There are a few things in the world of NYC Food journalism that drive us batty because they receive way too much adoring coverage: top chef stalkage, anything involving Shake Shack (aka Barf Shack), and the latest mania involving Vietnamese Banh-Mi sandwiches. The other day, we decided to rebel. We changed the channel from Bravo. We got a juicy, supremely better burger at Corner Bistro. And, we decided to stop by a restaurant that’s been quietly dishing up top notch Vietnamese way before the sandwich craze hit town.
Bao Noodles’ strength is that it doesn’t need crazed commenters on food sites to validate how tasty it is. It’s a cozy neighborhood spot in the not too cozy neighborhood of Gramercy. Wooden booths line one side of the narrow room, and a crowd of area residents park themselves at the bar on the other side. While the décor evokes French colonial influence (if only smoking was still allowed in restaurants), the menu promises a trip through Vietnam’s Mekong River Valley, Hanoi, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hue.
The restaurant offers a cocktails brimming with Southeast Asian inspiration. The Danang Delight was our favorite, it offers a ginger laced slap in the face (and you all know how we love being slapped by our drinks). The Saketinis were a refreshing break from the heat, especially if you like cucumber and rosemary. If you’re going to dig into some noodles, ask the staff about sake pairing. We are not so up on the different types of the sauce, but they helpfully suggested pours (curated by their, sake sommelier, co-owner Chris Johnson) that went perfectly with the dishes. Yes ladies and gentlemen, they offer a selection of customizable Banh Mi, but that carefully selected sake goes much better with their noodles or quail.
If there were any justice in the food writing world, folks would turn their sites from cable show chefs and talk a little bit more about Bao’s soft shell crabs. Alas, people are obsessed with reality show drama (not to mention those horrible hamburgers at the shack!). Banh Mi may be the topic of the day, but when everyone gets tired of the sandwich mania and moves on, they’ll head here for dinner.
Bao is located at 391 2nd Avenue Between 22nd and 23rd. And kids, don’t worry too much about your wallet. There are plenty of cheap options at this spot. An appetizer, noodle dish, and a cocktail will run you around $25.