In a city with so many mediocre Vietnamese restaurants, Pho Bang on Mott St. seems to be a reliable standout. The Pho's are all quite dependable and they provide the necessary fresh chilis, bean sprouts, sauces, and correctly cut limes to find your perfect balance of flavor.
I've been branching out away from the Phos lately and have found some gems (like the loin of beef with coconut milk) and some pitfalls like the Uncle Ben's wannabe clay pot rice dishes. The other night when I went with a couple of friends we branched further away from the Pho centric menu.
As an appetizer the grillled pork over shrimp chips will win you over instantly. Tender, sweet pieces of grilled pork lay atop fried pufffy shrimp chips with squares of rice dough separating the duo. It's all topped with fried garlic slices and chopped peanuts. Just place a mint leaf on top of the pork and wrap the whole deal with a lettuce leaf and dip it in the sweet sauce they provide you with.
The mussels in coconut milk made for a nice main course but their were too many of them for one person to order and not enough other things on the platter to warrant ordering them alone. They were served in a tangy sauce with a kick and topped with freshly torn basil leaves. A little finger bowl of a lemony peppered liquid added a whole other dimension of flavor.
Hanoi style pork from the Bun section of the menu paired grilled pork with a ground pork patty and a sweet sauce. The pork, which can often be dried out was nice and moist and even had rich and deep flavor.
A clay casserole of Caramel Salmon was slightly overcooked but avoided the trap of overwhelming sweetness that this dish often suffers from. It had a good peppery bite to take the edge off of the sugar in the dish.