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Feb 10, 2006 05:39 PM

Hung Ky Chowdown (REPORT)

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CH Addict, The Non-Chowhounder Known Only As P, ed, and I left Hung Ky incredibly happy and full today after lunch. Ed's heading to a weekend getaway with all the photos, so we'll all have to await his return for visual confirmation that Hung Ky is worth a lunch stop even though it's in the Tenderloin. It isn't in what I consider the worst part of the 'loin, but it was plenty pungent today because of the heat.

We shared:

BAHN CUON (not on the menu): CH Addict had heard tales of this bahn cuon's tender rice flour skin, so we ordered two. I did not regret that choice at all. The bahn cuon were shaped a little like spring rolls, but the skin was thin and translucent. They were filled with a combination of mushrooms and pork and topped with a slices of Vietnamese ham (like in a bahn mi sandwich), cilantro, and dried deep fried shallots. Nuoc cham (fish sauce) was offered on the side, as were jars of extra shallots swimming in oil. Delicious. I've never had this or seen it on a menu before, but it was amazing. The skins were tender and warm, the filling very subtle, and the oniony flavor and crunchiness of the shallots were a perfect contrast. It's telling that almost every other table in the restaurant had a plate of bahn cuon despite it's not being on the menu.

PHO GA NAM NGU (special chicken rice noodle soup): this pho ga gives Turtle Tower's a run for it's money even though I was so distracted by the bahn cuon I might not be giving it enough credit. Light clear broth with tiny globes of chicken fat floating on top, tender pieces of not-too-fatty chicken with skin still attached, soft thin rice noodles without any clumping. Clumpy noodles of any kind are a peeve of mine.

BUN RIEU (crab, shrimp, tomato with vermicelli soup): the reddish broth of this soup was very interesting. It reminded me of mild cioppino, but had a spice in it that I could not identify. There were small patties in the soup formed out of what I can only assume to be tofu and crab. The vermicelli seemed more like curly egg noodles than the noodles you typically see in pho tai (beef pho noodle soup). This was fine, but it was also the dish we had the most left over of.

BUN CHA (four season grilled pork, charboiled pork slices served w/ vermicelli, lettuce, and fish sauce): GREAT pork. Smokey, charred, well-marinated meat floating in a bowl of meaty sauce and topped with carrots and daikon. We were so full CH Addict started eating the pork by itself and I was putting much less vermicelli in my wraps than usual. We were encouraged by the owner to douse our wraps with as much of the liquid as could possibly be held by a "burrito" of lettuce and vermicelli, but were too full to really comply.

Drinks were standard Vietnamese restaurant offerings, but very well done. The sip I tried of the salted lemon juice with soda was refreshing and not as salty as the one other version I've tried (that's a good thing, and I'll be more encouraged to order this in the future). The fresh coconut juice I had was very fresh and naturally sweet, with big slices of tender coconut meat. Why do people buy coconut juice in a can? Nature's already provided the perfect can in the form of a fruit!

Anyway, Hung Ky suffers from poor location. A lot of restaurants thrive in the Tenderloin, but Hung Ky is off the main Larkin Street drag of Thai and Vietnamese places. Still, it beats the pants off most Tenderloin offerings, and is much better IMO than Pho Hoa just up the street. $11 each including tip and leftovers.

ed wins the Chowhound "gentleman of the day" award. Not only did he keep our teacups full during the entire meal, he stopped by Copenhagen Bakery and picked up a slice of pink princess cake for the table to share! Despite how full we were, we managed to finish this delicious slab of heaven. I might have to conduct a mini cake crawl this weekend to confirm, but I do believe the current princess cake rankings are:

Victoria (just say no!)

Two must tries: IKEA (I'm as suprised as you are; they're frozen and from Sweden) and The Cakery.

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  1. I have been wanting to try bahn cuon at Hang Ky ever since chowhound Jen's report last Dec. I went there for lunch once, but they were closed. Thanks for your report. I am going there this weekend for sure.

    1. Hung Ky
      337 Jones (between Ellis and Eddy)

      The menu says open 7 days a week 9:00-7:00, but the owner confirmed that they close at 6:00 p.m. each night. Maybe if we can make a big fuss they'll stay open later; they say no one wants to be in their neighborhood at night.

      Perhaps it would be best to call first, since nora went and they were closed for lunch once.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nooodles

        Good luck calling...I couldn't get anyone to answer the times I tried.

      2. I originally wanted to try this place because I saw their menu on menupix. It looked good and you gotta love the name (visions of studly shirtless waiters sprung to mind). So I did a Chowhound search and found the lovely jen's aka The Hungry Hedonist photo and that sealed the deal. She did a great report on Hung Ky so we stuck w/ her recs and added the pork.

        Banh cuon: I don't know what the correct name for the pork/pate thing is, we just called it Vietnamese baloney when I was growing up. Man, oh man! were those things good! The wrapper was so delicate. I didn't pick up a lot of onion flavor in the filling but I could taste a healthy dose of black pepper. It really makes me wonder how many other tasty treats are not on the menu just waiting to be explored...

        Bun Rieu: I have never had this before so I have no idea if this is the way it is supposed to be but I didn't like it. The broth was good, kinda spicy, kinda sweet. There were dumpling-like thingies (of what I can only assume are made of crab, shrimp, and something eggy because I couldn't see any of the advertised shrimp and crab) in the soup and these I didn't like at all. Eaten by itself it had no real flavor.

