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Back to Bac Nam

This past Monday our office gang celebrated over lunch at Bac Nam Vietnamese Restaurant in honor of my 901st birthday, beating Yoda’s record by a year, making Yours Truly officially the oldest centenarian ever known. Admittedly, it’s always flattering when people say, “Dang, Pomai, you don’t look a day over 600. Must be all that Green Tea. May the force be with you.”  Hey, likewise! Thanks!

As the title suggests, this is a return visit to Bac Nam Vietnamese Restaurant on South King Street.  As we’ve been doing more and more of lately, being over the galactic millenniums celebrating birthdays together, we’ve all found our favorite places worth going back to, particularly enjoying them small, unpretentious mom ‘n pop spots. Always the best!

Other establishments we’ve celebrated hana hou (encore) birthday luncheons include Arirang Korean Restaurant, Mexico Restaurant and Los Chaparros Mexican Restaurant.

Getting right to it, let’s check out Bac Nam’s current menu (as of this writing), where note, I didn’t get shots of the bound menu in the restaurant. However, this takeout version posted on the front window has exactly the same items and prices as the one you’d get inside when dining in…

A look around Bac Nam’s clean, cozy ‘n intimate main dining room…

The side dining room for overflow customers…

We’ll take a closer look at all the interesting Vietnamese artwork around the place later. First let’s get to the business of eating, starting with everyone’s go-to fave’, Bac Nam’s Cha Gio…

Bac Nam: Cha Gio  – Spring Rolls. $8.50

And our other go-to fave’ (particularly of Diner E and myself), Canh Ga Don Thit…

Bac Nam: Canh Ga Don Thit: Crispy Fried Stuffed Chicken Wings. $9.95

For the entree, bowls of Pho Tai for Diner C and Diner J…

Bac Nam: Pho Tai – Pho with slices of rare steak. $6.75 (small), $7.95 (large)

The requisite Pho accompaniment, a generous plate of fragrant herbs and toppings, including fresh Thai Basil, Mint leaves, Bean Sprouts & Lemon Wedges…

Bac Nam: Pho Tai – Pho with slices of rare steak.

Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong for Diner E…

Bac Nam: Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong – Bun (Cold Vermicelli Noodles) with Barbecue Park & Spring Roll. $9.50

Com Ga Xao Sa Ot  for Diner A…

Bac Nam: Com Ga Xao Sa Ot –  Lemon Grass Chicken. $9.50

Finally, for Birthday Boy (Yours Truly), Bo Luong lá lốt

Bac Nam: Bo Luong La Lot – Grilled Beef wrapped in lá lốt Leaves. $13.50

I came so close to choosing the Grilled Pounded Shrimp Plate in the same ‘Roll Ups on a Plate’ section of the menu, being I try to stay pescetarian as much as possible nowadays.  Yet I couldn’t resist trying these beef rolls, intrigued that this was the only dish on the menu that were wrapped in these unusual lá lốt Leaves. Besides, I’m a total sucker for exotic, unusual dishes, always eager to try something new and unfamiliar. I asked if there were any seafood options that use lá lốt leaves, and the owner/server/everything else besides cook, nicely said “no”, only the grilled beef. OH WELL, OK. Looks like beef it is. Ha ha.

So let’s go over each dish in reverse, starting with my dish while we’re on the subject. The Beef rolls is one of them “D-I-Y” type of interactive dishes, where you have to assemble the rolls yourself, which I really enjoy doing. Whether its Shabu Shabu, Yakiniku, or this here build your own rolls, I really dig these types of dining experiences!

See above how my lá lốt grilled beef roll plate is served deconstructed with raw rice wrappers and a bowl of hot water served on the side, where you dip the rice wrapper in the bowl of hot water until softened just to the point that its pliable and al dente.

Here’s how the rice wrapper looks in dry form…

Within merely seconds of being turned and soaked in the hot water bowl, the rice wrapper is ready….

You very gingerly (and I mean GINGERLY) place your “cooked” (hydrated) rice wrapper on the side plate, then proceed to build your roll by arranging some of each ingredient on it, then wrap it up like a burrito…

Dip it in the accompanying house Sweet Chili Sauce, then have at it…

And? “Interesting”. Hmmm. Certainly unique.

