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Two Hanoi House Vets Are Bringing Vietnamese Classics to the Upper West Side

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The Upper West Side is not exactly well known for Vietnamese food.  Now, the Banh Vietnamese Shop House is working to change that. 

Most tables at the restaurant are busy, and diners wait patiently outside to order carryout meals. The soups, fresh cha gio spring rolls, sandwiches, summer rolls, grilled beef, pho, rice and noodle dishes, and pork dishes are just what you would find at a Hanoi street banquet. Toppings include rolled rice, bánh mì, and sesame crackers. 

Parking spaces can be hard to find on a busy night. 

Any lover of Vietnamese cuisine will instantly recognize these classics. And people who want to familiarize themselves with Vietnamese food will do well to pay the restaurant a visit. 

Owners Nhu Ton and John Nguyen first began their venture as a pop-up restaurant. But when the response from customers was too overwhelming, they realized they just had to open up a restaurant. 

Banh opened its doors in mid-January, and has been busy ever since. Ton and Nguyen are not new to the restaurant business. They are the owners of Com Tam Ninh-Kieu and worked at Hanoi House in the East village. 

Their specialty is a more traditional take on Vietnamese food. More like what you would find in a traditional kitchen in Vietnam.

Think pork belly delicately caramelized, rice, beef pho, and bone broth with clove and cinnamon. 

Banh offers a true taste of Vietnam. Their bánh mì comes with barbecue pork – char-fired of course – or sometimes stuffed with ham wheels and pâté.

Guests should be warned that the grilled pork runs out quickly. The grilled steak sandwich is exquisite. Marinated in soy and lemongrass and sizzled in butter. 

The pho dac biet is also immensely popular and runs out quickly. Even the dessert screams Vietnam: the restaurant serves Vietnamese cassava cake garnished with a scoop of yoghurt. 

Typical Vietnamese fare consists of noodles, spring rolls, and bread rolls. As well as wholesome soups. Every dish comes with fresh herbs and vegetables that make Vietnamese food so healthy and delicious. You will find coriander, mint, and other herbs and spices in your meal at the Banh Vietnamese restaurant. 

Restaurants

It’s Over for the Hidden Gem that is Lhasa Fast Food

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I have a ton of memories of time spent at Lhasa Fast Food. The friends I entertained at Lhasa, making my way to the backstreet restaurant hidden behind a cellphone repair workshop.

Located at Jackson Heights, the restaurant provided some of the juiciest momos for New Yorkers.

So I was shocked to find out that Lhasa was no more, thanks to a four-alarm fire tearing through the structure in March 2021.

Sang Jien Ben who owns the place wrote on a GoFundMe page that he was not hopeful of receiving an insurance payout to enable him to rebuild in Jackson Heights.

According to Eater, Lhasa Fast Food most likely won’t reopen at the same place because that would require rebuilding.

The fact that the fire took place following one of the hardest years for restaurateurs makes the situation even more painful for the die-hard fans of Lhasa. Jackson Heights was particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

The disaster also came just after a long winter during which restaurant workers lost jobs and many businesses closed shop.

Lhasa was unique because you had to go out of your way to access it somewhere where you would not expect to find a restaurant. The owner writes on the restaurant’s GoFundMe page that his success in carving out a place for a restaurant in an unexpected location secured his family’s livelihood.

Lhasa is the type of place that naturally becomes an integral part of its community. People outside Jackson Heights don’t know about it, and this makes it even more of a local treasure.

With time though, Lhasa built a name for itself and blew up when Anthony Bourdain showcased it on the program Parts Unknown. Ben originally launched it in 2012 but has since expanded the business to Elmhurst and East Village where it occupies storefront locations as opposed to its backdoor origins.

The original Lhasa has retained its charm through the years even with the subsequent growth and expansion.

In business, it does not pay to be a secret. You need people to know about you and buy from you. For Lhasa though, a small hint of secrecy has added to the appeal of the place. In a world where everything is online, a hint of secrecy can entice many adventurous customers.

Nano Billiards Café is a pool hall that I also loved. The café sits off the Bronx’ Grand Concourse and serves the most delicious Dominican dishes. It is the place to go when you want some locrio depollo or some bacalao served with red sauce on it. 

I could not help but miss Nano Billiards any time I passed near it. I wanted to stop and enjoy the meals whenever I was passing through Arthur Avenue or checking out restaurants in the neighborhood. Sometimes I would even alight the subway earlier than I wanted to.

The last year has seen me walk into these cafes repeatedly. Even when I was on my way somewhere else, I would end up making a detour. These places are part of the DNA of their communities, and newbies don’t easily make their way there.

But one of the things that we have lost with the Coronavirus pandemic is being out and about, and the opportunity to stumble upon gems like the Lhasa or the Nano Billiards Café. Such hidden gems are places that are not that well known but that you pleasantly uncover when you get to know a place a little better.

They are the rewards of taking the trouble to get to know a place better and get acquainted with the local people.

