Sao Mai is our weeknight go-to for Vietnamese in the East Village, and you should make it yours too. It's also Seth Rogen's. Seriously.
If you go to Sao Mai, you should be getting pho - going to Sao Mai and not getting pho is like going to a nude beach in slacks. But the rest of the menu is worth some consideration as well, especially the sườn nướng (grilled pork chop over rice). This place is a good place to stop into for a casual meal, but they are great for delivery as well.
photo credit: Ryan Muir
Summer Rolls/Spring Rolls
All types of rolls here are good. The summer variety are tightly rolled in rice paper, and you can get them with tofu, shrimp, or pork. The tofu is actually our favorite. The spring rolls are standard fried goodness with dipping sauce.
Their salt and pepper fried calamari is so good. The sweet chili sauce it comes in is crazy. Pro tip: Only order this if you eat in the restaurant, as it doesn’t travel well.
Not as spicy as the papaya salads you find in Thai restaurants, but possibly even more flavorful since you can actually feel your tongue. It usually comes with shrimp, but check and see if soft shell crab in is in season, because if it is, you want that.
Beef Watercress Salad
Or Goi Bo, if you’re using the Vietnamese terminology. This salad is far and away one of our favorite dishes to order here. Their beef is cooked incredibly well and has tons of Vietnamese spice and herb flavor. So good.
Also known as Com Dia on the menu. So simple, and yet so good. It’s all about the sauce. A heaping stack of rice, which, at first glance, may appear disproportioned to the amount of vegetables, beef, chicken, tofu, or whatever else you wind up going with. But once you mix everything together, you’ll see that it’s just the right rice to riches ratio. The beef is our go-to of these dishes, and you better be putting a ton of chili sauce in it. That’s key.
The soup at Sao Mai is the crown jewel of the menu. The broth has tons of flavor. In their house special Pho Sao Mai, which is what you should order, they throw in thin slices of beef brisket, beef round, and beef balls. In their chicken soup, Pho Ga, shredded chicken is everywhere, mixed in with a bunch of veggies. Next time you’re in the mood for matzah ball soup, consider this for a lighter alternative.
photo credit: Ryan Muir
Pan Fried Noodles
Seen on the menu as Mi Xào Dzon, these are simply fried egg noodles topped with your choice of meat or vegetable. You want some.