The barbecued pork in the banh cuon thit nuong at Tay Ho 18 in Hong Kong City Mall isn't as charred and crispy as the barbecued pork in the banh cuon thit nuong at Thien Thanh on Bellaire, but it's still pretty tasty. At Tay Ho 18, you can watch through a glass wall while the woman who makes the banh cuon prepares each roll from a huge stack of rice paper sheets.
Banh cuon restaurants are a lot more common in Southern California than they are in Houston. Tay Ho 18 is the 18th franchise location of an Orange County restaurant chain. The tables, surrounded by partitions, are set out in the open part of the mall, just outside the door of Ocean Palace. I walk by the place every time I go to Ocean Palace for dim sum, and it always seems to be crowded. It wasn't until I started looking for banh cuon that I realized exactly what the attraction was.
Owner James Luu was standing behind the counter when I stopped to sample the barbecued pork rolls, so I asked him the obvious question: "Did you sell your house in Southern California and use the profits to buy a similar house in Houston and a restaurant?" Luu confirmed that he was another Southern California real estate refuge. He said he used to be an administrator in a law office. He sold his house in L.A. in 2004, and used the money he made to build a house in Sugar Land and open the Tay Ho Banh Cuon franchise. If he had waited to sell until 2006, he would have picked up an extra quarter million, he lamented.
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I'm thinking Tay Ho 18 is Houston's first fast food banh cuon restaurant.