The lá lốt leaf-wrapped grilled beef roll itself has a very robust flavor profile, tasting almost like tobacco leaves, having that smokey, woodsy, tannic flavor profile. Think Grilled Beef meets Cigar, is really the best way I can describe it. Of course all the other fragrant herbs and veggies helped to balance the intense robust, smokey flavor profile, yet even with the additional components, you know its there. The Do Chua (pickled turnips and carrots) was especially welcoming in helping to tame that intense smokey, earthy flavor of the lá lốt-wrapped beef.

The abundant chopped peanuts and green onions, along with the al dente Vermicelli rice noodles also brought “yin” to the bold “yang” of the beef rolls, when biting through the assembled roll as a whole.

What’s funny is, I had to sort of “practice” in making each roll, as the “cooking” time of the rice wrappers were crucial. It quickly goes from barely edible (like biting into plastic), to perfectly al dente, to a melted-down gelatinous glob of sticky rice, sticking to itself in mere seconds. Here’s another one I rolled-up, turning out quite savagely loose and lumpy…

I practically needed a fork & knife to get through this one, as it all but fell apart while trying to hold it…

As for the very thinly sliced, very tender grilled beef within the lá lốt leaves, it had that expected Vietnamese style spicy, lemon grass marinade flavor going on, similar to the other meat dishes, albeit tasting even more charred, thanks to those leaves.

Summing it up, I give this dish 2 SPAM/Ume Musubi (a combination of icons, being this is on the healthier side as far as eating meat). Glad I tried it.

Then we have Diner E’s Pork & Roll Bun Bowl…

I really don’t understand his theory on ordering this, being that we already had spring rolls for appetizers, except that he likes the spring rolls here so much, he wanted even more of it! Hey, why not! There’s also thin slices of char-grilled marinaded pork on it, which he gave me a piece to try, and it was delicious. A little on the dry side, but never-the-less tasty. Good stuff!

Of course, everything dipped in that fragrant Sweet Chili Sauce makes everything taste even better!…

A note on their house Sweet Chili Sauce, unlike the store-bought Mae Ploy brand, theirs is laced quite aggressively with Fish Sauce, in Thai cuisine called Nam Pla. Aggressive enough where I had to wash my hands very thoroughly with soap and water to get the smell of the sauce off my fingers after lunch. Good stuff though.

Summing it up, 3 SPAM Musubi for the Roll and Pork Bun Bowl from Diner E.

Diner A’s Grilled Chicken received a huge thumbs-up, where he noted that exotic Vietnamese Chili and Lemon Grass flavoring going on tasted great, while being char-grilled to tender and juicy perfection. Portions are also certainly generous, while the fresh veggies and dipping sauce again, “Vietnimize” the dish. Ha ha. He pretty much polished his plate, save for a little leftover rice, as usual. 4 SPAM Musubi by Diner A.

Diner C and J both thoroughly enjoyed the Pho, giving it a 3, noting the broth was “good”, while overall it was “delicious”. Works for me.

Back to the appetizers, we have their spring rolls…

These are another, easier version of D-I-Y eating, where you simply wrap all the various veggies and “stuff” up around the spring roll, dip ’em in sauce then have it. And they’re indeed delicious with their combination of finely-minced pork, mushroom, carrots and rice noodles, deep-fried in rice wrappers to GBD perfection. Whether they’re wontons, lumpia or spring rolls, you can never go wrong with that combo’.

Finally, back to point A for ‘Apps’, we have them Vietnamese Stuffed Chicken Wings…

These “lolipop” gems on a plate are arguably reason #1 that we return here. They truly are precious and unique, taking the ambiguous Chicken Wing to levels unknown in the American world as we know it. Essentially they’re deconstructed, where the meat is remove from under the skin, then added back in minced up, combined with finely minced pork and other tasty additions, then deep-fried in a panko batter, served of course again with their house Sweet Chili Sauce.

As I’ve said before here, I’m not a big chicken fan, but I am a HUGE FAN of Bac Nam’s Stuffed Chicken Wings, as it totally takes chicken to the next level. THE BOMB. By far one of the best chicken dishes you can get on this island. Period. Next to this, I’d say Goma Tei’s Tatsutaage Chicken is up there in my top 5.  Both the ultimate deep-fried chicken with an asian twist. LOVE it! Needless to say, I give Bac Nam’s Crispy Stuffed Chicken Wings an all time favorite 5 SPAM Musubi. A MUST HAVE dish at Bac Nam!

