food 03.28.08


There are few dishes as mood-altering as pho.

The origin of this beef soup with rice noodles, a Vietnamese national dish, isn't precisely known, though it seems to have been developed in Nam Dinh province about a hundred years ago, with influences along the way from the French and the Chinese.

You can make pho at home, but you'll need to block out a lot of time. We'd rather hop on the D train to Grand Street and stop in at Cong Lý, 124 Hester [Chrystie] 212.343.1111, for our favorite pho in town. The place is exceedingly humble, even though the space doubled in size a few years ago to its current handful of tables. Still in its original box, but propped for display, is a clock — perhaps there is something proverbial in that, but damned if we know what it is.

In any case, it's all about the soup. Pho (pronounced "fuh") generally comes with a number of meat cuts you may not be used to eating. They're delicious, but if you prefer, the version with grilled pork is every bit as good. Customizing your pho is part of the fun: add bean sprouts, Thai basil, and a squeeze of lemon (lime is more usual, but we're happy to do it Cong Lý's way). And many people add doses of chile and hoisin sauce.

Then let the soup work its magic. The complex stock, the meat and rice noodles, the vigorous herbs and spices align perfectly. Sit by the window if you can. Whether it's cold and rainy outside or warm and muggy, pho is invariably cheering. Something about the alchemy of a good pho crosses cultures, so that even if you didn't grow up on it, it can remind you of home.


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