While former Embeya chef Thai Dang and his wife Danielle diligently work to open HaiSous, their upcoming Vietnamese restaurant at the corner of Carpenter and 18th in Pilsen, they’ve been quietly working on another project inside the space. Today, they announced a new all-day cafe and bar that will serve Vietnamese street food. It’s called Cà Phê Dá, an idea that came to the couple while in Hanoi.
“This will blow your mind,” Danielle Dang said, while showcasing the space on Friday morning.
Cà Phê Dá will focus on fun to give Chicagoans a taste of a bustling Vietnamese cafe where guests are hustling to complete work while drinking a coffee and noshing on some street fare. Danielle Dang will also oversee a tidy beverage program with five smashes and other boozy treats. The cafe has a separate entrance to the west of HaiSous’ off 18th Street.
“We want to give you that feel that you’re stepping foot in Vietnam,” Thai Dang said. “The feel that you’re taking a shipping container from Vietnam and opening it up into this space.”
With respect to Chicago’s late-night food offerings, Thai Dang pointed out that locals can only take so much nocturnal pizza, hot dogs, and burritos. Restaurant workers deserve variety as they leave their workplaces after midnight, and he wants to provide them with something unique. He knows how hard restaurant cooks work, and he and his wife, Danielle Dang, want to give back to the industry.
The cafe will share the open kitchen with HaiSous, but the offerings will differ. Restaurant workers and other guests can order banh mi from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. It’s a tribute to all-day banh mi carts from Vietnam, and solves HaiSous’ dilemma over serving lunch. It will also serve pig on a stick, crispy chicken wings, house-made pâte and pickles, and special toasted, roasted and boiled nuts in a bag.
Dang’s sandwiches—made with house-baked baguettes—will differ from Americanized versions filled with the typical deli meat, lettuce, herbs and a pickled item with mayonnaise. “You go to Vietnam and ask for that same sandwich, they’re going to laugh at you,” Thai Dang said. “No, I’ll give you a bad-ass one.”
He continued describing his native Vietnam. There, family street food vendors are known for a specific type of bahn mi. One family may have spent years perfecting roasted duck, while another family focused on roasted pork. Banh mi over there is also more of a snack, not a meal. That’s the kind of approach to expect at Cà Phê Dá.
Guests won’t find espresso, cappuccinos, or lattes inside. Instead of coffee machines, the cafe will use a phin, a Vietnamese-style filter. Thai Dang provided a history lesson, chatting about the French colonization of Vietnam, and how locals worked inside hotels erected by the colonizers. When they came home, they still wanted that same coffee that they served to hotel guests, but they didn’t have the money to buy those shiny coffee machines or have the luxury of refrigeration to keep milk cold in a warm climate. That’s why the Vietnamese use condensed milk and phins.
The Dangs are procuring an exclusive coffee blend from Vietnam, from Thai Dang’s sister-in-law. Her family’s roasted coffee for about 40 years in Dong Nai, which is about two and a half hours from Saigon and Dang’s home province. They’ll serve Vietnamese iced coffee: “The drinks are special,” said Danielle Dang, while carrying a plastic to-go bottle filled with iced coffee made at home.
She also said they’ll have 15 bottles of spirits at the cafe. They’ll also pour beer from local breweries in bottles with one beer on tap.
The cafe should open about a month after HaiSous. The Dangs feel confident that the main restaurant should open in about three weeks. But there’s much more about HaiSous, so check back next week for news on that project.