Banh mi with rabbit dumpling
photos by terry brennan
Joy: Ngon chef/owner Hai Truong’s family has run a Vietnamese restaurant at this address for generations. Although he had planned a different life, when the business went up for sale by an aunt, Hai and his wife, Jessica Ainsworth-Truong, dove in. That was 2007, and while there have been some changes—hello, full bar—the restaurant has continuously delivered French-Vietnamese deliciousness.
Jason: Truong has carved his own legacy here by operating one of the first Vietnamese restaurants to focus on sourcing local ingredients. The greens and vegetables are largely from local farms, the beef is from Thousand Hills Cattle Co. in Cannon Falls, the pork is from Fischer Farms in Waseca, and even the broths for the pho and ramen use bones from grass-fed local animals. By supporting Minnesota farmers, the additional payoff is in explosive, fresh flavors on the plate.
Joy: I have two non-negotiable, must-order dishes on every visit: the pho with ribeye and the rabbit dumpling. The delicate yet powerfully flavorful broth is one of the best soups in the Cities, and I couldn’t have made it through my last pregnancy without its healing powers. The dumpling is a shatter-crisp wrapper in a spicy yellow curry studded with tart, bright tomatoes.
Jason: Ngon braises beef cheeks to a rich, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, serving them in a cast-iron platter with a dusting of sliced scallions. A perfect sharable start to your meal, smartly served with a baguette because you are going to want to soak up every ounce of the slightly spicy Sichuan sauce.
Joy: No dish is rushed. Each one is built of long, slow-roasty flavors—but that doesn’t mean they’re not quick to arrive on the table. The bánh mì is served on a crusty baguette, layered with rich meat, and topped with pickled carrots and cilantro, with the cracking heat of raw jalapeños.
Jason: Don’t let the name keep you from ordering the pork pasta. There’s a reason it has remained on the menu since day one. The locally raised pork is braised in Serrano pepper and served with freshly made, thick basil egg noodles, zucchini, brussels sprouts, and tomatoes in a creamy five-spice sauce. This is an absolute show-stopper.
Joy: Ngon is also a great spot for date night. There is a dinner special on Wednesdays, and the cocktail menu is worth lingering over.
Ngon Bistro Quick Tips
One block from the Victoria Street Green Line station, there’s plenty of street parking just off University Avenue
Bargain Wine List
Just order the bottle, mostly in the $30-$40 range; Ngon prices bottles just $8 over their retail cost
Ngon has great sandwiches, including a play on the French dip with beef brisket cooked in pho broth, and a burger made with the flavors of pho
799 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, ngonbistro.com