Dining out in Asia is an orchestral experience of tantalizing smells, exotic ingredients, intense flavors and controlled chaos, often conducted by the mom and pop who own and run the business. Luckily for those of us in Aspen, we can have a similar experience in our mountain hamlet. Tucked away on the east side of town, Bamboo Bear has become a culinary destination for those seeking the flavors of true Asian and Vietnamese food with its rich, fresh and crave-worthy flavors.
Now in their fourth summer, and with an expanded dining room, restaurateurs Vincent Bagford and his wife Xuan Ha, who met in Vietnam, have clearly filled a niche missing from Aspen’s food scene.
“I had a strong inclination this was something the Valley was yearning for,” said Bagford, who began to build a local following when he worked at Cliffhouse restaurant on Buttermilk.
Initially trained in Italian cooking, Bagford was attracted to Asian cuisine not just because of the way the dishes are prepared but also because much of the creativity lies in the sauces.
“This technique is what drew me to Asian food,” he said. “Vietnamese food is very sauce and condiment centric. It’s very feminine cuisine, complex but light and not to be underestimated, like a female.”
Ha grew up in Vietnam, and her family’s recipes feature prominently on Bamboo Bear’s menu.
“Every recipe has a story behind it, they are all influenced by family traditions and history,” says Ha. “Food brings people together, and it’s important to me that our flavors are authentic.”
Good pho is one of those magical dishes that nourishes you when you’re hungry, eases a hangover and warms you from the inside out on a cool evening. The soul-satisfying version served at Bamboo Bear is Grandpa Ha’s recipe, and, according to Ha, people would line up down the street when he opened his pho stand. Made with homemade bone broth and served in a bowl filled to the brim with rice noodles, fresh herbs and vegetables, you can order it with thinly sliced rare beef, tender brisket, a meatball or all three. They also offer chicken pho with ginger and fried garlic, and, for those who prefer vegetarian fare, there’s an option made with 100 percent vegetable broth.
Passionate about quality, Bagford makes a weekly trek to Denver’s Asian market to source traditional ingredients for dishes like Com Tam (which requires a special “broke rice”) and their signature Crispy Chicken, get inspired and pick up the fresh, French-style baguettes used in their Banh Mi sandwiches, which are a lunch time favorite. The sandwich, every bite packed with melt-in-your-mouth grilled pork, crunchy house-pickled veggies and a savory dressing, is ideal grab-and-go fare for summer adventures. Don’t forget to get a drink to go with your meal—our favorite is their traditional iced coffee made with Vietnamese highland coffee, crushed ice and sweetened milk for a taste treat that will make your mouth sing.
Prices Range: Appetizers, $5 to $12; salads and banh mi, $12 to $16; entrees, $12 to $18
Ambiance: Casual, walk-up ordering for carry-out or dining in at tables and counter seating.
Signature dishes: Banh mi (pork or chicken) on fresh Vietnamese baguette with marinated carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, house pickled jalapeños, green onions, mayo and soy sauce; rice noodle salad with fresh accoutrements and choice of protein; daily dumpling specials.