There’s no such thing as brunch in Vietnam.
That’s according to Jeanette Tran-Dean of the Vietnamese-Guatemalan pop-up Giống Giống. “It’s eat morning or eat night,” she tells me.
Nevertheless, Argyle Street’s DaNang Kitchen recently started offering a “Vietnamese brunch,” featuring a few relatively uncommon dishes that can address a Western appetite for hangover-mitigating egg skillets.
I was alerted to this a few months ago by reader Andy Rader, who always has a keen eye for uncommon, new-to-Chicago dishes. What made me sit up straight was the bánh mì chảo, in this case a cast-iron skillet housing stir-fried ribeye, fried eggs, a slab of the emulsified pork sausage chả lụa, a gob of livery pâte, a bone marrow luge, and cherry tomatoes, all with a crispy baguette on the side. Sometimes you see English-speaking food writers refer to this as the Vietnamese full English breakfast, and yes, that’s lazy and inaccurate, but it’s not hard to see why.
By chance, I had just sought out a version of this dish on a recent trip to San Jose, California (home to more Vietnamese people than any city outside of Vietnam). The tiny strip mall food court stall Bò Né Phú Yên had just been written up by the San Francisco Chronicle, and the owner told me the crush of new customers meant he had to suspend his entire menu—except for his signature, which he serves on a cast-iron plate shaped like a cow.
So I was thrilled to see something like this appear in Chicago, though Tran-Dean reminded me that she and David Hollinger served a version of it at the very first Monday Night Foodball. At a recent Loaf Lounge pop-up, Tran-Dean and Hollinger also served a version of the pork meatball dish xíu mại—which is also on the brunch menu at DaNang.
In Vietnam, nobody eats these things for breakfast, says Tran-Dean. Breakfast is for phở and other noodle dishes. Xíu mại and bánh mì chảo are all-day snacks.
Nevertheless, I had to get them in front of me, so I planted myself at a sidewalk table in front of DaNang at the ungodly hour of 11 AM and ordered the full Vietnamese brunch menu.
DaNang’s steak and eggs certainly scratched an itch; the whole set is plated in the skillet with sweet soy that mingles with the runny yolks and housemade livery pâté (chef-owner Sydney Le’s mom’s recipe) into a saucy alloy that’s perfect for baguette dredging.
But the xíu mại was the standout—a pair of super-soft pork meatballs in a sweet and sour tomato gravy, each orb containing a perfectly gooey quail egg to complement the sunny-side-up cackleberry.
The only other item on DaNang’s brunch menu is xôi mặn, an infinitely variable, savory sticky rice snack, here served with chả lụa, shredded Chinese sausage, omelet strips, pork floss, and more pâté. It’s another typical all-day snack, but it somehow seems right in the late morning with an iced egg coffee and Vietnamese steak and eggs.
1019 W. Argyle
Le tells me she’s had so many requests from people who have eaten bánh mì chảo in California but couldn’t find it here that she had to figure out a way to get it on her menu. Brunch seemed obvious. “I think in the United States we learn to combine good things from different cultures,” she says.
But the fact is you can eat these dishes pretty much any time of day at DaNang Kitchen, and since they recently started offering it every day except Tuesday (closed), that makes Vietnamese brunch an 11/6 affair.