Tuan Nguyen calls his Vietnamese food “simple street food.”
“Basically, my food is simple food, traditional style, with traditional flavor,” said Nguyen in describing the menu at his new La Cà Bar.
If all goes as planned, the Vietnamese restaurant and bar plans to officially open Friday (Dec. 1) at 606 S. Junett, just off Sixth Avenue in the restaurant and bar district.
Nguyen said “there’s a sameness” when it comes to Vietnamese food in local restaurants.
“It’s like Chinese restaurants with the same menu,” he said.
His restaurant and bar will delve deeper into unfamiliar Vietnamese territory but also will have standard menu items that American and Vietnamese diners desire and expect, such as pho, vermicelli noodle bowls and fresh rolls.
The name La Cà Bar is Vietnamese shorthand for a place where somebody spends a lot of time “hanging out.”
“I picked the Vietnamese name because I want the Vietnamese people to know that this is a Vietnamese restaurant, and they’ll remember this is what we eat back in the day,” said Nguyen.
“You should cook something you like to eat and something that people recognize from where they come from. When you tour in Vietnam, it has such good food, but you won’t find that here.”
Much of the food at La Cà Bar is modeled after what he grew up eating in cafes and at street vendors in Central Vietnam. He moved here when he was 15.
One of his favorite dishes on the menu is Tuy Hoa rice chicken ($14), named after the city where Nguyen grew up. He described the regional dish as having a bit of tang from pickled vegetables. The rice dish with steamed chicken is made with coriander, onions, garlic and pickled papaya carrots.
Another entree to try is the grilled quail with a sauce tinged with five spice ($15).
The appetizer menu lists three kinds of fresh and fried rolls ($6 to $7) alongside crispy fried chicken wings with fish sauce ($8), salt-and-pepper squid ($8) and three styles of Vietnamese sandwiches ($7). His banh xio (Saigon crepe) will be made with pork belly, plus shrimp and squid ($11).
The list of soups includes pho with a choice of chicken ($9) or a combination with three kinds of meat ($10). Nguyen predicts the jungle noodle soup with chicken, banana flowers, soursop and lemongrass could appeal to diners in search of a compelling and distinctive Vietnamese flavors ($10).
The menu also lists a variety of rice vermicelli bowls ($10) and a handful of other rice plates ($12 to $18). There’s also four vegan items, including pho and a rice vermicelli bowl ($6 to $10).
Downstairs will be family friendly with table service and open seating for about 40. Upstairs will hold a bar with about 60 seats with Vietnamese beer and an American-style cocktail menu.
This is a second restaurant for Nguyen. When he was young, about 16 years ago, he opened a short-lived restaurant in the Lincoln District.