A buzzy new Houston restaurant is turning Vietnamese staples like bahn mi and barbecue rib-eye rice bowls into drive-thru fare, and one month in, diners can’t get enough.
“Saigon Hustle has exploded since the day we opened,” said Cassie Ghaffar, the new drive-thru joint’s co-founder and chef. “If it stays the way it is, we are projecting year three numbers in year one.”
Saigon Hustle opened February 10, and it’s proven to be so popular that Ghaffar and business partner Sandy Nguyen recently expanded its hours from lunch-only to dinner service until 10 p.m.
It’s hard to believe that the restaurant, located at a busy intersection at 3323 Ella Boulevard, had former lives as a gas station and a tire shop. The exterior has been totally transformed, with colorful, murals and a covered patio perfect for lingering.
Though it’s just one of Houston’s many Vietnamese options, the restaurant delivers quick service using counter service indoors and an outdoor drive-thru set up with a digital menu — perfect for diners on the go.
“We’re introducing Vietnamese food in a fast-casual way. You can’t find this anywhere — spring rolls, rice bowls, vermicelli, banh mi through a drive-thru” — and all made to order with a focus on fresh, organic ingredients, says Ghaffar.
The bread used for the banh mi is freshly baked and ready to be layered with chargrilled barbecue pork, honey soy barbecued chicken, or honey-glazed lemongrass tofu. Those same proteins can be added to customizable rice, vermicelli noodle, or salad bowls, and then sprinkled with toppings like pickled vegetables and peanuts. Extras include egg rolls, spring rolls, and a crepe roll with braised pork belly and shrimp, along with a beef soup in a pho-based broth and crispy chicken wings with garlic sauce.
Ghaffar and Nguyen have a knack for creating beautiful, unexpected drive-thrus. The duo is behind Ginger Kale in Hermann Park and the glam drive-thru coffee shop Sunday Press, which opened in November 2021 just two doors down from what is now Saigon.
As for their latest creation, plans are already in the works for more Saigon Hustles around town, with some people approaching them about franchising.
“We want to do that eventually,” says Ghaffar, who notes that they’re already looking for new locations. But first, she said, comes the fine-tuning.