Bowls Of Pho Big Enough To Bathe In At Xe Lua

With the weather turning cold and rainy I’ve had soup on my mind, as I’m a lover of pretty much anything that involves broth. Actually, I can only think of one soup I’ve ever eaten that I really didn’t like.  Specifically, I was looking for a good noodle soup and that’s a hard proposition in the FiDi so I headed up to Chinatown’s Xe Lua on Mulberry (between Canal & Baxter). Daniel had done a mini-tour of Vietnamese places back in the day and several people suggested the pho at Xe Lua in the comments of that post. Was it worth the trip or should I have just eaten some generic deli udon? Find out after the jump.

I’m not entirely sure what look they were going for on the inside, but it appeared to be either the deck of  a Vietnamese boat (note the clouds on the ceiling) or eating in an open-air shack. Although they technically offer waiter service, it’s more like the perfect hybrid between a fast-food place and actual restaurant. I was seated, decided what I wanted, placed my order and within a couple of minutes a giant bowl of pho was on my table. And when I was done I paid at the front counter without having that annoying wait while I flag someone down for my check and then frantically run to the nearest subway station.

While I was waiting to place my order I noticed the wide variety of condiments at my disposal, and the fact that they just put a bunch of chopsticks and spoons on the table, making it a kleptomaniac’s paradise. Yes, I know I’ve been Midtown Lunching too long when things like this impress me.

My bowl of pho with beef eye of round ($5.50) came out almost immediately, along with a plate of fixin’s. It’s a little hard to tell from the picture, but they basically took a serving bowl and filled it with noodle soup. I added a bunch of their house hot sauce and some of the thick brown sauce in another bottle. This seemed like a really good idea until later when I started drinking the broth and my mouth was on fire. And what about that broth? The downfall of many otherwise good Asian soups is liberal use of MSG or just really bad, watery salty broth. To my taste buds, this had none of those problems and didn’t taste like it came from a packet, which sadly counts as a bonus when you’re eating on the cheap.

And of course I threw in all of the add-ins that included bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, a lime wedge and what I think was culantro. There was already cilantro and scallions in the soup, which lets me pretend I was eating a nutritious lunch with a lot of vegetables.

They weren’t really stingy with the pieces of eye of round and I was happy they weren’t gristly or composed mostly of fat. You can get all sorts of cow parts in your soup including the house version that includes tendon, tripe, brisket, eye of round and “basically everything beef,” as my waiter eloquently said. There are several other non-beef varieties too on top of the million-item menu that encompasses noodle and rice dishes and everything else you could possibly imagine. I’m not sure how well this soup would travel if you’re planning on eating it at your desk (or how kindly your co-workers would take to all the slurping required to eat it), but you can easily get in and out in 30 minutes if you eat there.

Am I going to declare this the best pho to be had in Chinatown? No. It was mighty good though, and filling, with the added fun of dumping all of the condiments and garnishes in and seeing what happens.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • It hits the trifecta of a good lunch: it’s fast, it’s cheap, and you can eat in and choose not to leave a tip if you’re a cheap bastard.
  • They don’t appear to cut corners with their pho like some other places do.

THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • Meh, I’ve had better Vietnamese.

Xe Lua, 86 Mulberry St. (btw. Canal & Bayard), (212) 577-8887



Leave a Reply

You must log in or register to post a comment.