Nestled in an industrial landscape of packaging and distribution centers between Queens and Brooklyn is the new Bun-Ker Vietnamese restaurant. This literal hole in the wall isn’t easy to spot, and despite it being a 15-minute walk from the closest subway stop (L at Jefferson), the delicious and soul-warming food makes the trip well worth it. Bun-Ker opened in January 2013 and, not yet a year old, has generated a lot of buzz and big crowds that line up at the door on even the coldest nights.
The space was initially intended to be a seafood distribution center, but after Hurricane Sandy put the site out of business, the team closed and opened Bun-Ker in its place. Chef and co-partner Jimmy Tu (of Eleven Madison) left the fine dining industry and spent over a month in Thailand and Vietnam studying street food, incorporating the use of real charcoal into most of the plates. (Source: Daily Meal)
We visited Bun-Ker on a recent cold, blistery Sunday night and waited about 20 minutes for a table. The small restaurant has only a dozen or so tables and the wait can be up to 2 hours for a seat. Advice from a server was to arrive before 7:30pm on a week night to avoid a long wait (closed Mondays). After sitting down at a communal table, silverware and chopsticks arrived in a tin can and cups for a self-service water cooler by the door. All staff was warm, welcoming and helpful with the menu. Most dishes top out at $17.50, so the place is pleasantly affordable, too.
We shared the crab spring rolls with carrot and glass noodle and a peanut dipping sauce ($8.50), which was light and refreshing and a nice way to start the meal. We also shared the Tom Thit Ram, caramelized mexican wild shrimp with bacon, basil and white rice ($17.50), the pork belly special with garlic tomato fried rice, the Grilled Lemongrass black Angus short ribs on vermicelli with shio and peanuts ($16 and my favorite), and finally the sauteed baby bok choy ($8), which was a nice green to balance out the heaviness of all of the meat. The caramelized bacon pieces with the sauce from the shrimp and rice was very sweet and savory – be careful with the shrimp though – the shells are left on and you’ll have to them peel off. The short ribs were seasoned just perfectly and were also tender, not chewy. Plus, all meats are free of antibiotics and hormones, and all pork is heritage bred and pasture-raised.
For drinks, we shared the Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.75), which tasted like an intense dark chocolate caffeinated chocolate milk, and the artichoke kaffir iced tea ($3.50), which had a very floral taste. It’s nothing like the taste of Thai iced tea (which I was hoping), but if you like tea and you’re in the venturesome mood, give it a try!
46-63 Metropolitan Ave
Ridgewood, New York 11385