I am not a food blogger but I am a foodie. And when it involves Vietnamese food, I’m always down. I’m Vietnamese, by the way if you haven’t already picked that up. And I wanted to highlight a new restaurant in NYC that’s changing the face of Vietnamese cuisine. This is important to me because well, culture.
Growing up, my mom tried to pack me lunch sometimes but because I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I would get made fun of because I was different, and lunchtime was no different when your food smells weird to the other kids. And kids are brutal. Anything different can easily be seen as offensive and you’re instantly shunned. So of course, I stopped letting my mom pack my lunch and started just using the school’s free lunch program instead (cuz duh, we were poor). I grew up wanting to eat American food because I wanted to fit in. Funny because when I left home for college, I instantly missed my mom’s cooking and wanted homecooked meals all over again. You learn in adulthood the things you took for granted were right there all along your entire life. I found a renewed love for Vietnamese food and now it’s my favorite type of food. If given the choice, I’d choose it every time.
What I didn’t like about Vietnamese food culture growing up though, is how underrated it is and how little people know about it. When people think of Vietnamese food, all they think about is pho and banh mis. But in reality, there is so much more than just those two staples. I have so many favorite dishes and there’s so many things you could pick from if you ever found yourself wandering the streets of Saigon. Looking back, I hate that growing up, going to Vietnamese restaurants here in New York, you were limited to certain dishes. I could never find my favorite foods on the menu like banh bot loc, banh bao, banh nam and more. I know, lol, there’s a lot of “banhs.” And they are all different too. It’s not a sandwich. Well, at least not a traditional one.
And on top of that, there’s more to Vietnamese soup than just pho. In my opinion, my people have perfected the art of the soup. There’s so damn many. I wish someone would just open up a solely Vietnamese soup shop and sell them all. Bun bo, bun rieu, banh canh, hu tieu, canh chua, canh ca, hoanh thanh, chao, ca re, I could go on! And there’s different variations of each too. Like how you can have beef pho or chicken pho. Each Vietnamese soup can be catered to your liking. There are endless possibilities of combinations of soup.
But again like pho, there’s more to Vietnamese food than just soup as well. We have so many different rice dishes, noodles, rolls, desserts and more. The problem with America is the same as the Chinese takeout problem. The Vietnamese food exhibited here is simply a tip of the iceberg. And the other problem is it’s usually viewed as “cheap” cuisine because in the past, it’s always been that way. You walk in, you get a quick easy bowl of pho for $6-7. What I never understood is why when Vietnamese food takes a lot of prep and time to make. I remember my mom would spend a whole day making banh tet for New Years. I love banh bot loc but I also hated making them because they were so time consuming to make but so fast to eat that I could never keep up with production enough to keep me satisifed. There are a lot of complicated ingredients and prep required for each dish too. Granted there are a lot of ‘easy’ dishes to make but the art of Vietnamese cuisine is truly undervalued.
This is where Madame Vo and many other new eateries popping up recently in NYC, as well as many other areas of the world come in, as we live in this foodie renaissance. I learned about Madame Vo from the internet a few years ago when it first opened and of course, being a true judgemental AF Asian, I had to go check it for myself. My first time I was definitely impressed. The prices are definitely on the higher of Viet cuisine, but upon tasting its freshness and quality as well as the art of its presentation, you see why. Their pho broth is just like my mom’s. Made fresh and concentrated, not watered down like Chinatown cheap restaurants where you could tell they added water to the remaining pot as their stock ran low instead of making a fresh new pot of broth. They give you more than enough noodles so you don’t leave feeling like there should’ve been more. They also don’t skimp on meat in your bowl either. Their Madame platter is my favorite and best if you go with a big group to help you finish, as it is a lot of food. It’s a nice appetizer platter to get a taste of a little bit of everything they have to offer. I ended up coming back a few more times with more friends even though I don’t usually frequent this neighborhood often. And now even my siblings frequent this spot regularly. They make great bun bo as well as their pho. And their suon kho makes me nostalgic for my mom’s home cooking all the time. They do have a small selection on their menu compared to Chinatown restaurants but it should be noted that they take their time preparing and making sure those dishes are foodie worthy. I do hope they expand into offering some lesser known dishes soon too, like the rarer ones you can’t find in regular restaurants - like of course, my favorite - banh bot loc.
The true test though, is when we took our parents here. Asian parents are the hardest to please, as they like to disapprove of absolutely everything. My parents said nothing to criticize the food when we took them, but nothing directly praising it either, as they are very proud people. But the silent approval came weeks later when my parents asked me for the address because they wanted to take their own friends there, hahaha!
And this winter, Madame Vo has expanded with a new restaurant nearby! Madame Vo BBQ has opened up in the neighborhood and my family stopped by before the New Year to try it out before the public finds out about it and it becomes the next hot new spot. We tried the Bo 7 Mon and the tomahawk steak and man, they definitely didn’t miss the mark. Everything was absolutely delicious and cooked fresh right in front of us with mouthwatering presentations. Our waiter was amazing. He was sweet and absolutely friendly and knew his stuff.
The owner of Madame Vo and Madame Vo BBQ even stopped by to welcome us. The restaurants looks beautiful, modern and chic. I can’t wait to go back and try the catfish later this year when I have a moment as dining hours are limited to 5:30-11pm daily currently.
There are already a few other great Vietnamese restaurants that have popped up recently as well as more on the way. Hanoi House is also another great restaurant I recently tried last fall that houses Northern Vietnamese style cuisine. Everything there was absolutely amazing too and I believe their chef partners with Madame Vo from time to time for tasting events. I have yet to be able to attend these events due to my own schedule’s availability but one of these days, I have to definitely make it out there.
I do have to note that these new Vietnamese restaurants are on the pricier side compared to traditional Chinatown restaurants but in my opinion, worth the extra penny. My friends and I still go to Chinatown for a quick bite every now and then, but when given the choice, we do go out of our way for better quality Viet food and don’t mind paying for it. And just because the name doesn’t have a number in it, doesn’t mean it’s not good. These new restaurants are stepping up and changing the game. Those holes in the wall are no longer cutting it.
What I love about Madame Vo is how they are making Vietnamese food more known and increasing its popularity to the world, but maintaining its authentic flavors and richness. Nothing is watered down to please the masses. It maintains its authenticity to show to the world how delicious it is can be, without needing to be a french fry and chicken nugget version to fit in. They take their time prepping and cooking, not compromising flavor for speed and quick bites. There is nothing “quick” about these spots. You come to take your time, taste every flavor and savor it. And leave wanting more. I can’t wait to see what Vietnamese dining out will look like in the next few years as it evolves further.
Madame Vo is located at
212 E 10th Street New York, NY 10003
Madame Vo BBQ is located at:
104 2nd Avenue New York, NY 10003