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INCOMING: Sovereign

Alex Thao brings Michelin-starred Vietnamese chef Downtown

By Troy Johnson

An Iron Chef Vietnam is coming to San Diego.

Michelin-starred, James Beard “Tastemaker” Michael Bao Huynh will head up Sovereign Kitchen + Bar, a new modern Vietnamese restaurant in the Gaslamp. Restaurateur Alex Thao (Rama, Saja Korean Kitchen, Lucky Liu’s) tapped Huynh for the concept, which is slated to take over the marquee corner spot at 5th and Island formerly occupied by Royal Thai Cuisine (467 Fifth Ave.). It’ll be the first and only Vietnamese restaurant in Downtown San Diego outside of pho noodle joints—located right next to the incoming $100-million Pendry Hotel.

Huynh grew up in Saigon and learned to cook at the side of his mother. The family fled Vietnam by boat in 1982 and were rescued from open waters by the USS Midway, now stationed in San Diego. Once landed in New York, he changed his name to Michael (in homage to Michael Jackson), and eventually opened a series of restaurants in New York—Baoguette, Bao 111, Mai House, Bia, Pho Sure, etc.—becoming one of the city’s top names in Vietnamese food.

In a New York Times article five years ago, Huynh was criticized by his former business partners for opening too many places and then moving on. I ask Thao about the chef’s commitment. “He’s committed for at least a year,” he says.

So for a year, at least, Downtown San Diego will get its first real-deal Vietnamese restaurant from one of the top Vietnamese chefs in the world. Not bad news by any means.

Expect some of Hyung’s signature dishes that made him famous in New York (including a two-star review and “Best New Restaurant” nod from former Times critic, Frank Bruni), plus new ideas—like organic chicken clay pot with quail eggs, ginger and caramel; crispy sweet and sour red snapper; BBQ short rib on lemongrass skewer; or his well-loved yucca waffle made with coconut and salted caramel ice cream.

The expected opening date is January 2015.

INCOMING: Sovereign

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