Skip to Content
$20 Dinner

Sen Saigon Is Throwing a Vegan Vietnamese Party on East Broadway 

An Nguyen Hawks brings delicious plant-based bún huế, bánh mì, and other Vietnamese classics to Chinatown.

Corn spring rolls, $10.50; Mushroom summer rolls, $10.75. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The origin story of Sen Saigon, a vegan Vietnamese spot that opened last weekend on East Broadway, is an unusually dramatic (and bloody!) one, at least as far as counter-service restaurants go.  

The chef here is An Nguyen Hawks, who was born and raised in and around Ho Chi Minh City before moving to New York City in 2014. She, her husband and business partner Erik Hawks, and their young son lived in Greenpoint before they decamped to Sunnyside. 

The Hawkses were lifelong omnivores until about four years ago, when, as Hawks told Hell Gate, their kid had a mishap. "He got a big cut on his finger because he slammed it in the door," she recalled. "There was a lot of blood and suffering going on. I'm not religious, but I told myself, if my son heals well, I won't eat meat for a month. He was fine, I kept my promise, and I never went back to eating meat."    

Hawks discovered that she loved being vegetarian, and she became a vegan soon after. And she realized that it was almost impossible to find good plant-based Vietnamese food in the city. So she taught herself how to make her favorite dishes, sans meat—and Sen Saigon was born. 

"I didn't miss the meat, but I did miss the traditional foods of home," she said. "So I learned how to recreate them in vegan versions, which brought me a lot of joy and fun." Judging how packed and festive Sen Saigon was on its soft-opening day last Saturday, plenty of other people want to get in on the party too. Even with a limited menu and days of prep, the team sold out of stuff several times, and had to scramble to keep making more.   

Bánh mì with tofu, mushrooms, and lemongrass, $11.75. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Hawks doesn't use commercially produced "mock meat" at Sen Saigon, so the bánh mì here, for example, relies on well-seasoned tofu and a funky mushroom and nut paté of her own creation to bring the sandwich's familiar flavors forward. The lemongrass helps in that regard as well. 

The best thing we ate was the bún huế. The soup's vegan broth has a rich, lively presence, and the ample ingredients—tangles of spaghetti-like noodles, a slab of fried tofu, some greens and cabbage and carrots, plus Hawks's own vegan Vietnamese ham—give the dish plenty of heft.   

Bún huế, $18.25. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The menu will expand in the coming weeks, but for now, your starter options include a crunchy lotus root salad, a pair of terrific mushroom and lemongrass summer rolls, and three takes on crisp-fried spring rolls, which we had stuffed with corn. 

There's no booze at Sen Saigon, but the housemade iced bean tea and vegan Thai coffee both hit the spot. And for dessert, there's Hawks's vegan flan, which doesn't quite pull off the eggy richness of my favorite flans around town, but does offer a bit of that burnt-caramel bite. 

The space is crammed nearly to chaos with tables and people waiting on line to order at the counter in the back, though the mirrors along one wall, flanked by shutters to create the illusion of windows, help alleviate any claustrophobia. Besides, there's too much of Hawks's "fun and joy" in the air here for anyone to feel stressed.   

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"My main purpose of this is, I just want to share the food with everyone. Everyone is welcome," she said. "I really hope people give it a try. I was so nervous when I opened the doors [on opening day] whether we'd have customers, and the moment we opened people came in. It's been wonderful." 

Sen Saigon is located at 150 East Broadway, just west of Rutgers Street, and is currently open on Friday through Sunday, from noon to 7 p.m. Expect more days in the near future, and the menu will expand as well. 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

See all posts