One of our first blog posts here was about Boi, a stylish and estimable Vietnamese restaurant on the East Side near the United Nations. Boi was the restaurant a Vietnamese diplomat recommended as the most authentic of his cuisine. Our experience there was quite delightful, but I still couldn’t help doubting that this was representative of the cuisine eaten in most Vietnamese homes. The initial conversation on the topic was with a group of Vietnamese diplomats, and there had been some mention of possibilities in Chinatown. So, Murray followed up, and was told that Nam Son in Chinatown serves very authentic Vietnamese food as well. A little over a week ago, we decided we’d waited long enough; a trip to Chinatown was overdue.
The interior of Nam Son is on the other end of the spectrum from Boi. Nam Son feels a bit like a cafeteria, waiters bustling to and from the kitchen, a cart filled with dirty dishes standing in the middle of the entrance to the dining area, and workers pushing a garbage can on a handtruck past the tables as they moved it outside. And this was a Saturday evening! Still, we were encouraged by the clientele (mostly Asian, and mostly not speaking English), and thought we might be in for a treat.
The menu is extensive – some 150 dishes to choose from. So, we elicited some help from our waiter, and this is what we decided on:
- Cha Gio, Vietnamese spring roll
- Muc Chien Don, crispy squid
- Bo Luc Lac, marinated beef cubes with salad and rice
- Ga Xao Xa Ot, sautéed chicken lemongrass with green pepper, onions and chili sauce
- Rau Muong Xao Toi, sautéed water spinach with garlic sauce
I also had a Tiger beer, one of three Vietnamese beers on the menu, the others being Beer 33 and Beer Saigon – or you can go for the California wine.
The food was all very good (and the squid was particularly tender and tasty). We ate everything, but I still felt dissatisfied. We live in northern New Jersey – Englewood, to be precise – which is fortunate to be home to a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon R (details below). We think it serves just about the best food we’ve ever had of any kind! The owner and chef, Khan “K.T.” Tran, was taught to cook by her mother, who reportedly once upon a time catered affairs for the Republic of (i.e., South) Vietnam.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Saigon R’s recipes have been altered slightly to appeal to the American palate, but I’m willing to bet the food is pretty authentic, just out of the usual stomping grounds of Vietnamese diplomats … plus, there’s that slight political difference ... and, after all, Murray did ask about the most authentic Vietnamese in New York City.
Back to Nam Son: We had dessert as well – a dish of red bean ice cream, a dish of lychee ice cream (both delicious, but maybe not originally from Vietnam), and something called “sweet basil seed” – which ended up being an iced, sugary drink with some kind of seeds (I guess basil). It was worth a try, but we did not finish it.
Service was very spotty. We had to remind our waiter continually to pay attention to us, and I see on various food sites around the internet, this seems a common complaint. Still, the meal was inexpensive – only $72 for three of us, including tip – so, if you’re in Chinatown and want to try something different, Nam Son might be worth checking out.
All major credit cards are accepted.
Where and When
245 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002
Monday through Thursday, and Sunday
10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Friday and Saturday
10:30 am – 10:30 pm
58 West Palisade Avenue
Englewood, NJ 07631
Tuesday through Saturday
11:30 am - 9:30 pm
4:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Note: Reservations recommended at Saigon R; there are only 23 seats in this restaurant (yes, that’s seats, not tables) and some evenings they go fast!