Lotus Restaurant features a traditional Vietnamese menu.
In October 2017, Hung Nguyen and his wife were dining out at a neighborhood restaurant near their home in Maple Grove. At the end of the meal, he noticed that most of the tables were unoccupied. Nguyen’s parents, Tri and Le Nguyen, have owned Lotus Restaurant—their downtown Minneapolis Vietnamese mainstay—since 1983. Nguyen knew the restaurant industry, and he also knew he and his family were looking for a new challenge. Maybe it could be here, he thought.
A moment of serendipity took the lead. After their meal, Nguyen noticed a “For Lease” sign on the door. A few moments later, the landlord happened to arrive. Fast forward eight months, and Nguyen and his family had negotiated a lease, gutted and rebuilt the space to code and created what he calls the kitchen of his mom’s dreams.
“I noticed there weren’t many mom and pop shops in Maple Grove,” Nguyen says. “There are a lot of chains. We wanted to build a family-friendly neighborhood place.” They opened their doors in August, and, after a quiet start, business has quickly picked up pace.
A suburban location is different from a downtown Minneapolis address, so Nguyen and his family (including brothers Yoom, Toom and Joey) had to quickly adapt to Maple Grove’s needs. There’s less foot traffic, but there’s a higher volume of takeout orders, and they have a dedicated lunchtime crowd. “It’s a completely different dynamic here,” Nguyen says. “But we’ve noticed a lot of repeat customers in a short amount of time. I tell my servers to get to know our customers; what they like, who they are. I think that’s what brings someone back in.”
What to Know
Vietnamese food has five elements: bitter, sour, salty, spicy and sweet. Lighter and, some say, healthier than other Asian fare, this cuisine relies on balanced yet complex flavors with layers of textures and tastes. Think of a savory broth in pho or a pile of fresh cilantro and basil on top of rice noodles, a creamy pâté sandwiched between baguette slices in a bánh mì with fried shallots or a squeeze of fresh lime.
“Pho is our number one dish,” Nguyen says. The traditional Vietnamese noodle soup is a mix of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat. “My mom makes it from scratch every morning,” he says. “She comes into the kitchen three or four hours before we open to make the broth.” The Nguyen family prides itself on using fresh ingredients, welcoming three produce deliveries per week and prepping ingredients by hand; and Nguyen’s parents help make egg rolls in-house and start their sauces from scratch.
Larell Walker has been a devoted fan of Lotus Restaurant for more than two decades and visits the Maple Grove location at least once a week. “I discovered [the Mpls. location] in the mid ‘90s, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” Walker says. “My favorite is the potatoes and oyster sauce with beef.”
“Our success boils down to our parents,” Nguyen says. “My mom has always had a palate for good food, and nothing makes her happier than seeing happy customers. They’ve worked so hard, and [the Maple Grove] location gave them another jolt of energy.” They continue to churn out new recipes, like Com Tam, a savory pork, rice and egg platter. “My dad marinates the pork for three days,” Nguyen says. It’s then grilled, brushed with more seasoning and topped with homemade fish sauce. “The feedback we’ve had so far gives us a lot of hope.”
13704 83rd Way N., Maple Grove; 763.762.8932