You may be wondering what them other sauces on the plate are, which are part of the table condiment set at Bac Nam, including the usual salt, pepper and shoyu, plus Schiracha, Hoisin and super spicy Chili sauce…

Never been a fan of either of these sauces in and of themselves. However, when mixed together? Excellent. Very complex, yet not odd at all. Went GREAT with everything we ordered, along with their house Sweet Chili Sauce, laced heavily with Fish Sauce.

Summing up the total dining experience, I’ll speak for everyone by giving our return visit to Bac Nam easily 4 SPAM/Ume Musubi. The owner is super nice and attentive, which even when it gets busy, as it relatively  eventually did considering a Monday, we were still well taken care of. Food arrived on the table in a timely manner, piping hot and fresh. Quality of ingredients, excellent. Tastes for the most part, SUPERB. Them Vietnamese style stuffed chicken wings are definitely the highlight for me here, with all else icing on the proverbial cake.

Now let’s check out all that wonderful Vietnamese artwork adorning each wall of Bac Nam’s cozy decor..

This piece is where you can particularly see the texture of what Bac Nam owner tried to explain to me that they use stones to create…




Bac Nam
Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine
1117 S. King St.

Limited parking behind restaurant,
and metered parking on the street in front

The Tasty Island Rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related links:
From North Vietnam to South King Street at Bac Nam – The Tasty Island
Bac Nam serves up home-style Vietnamese dishes – Honolulu Advertiser review
Bac Nam – Vietnamese Food Beyond Pho – Hawaii Diner
Bac Nam – Ono Kine Grindz
Bac Nam – Yelp user reviews


20 thoughts on “Back to Bac Nam

  • March 6, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    It’s your birthday? Well Happy Birthday! :present: And thanks for yet another great article…another place added to my “must try” list!

    • March 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      Mahalo Ann.

      I don’t feel a day over 600.

      Being an Escargot fan, I SO wanna’ try that Snail Soup on Bac Nam’s menu, which only now I noticed (sometimes you get tunnel vision when in the restaurant). Any House Specialty item between item #34 ~ 40 also sounds entirely enticing.

    • March 7, 2013 at 3:44 am



  • March 7, 2013 at 12:31 am

    Pomai, they got escargot soup? I gotta try that one for sure. The Bo luong lot la is a good dish to have with vegetable and rice noodle and wrap. A more healthy lunch.

    • March 7, 2013 at 4:01 am


      Well the menu says snail, not Escargot, per se. However, being that Vietnam was once a colonial territory of France, we might assume it is that type of farm raised snail. As long as it ain’t from the Ala Wai, I’m OK with it. :-D

  • March 7, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Belated birthday wishes! :cake: :drink: :present:

      • March 7, 2013 at 1:55 pm

        Haha! How about a virtual :monkey: instead?

        • March 8, 2013 at 5:46 am


          I take it you meant “virtual hug”, which I’ll surely accept in lieu of an Amazon Gift Card. Friggin’ cheapskates around here, I tell ya’. :-P

          Still, being that you used a Monkey smiley to represent what should be a bear :koala: (<<< - that's supposed to be a Koala Bear, but looks more like a rodent of some kind lol), I actually Googled "Virtual Monkey", just to make sure you weren't pulling my leg somehow with some shinanigan hidden meaning. Ha!

          • March 8, 2013 at 8:01 am

            ROFL!!!!!!! I google things like that too! I’m sure Urban Dictionary had some warped definition of “virtual monkey” (shutter to imagine!). You’re right, I should have used the rodent-bear. How about an old skool virtual hug? {{{{hugs}}}}

            P.S. I did mean virtual monkey though. A monkey seems like the greatest gift ever, right? It’s right up there with Wallaby, for which you have no icon.

  • March 7, 2013 at 3:55 am

    FYI for all the folks who comment here, there’s now an edit option available in case you need to modify or delete your comment, up to 2 hours after you initially made your post. There’s also now a built-in spell checker, plus an expand window button (the grey box), which makes it much easier to compose then this tiny little grey box if you have impaired vision. Still trying to find a good plugin for a text formatting & multimedia tool bar in the comment box. The MCEcomments plugin currently available is outdated and not happy with this theme’s CSS and HTML 5.

    I tried enabling the Facebook comments plugin, so you can comment directly here through your Facebook account, but that completely overrides the WordPress comments system, which I’m sure you folks who AREN’T on Facebook wouldn’t appreciate. If you are a FB junkie, there’s always the like and share button here to take posts on this blog into that community. FB “Likes” always appreciated, of course!

