Bunker Vietnamese: a New Hotspot Worth the Wait!

Bunker Vietnamese cool boys (Roy Zapanta, Neo Tanusakdi, Jacky Tu, Jimmy Tu, and Shea Hsu)

Article by Peter Zhao
Photo by Niko

It all started one warm late April Sunday night when my girlfriend desperately searched the internet to cure her food cravings. On one hand she wanted to eat something else, yet on the other hand, she didn’t want to venture out too far. Finally, she asked, “Peter, do you want Vietnamese food”? I love Vietnamese food. It turns out, in the past 4 months or so, after the calendar page turned 2013, a humble little spot started to grow on the Eastern edge of Ridgewood Queens and by the time my baby MAMA found this place, Wall Street Journal already wrote an article a week early.

Located near the intersection of Woodward Ave and Metropolitan Ave, where a lonely train track that seem abandoned yet out of where, road is blocked by flashing warning lights and freight train hauling container cut through an area dominated by warehouses, factories, drooping power lines, and big open sky. It is really, middle of nowhere, yet a few blocks east is Flushing Ave that borders the cozy neighborhood of Ridgewood, and a little bit south is the up and coming hip Bushwick that is slowly transforming into another Williamsburg. Right there, we found a BYOB hotspot called  BUN-KER Vietnamese.

Roy Zapanta (sitting)

“Out of emergency, it was during an emergency, that’s why we name it, Bunker”, said Roy Zapanta. Apparently, the space was originally dedicated to owner and Chef Jimmy Tu’s Fresh seafood supply company called Fish and Ship. But due to the wrath of hurricane Sandy, the dream of a seafood supplier was washed away. Yet during desperate times, desperate measure prompted the creation of Bunker Vietnamese out of necessity, and what Chef Jimmy Tu is really good at, is making delicious Vietnamese food.

bun-ker Vietnamese sign

The word Bunker is carved out of a block of oval shaped wood with backlights. Yellow wall with these red light bulbs sticking out just above the entrance. A sign reads “push hard” and once Inside, ceiling fans rotates in synchronicity to the old skool hip hop beats from the satellite radio. Self serving water tank stands out from the wall of trimmed bamboo poles. Imported coffee, Artichoke Ice tea, sauces and other bottled ornaments on display. Mismatched plaid table clothes and mismatched chairs accompany wooden tables. Clothes lines with DIY printed T shirts high above a busy register where an IPAD takes and completes orders.

Chef Jimmy Tu and Sous Chef Jacky Tu

To the left, behind the door way with tiki themed straw thatch is the assembly line where Chef Jimmy Tu and his brother and Sous Chef Jacky Tu dance with fire and play with food. Jimmy Tu was born in Thailand. “My aunt is Vietnamese, you know, I have been to Vietnam like 7 or 8 times. I cook there, travel the whole country, I love Vietnamese food,” said the chef Jimmy Tu, who’s childhood skateboarding buddy Roy Zapanta co-own the store and manages the front. Chef Tu’s father used to own a Chinese Restaurant, and Jimmy has worked for many restaurants in New York City, San Francisco, and before opening Bunker, he toured in Vietnam to master many techniques.

We were so hungry that night because our appointment was at 0930pm but the place was so packed, we waited for one hour standing outside. But the one hour was worth waiting. Not only did we catch awesome stories with the Roy on break outside, but our hunger enhanced our taste buds. This place is a hut in the jungle or oasis in the desert, a destination spot between two boroughs with enough empty spaces outside to view the powerful skyline of Manhattan. To cure our thirst, we had Ice coffee which the beans were imported from Vietnam. They used to sell Thai Ice Tea but the rotating menu now introduces the Artichoke Ice Tea. The ice tea tastes exactly like artichoke and it has a sun baked taste, as if you are drink the summer sunshine. It is caffeine free so it is friendly for pregnant ladies. It looks black and heavy yet it is so crisp and refreshing. Because they almost got into the wholesale seafood business, they still, visit the Fish market every morning to see what they can offer as specials to the hungry customers from everywhere. Sometimes they have raw bar that include fresh oyster from Maine or Washington State. Shortly after they opened, they roasted a whole pig old fashion way in the backyard and served the meat to everyone to celebrate the holidays.

Summer Roll

When asked the chef what he likes to eat, “oh I love chicken feet, and in Asia, the foods are from the night market cooked in the street.” Next, we were introduced with a typical appetizer, the famous Summer Roll. The summer roll, as it is layered with shrimp, pork, and vermicelli wrapped like cigar with Rice paper skin. It has a tapioca chewy texture, but quickly melts in your mouth and the shrimp and pork inside just explodes with flavors. You dip it in home made peanut sauce, very delicious.

Banh Xeo

Next we had the Traditional Banh Xeo which is crispy Vietnamese crepe that’s grilled with egg to crisp on the outside but airy like a souffle on the Inside. The crepe wraps shrimp, bacon, and bean sprouts. To eat it, just break the crepe to smaller pieces, then wrap with fresh lettuce leaves and dip in sweet vinegar sauce.

Bo Luc Lac

For entrees, we were introduced to “Bo Luc Lac” which is seared beef cubes stir fried with peanuts and served over rice. The beef is organic, lean, and easy to chew with juicy flavors splashing the palate with excitement.

Tom Thit Ram

“Tom Thit Ram” is a dish served with rice that come with tongue enthralling flavors from caramelized shrimp, grilled bacon, and spiced by ginger, garlic, and basil. The caramelized shrimp sparkles and the dish isn’t too sweet or salty. I can eat 3 plates without getting sick of it.

Ca Ri Ga

Finally, the “Ca Ri Ga” which is curry bobo chicken sweetened by coconut milk and flavored with lemongrass then garnished with carrots, potato, finally accompanied with Roti. The Roti is cooked to crisp, yet it doesn’t fall apart and the skin has a bounce to it, again, characterized by the chef’s masterful skill. By the time we reached the desserts, all the customers have gone home, yet the friendly Store owners continue to showcase us their best stuff.

Coconut Tapioca Pudding

Traditional Asian sweets are served in the name of “Coconut Tapioca Pudding” served with young coconut, jackfruit, and palm seeds. To make the perfect Tapioca isn’t as simple as boiling it. The tapioca is slippery yet not slimy, and it’s chewy but not tough. Together with the jackfruit, and jungle hut like theme, it is a South East vacation experience in New York City. Bunker Vietnamese even made their own serving wood boards.

bun-ker daily special

Bunker has seasonal menus. Winter time they serve the traditional Pho Bo with beef noodle soup yet in the blazing heat of the summer, Chicken broth based Pho Ga is served. They even have a Vegan Pho cooked in a kelp broth base with Shittake mushrooms to mimic meat.

“Service is everything, people don’t realize how fast words travel through social media,” said co-owner Roy Zapanta, who’s Skate buddy from school days, Neo Tanusakdi who also invested in the creation of Bunker, servicing the tables with a big smile, and deliver food via a Mercedes.

Out of emergency, BUNKER was created due to the destruction of Sandy. Ironically, Sandy transformed a dream of a Seafood wholesale into another dream of making the best Vietnamese food in New York City. The dream is now a reality, and BUNKER’s goal is to push out more Seafood items on the menu. Blessed by a storm that otherwise crippled a city, Bunker Vietnamese is a success story in the making.

To find the direction how to get to Bunker Vietnamese, please visit: http://www.bunkernyc.com

Bunker Vietnamese
46-63 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood

For more images, please visit: Facebook.com

Bunker Vietnamese entrance

DIY printed T shirts

Artistic design of bathroom by Roy Zapanta

Bike of Bunker Vietnamese

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