Tucked in between Jersey Mike’s Subs and the Farm Bureau is 9N9 , another great ethnic restaurant in RTP. They’re best known for their phở, but I had heard good things about the rest of their menu and couldn’t wait to go again.
Despite the desolate strip-mall setting, 9N9 is pretty cozy inside, with one big dining area, lined with laminated photos of some of the dishes, that gets full during lunch hours. I found out right before going that they also serve Vietnamese sandwiches (not on the menu), and ever since my first bánh mì (link) I’ve been on the lookout for more. At $3 a sandwich it was hard to get only one. Apparently when you get them to go, they separate all the veggies from the rest of the sandwich so it doesn’t get soggy before you assemble it.
The BBQ pork was delicious, even if the assembly was perfunctory. Surprisingly, the fillings were heavy on the cilantro but glaringly light on the jalapeno. I usually expect to be in agony after a bánh mì, but for some reason 9N9 skips the jalapeno altogether. Considering there are much better bánh mì options in the Triangle (especially Jujube, which makes theirs with Guglhupf baguettes), I suggest you spare your arteries and save room for the specials.
We also ordered a bowl of sliced rare beef phở ($6 for small, $7 for large) and one of the specials, the catfish clay pot. Phở broth has got to be the ultimate comfort food, and although I’d probably be happy with phở of any quality, the beef broth at 9N9 is really flavorful (anise, cloves, ginger) and satisfying, and the noodles and beef come alive with hoisin sauce and siracha.
The catfish clay pot ($10) – “catfish shimmered carmelized in soy sauce” – was incredible: basically a whole, prepared bone-in catfish served with rice. The oil/soy sauce marinade was intensely peppery and really complimented the catfish, which falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. There were a lot of mystery items in the pot, and you have to be careful to avoid the bones, but this special was a real treat and bodes well for the rest of the specials.
I’ve heard the house fried rice is another winner – has anyone tried it? And by the way, be sure to check out the first annual Triangle Restaurant Week. Fixed price, 3 course dinners at restaurants you can’t otherwise afford. This year it’s only in Raleigh, but next year they plan to expand to Durham and Chapel Hill.