Where: 119 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY 10009
Crowd: Young, pho-slurping friends
Vibe: Cozy setting for elevated Vietnamese food
Standout dish: Oxtail pho with bone marrow
Hanoi House isn’t on the busy stretch of St. Mark’s Place (the one packed with NYU students looking for cheap eats) but a bit further out on the East Village-Alphabet City border. Thanks to older businesses like Macaron Parlour and Please Don’t Tell, as well as newer ones such as Squish Marshmallows, the block has become a true happy hour-through-dessert destination. Although less convenient to get to via subway, there’s a steamy bowl of oxtail pho with my name on it, so the walk through the blustery cold doesn’t feel so bad.
I arrive just on time for my reservation. I’m dining with social media-turned-IRL friends @food.drunk and @chubbychinesegirleats, so there’s no doubt we’ll be over-ordering tonight. Our menu powwow must look really intense because owner Sara Leveen, who opened the cozy Vietnamese restaurant with Ben Lowell after a month-long trip in the country’s northern region, swings by to see if we need recommendations. The menu is small in comparison to the booklets you get at most old-school Vietnamese restaurants, but even so we have a hard time narrowing things down!
Not long after we place our order, the appetizers arrive — golden crab and pork spring rolls that are fried to crispy perfection and accompanied by nuoc cham (fish sauce), followed by the uni “banh mi.” It sounded impressive on paper and makes for a great Instagram (who doesn’t drool over sea urchin?), but the bite-sized app is overshadowed by flavor-packed items like the goi du du, a papaya and pig ear salad that’s crispy, tangy and refreshing all at once.
We’re tucked away in a cozy back room that’s perfect for an easy-going girls night out — or in the case of the couple right across from us, a date that’s gotten a little too — ahem — intimate. The front room, with a mix of rustic wood furniture, hanging plants and sleek white subway tiles, has a buzzier vibe and I can totally see myself coming back to sit at the bar overlooking the open kitchen.
The first of our entrees hit the table and it’s the one we’ve all been craving: pho bac. True to tradition, the Hanoi-style beef noodle soup is simmered for 16 hours, but chef John Nguyen elevates the classic dish with heritage Black Angus filet mignon and brisket, plus optional additions of oxtail or bone marrow. We go with the latter and don’t regret it — the bone marrow melts straight into the broth, adding an extra layer of richness to an already satisfying bowl.
To combat the cold, we also order the congee, which gets just the right level of brininess from roasted Manila clams and texture from scallions, peanuts, crispy garlic and a fried cruller. As soon as she has her first spoonful, Cindy (aka @chubbychinesegirleats) says it transports her straight back to Vietnam — a very good sign.
We’re stuffed, but our server’s description of the signature dessert sounds too good to pass up — it’s essentially a Vietnamese sundae, featuring cinnamon ice cream topped with tropical fruit and tapioca. The ice cream itself is wonderfully creamy, but the overall combination feels lacklustre compared to the rest of our meal. We all agree that the savory dishes are the stars at Hanoi House – and we already have made plans to return to this hidden gem soon.
Disclaimer: VIVA was a guest of Hanoi House, however opinions and comments made by the writer remain unbiased and independent.
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