shack and Thelewala for $10.35 each, (or in my case, $12.85, with the extra egg.) That’s a lot better than a meal swipe.



perfect Pho the cold season

Onella pushes away the winter blues!

At Saigon Shack  (114th MacDougal st) the hearty bowls of noodles, slices of beef and beef balls swimming in a delicious steamy beef broth offers the perfect warmth from the winter outside. SS serves the pho dishes with bean sprouts, lime, lemon and basil leaves allowing a certain customization of your soup.


Saigon Shack Special Pho (foreground) and SS Spicy Pho (background)