Many of the best things in life are great because they're exceptional in ways you didn't even know was possible. The natural beauty of your state park? Really nice. Until you go to the Grand Canyon. That little neighborhood sushi place? Super awesome. Until you go to Tokyo. Going to the Hayden Planetarium? Totally neat. Until you've done it stoned.
Personally, I've never been to the Grand Canyon or Tokyo, nor have I been high at the Planetarium. So in those matters, I remain pretty happy with what I'm used to.
But I have been to Bun-Ker in Ridgewood, and I can say that when it comes to eating Vietnamese food in New York, I'm now jaded. We strongly endorse making the trip, but know your neighborhood delivery of pho and beef over vermicelli will start to feel like the Jan Brady of Vietnamese food - constantly compared, and never as good.
The little space, on an industrial strip in Ridgewood not far from Bushwick, makes the kind of Vietnamese food you've likely tried before - pho, banh mi, spring rolls, beef over vermicelli noodles, and takes them to a level that makes everything else feel like Junior Varsity.
Because the place has only been around a few years, is run by relatively young people, and is in a quickly gentrifying area, you might expect Bun-Ker to be what print magazines would call a "hipster" take on Vietnamese food. But in reality, there's very little fusion or even much "modernizing" going on here. Instead, it's simply versions of the classics, with fresher ingredients and richer, deeper flavors, that are way better than what we've had elsewhere. Just have a sip of their pho broth, and you'll get it.
We'll still hit up our spots on Mott Street for a bowl of pho or a banh mi, because a trip to Bun-Ker isn't always in the cards. But when it is, nothing else compares.
Now who wants to go to the planetarium?
A crispy omelette with bacon and shrimp that you eat wrapped up in a piece of lettuce with mint, bean sprouts, and a dipping sauce. Definitely delicious, definitely not kosher.
Juicy, tangy cubes of short rib, over vermicelli noodles. This is the meat order you want for your table.
The chicken pho at Bun-Ker is the best pho we've ever had. It's like chicken noodle soup, plus pho, injected with magic. The broth could likely cure diseases.
Crispy, crab-filled spring rolls that get the job done. Wrap them up in some lettuce.
Long story short? Get one and split it among you. The banh mi at Bun-Ker (that's fun to say) is a can't miss item, especially if they have the crispy flounder version available. Don't think. Just do.