photo credit: Suzi Pratt
Updated December 23rd, 2021
If you wanted somewhere to hang out with a steaming bowl of brisket phở and a gin cocktail while listening to jazzy music in moody darkness, that’s a very specific request, but it can be a reality. Ba Bar, a classic spot in the Central District, is our HQ for Vietnamese food and partytime.
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 depicting the cover of a Vietnamese rock album from the early ’70s. 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.
Ba Bar works well for a sit-down lunch, but it’s in its true element at dinner, when you’ll really be part of the action. The dining room has a buzzy energy that makes a random Tuesday not feel so much like a random Tuesday, and fantastic bar snacks and cocktails to match. Take advantage of the $6 Old Fashioneds on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, which you can cradle while eating great bites like crunchy pork-stuffed imperial rolls, chicken wings tossed in a tangy-sweet nước chấm-spiked caramel, or charred beef wrapped around stalks of lemongrass (a.k.a. nature’s skewer). Beyond appetizers, the noodle soups here are excellent, too. You’re in good hands with the phở tái nạm, complete with rare shaved eye of round, buttery slices of brisket, and a comforting, cinnamon-forward broth.
When your bowl is empty, the fun is certainly not over—you’ll pass a small pastry window near the host stand on your way out, where you can (and should) grab a couple of chewy macarons to enjoy during your trip home. Or, a wafer cone piped with pandan soft serve for your burnt tongue. Even better.
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Sài Gòn Chicken Wings
Crispy wings with caramel, rice vinegar, fish sauce, roasted garlic, chili, and topped with toasted sesame seeds. These are some of the best wings in town: slightly sticky, tangy, and spicy with a great crunch. Get an order for the table.
Bò Nướng Sả
The best Ba Bar one-two punch is a pile of wings followed by the Bò Nướng Sả. Behold, savory ground beef lovingly sculpted around a stalk of fragrant lemongrass, grilled, and served skewer-style with chili oil-laced hoisin sauce for dipping. Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” is about these, we’re pretty sure.
Crispy Imperial Rolls
The imperial rolls here are a terrific snack, filled with flavorful ground pork, wild prawns, and mushrooms. The appetizer plate includes lettuce and fresh mint for making your own wrap, as well as nước chấm for dunking. Absolutely grab a platter for sharing, but also keep in mind that the vermicelli bowls include one.
photo credit: Ba Bar
Sài Gòn Chicken Salad
We are huge proponents of eating something light and fresh before swan-diving into a bowl of soup, and this cold salad is a winner. Between the crisp cabbage, mint, rau răm, roasted peanuts, fried shallots, and steamed chicken that absorbs the nước chấm vinaigrette brilliantly, this is a must if you’re looking for something vegetable-heavy.
Combo Vermicelli Bowl
If you can’t decide between all of the bún bowls, you can order the combo, which includes grilled chicken thigh, white prawns, housemade beef and 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 nước chấm. The 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 there’s potential for leftovers the next day.
photo credit: Ba Bar
Phở Tái Nạm
The phở tái nạm is our favorite soup in the building—Ba Bar’s broth is silky, cinnamony, and the perfect vehicle for swirling around rare shavings of prime eye of top round steak. The rice noodles are firm but still have a nice chew, and the included slices of marbled brisket are so tender and melty that we wouldn’t mind just eating a bowl full of those.