On opening night, Bún DC’s 11 seats were in high demand. Those who gathered on the small patio outside 2905 Sherman Ave. NW awaiting their turn questioned diners with bellies full of South Vietnamese food about what to expect. Raves flowed freely.
The restaurant is from 70-year-old Dep Le with copious amounts of help from her daughter Phi “Nina” Nguyen and son-in-law Minh Chao, who most know from local pho authority Pho Viet. The menu celebrates dishes native to Sóc Trăng, Vietnam and spans familiar dishes like fresh or fried rice paper rolls, eight variations of bánh mì sandwiches, and vermicelli rice bowls known as bún, to less well-known preparations like Vietnam’s answer to congee, called cháo, clay pot rice dishes, and light vermicelli crab soups known as bún riêu.
“My mom is a religious person,” Nguyen says. “She’s Buddhist and a vegetarian, so the vegetable food recipes, mostly I get them from her. But the meat and seafood is from me. I’m a meat eater. I’ll take care of meat.”
Nguyen’s tip is to always order the dish that shares its name with the restaurant. At Pho Viet you should order pho and at Bún DC you should order bún, she suggests. “You don’t see too many other restaurants focused on it,” she says. “But if it’s your first time, just see what you like. If you feel like soup go with soup. If you feel like rice go with rice.”
Despite these pointers, it can still be tough to know where to start. Try any of these three dishes:
Bánh Hỏi—Rice Vermicelli Woven Dish ($16.95)
Think of this as a pu-pu platter on top of triangles of rice noodles sewn together like a basket. Bún DC tops the vermicelli with a skewer of pork, a skewer of grilled shrimp, an audibly crispy egg roll, and minced shrimp blended together and wrapped around a shard of sugarcane. It’s garnished with dried onion, green onion, crushed peanuts, lettuce for making wraps, pickled vegetables, and a dipper of their potent house fish sauce. Find it in the appetizer section, but know that it can make for a meal on its own.
Bún Riêu—Vermicelli Crab Soup ($10.95-$12.95)
This Sóc Trăng-style rice noodle soup features a light broth flavored with tomato, crab, shrimp, pork, and chicken. On its own it’s not spicy, but each table has a jar of red chilies to help you sweat it out if desired. Diners can choose their protein ranging from tame shredded chicken or seafood to lòng heo (sliced pork belly, pork heart, pork liver, pork blood, pork ear, and Vietnamese pork roll). There’s a version with a vegetarian broth that comes topped with vegetables and tofu. Like pho, the soup comes with a side of bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, lime wedges, and basil.
Cơm Chiên Tỏi Nước Mắm Của Bà Với Trứng Chiên & Lạp Xướng—Fried Rice with Fish Sauce and Chinese Sausage ($12.95)
It’s best to order this mouthful by its designated number on the menu: 55. Simple fried rice is livened up by slices of sweet Chinese-style sausage, a fried egg, pickled vegetables, and a pool of fish sauce for dipping or drizzling. It comes with a small bowl of fresh herbs floating in a light, meaty broth.
Bún DC doesn’t have a liquor license, but their beverage menu is just as intriguing as a cocktail list, only cheaper. If you have exerted yourself, refuel with nature’s Gatorade. “Chanh Muối Với Soda” combines salted lemonade and club soda ($3.95).
For a pick-me-up, order Vietnamese espresso with condensed milk ($3.95). It comes with a bucket of ice in case you want to cool it down. Bún DC also makes mango, taro, and soursop smoothies with or without tapioca pearls ($4.50-$4.95) and Thai iced tea with or without tapioca pearls ($3.95-$4.45).
The hours of operation are Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Bún DC, 2905 Sherman Ave. NW; (202) 412-6113; bunwdc.com