The Phorrito at Cris and John is everything you never knew you needed – Texas Monthly
Cristina Mendez and John Pham were 21 and recently married in 2017. When cooking they instinctively used ingredients and techniques from their cultural backgrounds. Mendez, a Dallas native whose parents emigrated from Monterrey, offered Mexican components and flavors. Her husband, Pham, a Vietnamese immigrant, brought the Southeast Asian notes. Their meals – think elote (roasted corn) with scallion oil or an avocado-coconut milk smoothie – inspired the couple, both restaurant industry veterans, to start their own. company mixing Mexican and Vietnamese cuisines. It seemed natural, in part because the two traditions have more in common than you might think: preparations of grilled beef and pork are common in both cuisines, as are sandwiches (bánh mì and tortas), soups with giblets (pha lau and menudo), spicy tamarind candies, chili peppers galore and a heavy reliance on cilantro. After a year of preparation, the couple opened their eponymous restaurant, Cris and John Vietnamese Street Food, in far north Dallas in 2018. Despite the city’s large Latino and Vietnamese communities, the couple were still worried at first that their food wouldn’t spill out. Mendez admits it was difficult at first. “People came very hesitantly, but at least [the fusion concept] got people through the door, ”she said. “Once they tried it, people got hooked.”
Wedged between a 7-Eleven and a laundromat in a tucked-away strip mall, Cris and John’s beige exterior hides a colorful interior, splattered with murals depicting scenes from Vietnamese street life. The menu is creative and daring, with plenty of options. Diners can choose from traditional Asian and Mexican dishes, as well as hybrid foods, the most popular of which is phorrito. The Cris and John menu star took inspiration from a similar preparation Pham saw served in California. He told Mendez he could put his own twist on it and pop it. This is precisely what the phorrito does.
Made up of all the elements of pho except the broth – rice noodles, jalapeños, onion, basil, bean sprouts, hoisin, sriracha and a choice of grilled chicken, beef or tofu – the phorrito is wrapped in a tortilla of homemade flour. The tortilla is soaked in broth, then pan-fried before assembly; an extra side of broth is available, much like birria tacos come with broth for dipping. The tortilla has an interior flake similar to that of an egg roll and is a layered delight of textures. The first of these is the chewy bite of the noodles which soak up the “angry broth”, so called for its level of spice. The ombre-colored liquid is infused with cayenne pepper and lemongrass. It’s great, but it’s nothing the average diner can’t handle.
The dish is available to order individually or, better yet, as part of a series of special platters that are perfect for sharing with friends. The platter to order is the $ 35 platter which includes not only the phorrito, but also three cheese and crispy birria tacos as good as any birria, standard (but not remarkable) elotes with cream and cheese. cheese; full-bodied and crunchy churros; and a soft and refreshing horchata swirling with boba pearls. The latter is another nod to the braiding of the kitchens at Cris and John. On its own, it is worth going to a restaurant. On the side, two dipping cups, one with Vietnamese coffee to dip the churros in, and another with mango-habanero salsa to enhance the tacos or phorrito. Additional bags of hoisin and sriracha sauce are stored in the corners of the tray. Lime wedges garnish the platter. Aside from the phorrito, my favorite option was the birria tacos in handmade corn tortillas. Their garnish, marinated in mango and habanero, has a hint of sweetness from the short rib, a favorite Korean cut of beef, which sets it apart from the plethora of birria tacos on taqueria menus.
I would pit Cris and John’s Birria tacos against the best Birria tacos in the state, including Maskaras Mexican Grill in Dallas, Calisience in Fort Worth, El Remedio in San Antonio, and La Tunita 512 in Austin. Nonetheless, phorrito is king here, and it’s a testament to Pham’s culinary skill. “Everything on the menu is his own recipe… and he cooks every day,” says Mendez. This is true with one exception: Aguas frescas, including horchata and tamarind peach, are made by Mendez’s mother.
Pham and Mendez came up with the idea for the trays out of desperation during the pandemic, when business was initially slow. They hoped that customers would be eager to taste a variety of dishes at once, and they were right. Cris and John rolled out weekly variations, ranging from $ 25 to $ 55, for thirteen weeks. Mendez knew she was up to something on March 24, 2020, when she posted on Instagram a photo of the first platter – a phorrito with angry broth, two tacos, kebabs and spring rolls. Almost immediately, she says, residents of Dallas called to order it. “I could really tell we were slowing down, and the minute I posted this, we kind of started to pick up again and get really busy,” she recalls.
They have been kept busy ever since. During a lunchtime visit, the queue at the counter reached the door. My second meal at Cris and John’s was supposed to be a mid-afternoon snack around 3pm. When I walked in I saw a crowded dining room and a short time later a short line formed behind me. I was there for the tacos, which were hit after hit: the fried chicken tingled with honey and sriracha frosting, and the tangy beef belly topped with kimchi was the perfect mix of crunch and chewiness. Mixing Vietnamese and Mexican flavors is smart from a marketing standpoint, as it draws fans from both crowds, but it’s also a recipe for creative dishes that shine. The founders of Cris and John’s are proud of their post-pandemic success. “We are past our dining room,” notes Mendez. She and Pham hope to spread out in the empty space next door. The earliest would be best. The phorrito broth might be angry, but Cris and John’s future is bright.
Cris and John Vietnamese Street Food
5555 Preston Oaks Road, Suite 5, Dallas
Hours: Sunday 11 am-3pm and 5 pm-8pm, Monday 11 am-3pm, Tuesday-Friday 11 am-8.30pm
(Note that the restaurant is closed on Saturdays.)