Whether or not we’re in a pandemic, Lower Greenville seems to be an ever-changing roulette wheel of restaurants and bars. When something new comes in, it has to fill its role extremely well, lest it falls to the wayside as so many restaurants in the area before it.
For every restaurant, filling that role means something different, but for Carol Nguyen, it was a simple choice: simply make it tasty. So she named her restaurant just that.
Ngon (pronounced similar to "nawn") is the Vietnamese word for “tasty,” specifically regarding succulent or delightful food. Located in what was formerly Shivas Bar & Grill next to Bullzerk, Nguyen snatched up this space when she noticed movers clearing it out.
Nguyen was looking for a simple yet elegant way of embodying both her restaurant’s cuisine and its connection to Vietnamese culture. She’s been in the restaurant world for more than 10 years, but never specifically with a Vietnamese restaurant.
While Dallas and its surrounding suburbs certainly aren't lacking in Vietnamese spots, Nguyen wanted to bring a feeling of her home to Lowest Greenville, along with her and her family’s signature flavors.
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is located in the temperate northernmost region of the country. It's been a city of culinary adaptation, bringing together elements of French and Chinese cuisine, among others. While many are familiar with the hustle and bustle of street food carts of Vietnam, there’s a strong cafe culture focused on more relaxed interior design with modern elements.
Nguyen aims to bring a slice of that lesser-seen side of Vietnam to Ngon with various elements of the restaurant. The interior of the new space is bright, with an abundance of creeping plants and blooming orchids sneaking their way into almost every crevice where they could fit. Light wood tables and high chairs are placed cafe style, with long benches sitting near the front, aiming to cater to those wanting to stay, study, read or just hang out for a while (for one day when that's safe, anyway).
Ngon also houses a split design in its creation. A small “bánh mì station” sits directly across the entrance to the space — an effort to capture different kinds of diners.
“The station will be a place to purchase and pick up bánh mì, ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee), ca phe trung (a kind of Vietnamese egg custard coffee), small bites and provisions like hoisin sauce, Sriracha or fish sauce; just like how it would be like in Vietnam,” Nguyen says.
For those looking for a snack or pick-me-up during the day, the bánh mì station captures the midday break many take in Hanoi. The station will sell bánh mì with the usual fillings such as Vietnamese ham and shredded chicken, grilled pork or a vegetarian option (each $8, plus $1 for a sunny-side-up egg). What makes them special is the spread. While most bánh mì have some form of pate, Nguyen uses a French cognac-infused foie gras pate in its place. It's a luxurious option that she claims has a special place in her heart.
Nguyen aims to set Ngon apart with her version of fine Vietnamese dining. It's a tricky subject to take iconic or familiar dishes and “elevate” them while still keeping the spirit of that dish intact, but the staff at Ngon takes a decidedly simple approach: use high-quality ingredients and serve them with care.
While the final menu of Ngon is still undergoing the final tweaks and changes, it is decidedly Hanoi in style and flavor. Expect items such as pho, with a more delicate and herb-infused broth compared to those found in Saigon, as well as king crab bánh canh, a seafood soup with thicker, chewier noodles.
Vietnamese favorites such as bò lúc lac (seared steak chunks with soy and black pepper), fish sauce chicken wings, spring rolls and bun cha ha noi (a noodle and charred pork dish served with a dipping broth made of fish sauce, garlic and sugar) will also be on the menu.
“…It's something that I grew up eating at home with my family, and something that's a taste of home for me.” Nguyen says of bun cha ha noi.
With the pandemic taking its toll on almost every restaurant in Dallas, Nguyen is confident in handling the challenge when it opens, which is planned for early September.
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With their ability to serve food quickly out of the bánh mì stand, they anticipate a lot of grab-and-go orders alongside their full dine-in service.
“We’re hopeful that Dallas is open and excited about our dishes,” Nguyen says.
With all the stress this year has brought, bringing a little bit of Vietnamese comfort food might be a welcome sight for Lowest Greenville.
Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen, 1907 Greenville Ave. (Lowest Greenville). Planned to open early September.