When you think about grabbing a late-night snack in Capitol Hill, what comes to mind is probably a handful of tacos at Rancho Bravo, a burger and fries at Li’l Woody’s, pizza from the sh*tshow slice window at Big Mario’s, a Seattle dog with cream cheese from Monster Dog, or an entire sack of cool ranch Doritos and E.L. Fudge cookies shamelessly consumed on your apartment floor washed down with that Mike’s Hard Lemonade you found at the back of your fridge. What probably doesn’t come to mind as a viable midnight meal is a steaming hot bowl of pho. That’s where Ba Bar comes in.
Ba Bar decided that if someone wanted to party with a kickass shrimp and sausage vermicelli bowl and a gin cocktail at 1am while listening to jazzy music in sexy darkness, that should be a reality. And the result isn’t just a fun idea - it’s actually genius, and actually excellent.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Ba Bar is the slick-looking bar. It’s so tall that it requires a ladder to get to the Grey Goose, and is backed by a huge poster of some chain-smoking Saigon rockstar we’d really like to grab a drink with. The whole place feels like you’ve been transported to a dark alley, but with expensive furniture, candles, and no stray animals or mysterious puddles.
To be clear, Ba Bar is open for lunch, but it’s really in its element at second-dinner, when you’ll really be part of the action. Show up a little later in the night to avoid a wait, but don’t show up in a total rush (service can be slow). Also, take advantage of the six-dollar old fashioneds on Mondays and Tuesdays, which you can cradle while eating great Vietnamese classics like rotisserie chicken with broken rice, or weirder fusion bar snacks like chicken wings tossed in a spicy caramel soy sauce. And after a night of drinking we could easily tear through three orders the charred lemongrass beef skewers.
When your foray into Vietnamese food and funtime is over, you’ll pass a small pastry window near the host stand on your way out. Always buy a macaron (or anything) to eat on your way home, which is a way better idea than just about anything else that happens at 2am.
Crispy wings with caramel, rice vinegar, fish sauce, roasted garlic, chili, and topped with toasted sesame seeds. If we had to choose between textbook-example buffalo wings and these, we would probably break down and start sobbing from the stress of indecision. They’re that good. Even your weird friends who say, “I prefer boneless” will go to town. Get two orders for the table.
The best Ba Bar one-two punch is a pile of the chicken wings followed by a plate of the Bò Nướng Xả. It’s seasoned ground beef sculpted around a stalk of lemongrass, grilled, and served skewer-style with hoisin sauce for dipping. The char marks give it the swagger of a backyard barbeque and the flavor is so incredible that we wouldn’t care if we never saw another carb again. We’re pretty sure Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” is about these beef skewers.
Ground pork, wild prawn, mushroom, fresh mint, and fish sauce wrapped in rice paper and fried. They’re generally just like any other imperial roll you’ve had, but that’s assuming you’ve had only excellent imperial rolls. Get a platter for sharing, but keep in mind the vermicelli bowls include one.
Mung bean dumplings topped with caramelized shallots and a spicy soy vinaigrette. Your token vegetarian friend will dig these.
A great light dinner despite the massive ingredient count, and infinitely better than any other vermicelli bowl in town. Grilled chicken thigh, shrimp, housemade beef & pork sausage, and an imperial roll on top of vermicelli, mint, lettuce, pickled carrot/daikon radish, bean sprouts, cucumber, crushed peanuts, and a side of fish sauce to drown everything in. The super-moist and tasty sausage wins the oscar for “best supporting protein”, but the other meats get some dignifying b-roll of them nodding in respect. It’s a big bowl, so split it with a date or pack half for lunch the next day.