The buzzy Southeast Asian restaurant has nabbed some national attention this morning as Eater’s roving critic Bill Addison declares Hai Hai one of his best meals this past year. It’s likely the only restaurant location to make the list that was once home to a divey strip club. The restaurant at 2121 University Avenue might have started out rough, but chef Christina Nguyen and bar man Birk Grudem knew that it was just a diamond in the rough.
Last year the local food world was expected them to open a second Hola Arepa in the still forthcoming Keg & Case development. However, when this address became available, the duo saw what others might not have detected: massive potential.
The couple drew on their experiences traveling Southeast Asia in their off months, back when Hola Arepa was a food truck. Nguyen also drew on her Vietnamese heritage to create what has become the smash hit restaurant of 2018.
Addison said, “ A bombastically colorful banana blossom salad includes fried shallots, peanuts, and sliced watermelon radish for echoes and echoes of crunch; [Nguyen] rejiggers Hanoi’s famous dill-scented grilled fish dish, chả cá lã vọng, by adding rice noodles and her punchy riff on Vietnamese pineapple-shrimp sauce. So much about this place uplifts: the beachy wallpaper prints, the citrus-fueled cocktails, and a confident, effervescent staff. But Nguyen’s stirringly personal food gives Hai Hai its depth of spirit.”
Congratulations to the Hai Hai crew and for anyone wondering, happy hour kicks off at 3 pm today.