Downtown Dallas restaurant Pho Colonial has closed to make way for a new-and-improved place starring a new chef and owner, later hours, and superior food.
The new restaurant is Sapa House, named for the town of Sapa in northwest Vietnam. The team behind it includes Long Nguyen, a former chef at Pho District in Fort Worth, and Pho District owner Kenzo Tran. They're aiming for an opening in July, once a remodel is complete.
The menu will be primarily Vietnamese, but with a twist of Japanese. Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, will introduce dishes that are a specialty of Sapa, including their signature, big bones soup, which dovetails with the bone broth trend, which is so hot right now.
"It's like a bowl of pho, but with a connection to the region," Nguyen says. "Sapa is the coldest part of Vietnam — it's up north in the mountains. It's known for soups and grilled meats."
Pho Colonial opened in 2011 on the ground floor of the historic Wilson Building. It was the second branch of a North Dallas restaurant concept from Khanh Dao, who at the time also owned Steel. The restaurant did well enough at lunch, though reviews were mixed and hours were hit-or-miss. Like many old-school restaurants in the Central Business District, it focused entirely on the lunch crowd, and it was closed on weekends.
Sapa House will keep the most popular dishes but execute them more rigorously, and it will introduce options that make it not just a lunchtime pit stop but also a foodie destination.
"Pho and banh mi sandwiches are the most common Vietnamese food. We'll do both, but we'll make our broth from scratch," Nguyen says. "Sometimes, when people talk about Vietnamese food, all they're thinking about is pho and banh mi. We'll bring in Sapa dishes like grilled pork with pickled young mango. It's mango so young, it's like a strawberry."
It'll also serve bubble tea, as well as coconut juice — "fresh coconut juice from the coconut," Nguyen says.
This represents another partnership for Tran, who's a big believer in mentoring talented young chefs and letting them do their thing. He lent a hand behind the scenes at Wabi House, the ramen restaurant from chef Dien Nguyen that opened on Greenville Avenue in 2015.
Tran and Long Nguyen took over Pho Colonial in April and ran it for a couple of months to get the lay of the land. "We went in quietly, we wanted it to be below the radar, to get a grass-roots sense of what the neighborhood was like," Tran says.
They concluded that the neighborhood needed not just lunch hours, but dinner, too, as well as a higher caliber of food that was reasonably priced. They're adding a bar for the dinner crowd and also a street-side bar with indoor-outdoor windows. And they'll have decisively longer hours, staying open until midnight Sunday-Wednesday and until 3 am Thursday-Saturday.
"Downtown deserves more options," Nguyen says. "There's a real need for something that's casual and friendly, with good service and good food."