One of these nights I'm going to blindfold myself, have my wife drive me to some random point along South Federal Boulevard, then get out of the car and start walking. Why? To prove a point, of course. To put paid to my long-held belief that there's such a profusion of good food along South Federal that even a blindfolded idiot can't help but get himself well fed. Granted, walking blindfolded down South Federal after dark might get me a few other things as well — mugged, probably; laughed at, for sure; maybe a venereal disease. But I'm also fairly confident that I'd eventually find myself bumped up against the front door of any one of a hundred great pho shops, noodle stands, taquerías or midnight burrito joints.
And if I'm real lucky (or if Laura is unusually kind), I'll end up at New Saigon. Last week, after packing my parents onto an airplane and sending them back home to New York, I went to New Saigon for an early lunch, and to shake off two weeks of East Coast-style lobster shacks, steakhouses, diners and twee little mountain-town confisseries. I almost drowned myself in tall glasses of iced Vietnamese coffee and a massive bowl of hoanh thanh tom cua bo vien — a noodle-less Vietnamese everything-in-the-pot soup of shrimp and beef, ground pork, crab, wontons, meatballs and shrimp cake swimming in a smooth, rich fish broth that's perfect for a light lunch after weeks of chicken-fried steak and cheeseburgers.
New Saigon was packed, with big parties streaming through the door every few minutes and gastronauts of all stripes filling the tables and sucking down soup, noodles, grilled meats and excellent curries from off a menu as thick, dense and comprehensive as a Leon Uris novel. I've been to New Saigon many times over the past five years, and it's not only one of the town's best (and oldest) Vietnamese restaurants, but one of my favorite restaurants on South Federal — locked in a hundred-way tie with every other operation sporting an address on my favorite strip.