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Photos by Brian Addison. Above: Lacquered’s chicken spring rolls ($9).
Stepping into the space that was once a tiny phở and bánh mì shop in Belmont Heights, there’s something really warming if not outright intimate about the couple that took it over—and in a sense, it feels like they just shifted operations from traditional Vietnamese eats to, well, something of its own.
On one side, Chef Diana Vu and on the other, her husband, Chef Scott McDonough. You’ll hear Diana humming to everything from Cyndi Lauper to the Cars while, mid-humming, she’ll call out, “Chef, have we pickled those veggies?” Followed with equal respect, Scott will respond, “Yes, Chef, your mom came in and handled the morning pickling but I will assure you that you’ll have pickled veggies for tonight.”
This is Lacquered, a chicken shop-meets-Vietnamese food-meets-Canadian-inspired grub.
Yes, you read that right—and while certainly the mightiest of all poultry, the chicken, is the star of this shop, the beauty and wonder of this space sitting at the southeast corner of Broadway and Euclid lies in the blending of Diana and Scott’s backgrounds.
In fact, they’re the beauty of Southern Californian culture, a bit of here and a bit of there with an ownership that is all-American: “My parents know it, I know it: I am literally living the American dream, for whatever that is worth to others,” Diana said.
Surely, you’ll find lemon pepper or blackened whole, organic chickens ($16-$65) cooked to a succulent perfection—classic nods to the French and Cajun versions of the mighty rotisserie bird and prepared in their version of a lacquered chicken recipe. Using whole organic chickens, they brine the birds for up to 10 hours and let them hang and dry overnight, seasoning the skins before letting them to twirl in the rotisserie and getting “lacquered”—that is, brushed with sauce.
Classic technique meets classic flavors, at least in terms of the American palate.
But you’ll also find a Peking-inspired chicken used from a soy-based broth that stems from Diana’s youth, eventually being boiled instead of being cooked over an open flame. The result is a slightly sweet, wonderfully flavorful piece of poultry that nods to both East and West.
Hell, you’ll find Montreal-style (and vegan, $14) poutine ($16)—a staple from Scott’s childhood and made with in-house cheese curds—literally sitting above Vietnamese spring rolls ($9) on their appetizer menu. (The latter, by the way, offer chicken and pork, but I suggest one goes for the chicken as Vu layers slivers of fried chicken skin throughout the roll to add a crunch and flavor that makes you grin while reaching for more.)
It’s the product of over thirty years of experience in the culinary world summed up between the two.
“Our first date was while we were working the Olympics in Vancouver,” Vu said. “We bought a rotisserie chicken at a grocery store, headed back to the hotel, and just ate… It was honest, clean food and we realized there was something there.”
The cost of that “clean food” is nothing to scoff at: they range from nearly $17 (for a quarter) to $65 (for a whole), each coming with a side of pickled veggies as well as your choice garlic noodles or legumes and grains, some scallion bread, and their epic coleslaw. But Diana and Scott feel confident that what they offer is worth the bucks.
And unlike the obsession with seamless fusion, Lacquered aims for dichotomy, for separateness in a way that allows the patron to experience the same food in different ways.It’s pseudo-fusion, pure love. You can get that lemon pepper chicken put directly on top of a plate of garlic noodles. Or coleslaw. (Garlic noodles, mind you, that are a worthy meal on their own—salty, slightly sweet, insanely addicting. And coleslaw, mind you further, is fusion-driven wonder filled with sliced, fried bits of taro and wonton blended with daikon, jicama, mint, and a plethora of other ingredients that make this coleslaw less slaw-like and more salad-like.)
It comes out in their staple dish, the rotisserie chicken. It comes out in their baby back ribs, where one can go for a traditional, American-style rib plate or opt for Mama Vu’s version, a delicately braised rib that falls off the bone while filling nostrils with sesame, scallion, and soy (both are $22).
Speaking of the parentals, Mama (and Papa) Vu’s presence is constant: Mama, as mentioned, helps with pickling as well as braising, chopping, greeting, and anything else she can get her hands on, on top of being the inspiration for having ribs on the menu. Meanwhile, Papa delivers, drives, cleans, cheers, and pretty much provides a spirit that is both needed and addictive.
It’s in this spirit that Lacquered hopes for success: family, food, and feeling comfortable with straight-forward grub.
“Having graduated from CSULB, I had always wanted to return and give back—and right now, I feel like we’re not only giving back but getting so much in return,” Diana said.
Lacquered is located at 3632 E Broadway.
Editor’s note: this article originally used Diana’s name as “Diane.” It has been edited.
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