Mint Restaurant and Bar sits on the corner of Park & Maywood, where The Blarney Stone once rocked and rolled. But instead of the oversized barroom, there is now a standard issue bar with a tucked away kitchen cooking Northern Vietnamese food only matched only by the offerings of New York City.
Co-owners Trang and Van Le are a wife and husband team with a long history of hospitality and a passion for good food. As I walked past the ornate door, I was impressed with the changes to the ambiance, courtesy of their vision. Trang Le worked in retail management through the majority of her life but in 2019, just before the pandemic, she was ready for a change. That’s when she learned about the Diverse Food Entrepreneur program
Trang immigrated from Ba Ria, in Northern Vietnam in 1982. “I was in 3rd grade when I first moved here, so I feel like I grew up in Worcester just as much.” Van Le, on the other hand, was a teenager when he first moved to the US from Saigon and has been in the restaurant industry for most of his life. Van Le’s previous restaurant in Worcester was the much beloved Tortilla Sam’s, a fact that definitely inspires confidence in his vision. “I liked doing Tortilla Sam’s but this food, the food we are offering at Mint is a lot closer to home.”
When I ask about menu items, they recommend the standouts they both agree are number 46 Bun Cho Ha Noi and number 49 Cha Ca Thang Long. The 46 is a meatball dish from Ha Noi and the latter is a Turmeric flavored Fish dish. “These are the dishes that President Obama had when he visited Vietnam,” Trang Le says proudly. “Of course, so far our biggest hits have been from the late night menu, the chicken wings. ” Van Le adds, laughing.
Mint offers a full bar with their own specialty drinks menu. Trang Le is quick to explain that one of the most gratifying aspects of this business is that it really has brought her family together. “We never used to cook together or collaborate together like this before. But now, this is what we do. We all do this together”. Amongst the favorites on the cocktail menu are the Miss Lychee and the Scorpion Bowl. “The Miss Lychee was my son Nick’s idea. He actually came up with most of the specialty drinks.”
Looking over the dessert menu, Haupia Pie immediately catches my eye. “That one is my favorite too,” offers Trang Le “but I think not a lot of people know about it. I told my daughter Vanessa, who did the dessert menu, we had to have Haupia Pie on there.”
In the corner by the bar there is now a small stage, and Van Le is excited to rotate through some events, including karaoke and live bands on Friday and Saturday nights respectively. “My son Alex helped with the menu and so I have to take care of all the event planning.” Van says good naturedly.
The passion for hospitality is abundantly clear in every aspect of the space. Everything is done by the family; even the logo was designed by the Trang Le’s nephew, Hoang Nguyen. “This is very much a continuation of my community work, “says Trang Le, who during the Covid19 lockdown volunteered to cook hot and culturally appropriate meals for housebound elderly in need “I just love to help, and especially help by feeding people. It is just who I am.”