The special "xe lua" pho at Lâu Vietnamese Pho in...

The special "xe lua" pho at Lâu Vietnamese Pho in St. James on April 30. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

As Jackie Li tells it, she and her business partner, chef Tiger Wu, had the opportunity to take over the lease at what had been Red Koi Hibachi & Sushi in St. James. But, she said, “I wasn’t interested in Japanese food.” Chinese by birth, she loved Vietnamese food and Wu had experience cooking it. Thus was born Lâu Vietnamese Pho. They brightened up the dining room, getting rid of the grill and replacing the somber palate with lots of emerald upholstery and (fake) greenery.

The centerpiece of the menu is a list of nine phos, rice noodles in broth, and the undisputed star is the xe lua, a “special bowl” of light-but-flavorful beef broth inundated with brisket, eye round, tendon, shank, meatball and “omosa,” which is not translated on the menu but it’s the Vietnamese word for tripe.

But wait, there’s more: Order the xe lua — it’s only $19 — and you also get a roasted marrow bone whose contents you can stir into the soup for added richness. (To balance all this richness, each bowl of pho comes with a slightly smaller bowl of fresh herbs and bean sprouts.)

Li didn’t want to limit Lâu’s offerings to pho and you’ll find many other Vietnamese greatest hits here: banh mi (sandwiches of cured and / or grilled meats with pickled vegetables on baguettes), bun (grilled meats over cold rice noodles) and starters such as spring and summer rolls, crispy seasoned tofu, green papaya salad and caramelized pork ribs.

There are also grilled meats served over rice plus fried rice, stir-fries and a few Vietnamese-flavored American-style entrees such as garlic-rosemary lamb chops, lemongrass-marinated short ribs and grilled Chilean sea bass. With the exception of a few entrees, everything on the menu is under $20.

Drinks take a tour of East Asia with Vietnamese and Thai coffee and teas, boba and fruit teas and icy drinks made with lychee, longan, pandan and coconut.

“Lâu,” Li said, “means ‘long time’ in Vietnamese, as in ‘We hope we are here for a long time.’ ”

Lâu Vietnamese Pho, 556 N. Country Rd., St. James, 631-250-9025, Open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday noon to 8 p.m. 

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