Chicken House’s Vietnamese Food is Just Ok… But At Least Their Bread is From Paris Bakery!
I was beyond excited when Chicken House (the dirty fried chicken joint on 36th btw. 7+8th) reopened post renovation with a whole new Vietnamese section of their menu. The ownership, which is Vietnamese (natch), hasn’t changed… they just decided to take advantage of our complete lack of decent Vietnamese options in Midtown by adding pho, bun, and banh mi to their menu of fried everything. I finally made it over there a few days ago to sample the menu… and while I wish I could say everything was amazing (it most certainly wasn’t) there was some worthwhile goodness.
Let’s just get the bad out of the way. I usually try to find the good in everything, but there is nothing good to really say about their beef pho ($7). It had a mildly pho’ish scent, but tasted like nothing. Maybe a tad bit of anise, and no cilantro (!?), the broth just tasted like your standard chicken broth. The beef was tough, the noodles were meh. Very disappointing. I will fully admit I am no pho expert (I usually go for the bun at Vietnamese restaurants) but even I can tell that this bowl of soup will not have any big fans.
The bun was slightly better. You can get it topped with grilled pork, pork chops, chicken or beef. We opted for the pork chops ($6.50), which were very tasty. Sweet and slightly charred, they were tender and nice. The meat to bone ratio could have been slightly better, but overall it was fine. The nuac chom was a little too sweet and syrupy, but was passable. It doesn’t come with spring rolls though, which is a big negative in my book. They offer them as a side dish for $5, but that would put the lunch over $10. Overall, it’s an ok version of bun, that I could see myself ordering again… but only because there are no other Vietnamese options in the area.
Out of the all the Vietnamese options, the banh mi are easily the best choice.
Pork roll and pate is a pretty standard banh mi ($5), but their version also throws in this Vietnamese “salami” which they import from California. With all its weird bits of cartilege, it’s the most interesting part of the sandwich and a must try for any offal fans.
The big negative is they don’t put nearly enough of the pate on the sandwich. I found just a few spotty bits (they didn’t really spread it very well), although I think they get their pate frozen from California as well- so maybe that was just a one time issue. Overall the ratio of meat to bread could be a lot better, and they put salt and pepper on the sandwich- which I didn’t like at all. But for $5 it’s a good deal for a Midtown sandwich. If you’re expecting Chinatown or Sunset Park, you’ll be disappointed. But at least they use the proper bread (which is more than I can say for Boi Sandwich on 3rd Ave.) The guy told me they get their bread from Paris Bakery, and it’s definitely one of the high points of the sandwich.
We also tried the grilled pork, which might have been a little better overall. The meat is practically identical to the pork chops that we got in the bun (just without the bones), and the fact that it is a little thicker means it stands up a bit better to the bread.
The pickled veggies are fine and you can’t go wrong with sliced jalapenos… but once again, no cilantro!? They don’t ask you if you want your sandwich spicy, so if you want hot sauce you should ask for it specifically (or just put it on yourself… there are sriracha bottles everywhere.) Once again, it’s not an amazing banh mi (and I prefer the ground up little chunks of red pork you get at places like Saigon or Baoguette), but for Midtown it’s a good sandwich and completely worth the $6.
I couldn’t resist ordering one piece of fried chicken, you know… for research. My one big problem with Chicken House is that they don’t season their fried stuff AT ALL, which is possibly the biggest fried chicken crime there is. There are salt shakers on the counter, and a squirt of their tangy hot sauce completely solves the problem… but I was curious if maybe they decided to change things up since the renovations.
Nope. Not a bit of salt detected whatsoever. It’s sad too, because the chicken is so perfectly crunchy and with a little bit of salt and pepper could be outstanding. Oh well. I still ate the whole thing (after adding some hot sauce of course.)
So, Chicken House isn’t as “dirty” or “adventurous” as it once was… and the counter is now against the wall, so even if you do get one of the 8 seats, it’s not as comfortable. But I still love Chicken House. Their food is cheap, it’s made fresh, and their banh mi and bun are good enough for Midtown… at least until Baoguette opens in Grand Central.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- If you’re looking for Banh Mi (or any Vietnamese food for that matter) in Midtown West, this is pretty much all you’ve got.
- Their bread is from Paris Bakery in Chinatown!
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The pho is terrible. Nothing redeeming about it.
- The pork chops are fine, but there is something about the bun (and specifically the nuac chom) that isn’t quite right
- The banh mi are fine, but there isn’t enough of filling for the amount of bread
- I’d rather hop on the train and go to Chinatown
- Ironically, they put salt and pepper on the banh mi (no likey) but none in the pho or on the fried chicken! (Where it would actually be welcomed.)
Chicken House, 270 W. 36th St. (btw. 7+8th), 212-695-3493