In the last few months, Eastside resident and serial entrepreneur Taylor Hoang added two new restaurants to her quiver of projects, which includes the Pho Cyclo Cafes, Lavender Jade Catering, the Ethnic Business Coalition, and the Seattle Small Business Advisory Council. Maxwella Café and Bar and District One Saigon sit side by side in Redmond’s Avalon Esterra Park complex in the heart of Microsoft country. Maxwella, named for Hoang’s two children Maxwell and Ella, is a light airy café with reptile-green chairs that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with espresso beverages and pastries in the morning and a full bar of cocktails, beer, and wine in the evenings.
Hoang jokes that the café’s name is a bit of a sore spot for her daughter, seeing as Ella is the oldest of the pair, but she points out it just didn’t work the other way around. Instead, Hoang named a beverage after her daughter — the Ellamosa, a twist on a classic mimosa, featuring Champagne, lychee, and pineapple juice. Next door, District One Saigon transports diners in a different direction. The muted teal walls provide an elegant backdrop for this 120-seat, contemporary, upscale take on a Vietnamese restaurant. Drawing from her own culinary experiences combined with her mother’s expertise (Hoang’s mother Lien Dang owns Huong Binh in Seattle’s Little Saigon neighborhood), the menu at District One Saigon reflects traditional Vietnamese flavors — like Hanoi-based turmeric and dill white saba fish; Vietnamese street food; and flavors from French, Chinese, and Indian cuisines that have been influential in Vietnamese cooking for decades. The menu is divided into sections, like appetizers, salads, noodle soups (including pho utilizing Pho Cyclo broth), rice and breads, and noodles and wraps. We started with the aforementioned Ellamosa while we waited for our appetizers. Grilled pork rolls were served deconstructed with a mountain of fresh herbs and mustard greens meant for wrapping up the goodies with a dash of pickled daikon dipping sauce (the mustard greens gave it a minty flair). And we couldn’t pass up the mini coconut-turmeric pancakes served in a cast-iron pan with individual divots used for cooking the batter, a single shrimp pressed into each.
In a seafood mood, we ordered the tamarind shrimp with fried scallions served with steamed rice and greens. Hoang suggested we try the seared turmeric and dill saba fish, a dish made famous in Hanoi, according to Hoang. It was served on a sizzling hot iron plate, and we were instructed to stir the dill around to help it release its aroma. I remarked how I don’t usually associate turmeric with Vietnamese cuisine, but Hoang assured me it is a common ingredient and is also used medicinally — sometimes fresh turmeric root is pounded and used to reduce the visibility of scars. Though we were happily mulling over the spices, herbs, and flavors from our meal, we had room for one more bite — a deep-fried rice paper puff roll stuffed with blue crab, shrimp, and scallions with more nuoc cham (the “catch-all” name for dipping sauce, which, at its most basic, consists of water, sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce, though can include a host of other flavors).
Hoang named the restaurant after the district where she resided for six years when living in Saigon: Ho Chi Minh City. A metropolis of 10 million people, Saigon is divided into 10 districts. According to Hoang’s observations, District One is the epicenter of the city’s ever-changing food scene, where a range of culinary experiences is available, from street vendors to five-star hotel restaurants.
A private dining/multipurpose space buffers the two restaurants. When it is not being rented for private parties, Hoang plans to use the space to host pop-up stores for local “makers” — “especially for budding entrepreneurs, taste makers, craft makers, or home businesses,” says Hoang: a list close to her heart.
When You Go
District One Saigon is located in Redmond’s Avalon Esterra Park at 2720 152nd Ave N.E., #150
Open daily at 11 a.m.,
Closing at 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.