Tung Nguyen, who ran T2 Streetfood at St. Roch Market, has moved across the street to open Em Trai Sandwich Co. in the New Orleans Healing Center. The space was home to the restaurants Fatoush, Spotted Cat Food & Spirits and most recently the second location of Seed. Nguyen will serve creative Vietnamese-inspired cuisine.
While growing up in New Orleans, Nguyen recalls moving from spaghetti and meatballs at school to pho or fish and rice at home. At Em Trai, Nguyen expands on T2’s traditional Vietnamese dishes, incorporating Asian ingredients into dishes including po-boys and potato tots.
Nguyen describes the eclectic menu as “what I like to eat.” That includes crab dip with wonton chips, fried egg rolls, spring rolls, bao, pho, salads and sandwiches.
Nguyen credits his mother with providing the foundation for his dishes. A classical pho broth gets reduced, darkened and combined with smoked meat from Central City BBQ. Nguyen is part of Central City BBQ’s Hogs for the Cause team, Aporkalypse Now, and he picks up smoked meats from the restaurant daily for his pho and bao.
Em Trai spins New Orleans classics like shrimp po-boys, with shrimp tossed in bang bang sauce on banh mi bread from Hi-Do Bakery. His oyster BLT features bacon, Caesar dressing, spicy mayo and romaine on “everything” sourdough bread from St. Bruno Bread Co. Patton’s hot sausage is available as a banh mi or a po-boy.
Diners can have their banh mi pressed.
“I love a nice pressed panini sandwich, but no one ever did a banh mi like that,” Nguyen says.
The restaurant will offer specials like lobster pho on weekends and Viet-Cajun-style crawfish during crawfish season. Nguyen also will share traditional Vietnamese dishes like rice with simmered pork and a Spamwich with tomatoes, caramelized onions and fish sauce.
“I’m trying to pick my mom’s brain about all my favorites from growing up,” he says.
Diners order from the counter, and table seating is abundant. Menu items range from $3 for a fried tofu bao to $13.50 for smoked brisket pho. A shrimp po-boy costs $10.
Currently Em Trai only accepts credit cards but will soon take cash as well. Nguyen is waiting for a liquor license, which will allow the restaurant to serve sake, wines on tap and beers from Urban South Brewery. The restaurant will offer delivery through Uber Eats.
Em Trai Sandwich Co. is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 2372 St. Claude Ave.