        Pho ga: I don't remember any chicken fat in my little bowl. The chicken was very tender (no fat on mine), absolutely perfect. Clear, subtle broth and noodles so silky that P swears they had to be fresh. Better than my mommy's (but don't tell her!).

        Pork: this was so good. So juicy and tender. Even if they stopped serving banh cuon, I would return just for this. In fact, I think I will, if they are open tomorrow.

        The saddest part is that they are not open for dinner, they close at six. When I asked him why, he said "Bad neighborhood!" (though he's only half a block up from the police station). ed did his darnedest to convince him that he could stay open later during the summer but to no avail. Le sigh!

        And the wonderful ed truly is a gentleman by bringing princess cake for the princess cake queen. I don't usually like princess cake but this was seriously good cake! So light and not too sweet. I'm starting to see a pattern to our chowdowns: we seem to bring in outside desserts!


        4 Replies
        1. re: CH Addict

          Not fat fat, just little glistening chicken soup floaties. You know, the globules that let you know you're having the good stuff, not Swanson's.

          I can not get the bahn cuon out of my head. It reminds me of so many things: Taiwanese oyster pancakes, chang fen (flat rice noodle sheets with filling) at dim sum, ba wan meatballs, these dumplings I can only get in one city in Taiwan, and any number of gooey, slightly chewy rice flour creations. It reminded me of all these things, and yet it was so unique. I'm linking Jen's old post because it has a GREAT photo.


          1. re: nooodles

            Thanks for finding that post. That message number was actually a duplicate -- here's a link to the same thing in the the thread that has the replies.

            I tried to have lunch at Hung Ky after reading that, but found out it's closed on Mondays. Or at least that's the posted hours on the door.


            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Do you remember if that's the only day it's closed? I seriously want to go back this weekend...

              1. re: CH Addict

                I got through! Somewhat conflicting, but the woman on the phone said they are open every day except Monday, until 7pm.

                The guy today said 6pm. So I'm assuming they just don't want you showing up to eat at 7pm, but that might not be a safe bet on slow days.

                She did assure me they're open this weekend, so go crazy!

        2. Great review! I'm glad you had a chance to try their heavenly bahn cuon.

          I totally agree about not being able to call in. I remember coming back from college this break and not getting through; I was so scared they went out of business (thank goodness they didn't)! I wish they were open later, too. Then I wouldn't have to have insanely early dinners at 5:30. I think we should all band together to make them open later.


          5 Replies
          1. re: Jen

            Hey Jen, thanks for letting us know about this terrific place. I wasn't in town for the chowdown, but I had lunch there on Saturday when I noticed parking in front while passing by. Coincidentally, I figured out that the table with the folks chatting about gelato et al had to be other chowhounds and got to meet Ms. nooodles and CH Addict, as well as suprising my ol' fried elise h.

            I'd finished my lunch already, a lovely bowl of pho ga topped with gizzards, liver, and two unborn eggs. The eggs were yolks with just a thin film of white and had a creamy texture. The free-range chicken was very good with the perfect salting and great texture. Especially loved the firmness of the non-flabby skin.

            I noticed on the picture menu description under in the glass table tops that the bun rieu has escargot in it. True?


            1. re: Melanie Wong

              It was really hard for me to tell what was in the bun rieu. Hopefully ed will be back from his trip with pictures soon, but to me it looked like a bowl of red soup (tomato?) chock full of noodles with patties on top. Other than the patties and noodles, there weren't other solids in the soup.

              The patties really could have been formed out of anything. The texture was sort of like crumbled soft tofu, and most of it was tofu colored with green vegetabls specs. It could very well have had crab and escargot in it, though visually it was impossible to tell.

              I really did like the soup, if only because it was like nothing I've ever tasted. I don't know if I would ever crave it. I was not a fan of the soft noodles and patties.

              1. re: nooodles

                You would know if it had the snails in it because the snails are sort of crunchyish, like abalone...sort of. I've had that soup without the snails too. If you think of them like little abalones then they start tasting good, at least to me.

                1. re: jschyun

                  I didn't look at the photo that carefully since it was rotated 90 degrees, but it seemed to have dark snail-like orbs in it. I'll bet that CHA is right, you'd need to order the "Oc" version to have the snails.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    yeah, it's usually a separate line item on the menu. IIRC I've seen it called bun oc or something like that too which I guess is the one with no crab.

          2. Another thank you from me for a great review!

            Now I know what this dish is called (Banh Cuon).

            Only had two versions of this so far. One at Lam's in Taraval which I thought at the time was nice (many moons ago), and the other is the banh mi shop run by people who also speak Cantonese, wee little place on Irving around 24th or so (their combo banh mi kicks ass and I guess I haven't found anything better). This Hung Hy version of BC looks even nicer...sadly a bit out of reach for me at the moment.

            But I'm really does this baloney type deli meat + thin rice noodle chang fen thingy + condiments remind you of Er A Jien/Oyster Pancake, considering the ingredients and taste are so different? Is it texture? I would think Er A Jien is a little more on the gooey side as there is supposedly a little dee gwa fun in it (yam starch/powder).

            1 Reply
            1. re: KK

              The skin of the bahn cuon is quite chewy, though not as chewy as that of your typical oyster pancake. I think it's not so much that the flavors are similar. But mentally for me, they both belong in the class of things that are "delicious because of a strange chewy rice flour skin."