Saigon’s diverse street food scene has charmed millions of domestic and international visitors, including the late Anthony Bourdain. In 2009, he visited Nguyen Thi Thanh’s eatery for an episode of CNN’s No Reservations and was captivated by her bún bò Huế, a spicy beef and pork vermicelli soup. He then named her shop The Lunch Lady. Following the airing of the series, Thanh’s unassuming spot in District 1 became a popular dining destination.
Those of us in Canada don’t have to travel to Saigon to enjoy Thanh’s famous noodle soups. In her collaboration with mother and son restaurateurs Victoria and Michael Tran, The Lunch Lady has made its debut in Vancouver. This is an important step inThanh’s mission to share Vietnamese cuisine with the world.
In the 1,900-square-foot space that can accommodate 55 patrons, diners are surrounded by details typical to street food vendors in Vietnam. These include stainless steel tables and a sugarcane juicing machine. There is even a Lunch Lady business card framed on the wall. The bar portion of the space is an interpretation of Thanh’s stall, with an open view to the kitchen. You can order cocktails with a Vietnamese flair, such as a Phở-spiced old fashion ($15) and Café negroni ($16).
The lunch menu follows Thanh’s unique system, which offers daily noodle rotation (unlike other vendors in Vietnam, who specialize in only one dish.) If you’re looking for the Anthony Bourdain experience, visit the restaurant on Friday, when bún bò Huế ($17) is served. Another must-try is bún Thái ($17) vermicelli noodle with an assortment of proteins in sweet and sour tamarind broth. Brunch is available from 11am-3pm daily and includes bò né, sizzling beef in a skillet.
For Tết, The Lunch Lady serves bánh tét chiên (pan-fried sticky rice cake) and thịt kho (pork and egg braised in coconut water), iconic hearty dishes that bring family members together.
The dinner menu, available after 5 p.m., offers a contemporary take on Vietnamese classics. You’ll find phở marrow ($19), consisting of toasted bread served with roasted bone marrow and a secret sauce. For dessert, end the night with churros cà phê sữa đá – cruller with dulce de leche and Vietnamese coffee gelato ($10).
Address: 1046 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
Hours: Tues.-Thurs. & Sun. 11am – 9:30pm Fri. & Sat. 11am – 11pm
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt