May 27 2015 12:00 AM

Nola Bistro Pho & Po-Boys


I can’t imagine there’s a huge crossover between New Orleans cooking and Asian cuisine. Sure, there are probably lots of folks out there who appreciate a nice bowl of gumbo and/or a bánh mì sandwich, but to have both on the same menu could be overwhelming. Well, as they say in N’awlins, “Laissez les bon temps roulez!”

Nola Bistro Pho & Po-Boys, which opened earlier this month on Lansing’s west side, has a menu that flip-flops between Vietnamese and Creole dishes. The restaurant’s name says it all.

“For some reason, we just thought they’d go well together,” says Ann Nguyen, who co-owns Nola Bistro with Sarah Pham. “And we knew these were two (food options) that local diners were missing. Lansing needed something like this.”

The two owners met through their husbands, who have been best friends since childhood and were in the military together in Lousiana. Nguyen and her husband moved up to the Lansing area, and when she decided to open the Sugar Berry frozen yogurt store by Frandor in 2010, she invited Pham to be her partner. The two went on to open two more Sugar Berry locations — in Okemos and across from the Lansing Mall — but a real sit-down place was always simmering in the back of Pham’s mind.

“This was Sarah’s dream to own a restaurant, so we decided to stick to the cuisine we know best,” Nguyen said. “I’ve never even worked in a restaurant, but I trusted her that this would work.”

Despite a quiet opening, word of mouth has already yielded an ever-growing set of diners. And with a prime location near the corner of Saginaw Highway and Waverly Road, she’s counting on business continuing to build.

“You talk to most people in Lansing, and they don’t know what a po-boy is,” Nguyen says. “Where I’m from, it’s on every corner.”

She may be underestimating local palates for New Orleans’ signature sandwich — for the record, it’s battered and fried fish/shrimp/sausage piled on a baguette with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and a special spicy mayo spread — but it’s likely diners are less familiar with the menu’s other featured player: pho. The traditional Vietnamese dish (pronounced “fuh”) consists of a beef broth that’s simmered for at least 10 hours with beef bones, then flavored with cilantro and other seasonings, with fresh meat added just before serving. You can choose between brisket, sausage, meatballs or round steak, or go with the Pho Dac Biet, which includes all of the above.

The Vietnamese side of the menu also has authentic noodle dishes, dumplings and spring rolls — items with which fans of Asian cuisine are probably familiar. The bánh mì may not sound familiar, but it’s basically an Asian version of the po-boy, complete with its own special house spread.

The women spent over $350,000 in infrastructure costs to transform two former strip mall suites into the restaurant. Then came the interior decoration: brand new tables, chairs emblazoned with the restaurant logo and an elegant color scheme and tile work. Still to come are a full menu (they’re keeping it simple for now with a streamlined version), a patio and possible crawfish boils. They’d also like to get a liquor license eventually.

“There’s nothing like a beer with a po-boy,” Pham said. “It’s time Lansing learned that.”

Nola Bistro Pho & Po-Boys 603 N. Waverly Road, Lansing 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday- Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday (517) 327-4771

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