Lilly’s Café

1813 Magazine St., (504) 599-9999

The narrow, homespun dining room is about as casual as a beach town juice bar, but you're not coming here for ambiance. When the pho arrives, your focus reduces to its circle of broth and florid aromatics, the red curls of raw beef rapidly cooking within and the lush array of herbs. Suddenly, all is right in the world. There are optional additions of quail eggs or a clutch of extra vegetables (broccoli, bok choy, red onions, etc.) to add more healthy heft, but mostly this unpretentious café serves noodle house standards in precisely the way a lover of these dishes craves. Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. $

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Bo tai chanh, a traditional Vietnamese dish of marinated raw beef with fresh herbs and lemon, is a spcialty at Nine Roses in Gretna.

Nine Roses

1100 Stephens St., Gretna, (504) 366-7665; 620 Conti St., (504) 324-9450; ninerosesrestaurant.com

Newcomers to Nine Roses are sometimes overwhelmed by the vast menu, a volume of Vietnamese dishes alongside some familiar Chinese dishes too. But the more you get to know Nine Roses, the more that vastness becomes a source of comfort. It means you can always find different flavors when you're in the mood for something new. All the standards are here. But where Nine Roses excels is in more elaborate specialty dishes rarely found elsewhere (try the bo tai chanh, a raw beef carpaccio rife with herbs and citrus). The related Nine Roses Café brings a smaller menu of noodle shop standards and rotating specials from the larger repertoire to the French Quarter. Lunch and dinner Thu.-Tue. (Gretna); lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. (French Quarter) $$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Shrimp paste on sugar cane skewers at Tan Dinh.

Tan Dinh

1705 Lafayette St., (504) 361-8008

Tan Dinh straddles the divide between the fast, short menus of dedicated pho parlors and the deep, intricate rosters of dishes found at the larger Vietnamese restaurants. This gives the lively, bright, bustling cafe plenty of cross-over potential. Past the pho and banh mi, you’re coming here to taste the Vietnamese approach to roasted quail, alligator simmered in coconut milk and goat curry. In particular, the garlic-crusted chicken wings, the Korean-style short ribs with crunchy rice cakes and the shrimp paste grilled on juice-seeping sugar cane skewers have become signatures that draw regulars from all parts of town to its door. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wed.-Mon. $$

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.