I've tried the iconic Vietnamese dish Banh Xeo many times in my life, but I'll be ashamed to admit I never once tried the equally delicious miniature variation, Banh Khot, until my 34th year on this planet when I visited the Banh Khot Lady.
These little pucks of flour mixed with coconut milk, turmeric, shrimp, and pork are not only one of the most flavorful street foods of Vietnam, but they also brought an Orange County family back from the brink.
Tony Dang, owner of the burgeoning local favorite, Banh Khot Lady, in Westminster, CA, owes his life to his mother, Xi Phan's, irresistible recipe.
In 2020, at the height of COVID, Dang was living in his van. His tattoo parlor had shut down and so had his mother's nail salon due to the world wide lockdown.
"I had a dream one night that my mom was serving my friends Banh Khot, my favorite dish from my mom," Dang told us, "and brought up the idea to sell it on the Facebook food groups. Our first day was Mother’s Day, and we sold about 400-500 pieces of Banh Khot."
They were shocked, thinking their success was due to the Mother's Day demand. Yet the following week they sold double.
"It got to the point where I asked my girlfriend at the time, Anh Ngo, to help out my family. And so our little business got started," revealed Dang.
It wasn't a smooth enterprise by any means. Dang and Ngo were met with a host of problems, from trustworthy employees to logistics, and even weather became obstacles they had to navigate.
Much to their regret, they put Banh Khot Lady on an indefinite pause.
However, in 2023, they found themselves meeting with the owner of the prolific Asian Garden Mall, considered by many as the epicenter of Little Saigon. After a fortuitous presentation, the family was able to host a pop-up in front of the mall.
"We advertised and a bunch of people came thinking it was a night market and when they showed up it was just us one stand selling one item," Dang laughed. "We had live musicians play and created a whole restaurant pop-up in front of the mall!"
That's what it took to reignite the fire of the Banh Khot Lady.
"After that pop-up I knew I had to see Banh Khot Lady to the end. A month after, we found a run down, broken ass restaurant." Dang stressed to us that everything in the space was in need of repair, from the air conditioning to the lights.
But the family now had their foundation.
"My wife and I took a leap of faith and just threw all our energy into creating the first little Banh Khot Lady shop," Dang said. "The whole community came together to help us bring our vision to life — a place were we get to share my mother's recipe to the world."
Phan's recipe, now in the care of Ngo, has seen some tweaks and improvements since being passed down, and now has flourished into a beautifully balanced dish that the community is lining up for.
You can meet Dang and his entire family at their brick and mortar location in Westminster, California. If you're lucky enough, you might find yourself an open table to enjoy the Banh Khot fresh.