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In less than a decade, Bac Nguyen's traditional-meets-modern spin on Asian fusion has galvanized Cleveland's restaurant scene.
Nguyen was born in Hanoi, Vietnam, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1985. His family put down roots in Lakewood, especially on the restaurant side. His mother — an opera singer by trade — owned the beloved Chinese/Vietnamese eatery Chinese Village, and co-ran Minh Van with Nguyen's grandmother.
Running a restaurant of his own wasn't on Nguyen's plate — at least at first. As a kid, he always dreamt of one day being a comic book artist. But, after graduating from Rocky River High School, he took a more mainstream approach by earning a degree in psychology from Case Western Reserve University. From there, he worked for an industrial supplies company.
Yet, Nguyen soon discovered a square day job wasn't his speed. Today, he is most known for his quirky, fast-casual hotspot in Gordon Square known as Ninja City Kitchen and Bar.
But it all started in 2010 when Bac opened Bac Asian Bistro in the neighborhood of Tremont. From the get-go, the restaurant's approach to Asian fusion stood out in Cleveland. Although the menu featured classics such as pad thai and banh mi sandwiches, Bac also served up decadent specialties such as coconut milk crepes and kim chi noodles, and unique seasonal offerings.
For example, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the bistro offered traditional Vietnamese braised pork belly with hard-boiled eggs.
Nguyen eventually branched out and opened the fast-casual Ninja City Kitchen & Bar with business partner Dylan Fallon in 2014. Edgier and hipper than Bac, the University Circle eatery boasted a tidy menu with tasty bites such as bacon and egg ramen, build-your-own bento boxes, rice and noodle bowls, and steamed buns.
Despite the resounding success of these restaurants, Nguyen isn't afraid of change. He opted to close Bac Asian American Bistro & Bar in early 2018. Then, he decided to move his popular Ninja City eatery from University Circle to Gordon Square.
The new spot in Gordon Square, which has a distinctly funky vibe featuring artful cameos by his self-designed comic book hero, Shadow Khan, opened in September of 2018.
Many (but not all) of the Bac dishes patrons have come to know and love will be available on Ninja City's west side menu. But for Nguyen, honoring the classics while continually looking forward is the name of the game.
Neighborhood restaurant/bar in the heart of Gordon Square featuring Asian/American comfort foods and a wide beer selection in a casual setting