Anthony Ha is the child of Vietnamese immigrants, who came to the states in the ‘70s. First settling in California, the family moved to New Jersey when Ha was in middle school. Ha’s mother cooked close to their roots–pho was a monthly special at the house.
Ha didn’t get a professional culinary degree. After going to college for graphic design for a bit and quitting, he started as a dishwasher at the well-known Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese in the Lower East Side – a job he found on craigslist.
“The chef was Vietnamese, and I was Vietnamese. I saw that I can probably do what he does, or what the [cooks] do on the line, that I don’t have to do dishes,” Ha reminisced. “[The chef] made that happen and I started cooking for them.”
At Mission Chinese, he met another cook, Sadie Mae Burns, who is now his partner in life and in business. Burns, originally from suburban New York, completed a Culinary Program on a farm in Ireland after high school and moved to Brooklyn to continue a career in the food industry.
Both chefs currently have full-time industry jobs: Ha is a cook at Frenchette in Manhattan and Burns is a cook at Roman’s in Brooklyn. Despite their busy schedule, the couple is dedicated to their pop-up that has been running in full bloom for a year. They say running the pop-up is fun and a lot more relaxed than working the line.
Ha’s Đậc Biệt, means Ha’s Special of the Day. The pop-up usually has one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert available. During the summertime, the couple lights up a grill and cooks outside. Now that it’s gotten colder, they’ve resorted to induction burners and focusing on soups. The menu is heavily inspired by Ha’s mom’s home cooking, with traditional ingredients like lemongrass, fish sauce, and daikon.
“It’s all about the produce and the finesse,” Ha said. “How you can touch it and make it so special when you take something so simple.”
The pop-up was born out of their first trip to Vietnam together, which was also Ha’s first time in his homeland. Ha said he felt a great sense of familiarity during the trip, even though he made many new discoveries.
“We got really inspired,” said Burns. “Specific dishes were really incredible, but we are trying to encapsulate the feeling of eating there. Everything is a pop-up, everyone is just scooting around and building pop-ups on the side of the street, with stools holding a dozen ingredients. Everything is vibrant, small and contained, and family-owned. ”
At their last pop-up at a Crown Heights bar, King Tai, they served a crispy crunchy salad ($7), with peanuts and Nước chấm, a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce with fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. They also had Pho Ga ($13), a chicken soup that is simmered for eight hours, flavored with onions, ginger, and daikon. Later on, you add pickled garlic cloves, chili peppers, Thai basil, lime, and bean sprouts to taste. For dessert, they had ginger cakes topped with poached pears ($8) in a lush, creamy sauce.
A regular of their pop-up said their food is genuine and you can see how passionate they are. The bartender of the night seconded that opinion and added that out of all rotating pop-ups they host, this one is definitely one of their top three.
Ha’s family approves of their cooking and menus for the pop-up as well, “My mom loved it. She thought it was spot on.”
To find there next pop-up, follow them on Instagram.