A few months before its opening on the southwest corner of Ella Boulevard and West 34th Street, a sign appeared that read, “Coming soon, Saigon Hustle.”
What is a Saigon Hustle? Is this a variation of the 1975 disco dance the hustle? So every time I made the turn from 34th onto Ella, the song “Do the Hustle” would run through my head (da, da, da, da, da, ta, da, da, ta, do the hustle).
Finally, construction revealed yet another restaurant was being built, and it would be an homage to Vietnamese street food.
The footprint of the restaurant is small, housing a kitchen and a counter area for placing and picking up orders, or you can use the drive-thru and menu screen. I have visited Saigon Hustle twice, once about a month after its opening and again in late April, both times with the same dining partner.
On the first visit we ordered a BBQ pork banh mi, a BBQ ribeye and two egg rolls. Vietnamese egg rolls are very different from Chinese egg rolls. They are thinner, much crisper and are accompanied by lettuce in which to wrap the roll, shaved carrots and Nuac Cham, a sweet tangy sauce that has flakes of Thai chilis floating throughout.
The banh mis consist of moist BBQ pork for $ 8.25 or BBQ beef for $ 9.95, nestled in a fresh baguette and including matchstick slices of cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and chicken liver pate. A thin slather of mayo and a drizzle of seasoning sauce added a hint of Asian flavor.
As an added bonus we were able to sit on the patio and note what fellow diners were eating as we agreed that this was now on our list of places to grab a bite.
On our return visit we again ordered a beef banh mi and egg rolls, which we shared. It should be noted, you can add a fried egg for $ 1.
We also ordered a BBQ pork vermicelli bowl and a BBQ pork rice bowl. Jasmine rice is the base of the rice bowls. You choose your protein, be it BBQ pork or beef, chicken, salmon or tofu. The bowl is rounded out by lettuce, cilantro, mint, pickled carrots, daikon and cucumbers, topped with peanuts and fried shallots and a side of Vietnamese vinaigrette. You can add a fried egg for $ 1 or an egg roll for $ 1.50.
Swap out vermicelli noodles for the rice and you have vermicelli noodle bowls. Both bowls are large quantities of food. Our order for two could have easily served four hungry people.
However, the pork on this occasion was not moist. It was dry and could be described as brittle. The menu touts freshly made ingredients, but this pork tasted pre-made and quickly reheated to be added to a bowl or salad.
The surprise came the next day when the leftovers of both bowls had improved overnight. It’s as if the Nuac Cham had softened and flavored the pork. Lunch of leftovers the next day was really quite tasty! Not a ringing endorsement but a noteworthy happenstance.
Browsing the menu, you realize all the dishes are based on the inclusion of lots of fresh or pickled vegetables, a hallmark of Vietnamese food. The salads feature the addition of tomatoes, onions, cabbage and watercress and are served with a garlic lemon zest vinaigrette and your choice of protein.
There is a variety of beverages from fountain sodas, several types of teas and Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk.
The staff at Saigon Hustle is friendly and efficient. If you are hungry and craving a respite from the usual fast-food offering, I encourage you to give Saigon Hustle a try.
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