Generally speaking, food labeled as “hipster [insert ethnic food genre]” scares me.
For the most part, we here at Immaculate Infatuation feel that ethnic meals are best when cooked by people who learned the craft from grandparents native to the food’s place of origin. A fusion-based, “new spin” on an old favorite can be a dangerous undertaking. Anybody can throw truffle oil on kreplach and call it a “modern twist,” but if you want kreplach, you want kreplach, not some sh*t with truffle oil on it.
So when you roll up to Bun-ker on a random stretch of road in Ridgewood (is this Queens?) and catch a glimpse of the employees in Red Wing boots and OBEY hats, you are excused for nervously wondering whether or not truffle oil is in your future.
But the guys manning Bun-Ker are ready and waiting to prove you wrong. Cooking up some seriously authentic Vietnamese eats in a space that looks like it belongs on a side street in Hanoi, the Bun-Ker Boys (copyright it!) have plenty of grandma’s technique in the kitchen. With main dishes priced in the ‘teens, this place is not insanely cheap, but a big meal here will fill you up without hitting your wallet too hard. And make no mistake about it – this is up there with some of the best Vietnamese we’ve ever had. From the insanely tasty short rib bánh mì to the seriously strong Trung Nguyen coffee, Bunk-Ker succeeds where so many new “cool” ethnic restaurants fall short: It’s just as good as the real thing.
Crab Spring Rolls
You know those greasy, soggy spring rolls you get from your delivery Vietnamese or Thai place? That’s not what’s going on here. Stuffed with an appreciable amount of real crab, these are among the few crab spring rolls out there where you can actually taste the crab. A must order.
Ca Ri Ga
A good, thick curry is hard to find, but this one is excellent. Served with a piece of chicken on the bone, potatoes, and carrots, this is a hearty plate of food that packs some spicy heat. Plus, with fresh, flaky roti served on the side, you don’t have to worry about losing any leftover goodness to the bowl. Do us a favor and slop up every last morsel of this dish, because you will wish you had halfway back to the L train.
Chicken noodle pho. Cute, we know. But honestly, this is one of the best bowls of pho we have had in a long time. The broth is light, savory, and best eaten with some of the jalapeños provided on the side for full effect.
Grilled Lemongrass Shortribs Bánh Mì
The baguette bread this guy comes on is excellent, and that’s key for any bánh mì. The short rib filling did not disappoint either. This is one incredible sandwich that you need to be eating. Split it up amongst the table to kick off dinner before you dive into the other delicious things.
Traditional Bánh Xèo
The lone miss of the lot, this crepe just did not do it for us. All the ingredients were good – egg, shrimp, bits of bacon, lots of bean sprouts – but thrown together, this one fell a bit flat. Not something we will reorder next time out.
Garlic Tomato Fried Rice
Topped with crunchy pieces of garlic, and extremely full of flavor, do not be fooled into thinking this is just a ho-hum side of rice. This is worth an order and a share with your tablemates.
Crispy, flaky, tasty. If you order a bánh mì, a few chips should be included, so you do not necessarily need a full order. Then again, you probably do.
The papaya salad is good, with a nice solid crunch, but we would have preferred more chilies, more heat. Tasty, no doubt, but given how great so many of the other dishes were, this one fell short of being as good as it gets.
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