    Oh, and for you graphically expressive folks, there’s now a bunch of smilies you can insert in your comment. Scroll through selection below.

    :-* 8-) :bowl: :cowboy: :goat:

  • March 7, 2013 at 5:02 am

    Happy Birthday! Once again another awesome post. Nice pics too.

    • March 7, 2013 at 11:14 am



      As for the pics, I must note, for the past few months I’ve been using my Canon Powershot A470 “beach beater camera” (an older entry level Powershot model), as my Canon S95 Powershot needs to go in for Warranty repairs (Best Buy’s giving me a hard time over it). The A470 does good with flash (except for being blown out here and there), but I can’t seem to get out the noise without flash, no matter how much I tweak the ISO. Lower than ideal lighting conditions without flash (like in most restaurants), forget it. Lens just ain’t bright enough. Shutter and aperture are committed to auto in all modes. So screw it. I just leave it in auto or scene mode now and “hope” for the best. Can’t wait to get my S95 back. Miss my baby. :cry:

      Only problem with the Canon S95, it’s fragile, regardless of the all-metal body, not to mention slippery, with barely any place to get a good grip on it one-handed. Still, the photo quality out of that little puppy is just awesome. Close to DSLR quality at fractions of the size.

      Sure as heck would NEVER go DSLR for food blogging. Too much bulk and investment, when I typically get grease, crumbs and other messy, sticky foodie stuff all over the buttons, let alone accidentally bumping it around as I’m manipulating holding food and taking shots at the same time. I know, you been there, done that. Ha ha! I’m thinking of trying out a good quality all-weather P&S camera. That would probably hold up best to the physically demanding environment I expose my cameras to. Besides, I ALWAYS have my camera on me, so it takes more beating than usual. I’ll go hunting around reviews of all-weather models. Seen a few in Costco.

      I’m pretty impressed with the quality of photos coming out of the iPhone 4s and 5. I haven’t really tried doing much food photos with my Galaxy Note, rather sticking with the superior optics and processor of my basic model Canon P&S.

      Perhaps I’ll try query “Best Food Blogging Camera”.

  • March 7, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Oh, Happy Birthday, Pomai!
    Hubby and I are on a “pho jag” (we could eat it every day) so I’m happy to hear of another place to tryst. On Yelp, it seems the highly rated places for pho are all downtown, so I appreciate this restaurant is more accessible.
    :-D :-D

    • March 8, 2013 at 6:20 am


      Sounds like me with my bouts of “Japanese ramen jag”. I’ll like seriously binge on the stuff on occasions, eating it once or twice everyday throughout the week, then get completely sick of it and not eat it for a few months.

      Honestly, I haven’t tried enough Vietnamese Pho to “win my heart” yet. YET, while still open for takers! All the ones I’ve tried so far were just OK. I mean, delicious in their own right, however I’m really biased towards my all time favorite noodle soup, none other than authentic Japanese Ginza Tokyo style Shoyu Ramen. In my mind, that’s arguably the world’s ULTIMATE, PERFECT dish in a bowl. You just don’t know what I mean until you go to one of those small Ramen-ya shops in Tokyo and try a bowl for yourself. I mean in Tokyo. Not the ones that come here and serve it. It’s just not the same. You need that Tokyo water and smoggy air ambiance to complete the mood. After that, no other bowl of noodles in broth could ever compare. Seriously.

  • March 8, 2013 at 3:33 am

    Pomai, Southeast Asian cuisines are light and fresh and healthy. I like Viet and Thai also. Have you try yet Larb? You wrap lettuce with ground meat and vegetable and rice or noodle. I found it filling and yet not too heavy of a dish.

    • March 8, 2013 at 6:35 am


      Haven’t tried Larb yet. Korean Yakiniku restaurants here also offer large pieces of leaf lettuce to wrap your table-side grilled meats in, which makes it very refreshing. I’ve been really into Chinese cabbages lately, devouring Choy Sum and Pak Choy like a fiend. I should try doing a Yakiniku session using that as my grilled fish wrappers. I really don’t mind those Chinese cabbages’ tougher, more rubbery texture in raw state at all. All I know, is they’re total fat burners, especially the stalk parts when eaten raw. Like, fierce.


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