You might say that Don Vongtheung is the don of Banhdicted because that’s exactly what he is. Getting to know this guy who is all smiles and swell vibes was a treat. Then, I had the honor of trying out his remarkable food.
It was a hot day at Comida Park and at that time where trucks were set up but folks haven’t started showing up. On the far side of the lot was the truck I was looking for: Banhdicted. Having been to the original restaurant on Orange Grove Road and La Cholla Boulevard, I was excited to get a glimpse of what looked like some kind of refurbished military unit.
“It’s an old postal service truck,” Vongtheung beamed. “It was built around 2003 in Virginia and the couple had it shipped to New Mexico where I picked it up last year. I had to completely rebuild the interior as a mobile restaurant. I just wanted a new feel to the truck — something new and retro.”
Although, there was a last-minute cancellation of the deal and Vongtheung nearly lost the wagon. The food truck fates stepped in, though, and now we are exalted with a Vietnamese mobile unit serving up French-influenced sandwiches, snacks, and iced milk teas.
In fact, in the recent “Best Things the Tucson Foodie Team Tasted” article, I rated his Thai Tea as one of the tastiest things I sampled last month. This particular concoction is made with Thai black tea leaves, star anise, crushed tamarind, cardamom, and some half-and-half packed down with ice. The heat of the day flawlessly complimented the sanctity of each sip as we hung out.
That Thai Tea came in handy during our lengthy conversation — Vongtheung has so many stories to tell.
He was born in a small town in Laos before moving to the U.S. with his family when he was five years old in 1987. However, that transition was not an easy one. The Vongtheung family remained in a Philippines refugee camp for two years while waiting for their papers to arrive. After settling in the U.S., it wasn’t until 1989 they eventually found sanctuary in our fair desert.
From there, Vongtheung found a career in the tech industry, working for big corporations for nearly 20 years. The restaurant biz, as he puts it, basically just “fell into his lap.”
“It’s a different kind of stress,” said Vongtheung, referring to the career change. “Setting up next to Lee Lee Supermarket and with nothing but Asian restaurants and boba tea in that area, I knew I had to do something a little different. That’s always stressful.”
Sure, Vongtheungis from Laos but he has always loved the food from Vietnam. Mainly because his fiancée and business partner, Kim, is Vietnamese. With her influence and guidance, the menu for Banhdicted began to take a delicious shape.
You really can’t go wrong with a banh mi sandwich. I have had my fair share of blah mis, but the ones that emerge from Banhdicted are always smile-inducing. It has to be because Vongtheung exudes that manner of jubilance. If you’re happy while you’re cooking, people can always taste it.
Banhdicted is also known for its array of soothing smoothies, raw juices, and tasty teas (especially the Thai Tea I mentioned earlier). Although, on the food truck, Vongtheung had to seriously pair it down to the essentials.
In 2020, Banhdicted had to temporarily close but he took that as a sign to really focus on what was working and what needed to go. Within the last two years, the truck landed in his hands.
“One thing that the food truck represents is a small extension of our brick-and-mortar,” said Vongtheung. “What it is, being a small business, we can't really afford another brick-and-mortar or anything like that. The food truck was made so we could travel to various parts of town and showcase our Vietnamese French fusion sandwiches. That is what it is — it's a traveling mobile unit of greatness.”
What’s also really great is that Banhdicted has some new items to try out. Actually, these items are more than great, they are grand.
First up, he is serving eggrolls now. They’re crispy and filled with pulled pork. Even with that early summer swelter, I was in tightly twisted fried food nirvana.
Next up on the new menu are Banhdicted Fries. This one pairs nicely with the swap meet fare going on next door (when Banhdicted is parked at Comida Park)(it normally is). This plate of mounded merriment is almost silly in its approach. Daubed with a spicy Sriracha sauce and the addition of cucumbers, pickled veggies, jalapeño, and a choice of protein, this is the kind of “fair food” that’s nearly unfair because it is so messy and delicious. It’s an easily sharable dish.
We then come to the third submission amongst the shareables: Banhdicted Wings. If you are a fan of wings with Asian influences, these need to be on your have-to-try list. He grills them, fries them, and then sautees them in a signature spicy onion garlic fish sauce.
The banh mi sandwiches are still in power, though. With selections ranging from barbecue pork, catfish, lemongrass beef, and vegan tofu, there is nothing Banhdicted can’t do to appease the culinary curious (or just plain hungry).
The restaurant thankfully isn’t going anywhere but the truck is definitely on the move. Good luck trying to miss it, too. It’s the funky green rig with an anime cat on the side, hugging a banh mi and slurping on a smoothie.
Oh, and the lemongrass that goes on most of the items served by Banhdicted is grown organically on the property of his parents’ house. The Vongtheungs are very much keeping it in the family — a story they are telling through flavor, tradition, fun, and above all, perseverance.
Banhdicted is located at 1980 W. Orange Grove Rd. #180 and the food truck is often found at Comida Park, 4100 S. Palo Verde Rd. For more information, visit banhdicted.com and follow Banhdicted on Facebook and Instagram.
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Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...