First things first, let's talk elocution: Pho, the nation's aromatic soup filled with needle-thin rice vermicelli, is not enunciated like phony; instead, pho is pronounced faaaah, with an a sound as clipped as a buzz cut. That aside, the vermicelli are ably deployed in dryer preparations such as bun, which is typically made of dry noodles served with your preferred protein or perhaps spring rolls, or in a flavorful soup. If you see hu tieu on a menu, nab it. That's a soup made with pork-bone broth and filled with either clear tapioca noodles, egg noodles or rice noodles. And for heat-seekers, look no further than the bun bo hue. Wheat noodles are served in a steaming broth filled with bobbing pieces of beef and, on top, an arterial-red slick of chili oil to rival the Exxon Valdez.
What to slurp: Since we know you want to start with pho, you should cement yourself at Chinatown lynchpin New Pasteur (pictured). The star anise–scented broth lends an ambrosial quality to the ghost-like noodles swimming beneath your selected cut of beef (we like the fatty brisket). For a bit more assertive flavor in your pho, fellow neighborhood joint New Tu Do turns out a top-notch curry version. In Brookyln's Sunset Park, you'll find Thanh Da's righteously fiery bun bo hue; it's loaded with luscious shards of beef-shin meat. Back across the Manhattan Bridge, Cong Ly crafts a delicious hu tieu laden with chewy tapioca noodles, quail egg, bean sprouts, shrimp, pork and imitation crab meat. And for a fine bun, steer yourself down the block to Nha Trang. Topped with tons of freshly fried spring rolls, the bun cha gio is good as all get out.