banh mi booming

Houston's best banh mi shop and restaurant coming to East End

Houston's best banh mi shop and restaurant coming to East End

Roostar Vietnamese Grill sandwiches banh mi
Roostar has become a hit with diners and critics.  Roostar Vietnamese Grill/Facebook

One of Houston’s best banh mi restaurants is coming to the Second Ward. Roostar Vietnamese Grill has signed a lease for its third location, owners Linda and Ronnie Nguyen tell CultureMap.

Roostar will join Acadian Coast, a new seafood restaurant from chefs John Avila and Philippe Gaston, at Navigation Place, the newly constructed shopping center at 2929 Navigation Blvd. Although the negotiations only concluded last week, construction plans are already under way. Ronnie Nguyen hopes to be serving customers approximately eight months from now.

Since it opened in Spring Branch in 2015, Roostar has become one of Houston’s most acclaimed banh mi restaurants. Originally conceived by the couple when they were students at the University of Houston, Roostar stands out for its scratch-made ingredients, such as its pate and signature garlic aioli, as well as its use of artisan baguettes (originally from Slow Dough, more recently from Kraftsmen Baking). The menu also includes vermicelli bowls, chicken wings, and a surprisingly flavorful beef alphabet soup.

That commitment to quality has led to wide acclaim, including a spot on CultureMap’s list of Houston’s top 100 restaurants, multiple wins at the annual Great Bánh Mì Cook-Off event, and the title of "best banh mi" from the Houston Press. A second location opened in the Galleria area in 2018.

Ronnie Nguyen explains that he’s had his eyes on the East End for awhile and chose the specific location because its landlord, real estate developer Ersa Grae, has been a devoted regular of the Spring Branch outpost. Despite some reluctance based on the challenges restaurants are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Nguyens agreed to lease a 2,000-square-foot space that’s approximately the same size as their Galleria location.

“I get a lot of offers. The real estate community always has demand for good operators. I get offers for Barker Cypress, Katy, but we don’t want to get a location that’s going to make revenue. We want a location that’s going to be consistent and matches up with our brand,” Ronnie Nguyen says.

As they did in the Galleria, Roostar will be working with Palmer Schooley of local firm Schooley Design on the interior. Nguyen says the design will be optimized for to-go orders, with a larger kitchen line and slightly less interior seating than its Galleria-area sibling. A walk-up window will add convenience for neighbors who might be walking dogs or riding bikes in the area.

“We worked very intimately on the floorplan,” Nguyen says. “Although it’s small, we want to make sure it’s an amenity to the East End community.”

Although the menu will match the other restaurants, Nguyen expresses some nervousness about opening the third location. He had two years to build the team that opened Roostar near the Galleria, but less than a year to find the people who’ll run the new outpost.

“I believe in organic leadership. They have to go through the trials and errors,” Nguyen says. “Now, we have obligations and deadlines.”

Despite those challenges, Roostar will be ready to open the doors as soon as the construction is complete.

“I think the East End is very underserved,” he says. “I really can’t wait to get in there and take care of customers over there. I’m very excited about all that.”