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Let me get one thing straight, I'm extremely picky (hence the name) when it comes to Vietnamese food. As a born-and-raised Vietnamese from the South of Vietnam, I carry a different set of standards from those in the US. But authenticity aside, good food will always be good food.
Why am I speaking about this you ask? Because Bep Ga - the newest addition to the Vietnamese food community in NYC fits into this category. It might not be the most true-to-its-roots, hands-down authentic Vietnamese restaurant, but the quality of food justifies the slight deviation and novel thoughts.
Nestled in a small pink corner in the Lower East Side right next to Spicy Village, Bep Ga doesn't even have a proper store sign. In fact, it looks like something you're more likely to come across in Brooklyn than Chinatown. Their business model is simple: good food, hipster vibe, and a simplified menu. Bep Ga (Bếp Gà) is Vietnamese for Chicken Kitchen and, unsurprisingly, that's the only protein in all four of their dishes. We sampled 3 out of 4 on the menu: Phở Gà (Chicken Pho), Phở Gà Khô (Dry Chicken Pho), and Cơm Gà Hội An (Hoi An Chicken Rice). The Gỏi Gà (Chicken Salad) looked very promising also, but until they decide to serve it with congee (which is how we've always had it in South Vietnam) I'm not interested.
The interior of Bep Ga is very small. They could only hold up to 12 people or so at a time so be prepared to wait 15-30 mins for a table. Another option is to grab take-outs and eat it in the park right across .
Their Pho Ga is a semi-traditional bowl of pho with smooth chicken stock and sliced pieces of chicken breast. The steaming hot bowl is beautifully adorned with chopped up cilantro, scallion, and a handful of blanched bean sprouts. I didn't know what purpose the boiled quail egg was supposed to serve, but felt it was a wonderful final bite. I've had better chicken pho stock elsewhere (a.k.a. Thang Long restaurant in Philly) but this is one of the most solid broth I've come across in the Greater New York area. If you're a fan of a light and clear broth that still packs enough flavor to deliver a good dining experience, this is the bowl for you. One thing I didn't enjoy was how much noodles there were in the bowl, but hey isn't that a good problem to have? :)
My friend had the Dry Chicken Pho, which is basically a salad-like version of the same dish. They skimmed down half of the broth and put it in a paper cup that comes with the bowl so you can enjoy a "drier" version. This is not uncommon in Vietnam although I expected them to serve it with some kind of fish sauce vinaigrette instead of just the broth. I liked the addition of the fried shallots and red onions, but would recommend you guys to just go for the normal version.
But the real star of the show was the Com Ga Hoi An (Hoi An Chicken Rice), which I have no idea if it's authentic or not because I've simply never been to that part of the country. A few quick searches showed a clear difference in the two renditions, to which point I would reiterate my earlier comment that authenticity comes after taste.
And my oh my, their Com Ga Hoi An did not disappoint. The rice is beautifully infused with chicken fat and has such an amazing turmeric color. Dunk the chicken into the dipping sauce and place it onto a spoonful of rice. Layer the onions, fried shallots, and minced ginger on top and voilà, you've got the perfect bite. I was pleasantly surprised that they actually made an effort to feature "rau ram" (Vietnamese coriander) and "la chanh" (lime leaves), two of the most hard-to-find Vietnamese herbs in US supermarkets. The plump wedges of tomato on the side made the dish look like Japnese Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Ramen Salad) while the baby blue plate gave it that instagram-worthy look. I only took a few bites out of this from my friend's plate, but I'll definitely be back next time for the full experience.
Overall rating: 4.1/5
Upside: good food, reasonable prices, great concept
Downside: no AC, limited seating, chicken can be rather dry
Recommended dishes: Hoi An Chicken Rice, Chicken Pho
70 Forsyth St
New York, NY 10002