Ridgewood, Queens. Sounds like it’d be really far, like one of those places that aren’t reachable by city transit. It’s not even Flushing, Queens, whose familiarity makes it seem closer in distance somehow. I’m the kind of person who thinks any place requiring more than 5 subway stops or a transfer is “out of the way,” so initially I wasn’t too keen on taking the L train to Ridgewood to eat Vietnamese food at a place called Bunker. But according to NY Mag, this is the best new cheap eats joint in the city, and whenever something proclaims itself as the best my immediate inclination is to test the validity of this claim in person, so off to Ridgewood I went.
The subway ride was pretty quick, but the 10 minute walk from the Jefferson stop to Bunker was not the most scenic. To be blunt, we walked past a series of ugly industrial buildings and warehouses. Sometimes the roads were littered with broken glass and trash. Remember that episode of Girls when they go to a warehouse party in Bushwick? Ridgewood looks a lot like that, minus the party part.
Bunker has a kitschy, resort vibe that reminds me of small local restaurants in Hawaii and Bali. I liked the chill and casual atmosphere, but at times the restaurant was run a little too much in grassroots fashion. Water was from a self-serve cooler, the table was not set with plates and utensils, there was no A/C, a large 12-person table occupies most of the restaurant, and they ran out of several items at the peak hour of dinner service. The one grassroots aspect that I liked was the BYOB, but otherwise I felt like I was part of a coop where it wasn’t my day to cook, but it was my day to set the table.
We heard great things about the crab spring rolls, the shrimp and bacon egg crepe, the lemongrass pork loin with egg and the tomato fried rice. Luckily they didn’t run out of any of these so we could stick to our original dinner game plan. We also ordered some fresh watermelon juice to help us cool off while we waited for the food (Bunker was trying to simulate Balinese conditions a little too realistically, in my opinion).
I loved the spring rolls–they were perfectly golden and crispy, and the crab and vermicelli noodle filling was solid. They were a tad greasy, but what else would you expect from deep fried spring rolls? The side of lettuce and mint leaves, as well as the fish dipping sauce, helped cut the grease.
The shrimp and bacon egg crepe (listed as “traditional banh xeo” on the menu), on the other hand, I was on the fence about. I think I expected something more along the lines of a traditionally soft crepe, but the banh xeo at Bunker was more like a stiff, free-standing taco shell. I would have preferred a softer version, because it was a bit awkward breaking off rigid pieces of the crepe and trying to wrap it over the bean sprouts. Flavor-wise, it probably could have used some more seasoning. It was good but not particularly memorable.
The garlic tomato fried rice was another one of my favorites. The fried rice was so flavorful and comforting, I finished this side dish before even making a dent in the pork dish (listed as “suon nuong xa“). The pork meat used in the suon nuong xa was a little too fatty and again wasn’t all that flavorful. I didn’t think combining it with the fried egg, rice and fish sauce enhanced the dish at all. It tasted very much like a basic, homestyle pork dish, something that your housemate quickly serves up for a potluck.
I was pretty stuffed and also extremely hot by the end of the meal, so I didn’t really feel like lingering for dessert. But I’m glad I toughed it out and had some of the refreshing and delicious coconut tapioca pudding. Cold tapioca pearls in cream is an effective remedy for beating the cruel humid heat.
If Bunker were in the neighborhood, even in Chinatown, I would definitely come back multiple times. But is it worth the destination trip? Not really. It wasn’t even that cheap for the two of us–the final bill came out to about $30 a person, and we didn’t even order that much and we brought our own beers. I thought the trip out to Ridgewood was a fun adventure and liked discovering the little storefronts along our walk from the subway to the restaurant. But I have to honestly say that I won’t take the L train past Bedford Ave anytime soon.
46-63 Metropolitan Ave
Ridgewood, NY 11385