Hanco's (Brooklyn Heights): Finally, Pho

As you may have read on this blog, I live in something of a gastronomic wasteland.

Don’t get me wrong — I adore Brooklyn Heights and its picturesque streets and 19th century brownstones. What it does not possess, however, is more than two really good places to have a meal.

So when a new sign went up on the neighborhood’s main street recently, we all began watching the storefront’s papered-up windows with great anticipation. On Sunday, the paper finally came off and Hanco’s, a little Vietnamese sandwich and pho shop was in business. Would it present a third viable option for good food? We immediately got in a very long line to find out …

Hanco’s, like its other outlets in Park Slope and Cobble Hill, is a bare-bones operation. Bubble tea is a specialty and the front of the store essentially operates like a Vietnamese Starbucks. You order, pay and then shuffle to the back to pick up your drinks …

… or food.

As I’ve said many times, however, Asian places with sparse decors are always promising. Any Asian eatery with bells and whistles like nice chairs or god forbid, nicely painted walls — those I tend to be leery of. If you have to try so hard, you’re over-compensating.

The menu here is fairly sizable for such a small operation — Vietnamese sandwiches (all $6.25) come filled with grilled pork, sardines, vegetarian chicken and more. There are vermicelli bowls, rice dishes, salads and rolls.

To start, we sampled the shredded chicken roll ($4.25), a tightly packed tube of lettuce, chicken and vermicelli. The menu claimed that there were mint leaves in here — and there could well have been. The combination overall was fairly tasteless, however. Once you dipped it into the creamy peanut sauce that came with it, the sauce ended up being all you could taste.

In sandwiches, we went with the Classic — the banh mi filled with pate, Vietnamese ham and ground pork. This wasn’t bad — but the ratio of julienned carrots and daikon to the meat was a little off. Each mouthful tasted like a veggie sandwich garnished with a little pork.

In the end, it was the pho ($8.25; pictured at the top) that redeemed the place. As you may have read on this blog, I’ve been on the hunt for good pho in New York since I moved here in 2003. There have been many misses, however — the broth always tastes too thin or too sweet or not meaty enough.

Hanco’s pho, however, knocked it out of the park. Its broth is delicious — packed with umami, lovely and beefy — and the bowl was filled with so much beef I didn’t think I’d get through it. (Which is saying a lot. I never leave a morsel in my pho bowl.) The noodles could have been a little more al dente but that was our only quibble.

Washed down with some iced Vietnamese coffee with tapioca bubbles ($3.75) …

… this lunch was pretty perfect.

If places like Hanco’s keep opening in my neighborhood, I may have to stop complaining about this wasteland around me. A girl can hope.

Hanco’s, 147 Montague Street, Brooklyn, New York; 347.529.5054