Episode 61: New Wave Vietnamese ft. Hanoi House and Di An Di
We wrapped up the season with a talented bunch putting Vietnamese food at the forefront of NYC’s best restaurants lists with their interpretations of the cuisine. Hanoi House Co-founder Sara Leveen and Chef Daniel Le, and Di An Di Co-owner Kim Hoang and Chef/Co-owner Dennis Ngo discussed the new wave of Vietnamese restaurants in NYC.
At Hanoi House, a tribute to the city Sara and her partner fell in love with during a trip across the world, you can find an even mix of traditional dishes, traditional dishes with a twist, and new dishes that fill in the gaps with spicy and funky flavors on the menu. While Hanoi House offers dishes inspired from all over Vietnam, they serve a version of pho that is true to Hanoi, which Sara eats five times a week. “The condiments, and the absence of hoisin sauce, bean sprouts, and Thai basil make it truly Hanoi.” But they also offer plenty of options like bone marrow or beef fat to bring the richness back to the soup if so desired. When asked how new dishes are created, Chef Daniel Le tells us he is driven by nostalgia for his grandmother’s cooking that he had growing up. “If I’m craving it, and I can’t find it, I’m gonna make it.”
At Di An Di, the OG An Choi squad is back together. Co-owner/Chef Dennis was the opening chef at An Choi with Co-owners Tuan Bui and Kim Hoang almost a decade ago. Now at Di An Di where he gets to work with the luxury of more space, they are showcasing their Vietnamese American approach. As children of immigrants, they want to present diners with the color, diversity, and festivity of the cuisine, why they get excited about Vietnamese food beyond the 101. Similar to Daniel, when Dennis puts a dish on the menu, “ A lot of it is necessity. I just want to eat something that I grew up eating. And no one else is gonna make it. We need to make it ourselves.”
While the most popular pho and banh mi dishes still dominate the typical diner’s understanding of Vietnamese cuisine, this is slowly changing with the new wave. Kim notes, “The first wave of Vietnamese food served the immigrant community. So I think what’s happening right now is because we as first-generation children of this immigrant community are coming of age and creating something that is representative of our generation.” With more Vietnamese restaurants over time, the hope is that there will be more opportunity to specialize. Dennis adds, “I’d like to see specialization in certain things. Perfecting your craft. That’s where you’re going to get the most delicious version.”
This group is not only driving the education of flavor, they’re bringing a thoughtful set of modern techniques to traditional flavors. Daniel notes, “We’re taking our time instead of rushing everything just to get our family fed.” They are also tackling the uphill battle with the perception of Asian food costs.
In this episode, we also learn about the cuisine differences between the North and the South, the similarities between the Little Saigons of the OC and Houston, and shine a light on the various types of noodles Vietnamese cuisine has to offer. In addition, tune in for the shoutouts to Dennis’s favorite Youtube channel (ty, Helen), herbs, the Vietnamese food heroes that have paved the way for the new wave (Andrea Nguyen, Charles Phan, and the Lins of Bricolage), new projects, and more.