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Ky Nguyen was five years old when he moved from Saigon to the suburbs of Boston. Having grown up immersed in authentic Vietnamese cuisine, Ky was compelled to create an easy way to introduce the unique flavors of his family’s food to the American palate. With an approachable menu of noodle bowls, pho, burritos, and bahn mi, SA PA gives adventurous foodies a taste of Vietnamese food without leaving downtown. We sat down with Ky to get the scoop on what inspired the fast-casual menu at SA PA and what’s in store for the restaurant in 2018.

What’s the story behind SA PA? When did you open?

I was born in Vietnam and moved to the suburbs of Boston when I was five, so I experienced both cultures growing up. Before I opened SA PA I felt like a lot of the Vietnamese restaurants in Boston were inaccessible. The menus were big and difficult to understand, which can be intimidating if you’ve never ordered Vietnamese food before.

I opened SA PA to introduce Vietnamese cuisine to people who had never tried fish sauce or other Vietnamese flavors. I took a few staple dishes and made a menu that was easy to order from. After finding a space in downtown Boston, we opened in 2012.

How long have you been working with Fooda?

We’ve been working with Fooda since it came to Boston two years ago; we have a great relationship.

What is your best-selling dish?

Our noodle bowl is our best seller. It comes with rice noodles, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, shredded lettuce, cilantro, grapes, crispy shallots, and peanuts. Customers can choose add-ons and select a protein; our pork is pretty popular. We have three sauces to finish it off: ginger miso, coconut red curry, and SA PA – a chili lime fish sauce.

What is your personal favorite dish?

My favorite is the noodle bowl with tofu and SA PA sauce.

Where do you find inspiration for the menu?

I get inspiration from going out to other restaurants and trying different concepts. I like to experiment with menu items that are kind of new and different, and I think of ways I’d like to eat or other people would like to eat. In the last five years there’s been a huge boom in the fast casual segment. The sit down experience has its place, but not everyone wants to commit to an hour and a half dinner with menus, a server, and having the check dropped off. The inspiration behind SA PA was to be almost like Vietnamese street food style where you go to different stalls.

What is a misconception people have about Asian food?

A lot of Asian cuisine is looked down upon as inexpensive and made with cheap ingredients, but I think that’s changing. More and more people are open to Asian cuisine and have an appetite for it, so restaurants are going higher scale. It’s not just a take-out experience anymore.

Do you have any exciting plans for SA PA in 2018?

Right now we’re only open for lunch, but we’re opening for dinner starting in January. We’re getting our beer and wine license as well so we can do some pairings of Vietnamese food with craft beer.

Boston food lovers have spoken and named SA PA the Single Best Lunch in Boston. With authentic Vietnamese flavors delivered in familiar formats, there’s no better place to introduce your taste buds to this exciting cuisine.