Friday, July 31, 2009

The Republic of Good Food

When we first walked into Republic (37 Union Square West), we weren't expecting it to become one of our reliable go-to places. It's located right across from the Union Square Farmer's market so we go to Republic for lunch before we do our vegetable shopping, and we were surprised to learn they deliver (for free) into our neighborhood so we've taken advantage of that as well. And we love that the food is $13 and under.

Republic's concept is to provide affordable noodle and rice dishes that combine the various ingredients, flavors, and cooking methods from different Asian countries; so their menu has unexpected dishes like tomato beef stew, curried duck noodles, salmon broth noodles, and grilled Japanese eggplants. Not a typical menu for a place that also sells the standards like Vietnamese sandwiches and Pad Thai.

The vegetarian sandwich is almost as good as the classic Vietnamese sandwich. They offer the sandwich only for take out and if you dine in, you can't order just the sandwich, which is just fine because you can choose from their delicious salad options, like their green papaya salad. People who can't eat spicy food should beware of the jalapeno peppers in the sandwiches - it really creeps up on you.

A great vegetarian option at Republic is their Vietnamese vegetable noodles, with cold rice noodles, tofu, mint, broccoli, celery, carrots, egg, shallots, bean sprouts, and peanuts. The food is fresh (like they just bought the vegetables across the street at the Farmer's Market) and the portion is generous. A good deal for $9.

The vegetable noodles go well with their healthy juices, although their lemongrass juice tasted a bit wheatgrass-esque healthy for us.

Republic's Pad Thai is another good item on their menu. What makes this dish different from other Pad Thais is its spice and the tender calamari and shrimp it's served with. However, it's not nearly as good or as good a deal as the Pad Thai from Chelsea Thai Wholesale (it's still the best Pad Thai we've had and it's under $8!).

Okay, now for the numero uno dish from Republic - their BBQ Pork cold rice vermicelli at $11. If there's only one chance you have to eat here, order this dish. The pork is marinated in garlic and soy and includes bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions, cucumber, pickled carrots, and daikon. This is an exceptional dish. It tasted so good I was ready to have another one delievered that same night. The flavors on the meat is wonderful (and has a spicy kick to it) and the meat's pairing with daikon and pickled carrots really takes this dish to another level. Their grilled pork is also great (with Vietnamese crushed rice, soy-ginger glaze, scallions, pickled carrots, daikon, garlic, and cucumbers, $11).

Another delicious and surprising dish on their menu is the grilled marinated salmon - lemongrass, curried rice with raisins, pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumber ($13). The curried rice is really unique and has what seems like hundreds of different flavors going on. The salmon portion is very generous.

The interior decor of Republic is nothing special; just clean and modern. It's a large restaurant that caters well to its large volume business. The back area of the restaurant includes a communal table, the long bar is an entertaining area to be seated as you watch the kitchen staff exuberantly cooking food nonstop at a frenzied pace while the delivery guys with their bicycle helmets on anxiously await the food, and the front area includes the small take out area where the Vietnamese sandwiches are made. It's a money making operation here.

Consistently good food, good prices, and very fast food delivery . . . just how we like it.