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Mar 12, 2013 12:18 PM

Bunker or Bun-ker, vietnamese in ridgewood

Went to a party there last weekend. Food served was super tasty. Thinking about going back for menu items. Anyone try yet?

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  1. yeah, i had just about the entire menu. good satisfying stuff all around.

    1. I took the L train out to the Jefferson stop. It was a quick ride, but the 10 minute walk from the subway to the restaurant wasn't very scenic.

      Bunker has a kitschy, resort vibe that reminds me of small local restaurants in Hawaii and Bali. I liked the chill and casual atmosphere, but at times the restaurant was run a little too much in grassroots fashion. Water was from a self-serve cooler, the table was not set with plates and utensils, there was no A/C, a large 12-person table occupies most of the restaurant, and they ran out of several items at the peak hour of dinner service. The one grassroots aspect that I liked was the BYOB, but otherwise I felt like I was part of a coop where it wasn't my day to cook, but it was my day to set the table.

      In general the food was solid and had a very homecooked quality to it. It was a tad on the greasy side. I loved the spring rolls--they were perfectly golden and crispy, and the crab and vermicelli noodle filling was solid. The side of lettuce and mint leaves, as well as the fish dipping sauce, helped cut the grease.

      The shrimp and bacon egg crepe, on the other hand, I was on the fence about. I think I expected something more along the lines of a traditionally soft crepe, but the banh xeo at Bunker was more like a stiff, free-standing taco shell. I would have preferred a softer version, because it was a bit awkward breaking off rigid pieces of the crepe and trying to wrap it over the bean sprouts.

      The garlic tomato fried rice was another one of my favorites. The fried rice was so flavorful and comforting, I finished this side dish before even making a dent in the lemongrass pork dish. The pork meat used in the suon nuong xa was a little too fatty and wasn't all that flavorful. I didn't think combining it with the fried egg, rice and fish sauce enhanced the dish at all.

      I was pretty stuffed and also extremely hot by the end of the meal, so I didn't really feel like lingering for dessert. But I'm glad I toughed it out and had some of the refreshing and delicious coconut tapioca pudding. Cold tapioca pearls in cream is an effective remedy for beating the cruel humid heat.

      If Bunker were in the neighborhood, even in Chinatown, I would definitely come back multiple times. But is it worth the destination trip? Not really. It wasn't even that cheap--the final bill came out to about $30 a person, and we didn't even order that much and we brought our own beers. The trip out to Ridgewood was an adventure, though. For more pictures and description, check out the link below:

      29 Replies
      1. re: gabandgobble

        im interested in trying this place, hopefully it will be better than the current viet offerings (awful)

        fyi, banh xeo should be crispy, its supposed to be although from what you're describing it sounds like it might have been overcooked over something as im not sure it should be exactly that crispy

        1. re: Lau

          i'm sure you're right about banh xeo, my knowledge of vietnamese cuisine isn't that extensive. it was almost like a freestanding taco shell, which i found challenging to eat.

          heard the pho and curry chicken are supposed to be good

          1. re: Lau

            I had Banh Xeo at Bun-Ker too, and it was just about right, not overcooked when I tried. Similar to what I had in Hanoi

              1. re: Pookipichu

                There have been changes on Havemayer (3rd to Grand etc.), has slowly been creeping to the extent now there are plenty of bars and the little eat shops.

                The landed gentry of other places seem to find the property price good, for now at least. (I read 18th century literature from Europe. Pardon the term used more in pun)

                This is diversifying the more organically arisen historically based dominican and puerto rican community there.

                I bring this up due to a Vietnamese place on this street perhaps already opened.

                Compare and contrast.

                1. re: jonkyo

                  Nha Toi has closed and Fred the Pho Nazi is looking for another location. Dude moved here from Bay area and worked his ass off and didn't take shit from anyone, so I'd love to see you confront him with your landed gentry theories. He'd probably smash your monocle to pieces and snap your cane in half....I happen to like Havemeyer now and I play ball with/ against a lot of DR and PR dudes from that area who are still around with their extended families....Bia is a decent Vietnamese option in Williamsburg. But that's not the topic of this thread....Really want to check out Bunker....

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    I hear he is a real businessman of integrity. Fred that is.

                    This may be the dividing force from those landed gentry and those who come up with their own innovation and culinary skills due to passion and hard work.

                    Yo Mo Pho Wo Meiyou: 有某否我沒有. I have yet to do pho here. I am plagued by the pho-netics of the In-pho-del.

                    But the pho-resis, of a real pho chef seems ideal, so I am much obliged for your suggested destinations, and chefs.


