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Little Saigon Serves Big Flavor in the Northland

Find a taste of Vietnam right off of North Oak Trafficway

Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Min City, seems about as far away from Kansas City as you can travel. With a population over 9 million, it’s Vietnam’s largest city and one known for its beautiful temples, gracious people and vivacious culture. And, yes, then there’s the food. Lucky for you, authentic Vietnamese cuisine is closer than you think.

Those who regularly travel down North Oak Trafficway in Gladstone are familiar with the little cluster of restaurants and shops known as Little Saigon, a favorite area for those who appreciate the power of a good spring roll and a vermicelli dish. 

San’s Sandwiches is one of these local favorites. The description on its menu includes pate, beef, egg, xiu mai, lettuce and cucumber. You can get spicy beef noodle soup on the side, or maybe a rice cake with grilled pork or ham. All sandwiches are served with carrots, jalapenos, pate, mayo, cilantro and daikon, the last of which is a mild radish for those not familiar with the vegetable.

One is quick to realize that you’re not in Kansas (sorry, Missouri) anymore.

Known for its healthy combinations of steamed vegetables, protein and rice, the selection of Vietnamese sandwiches at San’s provides a nice alternative to the drive-thru routine that many families fall into once school and sport practice schedules start again.  

Walk around the corner and there is Lotus Hot Pot & Grill and GoCha Tea & Beverages, a bubble tea store that serves Vietnamese coffee and a decadent Coconut Oh LaLa drink that is simply fun to say. Walk a bit further and you come to Broken Rice, a Vietnamese street food restaurant that greets you with a colorful scooter in the entry reminiscent of those you see on the busy streets of Saigon. The energy, vibrancy and hustle and bustle of Vietnamese city streets is the inspiration behind this family-owned restaurant that has called the Little Saigon corner of Gladstone home for six years.

“Vietnam is known for its street food,” owner Viet Cao says. “People on motorbikes drive by, grab it and go.” Although Viet and his wife, Emma, started out small and with a focus on street food style dishes, they have grown over the years in both loyal customer base and menu. “Although we still sell a lot of street food, we’ve adapted it to our customer base,” he explains.

What makes this restaurant extra special is that they truly cook from the heart. Not professional chefs, Viet says they cook for their customers like they cook at home, even if that means running out of certain dishes by the end of the weekend because they sell out.   

As explained on the restaurant’s website, broken rice has long been a staple of Vietnamese culture. When rice was broken during processing or transit, it was sold at a cheaper price and typically served with a bowl of soup on the side to help it go down a bit easier. What was born from practicality grew into a cultural norm, broken rice is now readily available on city streets in Vietnam and enjoyed by everyone as a bit of a nostalgic treasure. You’ll find broken rice items on the menu here because, well, of course you should.  

When asked what sets them apart from other restaurants, Viet was reluctant to boast, preferring to let their growing customer base speak for itself. Such humility was witnessed again in his support of the entire area, stressing that he wants to see all businesses in Little Saigon succeed and become a “one stop shop” for customers. In fact, he said he’s fine with people bringing in GoCha drinks while eating at the restaurant, happy to share in the area’s success and grow together.

The opportunity to travel to Vietnam might not be feasible for everyone, but you can literally walk around a one-block area in Gladstone and grab bánh mi – a popular baguette sandwich – or pho dish and Vietnamese coffee without traveling farther than a single zip code. It might not be the same as navigating the streets of Saigon on a motorbike, but it sure is a sweet little taste.   

Little Saigon Plaza

6583 N Oak Trafficway, Gladstone

Broken Rice: brokenricemo.com

GoCha Tea & Beverages: kcgocha.com

San's Sandwiches: sanssandwichestogo.com

 

Burst Your Bubble

New to boba? Boba tea – or “bubble” tea – is an increasingly popular drink with little tapioca balls on the bottom. Originating in Taiwan, the drinks have risen in popularity due to the novelty of the chewy little ball treats and amazing flavors that accompany them. With everything from strawberry matcha latte, brown sugar oreo and pom hibiscus tea on the menu, GoCha in Little Saigon will appeal to both experienced bubble tea drinkers and those just jumping on the boba tea train. Swing by and enjoy the ride.   

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