Compared to a good number of cities in the United States, Portland has an impressive range of Vietnamese dishes represented at its restaurants. Visitors can find caramel-y thit kho, saucy cao lau, and DIY bánh hỏi at restaurants and cafes throughout the city. But for Cindy Phan, co-owner of Foster-Powell bubble tea shop Yoonique Tea, there are still many exceptional Vietnamese dishes underrepresented in Portland restaurants — dishes like bún nem chua, or cured sour beef, and com chiên dồ biển, seafood roe fried rice.
Taking inspiration from family recipes and the cuisine of Ho Chi Minh City, Phan decided to expand the city’s offerings herself. Yoonique Pho and Grill, newly open on Southeast Division, serves dishes like bò tái chanh, lime-juice-cured, thinly sliced beef with shallots and herbs, alongside lobster tail wontons and a wide array of noodle soups.
Although Phan’s first venture was beverage focused, she has a wealth of experience in the restaurant industry, previously working at Pho Van and La Sen and helping develop the menu at the now-closed Vietnamese street food spot Hem 23. At her new Powellhurst-Gilbert restaurant, she’ll aim to bring back some of Hem 23’s street food vibe, with specials involving quail and frog legs. “I want to show people around this area what [Vietnamese] street food is like,” Phan says.
For now, the restaurant’s specialties include dishes like the aforementioned bún nem chua and com chiên dồ biển, as well as bún cá hồi, or turmeric grilled salmon served with mam nem, a shrimp paste-pineapple sauce popular in Vietnamese street food cooking. In the summer, the menu will skew towards grilled dishes with lots of fresh herbs and vegetables, while winter will lean heavily on warming noodle soups.
Phan is proud to be showcasing broken rice, an integral ingredient in Vietnamese street food, on her menu. “Back then, most lower class people didn’t have enough money to buy whole [grain] rice, so broken rice was available everywhere because it was affordable,” Phan says. It’s currently served with pork chops and salted egg ham as a special, but will also accompany grilled pork belly.
Yoonique has a number of vegetarian dishes in the works, and is currently working on a vegetarian version of bún bò Huế that involves slow-cooked vegetable broth and an oyster mushroom Vietnamese “sausage.” But the dish that Phan is perhaps most excited to debut on the menu are chả giò rế, or “netted” egg rolls, which are exceedingly crispy from a lacy wrapper texture made with rice flour and tapioca starch.
Along with business partner Sue Nguyen, Phan opened Yoonique Tea in April 2020, selling specialty drinks that live up to the cafe’s name, like granola milk tea, Oreo cloud foam tea, and the duricado, a durian and avocado shake topped with toasted coconut and almonds. After the shop opened, Phan began vending its tea at events like the West Linn Old Time Fair, the Portland Flea, and Portland Night Market. The coordinator of the Old Time Fair asked Phan if she would be interested in selling food as well, which snowballed into serving food at other events. “[It got] up to the point where I was like ‘okay, we need a restaurant,’” Phan says.
As diners might expect, Yoonique Pho will offer a selection of tea drinks, although the menu is a condensed version of the bubble tea cafe’s. Phan has tailored the tea menu to temper the punchy flavors in Yoonique’s dishes — ceylon black tea accented with fresh fruit, coconut juice with house-made pandan jelly, and fresh lychee drinks.
Yoonique Pho and Grill is located at 11910 SE Division Street.