Banh Mi & Bottles, in soft-opening mode at 712 South St. (215-800-1533), sprang from a case of culinary homesickness, says owner Tuan Phung.
"I miss the food I ate growing up," said Phung, who immigrated to the States 13 years ago at age 18. Though Philadelphia has plenty of Vietnamese restaurants, "a lot of them are owned by Chinese Vietnamese." He also sought modern Vietnamese fare - fresher flavors than the restaurateurs who left shortly after the fall of Saigon may necessarily offer.
With the family business, Boutique Nails & Hair, humming along a block away at Ninth and South, Phung set out to scratch his creative itch nearby: Over the course of a year, he built a street-food restaurant at the former Under the Sea, opting for a casual, low-lit setting with murals, corrugated steel, and a general feeling of Indochina. (The stenciling on the walls is reminiscent of the late Same Same in Northern Liberties.)
Phung also hired spirits pro Philip Search (whose background includes Charlie was a sinner and Palladino's) to set up the bar with a dozen beers on tap, a decent wine list, and cocktails mixed from house-made tonics, sodas, and kitchen ingredients (ginger, lemongrass).
A wall of refrigerators is stocked with upwards of 200 beer bottles to go. Prices on everything are reasonable and staff could not be sweeter.
Phung does have a solid restaurant connection: His father, Hieu, is chef at his aunt's restaurant, Pho Ha, at Sixth Street and Washington Avenue.
Menu for now also includes buns, goi cuon (summer rolls), and pho. Do not even think of skipping the banh mi, the signature Vietnamese hoagies. Phung sources the ultra-crispy, feather-light rolls to Cafe Nhu Quynh in Northeast Philadelphia.