Food Hall Stand is Rolling Out Exemplary Vietnamese Food in Midtown Houston
Xeo Yum, the popular Vietnamese street food pop-up specializing in bánh xèo and bánh khọt, now has a permanent space in the heart of midtown Houston inside the new Conservatory Food Hall, located at 606 Dennis Street. The food stall, owned by Cuong Nguyen, opened for business at the end of August and is currently in its soft opening, serving dinner during the week and both lunch and dinner on the weekends.
The original downtown location of Conservatory, which closed in December 2019 due to numerous issues with the underground space, was touted as Houston’s first food hall. It took some time and effort to relocate, but the Midtown location opened at last this past April and the company has future locations planned for Richmond, Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana. The food hall has come out swinging with a strong, multicultural lineup that includes The Coffee Garden, 2 Fat Bastards Pies (a Zimbabwean concept), The Greedy Chicken, Peaky Grinders burgers, Stush Caribbean Fusion, multiple bars and Xeo Yum, which describes itself as “Houston’s first bánh xèo experience.”
Bánh xèo (bahn SAY-oh) is a savory, stuffed Vietnamese crêpe made from a batter of rice flour, coconut milk, water and turmeric powder. It’s fried in a hot skillet until crispy and golden brown with thin, lacy edges. Wheat flour or cornstarch is often added to enhance browning and texture. The turmeric powder gives bánh xèo the appearance and color of an omelet, but the dish contains no eggs. The most common fillings are pork, shrimp, mung beans, onions and bean sprouts — some of which are added into the same pan to cook with the batter. It’s designed to be shared and eaten with your hands. The dish is accompanied by leafy greens to wrap around pieces of the bánh xèo along with fresh herbs and sweet-and-spicy nước chấm for dipping. At Xeo Yum you can order it with the traditional fillings (Bánh Xèo Saigon) or build your own, which includes vegetarian options. Make it a combo with two egg rolls and a drink for $5 more.
Xeo Yum also serves bánh khọt, the smaller, thicker sibling of bánh xèo. These mini pancakes have a similar batter and are fried in a special cast-iron pan called an Æbleskiver, or bánh khọt pan. They’re topped with shrimp and brushed with scallion oil, and can be prepared with or without a brittle “skirt”; a paper-thin overlay of batter that crisps in the pan and connects them all. Both the bánh xèo and bánh khọt served at Xeo Yum are some of the best you’ll find in town. The audible crunch when you bite into them is a crackling ASMR symphony. The team has had time to hone their craft and build a dedicated following over the past year by offering pop-ups, catering, selling plates for pick-up online and occasionally taking over the Drunken Pho space at Railway Heights Market.
Other delicious Vietnamese specialties include irresistible chả giò (Vietnamese fried spring rolls), gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese spring rolls), fried rice with shrimp and Chinese sausage, head-turning bò né (Vietnamese sizzling steak and eggs) and bò lúc lắc (Vietnamese shaking beef) with traditional tomato rice. Other limited-time specials such as bánh bột lọc (bite-sized crystal dumplings with shrimp and pork belly), nem nướng cuon (grilled summer pork sausage rolls) and gà xối mỡ (wok-fried Cornish hen with crispy sweet rice patties) are announced via social media.
Barstools are available at the chef’s counter or you can enjoy your meal at one of the many tables or booths spread throughout the air-conditioned food hall.
Xeo Yum is currently open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Limited parking is available onsite in addition to valet and street parking.
Mario-Sebastian Berry is a wine and spirits vendor who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002. Currently, he represents Blanco, Texas-based Andalusia Whiskey Co. and multiple wine labels. Somehow, he also finds time to be Houston Food Finder’s associate editor and social media manager.