In this, the coldest month of the year, folks are wandering around in layers of clothing more suitable for tropical heat than 35ºF weather, sniffling, snuffling and seeking a hot meal that soothes their bellies and warms their souls. Enter pho … the ultimate Vietnamese comfort food.
Thanks to a huge influx of immigrants in the 70s, New Orleans is a fantastic place to find authentic Vietnamese food in the southern United States. Also, over the past two years, the Crescent City has seen an explosion of new Vietnamese restaurants opening up on the East Bank after the cuisine became sought after by travelers who honed in on what the locals were enjoying on a daily basis.
From rare strips of filet mignon to chicken or oxtail, pho comes in all kinds of flavors and sizes, but that rich, earthy broth is a reassuring constant. In addition, a huge bowl of pho will fill you up and leave you feeling cozy for as little as $6 and as much as $12. It’s always affordable and definitely worth every penny.
By far the most inexpensive, Pho Cam Ly on Magazine Street has developed quite a reputation for mouth-watering, traditional Vietnamese cuisine in the nine months since it opened. Part of that might be due to their fun food challenge: consuming a mammoth bowl of pho with two pounds of meat and two pounds of noodles in less than an hour. Very few people have attained this monumental victory, but if you’re not up to the task, just order a bowl of their Pho Tai Chin—beef noodle soup with eye of round and brisket—and we promise you’ll be more than sated for only $6.50.
What was once a convenience store that served Chinese takeout at Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenue has completely transformed into Namese, a cozy restaurant run by the Donas family. Munch on a complimentary prawn cracker and peruse a menu filled with both new and classic Vietnamese dishes, from Izzy’s Shrimp Balls to Five Spice Pork Belly Banh Mi. One of the standout features of Namese is their Filet Mignon Pho, in which thin slices of raw beef are served with a spicy “nuoc cham,” or red pepper sauce. In this über-original version, you cook the filet yourself by suspending each thin slice in the ultra-hot beef broth and then devouring it at your preferred level of doneness. Though this treat is simply spectacular and a whole lot of fun to eat, it will only set you back about $12.
Located in the Riverbend on South Carrollton Avenue, Jazmine Cafe has lately been wowing diners by featuring stellar dishes like spring rolls with fresh salmon and sliced mango or a summer roll salad bowl, but don’t “pho-get” they’re a good source for pho! They offer a rich pho tai with rice noodles, sliced beef and cilantro for only $7.95. Spring rolls and pho? No problem!
Try not to be daunted by the gigantic menu at Viet Orleans Bistro situated in the CBD on Baronne Street. They’re mixing it up in a good way by offering both Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine, with sushi, nigiri, miso and squid salad appearing on the same menu as banh mi, pho and vermicelli bowls. But it’s still optimal to score a pho dac biet with rare eye of round, brisket and meatballs for only $10.99. If you’re really hungry, add some extra broth, noodles or meatballs for only $1.99 more.
Although there are many other Vietnamese restaurant in the Greater New Orleans Area, a longtime favorite that always seems to be bustling is Pho Tau Bay. Located on the West Bank in what appears to be a partially abandoned strip mall, Pho Tau Bay is a local eatery that has been the go-to spot for diners for the past 32 years. They offer a large menu of traditional Vietnamese dishes, including 15 varieties of soup, none priced over $7.50 … and that’s for a large bowl! On many occasions I have inhaled their classic “P1” or Pho Tai with medium-rare beef and rice noodles along with an order of cha gio, their perfect fried egg rolls, but my all-time favorite (which is technically not pho) is their Won Ton Soup, the chef’s specialty, featuring a rich, heady broth, shrimp and pork wontons, rice noodles and grilled pork … it’s freaking pho-nomenal!