Pasadena Weekly Staff Writer
Born into the restaurant industry, college senior Vivian Yenson followed in her family’s footsteps by recently opening Tay Ho Restaurant San Gabriel at the age of 20.
Yenson is the eldest granddaughter of Linda Tuyet Nguyen, the matriarch of the family-owned business, and the eldest daughter of Jayce Yenson, CEO of Tay Ho Restaurants and Tay Ho Food Company. Tay Ho was established in 1986 as a traditional Vietnamese sit-down restaurant and has since expanded throughout California.
“We decided to relaunch Tay Ho mid-pandemic in June 2020, when we saw the demand for food delivery skyrocket,” Yenson said. “Banh cuon (rice roll) is the perfect dish to eat whether it’s hot or cold, which is perfect for delivery.”
Tay Ho is named after the Tay Ho District in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, the home of the first banh cuon restaurant and where banh cuon was created.
“My grandparents chose this name for the restaurant, ‘Banh Cuon Tay Ho,’ as they wanted to pay homage to our Vietnamese heritage and the history of the dish itself,” Yenson said. “The restaurant is now called Tay Ho solely, as we serve several dishes other than banh cuon, but banh cuon will always be our specialty.”
The family worked together in tiny banh cuon shops where Nguyen became a trusted community member who people turned to for her excellent palate. Nguyen’s passion for Vietnamese cuisine, along with the strong bonds she created with her customers, contributed to a larger vision where it all began.
When there was a data job opening at Tay Ho, Yenson jumped at the opportunity to become more involved in the family business. It was then that her father discovered she had a penchant for numbers.
Meanwhile, she was inspired to take Tay Ho’s authentic Vietnamese street food to the masses.
The menu at Tay Ho features dishes that have been prepared utilizing handcrafted techniques, slow-cooked broths and steamed vegetables.
Tay Ho’s signature banh cuon takes upward of five days to prepare, starting with the rice, which is ground with fresh water then left to sit for 24 hours.
After the rice flour has settled toward the bottom of the water and a milky water rises to the top, the water and impurities are discarded to make the cleanest batter possible. The process is repeated for five days until the water is clear, then the rice batter is carefully spread over a thin cotton cloth that is pulled tautly over a pot of steaming water.
“The Tay Ho banh cuon set is our specialty, which comes with pork and mushroom rolls, the shrimp-filled roll and the classic rice crepe,” Yenson said. “It also comes with Vietnamese ham (cha lua), bean sprouts, cucumbers, herbs and veggies, a crispy shrimp and sweet potato fritter, and our house dipping sauce, which makes the perfect combination for a well-balanced meal.
“Another house favorite is our garlic noodles with steak, which has the perfect blend of a savory garlic taste from the noodles with tender pieces of filet mignon that pays homage to a traditional Vietnamese dish called bo luc lac (shaken beef).”
Yenson created the Beyond roll with a Beyond meat filling, as she wanted to have a vegetarian option without sacrificing the texture and flavors of the pork and mushroom roll.
“I’ll sometimes even choose to eat the Beyond roll instead of meat options because it’s just that good,” Yenson said.
The Vietnamese iced coffee is one of Yenson’s favorites and is on the menu she created.
“No Vietnamese restaurant is complete without a delicious cup of house coffee,” Yenson said. “During my spare time on the weekends, I tested various blends of coffee and different ratios of condensed milk and creamed for the perfect cup of Vietnamese coffee. When I found my perfect combination for the coffee, my parents tested it and loved it so much that our household always had to have a quart of my house special coffee on hand. Now, customers will sometimes come into the restaurant early when we first open in the morning just for a coffee, and it just makes my dad happy to see them enjoy a recipe I spent so much time creating.”
Other beverage offerings include lychee lemonade and teas in flavors like Thai, strawberry peach black, lychee green and taro milk.
Tay Ho celebrated its official grand reopening on Jan. 15 and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week. Yenson looks forward to continuing to fulfill her family’s legacy.
“San Gabriel was the perfect place to relaunch Tay Ho, as we used to have a very successful Tay Ho restaurant located down the street from our current location on Valley Boulevard as well,” Yenson said.
“Unfortunately, my great-uncle who was managing the store, passed away, so that store was closed down. However, it’s so crazy that customers will still come in to tell us that they used to go to the Tay Ho restaurant down the street all the time and they were sad it closed. I’m so thankful to have started in San Gabriel as the first location with the relaunched version of Tay Ho, as the SGV community has been so supportive and welcoming.”
Tay Ho Restaurant
529 E. Valley Boulevard, Suite 118B, San Gabriel