In a town notorious for restaurants that come and go, it seems Vincent Bagford has found the sweet spot with Bamboo Bear.
“We set out to be the place for locals to go,” says Bagford, who opened Bamboo Bear in July 2016 in the former Johnny McGuire’s space across from City Market. “And we’ve accomplished that; there are not many places for people who want good food without all the fuss and hassle of fine dining.”
But there’s much more to the story here. Bamboo Bear’s success — aside from filling a need for fresh, healthy, affordable food in Aspen — is rooted in the authentic Vietnamese and Asian cuisine Bagford is serving.
Take, for instance, the pho — a classic Vietnamese rice noodle soup traditionally served in street food stalls during breakfast hours. Bagford follows an authentic family recipe; his wife, Xuan Ha, was raised in Vietnam, where her family owned restaurants. Bamboo Bear’s pho, the recipe was handed down from Ha’s grandfather, combines a broth featuring the flavors of star anise, cinnamon, cloves and fennel, combined with bean sprouts, thinly sliced beef, herbs and chili, to create a flavorful, hearty soup. Choose the slowly cooked beef brisket, a new protein choice this season, and you have the perfect winter warmer (made even warmer if you ask for a side of the Thai Bird’s Eye Chili sauce).
In fact, much of Bamboo Bear’s winter menu is focused on what Bagford’s devoted customers – “It’s like ‘Cheers’ without alcohol,” he says — clamor for.
“People want comfort food; they want rich flavors and fresh ingredients,” Bagford explains, noting that he relies on the Denver Asian food markets for his staples, including the French-style bread used in the Banh Mi sandwiches. “And that’s what we try to bring them.”
Bagford speaks the truth here: The twice-fried crispy chicken (think fried chicken with Asian flavors) has long been a rotating special at Bamboo Bear; now it’s on the menu. Served with jasmine rice, salad and a traditional, homemade sweet chili dipping sauce, this entrée-sized dish is perfect for eating in or taking home (ask for the Dragon’s Breath sauce if you want to spice things up a bit).
And, of course, favorites such as the Bibimbap Plate, Banh Mi and fresh rice noodle salad bowl are still among Bamboo Bear’s daily offerings.
“We’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years and have refined our menu,” Bagford says, “but our commitment to fresh, healthy, authentic food hasn’t changed.”
Indeed, Bamboo Bear has earned its place among Aspen’s favorite places to grab a bite for all these reasons — and much more, which you will discover anew every time you stop in.
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