Traverse City Restaurant The Good Bowl Celebrates Vietnamese Cuisine

Since opening its doors at 328 E. Front St., The Good Bowl has gained a following for its classic Vietnamese dishes.

The Traverse City restaurant opened in June 2018 serving traditional favorites including phở (rice noodle soup), cơm (rice bowls) and bánh mì (a baguette sandwich). The starter menu shines with salt-brined Vietnamese chicken wings and crispy fried Brussels sprouts that hit all the right notes—a little tangy, a little salty, a little sweet.

Owner Soon Hagerty has been busy creating new experiences for customers—a Sunday brunch menu was added in December, a membership program is in the works and outdoor seating will be available this summer.

Customers find new items on the menu every few weeks. Right now, Soon’s dreaming of a cocktail with vodka, lemon-lime club soda and a splash of their popular lime chili sauce.

“We’re creating cocktails with Vietnamese ingredients,” she says. “We only have four or five right now because we want to serve drinks you can’t find anywhere else in town. We do a Saigon mule with lemongrass syrup, ginger, fresh basil, lime and a lemongrass stalk.

“I think people were ready for something different in Traverse City.”
–Soon Hagerty

Soon was born in Vietnam. She emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 5 years old after the Vietnam War ended.The older I get the more I appreciate and am fascinated by my culture,” she says. “When you’re younger, you want to be like everybody else. When you’re older, you realize those differences are strengths. I kind of always had this dream in the back of my head to open a restaurant someday.”

Executive Chef and part owner Tony Vu is also Vietnamese and shares Soon’s passion for their heritage. The duo wanted to more than bring a new cuisine to Traverse City though.

“For me, the name The Good Bowl is more about doing good than the food,” Soon says. For every bowl sold, the restaurant donates $1 to charity. Each quarter, the staff picks a local, national and international charity, and customers decide where their dollar goes. Since opening, The Good Bowl has donated nearly $18,000.

“It’s been such a cool thing to see the community rally behind,” Soon says. “I would not have opened this restaurant without the giving model. I wanted to wake up every morning and be excited about it.”

How do charities get picked? 

Customers share ideas in the suggestion box, on social media or through email. Charities that get more than three suggestion are added to the ballot. Employees vote to decide the final three.

The Good Bowl Events

The Good Bowl hosts monthly cooking classes and other events including a specialty dinner, Passport Vietnam. The four- or five-course menu features new dishes and has a limited number of seats available (20–25). The next dinner is March 18 showcasing “recipes from our travels.” Executive Chef Tony Vu and Chef de Cuisine Michael T. Evans recently spent three weeks in Vietnam and will share their favorite recipes from the trip. Find a list of current events and buy tickets online.

The Good Bowl is launching a membership program within the next few weeks. Members will get discounts, early access to events, invites to private parties and a chance to vote with employees on the featured charities. The first 20–25 people who sign up for a membership will get to be a part of the test kitchen where they’ll taste new dishes and decide which ones to add to the menu. Members will also be invited on the staff’s annual three-week food tour through Vietnam. “Our memberships are less about the discount and more about being immersed in what we’re doing,” Soon says.

Common Questions

Is everything on the menu authentic?

Yes!

What do Vietnamese generally eat?

For breakfast and lunch, it’s normally a noodle dish, and dinner is rice. Vietnamese street food is very popular. The reason why is they have very small homes and kitchens, so people will eat street food for breakfast and then they’ll go home and have a bigger family dinner with meat, rice and veggies. But during the workday, it’s always a sandwich or noodles. The two most iconic dishes we have—phở and bánh mì.

What’s the difference between Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine?

You’ll notice Vietnamese cuisine is very light. Chinese dishes have pretty heavy sauces. We flavor most of our foods through herbs and chilies and fish sauce.

Phở: 4 Fun Facts
  1. Phở is traditionally a breakfast food.
  2. It’s the National Dish of Vietnam.
  3. Phở isn’t a type of soup, it’s the type of noodle. Like in Italy, lasagna is the noodle. Phở is the noodle. 
  4. It takes two days to make the broth served with phở. “You have to roast the bones, put the meat in, grill the onions and ginger—it’s quite intense. You make a pot to last for two weeks,” Soon says. The Good Bowl’s new phở spice packets make broth for six people. Bonus: You just drop it in water and you’re good to go in a few minutes.
Haven’t been to The Good Bowl yet?

Don’t be intimidated. The menu has descriptions of every dish so you know what you’re ordering, and if you don’t know how to pronounce the item’s traditional name, like cơm, it’s also listed in English below—rice bowl.

Order at the counter. It’s counter service with a twist. Place your order under the “Goodness Starts Here” sign, grab a glass of water and pick your table. The staff will bring your food and clear the dishes when you’re done.

Take advantage of to-go. Stop by after work and have dinner waiting or you.

Dishes I Love

Iced Coffee: Three shots of espresso and sweetened condensed milk are shaken like a martini and poured over ice.

Vietnamese Wings: They marinate overnight in garlic and fish sauce with a little sugar then get flash fried the next day. The spicy lime chili sauce is so good it *almost* steals the show. And it only has four ingredients—lime, Thai chilis, salt, pepper.

Summer Rolls: You could order these beauties as an entree—four thick rolls filled with tofu or shrimp, lettuce, herbs and vermicelli noodles. Dip in homemade peanut sauce. Fall in love. 

Recipe: Nước Chấm

The sauce recipe everybody asks for.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup fish sauce
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Chili peppers or jalapeños (optional)

Directions

Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of warm water and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Combine sugar mixture with fish sauce, vinegar and 2 cups of cold water. Smash garlic cloves and add to mixture.

To add spice, cut up chili peppers or jalapeños and add to sauce.