                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Extended families. The white man is dying. So is the diet.

                      Food companies are marketing more mainstream items that are geared towards a market who's people are of southern origin Mexico; PR; DR Central AM and also Aisan.

                      That was an article in either the Wall Street or New York Times of recent. It was talking about major food corps. of US.

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        I've been to the three "bourgeois" Vietnamese places that have opened recently in New York City: Falansai, Bunker, and Nightingale 9, and the one I was happiest with was Nightingale 9. At each place, my friend and I tried a variety of foods from every section of the menus.

                        Falansai, while a beautiful room, was seriously disappointing. Nothing stood out. Pho broth was blah.

                        Bunker was pretty solid, but I felt like many of the dishes needed a little more dimension. The rib special we tried was pricey - I would have preferred less meat and a lower price. The flavor was something I would have been happy if I made at home, but was hoping for a bit more for the price. I didn't try the chicken curry - it looked really good, so I'm going to do that one of these days. The fried rice was a favorite.

                        Nightingale 9 had the best price performance ratio. I'd go back there anytime.

                        My favorite old school spot is still Cơm Tấm Ninh Kiều on Jerome Ave in the Bronx. It's generally better than any other New York City Vietnamese restaurant - sometimes the pho broth doesn't pop enough. I also don't like the thick wrappers they use for the spring rolls.

                        1. re: Peter Cuce

                          Thanks for the heads up. Yeah, I've never heard of Nightingale 9. The online menu doesn't post prices. But sounds like you found it a good value.

                          Edit: The one posted through Yelp posts prices.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            I'll try to elaborate on Nightingale 9 sometime soon. Probably after a return visit.

                          2. re: Peter Cuce

                            I am wondering if any of these Vietnam shops have what I had on the train, heading from Quảng Ninh to Tuy Hoa and eventually 胡志明市 Ho Chi Minh City.

                            On that long train ride in what seemed one of the longest countries in the world, I tried this egg that was a fetus in it. Those who knew some English that were around me to help me taste what was special about it, told me to focus on the juice.

                            Spectacularly delicious, truly, if you can get beyond the wet feathers, as I did, after a few seconds of silent protest.

                            What they are called is Hot Vit Lon.

                            Vit means duck. The other words may mean fetus egg.

                            It has appeared in English as Half Grown Eggs.

                            Would they be legal in the United States?

                            I am no agriculturalist, so have no clue.

                            I should ask my friends in P.E.T.A.

                            Thanks for the tip on Cơm Tấm Ninh Kiều.

                            It sounds as if they are a winning place.

                            As for "bourgeois" places, well were is the place that exists analogous to some of the Fujian places on Eldridge. Those that just support the local Vietnamese. Or is the community to spread or small?

                            Article for those who do not know:

                            1. re: jonkyo

                              Available in many of the Asian supermarkets in Flushing and Elmhurst.

                              1. re: el jefe

                                There have been multiple "where to find balut" threads over the years as well....I was served a goat meat bento meal when I rode the train in Vietnam a while back.

                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  That sounds good. The goat meat balut.

                                  In this unusual food theme here about Vietnam, Tariq Ali in the London review of Books, last year, reviewed a book by a modern literary figure from Vietnam. In one quote from a passage of one of the writer's novels, there was the description of a diner guest of the prepared and cooked "female sex organ" of the pig.

                                  Of course penis and the testicles are used in many cuisines. I dare say the first that I have known of the female organ used is Vietnam.

                                  You can find this description in the review:

                                  Tariq Ali: Ho Chi Minh in Love, a review of The Zenith by Duong Thu Huong (
                                  London Review of Books: Vol. 34 No. 22 · 22 November 2012). You might have to go to a Library, for online seems to need subscription. Or search the article for another source.

                                  Was the goat Balut delicious?

                                  I particularly enjoyed the yolk of the fetus egg.

                                  Food adventurers would be wise to try this.

                                  As for organ meat, it diversifies the texture and taste of what we Americans are used to, which is the muscle of the pig, chicken, and cow...and fish too.

                                  1. re: jonkyo

                                    Balut is Tagalog for developing duck egg, a subject covered here multiple times over the years. If you are looking to have it served to you at a restaurant, you can try doing a search. Some of the Filipino places will have it.

                                    I was served goat meat in some sort of gravy sauce when riding the train.

                                    As for organ meat, the whole offal boom has been in effect around here already for at least 4 or 5 years. So there's really no need to wax philosophic on what Americans are used to. In any case, if you're keen to get your lips are around some sex organs, they do serve bull penis and turkey testicles at Kenka on St. Marks in the city.

