Although it’s not particularly vegetarian-friendly, I love Vietnamese food. I had been hearing great things about this new place in Ridgewood, right where Brooklyn turns into Queens in the middle or nowhere. On a snowy winter night I went with my friends Jeff & Eva, only to find there was an hour wait. No wonder; the space at Bun-Ker holds maybe six tables, all crammed in close together in what looks like a street-side restaurant in Vietnam. I was happy to see they have quite a few vegetarian choices on the menu, but although my meat-eating friends raved about their meal I came away disappointed. The vegetarian banh xeo, a crepe filled with mushrooms and bean sprouts, was bland and greasy. They did provide fish sauce for some seasoning, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a vegetarian option, why have it rely on fish sauce for flavor? I had the same problem with the grilled eggplant and zucchini (pictured above), a variation on bun — usually room temperature noodles topped with warm cooked food and a mix of pickled and raw veggies. Here the noodles were topped with the grilled eggplant and zucchini, but they were also completely unseasoned. Again there was fish sauce provided, though I didn’t use any. They did bring me some lime wedges when I asked, and I topped it with plenty of sriracha, but those could only help so much. I’m sure the meat and seafood dishes are worthy of the praise, but I left quite unhappy with the vegetarian food I had.
Bun-Ker — 46-63 Metropolitan Ave, Queens
Vietnamese food and I go way back. My father and all of his siblings were born in Vietnam. Eventually my father moved to Hong Kong while most of his siblings moved to Los Angeles. When I moved to LA and had stayed with my aunt (my dad’s oldest sister) we occasionally would have family dinners with all of my cousins and uncles and aunts in Westminster or Little Saigon in LA. At the age of 8 or 9, I was already craving for Vietnamese food. There was something fun about dunking a summer roll into a bowl of nuoc cham. I even learned a few Vietnamese words from my aunt.
In LA it wasn’t hard to find good banh mis. I’ve never been to Vietnam so I’m basing what I consider good banh mi to what I grew up eating. Cheap, usually big enough to just eat 1 for a meal and gotta have couple cilantro sticking out which you end up eating all of it in the first couple bites (because it’s actually quite hard to bite cilantro into pieces).
Fast forward to 2011 and I’m living in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. When I feel lazy to make the trek out to Chinatown or Sunset Park for banh mi, I usually walk over to either Hanco’s or Nicky’s, but mostly Hanco’s. It never crossed my mind to see which one I liked better until a friend told me she preferred Nicky’s. To me they were both pretty good and I’m glad that I have choices. But I thought it would be fun to try both and actually try and figure out which one I like more.
Continue reading “The BoCoCa Banh Mis”
Ha Noi is a new Vietnamese restaurant that opened in the old Second Helpings space this weekend. I stopped in yesterday for my first meal, and it was quite good. I was disappointed that they don’t have a vegetarian version of the crispy spring rolls, but the fresh summer rolls were nice and fresh, and the peanut sauce was delicious. I also got the tofu bun, room temperature rice noodles with fresh carrots and lettuce, topped with crispy tofu. The noodles were really excellent. The staff was also very accommodating — bun usually comes with fish sauce, but they offered me a variety of different sauces instead. Oh, they also serve banh mi, bringing the total number of Vietnamese sandwich places within four blocks up to three. The rest of the menu is so extensive, though, that I don’t see why you’d want to order the sandwiches at Ha Noi. There were the usual newly-opened problems: they sent me my app, then my entree… and then my app again, and I had to ask for my check multiple times, but I’m sure they’ll iron those problems out. I’ll definitely be back.
Ha Noi — 448 9th St, Brooklyn
Hey folks: I’ll occasionally be writing the Vegetarian Option column over at Serious Eats: NY. The newest one went up last week: Gia Lam, a Vietnamese restaurant in Sunset Park.
Like I mentioned in my previous post that my friends’ parents had moved to the Sonoma County, 40mins north of SF. That’s where I stayed for the rest of my time in NorCal.
Ana’s Cafe & Espresso
The 1st morning Matt had told me about this pretty damn good place for breakfast burrito, a short walk from the house. Being vacation and all we actually didn’t leave the house till during lunch time. Ana’s Cafe & Espresso was inside a tiny plaza, next to a pet store. When we walked a lady was sitting at 1 of the table reading the newspapers. Wasn’t sure if she was Ana or not. She quickly got up and took our orders. Lucky for us, breakfast burrito seem to be an all day thing. About the size of your forearm and weighs as much as a fat cat, the breakfast burrito came with eggs, cheese and other fillings. I got mine with chorizo and potatoes.
I was pretty excited to dig into this monster but being cautious I only ate half of it, planned to eat the rest for a late night snack. The burrito was okay, didn’t really taste the chorizo and it was mostly potatoes.
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Every time I go home, LA, I always carry a mental list of restaurants and bars I want to visit. Of course once I get to LA all of my plans changed or became nonexistent. Things happened or most of the time I get damn lazy. Though I can guarantee you I will get my In-N-Out. It also helps that my parents’ place is walkable to an In-N-Out but who really walks in LA? Yes it takes 2mins to drive over in my jam jam thru the drive-thru.
My friend Matt from NY was also in LA visiting his bro, Chris, that recently moved to the Los Feliz area. I’m preeetty familiar with the streets of Los Feliz because The Gastrobus parks at the Los Feliz Farmers Market every Sunday and you know everytime I’m in LA I take a quick visit to the truck.
Around 1pm I got to Los Feliz and parked my car on a side street close to Chris’s place. We said hello and didn’t waste much time with chit chat and walked over to Umami Burgers for brunch since we were all starving. I have heard a lot and read a lot about Umami Burgers. My friend Sophie loooooves the place. Great thing about Los Feliz is that everything is so close to each other so we just walked over.
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Sometimes after a long day sitting in the office, all I want to do is head home and just chill. But..BUT sometimes I rather not go home too quickly because well it could get boring at home. Especially when the weather is super nice, who wants to be indoor? Few weeks ago I had a GIANT craving for a banh mi sandwich so I decided to head down to Chinatown.
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