A wise man once said: “Never trust a skinny cook.” That adage immediately jumped to mind on my first visit to Ba Chi Canteen, when my attempt to order a soda chanh was met with a blank stare from my waiter. But by the end of the meal, overlooking a graveyard of chicken wing bones and empty steamer baskets, faith had been restored through recognition that a new generation of Vietnamese restaurateurs can successfully straddle the line between tradition and innovation.
Tradition at Ba Chi Canteen is rooted at Tan Dinh, where owner Phat Vu spent many years working with his family. Devotees of that Westbank institution will recognize many Tan Dinh favorites, such as the transparent springrolls bursting with plump shrimp and herbs or golden eggrolls filled with minced pork. Also crossing over are the ethereal chicken wings, which should begin every meal at Ba Chi. Whether coated in spicy lemongrass or dripping with garlic butter, these wings could make a Bills fan swear off blue cheese dressing forever.
The menu includes much of the standard Vietnamese fare—vermicelli bowls filled with lemongrass chicken and pickled daikon, steamed rice plates topped with roast pork and slices of rare flank steak cooking in steaming bowls of pho. But more unconventional offerings are worth exploring. Gyoza nachos are a conglomeration of fried dumplings, fresh edamame and thinly sliced raw jalapeño drizzled with sweet chili sauce. Thin, crisp fries are showered with kim chi and spicy mayo under which may be hiding a few slices of tender beef—a combination that David Chang could have conjured up after a late night visit to In-n-Out for animal style fries.
If you look past the unfortunate “baco” name, the steamed buns offer the best method to eat your way through the breadth of the kitchen’s offerings. From the namesake ba chi (pork belly) glistening with sweet hoisin to fingers of fried catfish dressed in the “creamy spicy” style with eel sauce and Sriracha mayo. Fried shrimp, oysters and even softshell crabs (in season) are crowned with an array of toppings, including basil aioli, chili mango and toasted coconut. Sadly, bulgogi (the lone beef option) suffered from inconsistency in texture on different visits.
The gentrification of Vietnamese cuisine in New Orleans has been derided by those of us who once stood steadfast in our belief that high quality charbroiled pork could only be found by crossing the river or enduring a long drive down Chef Menteur Highway. Ba Chi Canteen has disproved that theory. Just don’t expect to find beef tendon in your bowl of pho.
Address: 7900 Maple St.
Phone: (504) 373-5628
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m – 10:00 p.m.;
Sat 11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.