After closing their original location in April to prepare for the move, Hue Vietnamese Restaurant has officially made its transition into its new space at 2699 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
In fact, after a swift soft opening for friends and family over the weekend, the restaurant is officially open for business.
Not only has the new restaurant transformed the streetscape, turning the parking lot and former location for Sven’s Cafe into an impressive brick-clad restaurant, but it has given the restaurant an opportunity to branch out and grow with an entirely new feel and aesthetic.
Inside, the restaurant is definitely more open and spacious. In fact, the customer capacity has been expanded from 49 seats to about 75 inside. In the weeks ahead (as soon as their patio furniture arrives), that will be complemented by as many as 20 additional seats on the restaurant’s southern facing patio.
As for the aesthetic, guests will find a brightly colored, lively interior that gives off a fun, modern vibe. Walls are painted in a contrasting combination of mango yellow and gray that’s offset by warm wooden furnishings and cool cement floors.
“This new restaurant is far more of a reflection of the neighborhood,” says Carina (Cat) Tran, who operates the restaurant with her husband Mark Nielsen. “It’s fun. It’s loud and it’s family friendly.”
Tran says the interior features a fair amount of items recycled from the former Wauwatosa location as well as Bay View, has been repurposed in a new way. Take, for instance the collection of oil paintings on canvas that the couple has collected over the years from Vietnam. They’re hanging on the ceiling near the bar.
Guests a few dramatic new elements in the decor. For instance, nearly an entire wall of the restaurant is dedicated to a mural depicting nightlife on a lively street in Hue, Vietnam.
“Scooters are such a huge part of the culture in Vietnam, and most Southeast Asian countries,” says Tran. “And unless you’ve been there, you just can’t imagine what that looks like, especially at night when everyone is out.”
Speaking of scooters, guests will also find a 1965 Honda Cub scooter on display. It not only ties in with the decor, but it’s an homage to Nielsen’s passion for biking.
Meanwhile, garage doors on the south side of the building open up to the patio, offering inside guests at the double-sided bar a taste of the open air, while offering eight patio guests bar seating and service on the other side of the bar. Once the furniture arrives, there will also be table seating for additional guest on the patio.
Behind the scenes
What guests won’t see when they pay a visit is the expanded kitchen, which (to give you a sense of scale) takes up roughly the same square footage as the former Sven’s Cafe.
In fact, part of the motivation for the move was the need for a new kitchen that had the capacity, not only for day to day operations and menu expansion, but also for catering and events.
When we moved into Bay View 12 years ago, we were just going to open a small cafe that served Vietnamese food. Originally the plan was that I would be in the kitchen and Mark [Nielsen] would handle the front of the house. But over the years we grew.”
Eventually, Tran says, they added lunch service. They opened (and more recently closed) a second location in Bay View. They launched their Asian Kitchen Food Truck to use at events and festivals. And demand for catering services quickly became too much for their limited kitchen space.
At that point, Tran says, they knew it was time to stop renting and build a space that truly fit their needs.
On the menu
For now, Tran says Hue is serving the same menu of dishes that it offered at its former location (not a bad thing at all, considering you can still indulge in big bowls of delicious pho, some of the best spicy crab rangoons in the city and deliciously light vegetable dishes like mi xao, a sweet and slightly spicy noodle dish featuring silky soft Cantonese egg noodles topped with fresh crisp tender vegetables).
However, a kids menu – along with a slate of exciting new menu items – are expected to roll out over the course of the next few weeks.
As for how you can go about making your first visit, reservations are recommended, especially for larger parties and can be made for up to 6 guests. Once open, the patio will be first-come, first-served.
Hue is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11-9 p.m. In addition to dine-in service, both carry-out and delivery are also available.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.