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New York’s Eisenberg Sandwich Shop is Closed Indefinitely

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‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!’ wrote editor Susan Chumsky under a photo of a desolate-looking Eisenberg’s Sandwich shop with a “FOR LEASE” sign displayed on its window. 

One of only a few surviving old fashioned New York diners is now closed indefinitely. News articles reported that even though the space is on the market, the landlord would still prefer to see the iconic restaurant reopened.

Warren Chiu who owns Eisenberg has been unable to pay rent since the beginning of the pandemic.  The restaurant was already witnessing diminished revenues even before the pandemic, and things only became worse with the onset of the pandemic. 

Chiu’s father established the Warwick Hotels 41 years ago. He purchased the Eisenberg Sandwich shop 5 years ago hoping to maintain the tradition of Eisenberg. Last year, he even introduced the Eisenberg menu to the Warwick hotel in San Francisco. He was clearly committed to the menu. 

Even before it became official, there had been rumors of its impending closure. Now, the chances of the restaurant surviving long term are slim to none. 

Long-time customers of Eisenberg are disappointed. But in a development that might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, Chiu does not have intellectual property rights over the menu. This means that one of these days someone might offer the characteristic Eisenberg tuna melt. 

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Rockway Beach Club

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Rockaway’s lease is finally up. Caracas Rockaway, Rippers and the Low Tide Bar have been operating the boardwalk concessions of the Rockaway Beach since 2011. But even after selflessly serving the community, the park department of NYC has denied their proposal for a new contract. 

Let’s keep in mind they have served the community through COVID19 and Hurricane Sandy. The department instead plans to award Rockaway Beach Bazaar, another group that bid for the fifteen-year contract. 

The news of the bid has been received with skepticism and dismay by majority of fans of the current vendors. Aaron Broudo and Belvy Klein were the ones who submitted the Bazaar’s proposal.

This year, the two were awarded the bid for McCarren Park House. They are also waiting to hear from Riis Park. The duo’s offer for the Rockaway Beach is $300,000 for the first lease year. It is then expected to rise every year after that. 

Members of the Rockaway Beach Club (Caracas Rockaway, Ripper and Low Tide Bar) are unsure of how the duo will bring in such an amount. As someone who has worked in Rippers before, I know the masses don’t appreciate paying $5 to have a Modelo. 

How much will the prices be if rent rises by 300 percent? The Low Tide Bar’s general manager questions who will pay to have the Bazaar’s vision come to life. 

Since the call for proposals in December of 2019, the final decision has been awaited. However, it was only last month that the decision was made. 

The announcement came right before Christmas. Critics viewed the timing as convenient for Parks as it limited the exposure of the news. Even so, New Yorkers began voices their disagreements once they heard. 

Sarah Parachini quickly created SaveRockaway.com in support of the Rockaway Beach Club. She is both a resident of Rockaway and Chris Parachini’s (Ripper’s owner) wife. She urged other supporters to email the department before the public hearing. The Ripper’s owner wife learned of the hearing from the Rockaway times Newspaper on Thursday.

 Since it wasn’t likely that many people saw the print, she decided to post on Instagram. She got popular accounts to reshare her posts which included Alison Roman, Brooklyn Grange, and Frank Prisinzane. She added that the contract was public and it was necessary that the people were heard. 

The crowdsourcing tactic worked and more than a hundred callers made it to the public hearing. The committee also mentioned receiving more than a thousand emails in regards to the concession award. Support for the Rockaway club was overwhelming as many wanted them to continue operations. 

For an hour, the Bazaar owners also gave their testimony. They mentioned everyone was free to make a bid as it was public. They added that bids varied bids varied between higher and lower than theirs. They defended the amount of their bid by saying they chose numbers they thought was appropriate for a lease that would last fifteen years. 

While they were making their testimony, they were interrupted by a caller. This led to shouting by other callers. To avoid continued interruptions by callers, they were muted. Klein continued to mention that he was a great fan of RBC and their past work. He added they intended to retain most of the previous vendors. He made it clear they had no intentions to replace anyone. Once he finished there was another outburst from a caller mentioning they knew where he lived.

However, Bazaar’s plans differ greatly with that of RBC. Both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks will be Bazaar’s responsibility whereas before they were handled by vendors. This will leave many people without an income. Broudo defends the agreement by pointing out Rippers is well known for its fries and buggers. He argues the food concession has the potential to make tons of money during summer. If the current vendors are open to paying more rent minus alcohol sales is a question only they can answer. 

Bureaucracy is inevitable when running a food business with your landlord being the Parks department. Menu prices and items have to be approved by the department. RBC’s managing operator, Maribel Araujo, who is also the Caracas Arepa Bar had few sentiments to share. She mentioned that other than having to learn English after she moved to the city in 2001, she also had to learn a different language. She added that the experience with reshaping the Parks department view concerning concessions was intense. 

After working together with Parks during trying times, Araujo feels disappointed that the dedication and flexibility of her team hasn’t been recognized. These moments included beach closure, Hurricane Sandy, and COVID-19 pandemic. She was surprised at their attraction to the new money after their previous dedication in assisting small businesses be sustainable and survive.

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