It caused quite a sensation last spring when President Barack Obama and food superstar Anthony Bourdain broke bread at a restaurant called Bún Chả Hương Liên in Vietnam last spring, and new South Seattle Vietnamese restaurant Wicked Chopstix pays homage to that meal with its “Obama Noodle” menu item. Anyone familiar with Vietnamese cuisine will know the dish by the name bun cha, the classic pork noodle soup that Obama and Bourdain shared for an episode of Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown.
Beyond being an amusing conversation starter for Wicked Chopstix, and a cultural reference to the restaurant’s focus on northern Vietnamese street food, the “Obama Noodle” is a bit of insider baseball for the family: Owner Michael Nguyen’s father is the distant cousin of the Bún Chả Hương Liên owner in Hanoi, according to marketing manager Kevin Nguyen. He says both Nguyen’s family and Wicked Chopstix’s chef, Chi Yen, hail from Hai Phong, a Vietnamese city near Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.
Wicked Chopstix is managed by another relative, Ida, who spearheaded the design. The space seats 65 with five bar-height tables and 11 lower hardwood tables, and takeout is also available. Kevin says they’re going for a modern, elegant look, with intimate lighting for the evenings; the setting has a spare look, with lots of windows, a bare floor, globe lights, and touches like orchids at tables and chopsticks, ceramic spoons, and napkins presented in a gift bag. The restaurant has two parking lots and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Michael grew up in Seattle, working in his parents’ former restaurant on Rainier Ave. With his own venture, which opened a month ago, Michael plans to supplement a menu of about 15 dishes with rotating specials, like bo ne — translated to “dodging beef steak” but commonly known as Vietnamese steak and eggs — as well as bubble tea and fresh fruit smoothies with tapioca jelly, fruit jelly, and fruit-flavored popping boba. The open kitchen will even be producing its own fresh pho noodles once the noodle machine arrives. Whether those or the Obama Noodle will be the bigger draw remains to be seen.