For cabrales, the coast-to-coast quest for America’s best bun bo hue is over. This spicy, beefy noodle soup, a more rustic cousin to pho, packs authentic punch at Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant that opened in October. “Most versions I’ve had here needed to be dialed up a notch, but not Mekong’s,” says cabrales, who faults only a paucity of tendon, tripe, and other meaty oddments.
Banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) is another standout; brownie praises its perfect texture and loves the woodsy shiitake note in the vegetable version. Also recommended: banh hoi bo lui (grilled rolled beef), bo nurong lui (grilled marinated slices of beef wrapped around onion), and bun dac biet (grilled pork, shrimp and chicken with spring rolls and noodles). Honey-drizzled fried bananas are a nice way to finish.
Another local bright spot for lovers of Southeast Asian chow is the newish Somerset outpost of Chao Phaya, a Thai place in Somerville. They serve well-prepared, robustly spiced dishes made from fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Recommended: green papaya salad, Penang curry with beef, crispy shrimp in tamarind sauce, and a special of wild boar with coconut milk and peppercorns. seal singles out Chao Phaya fried rice (with shrimp, chicken, calamari, egg, pineapple, cashews, and more), especially for its use of fresh pineapple instead of canned–“a corner that almost every other place cuts,” he observes.
Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant [Middlesex County]
351 George St., between Bayard and Paterson, New Brunswick, NJ