Introducing the Meatball Hero, Vietnamese Version, at Thien Huong


The “meat ball baguette” at Chatham Square’s Thien Huong.

The city is undergoing a cheap Vietnamese food renaissance, led by the signature soup pho, and the signature sandwich banh mi, both of which are now available in many neighborhoods outside of Chinatowns. Last week, we reported on an exemplary bowl of pho at Pho 88, a new place in the oldest part of Manhattan’s Chinatown. Today, we examine the banh mi at another newcomer, Thien Huong.

Thien Huong enjoys a sunny south-facing location right on Chatham Square.

Thien Huong is the latest of several banh mi parlors to arrive in Chinatown, following in the footsteps of places like Paris Sandwich and the sainted Saigon Banh Mi — the first place to make its own baguettes.

Thien Huong is garishly decorated in orange and bright green, and dispenses bubble teas and meal-size soups, in addition to the usual eight types of banh mi. A contraption behind the counter is a compact conveyor belt oven, that warms the banh mi just prior to handing them over the counter; it’s a technical advance over the usual static banh mi oven.

Pointedly, the menu doesn’t offer pho. Rather there are a series of rice-noodle-containing soups. The banh mi (“banh mi” is plural for “banh mi”) cost about 50 cents more than at the other places, but the 50 cents is probably worth it, given the superior quantity of pickled vegetables, and slightly longer baguettes.

Our favorite so far is the “spicy meat ball baguette” ($4.50), which has a luxuriant quantity of pale pork meat balls, a kick of pickled (rather than fresh) chilis, and a perfect balance of sweet/meaty/sour/salty. A totally enjoyable sandwich that could compete with the Italian-American meatball heroes of the Meatball Shop, especially if you’re in a mood for a Southeast Asian variation.

Thien Huong
11 Chatham Square

The color combination is a bit hard on the eyes.

Banh mi number one’s three-meat combo. The fatty pork is especially good, though the sausage is not homemade, as it is at Saigon Banh Mi.