The James Beard-nominated matriarch of Portland’s beloved Vietnamese noodle soup restaurants Ha VL and Rose VL has died. Ha (Christina) Luu passed away at home on May 29 at the age of 77 from cancer. Luu’s son Peter Vuong, who now runs Ha VL, announced the news on social media. She is survived by her husband William Vuong, sons Han, Hung, Kenny, Peter, Richard, and Steven, as well as three siblings and 20 grandchildren, the Oregonian reported in her obituary.
Luu was born in 1947 in Hanoi and immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s after sending her sons to Oregon one-by-one. Along with husband William Vuong, she briefly ran a convenience store before opening Ha VL in 2004. They handed off the restaurant to Peter in 2015, and opened sibling restaurant Rose VL within the same year. Both locations are Portland destinations known for their two daily rotating soup noodle dishes, with fans flocking to the restaurant’s plastic-covered tables on Fridays for bun rieu and pho ga or coming in on Saturdays to slurp cao lau and mi quang. Luu garnered three James Beard Award nominations, in 2017, 2018, and 2019, for best chef: Northwest. Her restaurant legacy will be carried on by family, with Peter Vuong and wife Loan Vuong running Ha VL, and Steven Vuong and wife Helen Huynh running Rose VL.
Portland’s restaurant industry remembers Luu for her hospitality and presence, which was as heartwarming as the meticulous noodle soups she mastered. We’ve compiled some of their reflections below.
“Christina Luu felt like the mother of Portland. Her wonderful, warm smile; comforting soups with the most wonderful light flavorful broths; thoughtful ingredients and delicious fresh spring rolls. I have a little card from her in my wallet with the soup days written down that is pretty vintage at this point, as it has been a constant reminder and loving elbow. She is greatly missed. What an amazing gift she has given us all over the years.” —Kristen Murray, Maurice
“Christina was my noodle soup mom. Her vibrant energy was contagious and matched the walls at Rose VL. We were always chopping it up about food and family — she loved talking about her family. Things felt so familiar around Chef Christina, her soup and presence brought so much comfort and love in my life.” —Christine Dong, photographer
“Christina Luu created an extremely special ‘third space.’ Ha VL consistently serves my favorite food in all of Portland while maintaining such an organically familial feel. I’m grateful to get to experience what she and her family created. She will be sorely missed.” —Mariah Pisha-Duffly*, Gado Gado
“Christina wasn’t just a great cook, a welcoming mother figure and gracious host, she was my friend...and a friend to most of the people who came to Ha VL (and later Rose VL), where I spent hundreds of early mornings over a bowl of bun moc and a glass of caphe sua da. You couldn’t ask for a warmer, more empathetic person....but as a cook, she was a brilliant, sharp tongued and disciplined perfectionist, refusing to compromise on her product, her recipes, the volume of food she would make in a day and the size of her menu. From a tiny kitchen at Ha VL, with only a residential range, I watched her expand the consciousness of the Portland culinary scene and later the whole country’s, as chefs and food world luminaries descended on the little eight table space. Ha VL was, and still is in my opinion, the best restaurant in Portland and one of my favorite in the whole world, thanks to Christina’s love and incredible hard work. Her legacy at Ha VL is carried on by her son Peter who inherited her best traits and her skill as a cook. My heart goes out to him, her husband William, all the siblings and grandchildren... and the family she made out of all of us in Portland. I’ll miss the twinkle in her eye, the strong coffee, the amazing food but most of all, her friendship. Long may you run, Ha Luu.” —Andy Ricker, Pok Pok
“I have very fond memories going back to my days at Paley’s, when the cooks would gather on our days off to go to Ha VL. You had to get there early because they would sell out quickly, a testament to how delicious the soups were. The flavors and execution were always meticulous. I remember one of my favorite things was to get a soup and then get a pork banh mi for the road!” —Patrick McKee, Dame
*Pisha-Duffly has set up a GoFundMe for the Vuong family to help pay for funeral expenses and to help offset the cost of closing their restaurants while they mourn.