                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                      I did not encounter such developing eggs in the Isles where Tagalog is natively spoke. Thank you for that information. I gather its regionally distributed.

                                      I have had organ meat at Kenka.

                                      The bull's penis, not.

                                      Next time.

                                      "no need to wax philosophic on what Americans are used to"

                                      That would be the Pop Tart. A highly controversial item in some circles.

                                    2. re: jonkyo

                                      I've had pig uterus tacos in northern Mexico before. Pretty good actually.

                                      1. re: MVNYC

                                        I can imagine so.

                                        Is it served with amniotic fluids for dipping? (jest)

                                        Thanks for the info on that.

                                    1. re: jonkyo

                                      this place was listed as best 2013 cheap eats in ny magazine issue i was reading yesterday--atmosphere though sounds like a real dump fro the descriptions here

                                      1. re: janie

                                        "a real dump", well, standards are relative.

                                        I am getting more curious.


                                        1. re: janie

                                          Ive not been to Bunker but most of the Vietnamese restaurants in NY are pretty bare bones - not dumps at all - this one sounds typical.

                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                            Bunker is not remotely like the other Vietnamese restaurants in NYC either in decor, concept or execution. Gabandgobble has it correct. That's not to say it's a lot better, but they do use better ingredients, so even if something fails, which some of the dishes I tried did, they're still basically tasty and healthy but also far more expensive than your standard Vietnamese joint. I have some photos somewhere - I'll try to dig them up.

                                          2. re: janie

                                            I wouldn't say dump--it's kitschy in that hipster tiki room sort of way. a little more character than the barebones places in ny. but there's no AC, which is unacceptable

                                            1. re: janie

                                              "dump" is pretty harsh. I've been to far dumpier places here and abroad.

                                      2. re: Peter Cuce

                                        Bunker is not trying to be "Bourgeois". It's supposed to be like Vietnamese street food.

                                        1. re: dingaling

                                          i think "supposed to be" is the operative term there.

                            2. re: gabandgobble

                              A traditional Banh Xeo is supposed to be nice and crispy on the outside and tender on the flip side. So you get textural and flavor difference. Crispy bacon and mushroom is always good!

                            3. Many of the Vietnamese here in New york City are actually Chinese, who descendents of people who are mostly originating from Guangdong regions such as Chaozhou.

                              They are ethnically Chinese.

                              That would be 婆記 on Grand in manhattan and the other excellent place near corner Hester and Chrystie

                              1. Bunker is great; we've been there twice now, and both times everything was really excellent, with one exception. One of our party got the coconut-braised ribs, and while they were cooked perfectly, we'd been hoping for the meat to be more flavored (with spices, or even coconut), and it really just tasted like (pretty delicious) braised meat.

                                The banh xeo was great and I wished I'd gotten it again the second time we went. The catfish bun thing is a hit.

                                I'm also surprised by how accessible it is (by bike or car), just right down Metropolitan, five minutes from the East Williamsburg restaurants where we're constantly eating. So the next time we're running through a list in our head of Wburg places to eat, I would add Bunker on. Not sure about public transit, though :)

                                1 Reply
                                1. Tried it today...excellent meal:

                                  -- wild shrimp w/ basil, bacon, and a nice fishy sauce...the best dish of the 3 we shared...23 bucks, but worth it...

                                  -- Banh Xeo...loved this also...nice crispy/soft contrast on the crepe texture, nice pristine mint and lettuce, and also i like the fish sauce they give you here for dipping (stronger flavor than at other places)...

                                  -- Cha Ca La Vong...good, but slightly underwhelming...the fish itself was deep-fried perfectly, but i could barely detect any turmeric...i'd prob only order this again in a group if we were sharing many dishes -- until then, i'll prob explore the rest of the menu a bit (crab spring rolls, chicken curry w/ roti, and summer rolls looked very good on other tables)...

                                  -- coconut/jackfruit tapioca pudding...i'm not a dessert guy but i loved the few spoonfuls i shared...

                                  -- also note: they now have wine&beer...i had a chilled German red, which was a decent pairing w/ the bacon: light, acidic, and somewhat akin to a Beaujolais...and a glass of a sparkling rose from Mosse in the Loire region: surprisingly herby and (happily) more dry than i expected -- would be tempted to get a bottle of this with a group on a warm day...

                                  Bill w/ 20% tip: 100 bucks even...

                                  Also note: the walk from the Jefferson subway, at least by day, was easy and safe and less than 15's all warehouses but not sketchy in the least (so ignore those terrified Yelpers)...on the way back, we opted for an urban hike and headed west towards the Grand St subway, which is about 25 minutes and a perfectly fine way to get there too...