Vietnamese Carpaccio and Shrimp on a Sugar Cane Stick at Pho Xe Lua

I usually stick to Washington Ave for my Vietnamese fix, but while on my way to Harmony Bakery for another dose of yogurt pop (yes, I am completely addicted), I noticed Pho Xe Lua- a Viet and Thai restaurant with an enticing neon image of a train in the window. I filed it in my mental roladex that is reserved strictly for restaurants and unfortunately does not retain any information that would aid me during finals week. When I made my way back, I stuck to the Vietnamese part of the menu, specifically the more snack type options. There was one appetizer and one lunch bowl in particular that will be permanently stored in that roladex so I access whenever I need to recommend  some non-pho related Viet food in Chinatown.

I was a little hesitant to order what is basically carpaccio at a place that is not an upscale Italian restaurant. But the Bo Tai Chanh, raw fresh flank steak with lime juice ($5.50), is not to be missed. The super thin pink sliced of meat are cooked in the lime juice, ceviche style, and topped with crunchy fried shallots. The mild beef pieces absorb the lime flavor and the shallots to well to complement their soft texture. This could easily cost triple at a fancy fusion restaurant, like say Chifa.

Two other appetizer orders were fine, but could not hold a candle to our carpaccio. The Goi Du Du Tom Thit, papaya salad with shrimp & pork ($5.50) was not quite vibrant enough, though the shrimp were fresh and it was topped with those fried shallots that I like. And the griled pork balls in the Nem Nuong ($4.95), didn’t have enough flavor on their own and needed to be dipped in either the tangy nuoc cham  or the peanut sauce.

On the menu there are similar combos to top their bun (vermicelli), banh hoi (combination of vermicelli- not sure what that means, but is more expensive), and com (over rice). The Bun Chao Tom Thit Nuong, Cha Gio had everything I wanted, minced shrimp on sugar cane, b.b.q. pork & spring roll on vermicelli and it only cost $5.95.  A bigger bowl than expected was served to me. I ate the delicious spring rolls first, it was like getting an extra appetizer on your meal. The shrimp paste wrapped around sugar cane was what I was really looking forward to. When I was little I used to love when my parents would take me to Vietnamese restaurants so I could gnaw shrimp off sticks of sugar cane and then suck every last drop of sugar out of it until the stick was bone dry. I might get strange looks it I were that thorough today, but I still enjoy this treat almost as much. I mixed up the pork and the noodles with the peanut bits and pickled strips of radish, dumped more nuoc cham on the whole thing. There is a lot of variety going on in this bowl, and I love that. This is like a 3 ring circus of lunches.

While I could have tried their pho, a true testament to the goodness of any Vietnamese restaurant, I am glad I didn’t. I found 2 amazing dishes at Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai and I barely scratched the surface of their menu. The snails and frogs have been filed away on my to try list for next time.

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

  • Viet Carpaccio you would happily pay more for
  • The menu is extensive, soups, noodles, appetizers, meat, veggies, shakes, booze, and some surprises
  • The bun with sugar cane shrimp, pork, and spring rolls is  a lunch circus in the best was possible

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

  • Some of the appetizers were not as bright as I was hoping
  • Long menus overwhelm me
  • Their Singapore Slings taste as sweet as pixie sticks

Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai, 907 Race St (@ 9th) 215 627-8883



  • That carpaccio looks glorious. I want it!

  • The “raw beef” apptz (that’s how I refer to that dish amongst my friends) is always a winner. Do try the snails with the lemon grass and basil. It’s one of the best preparations ….much tastier than the chinese version in black bean sauce that you typically find at dimsum. They sprinkle the fried shallots over the snails too and it makes it extra yummy.

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    HUGE fan of their pad thai. pho, not so much.

  • @richie, glad I didnt go for the pho

    @aimee, isn’t it ridiculous how good it is for the price? Tell me people wouldn’t pay $16 at Chifa for that.

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    I haven’t been to this place in awhile. This was a regular place during my college day. I never knew the name and my friends and I called it Choo-choo. they have a train around the top part of the wall, near the ceiling.

    The raw meat thinggie, comes with a sauce that we would add hot sauce and pour it on top of the raw meat.

    They have a few other good app.. I just don’t remember them… I like the meat in grape leave thing.

    The Pho, when I was in H.S. I was told is the biggest Pho around. I was hoping to see a small bath tub for a bowl.. I was a little disappointed when the size wasn’t as big as I thought, but it was still a big size bowl. It’s not bad, but it’s not the best pho. It’s a good enough kind of pho but the size makes up for it.

    This is a good place for a large group of friends for dinner. The food are cheaper than most places in Chinatown and it’s has pretty good food (as long as you know what to order)

  • haha, yeah I agree with richie that their pho isn’t impressive. Their pad thai is pretty good, but doesn’t taste like pad thai. It’s kinda sour & tomato-y but still really delicious. (I could send you a pic if you want) My friends and I love coming here for their chicken curry though!

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