It's tempting to say, "Only in L.A. does some of the most impressive food in the city come from an auto body shop," but I think at this point we're used to these wacky pop-up schemes conjured up by cooks with bigger dreams than bank accounts, right?
Banh Oui, the Vietnamese-inspired concept created by Casey Felton and Armen Piskoulian, two cooks with impressive fine-dining pedigrees, has been a Smorgasburg L.A. stalwart since that Sunday food market opened last year. But this winter they added a second location: Hi-Tech Automotive, a car repair garage in Silver Lake.
Every Wednesday and Friday, Felton and Piskoulian have been setting up shop in what was previously just an employee kitchen and break area. The business is owned by a relative of Piskoulian's who let Banh Oui add a couple appliances — whatever was required to get a temporary license from the county health department — and begin serving a fun menu of Vietnamese-inspired food such as sticky chicken wings, salt-and-pepper calamari and pork spare ribs.
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The pop-up serves bánh mì, of course, and it's a good rendition of the classic sandwich: Felton doesn't skimp on the pickled carrot and daikon, which is especially great on the meaty, fatty pork belly version.
But the one item you must order — seriously, don't go here and just not order it — is the shrimp toast. This greasy dim sum classic doesn't get a lot of attention among food nerds these days (it has sort of midcentury, San Francisco Chinatown connotations), but Banh Oui could be responsible for a resurgence. This version is heavy with oil, sure, but even heavier with chopped shrimp and toasted sesame seeds. It is then — this is the key part — topped with a handful of mint, cilantro and chopped scallions and dressed with just a touch of Sriracha and sweet mayo. Those herbs make this dish truly beautiful, something worth driving a distance for.
Felton and Piskoulian might try to get another license so they can keep serving at Hi-Tech, but for now the pop-up will end March 31. After that, who knows, maybe we'll see a chain of shrimp toast shacks from them.
Wed. and Fri., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 4000 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake. banhoui.com.