When Alvin Wang, Phumitas Kaewklang, and Raymond Chau were coming up with the name of their second restaurant, they landed on the Vietnamese word Lúa. Lúa, which pulls from the Vietnamese hạt lúa, refers to grain, a celebration of the foundation of most of their dishes. The restaurant and cafe serves wheat in the baguettes for their banh mi, house-made noodles, and bowls of tomato-red rice next to sizzling plates of bò lúc lắc, or shaking beef. When Lúa opens on North Williams in June, it will be one of the only places in that neighborhood for Vietnamese soups and banh mi, accompanied by fresh-squeezed juices and boba.
Wang, Kaewklang, and Chau currently run Vietnamese deli within Hong Phat on SE 82nd, Lotus Kitchen. For those in the know, Lotus Kitchen is a gem on a street packed with talent: The deli serves tasty banh mi topped with everything from roast pork to snail patties, braised catfish with fish sauce and young coconut juice, summer rolls filled with egg and Chinese sausage, and bún layered with grilled meats. After three years, the three men wanted to branch out. “We had a lot of great ideas at Lotus Kitchen that we wanted to bring to a new space,” Chau says. He thinks of dishes like bánh hỏi heo quay, little woven nests of vermicelli with crispy pork and fish sauce, or a number of folded steamed buns with various fillings.
Another territory they wanted to explore is noodle soup. The initial menu will stick to beef and chicken pho, but down the line, the team wants to add things like bún bò Huế, the Southern Vietnamese seafood soup hu Tieu, and turmeric-noodle-filled mì Quảng. The shop will also include noodle soups exceptionally difficult to find outside of east Portland, including bánh canh with the namesake rice cakes, crab-laden bún riêu, and bún mọc topped with pork meatballs. Some of those dishes will come with house-made noodles; very few Vietnamese restaurants in Portland make their own noodles, excluding places like Pho Kim. “A lot of the food we want to make, we’ll try to as much as possible to do in-house instead of buying frozen or prepared,” Wang says. “Fresh made in-house, every single day —making our own noodles, fresh boba, juices, everything.”
The one thing the deli won’t be making themselves are the baguettes for banh mi; those loaves will come from Happy Valley’s Bon Baguette, the foundation for composed sandwiches and also the quintessential Vietnamese breakfast banh mi chao. Banh mi chao is more like a do-it-yourself version of the dish, in which a sizzling plate of things like fried eggs and meat are served alongside a baguette. Those sizzling plates will be available with customizable options, arriving at tables stacked with things like meatballs, squid, and shrimp. The team will round out the menu with an assortment of salads, salad rolls, wings, and pandan bubble waffles.
The restaurant will also house a small cafe, serving boba made with house-made tapioca, cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and sugarcane drinks. Down the line, the cafe will also stock spirits for cocktails, but for now, they’re focusing on what works best for takeout and delivery. Lúa will open June 30 in the former Las Primas space, at 3971 N Williams Avenue, Suite 103.