What Should You Eat at Sao Mai?


At Sao Mai, the Goi Du Du (green papaya salad) is damn near unforgettable.

This week , Counter Culture floats into Sao Mai (“Morning Star”) a newish Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village, and maybe the best Vietnamese restaurant in town. Here are the dishes most recommended for the first-time visitor, renditions unique in the city for their freshness and subtlety of flavoring.

5. Papaya Salad (Goi Du Du, above) — Shredded carrots and green papaya form the basis of this crunchy salad, with Vietnamese mint providing a extra zap to the tongue in concert with fish vinegar and mint. And yes, those raw red chiles on the periphery are pretty hot, and crushed peanuts provide extra k-k-k-krunch.

4. Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Crepe) — I cannot imagine a better brunch dish than these light rice crepes (most in town are made with an omelet wrapper instead; not nearly as good). The filling is mushrooms and minced pork, and fried shallots give the dish extra character.

3. Banh Mi Pho — This sandwich handily merges two completely unrelated Vietnamese standards: the soup called pho and the sandwich known as banh mi. Whether you love it or not, you’re sure to be intrigued.

2. Com Suom Nuong (Grilled Pork Chops) — The chops are sliced thin, charcoal grilled, then glossed with a sweet sauce. Nothing better for a picnic in the garden, seen here dappled with sunlight. Comes with pickles and greenery for wrapping the meat morsels up.

1. Pho Sao Mai — The house special pho features brisket, eye of round, and beef balls, served with roughage that includes sawtooth cilantro and holy basil.

The fresh herbs that come alongside

Sao Mai
203 First Avenue