As of this week, Saint-Henri is no longer the only Montreal hood where diners can grab one of Tran Cantine’s raved-over banh mi sandwiches, its chicken broth pho, or rare beef salad. Owners of the popular Vietnamese haunt Marylyn Tran and Alain Nguyen have just debuted a new takeout counter with the same menu — out in Mile-Ex.
Located on Alexandra Street, Tran L’Épicerie is primarily a grab-and-go affair, complete with a street-side takeout window. Still, there are a few tables inside, with seats for eight, lined up alongside a grocery section stocked with packaged Vietnamese snacks and refrigerated Tran-branded products, such as jarred vegan pho broth, banh mi mayonnaise, satay marinade, and pickled chili peppers and garlic.
Describing the last of these, Tran says, “If you go to a pho place in Hanoi, they all have this jar on the table, so you can put it inside your pho, and that’s how I always eat it at home. I figured why not introduce it to our clients, too? Instead of putting the lime, you could put a little bit of the vinegar with the chili and garlic.”
It’s all coming out of a sizeable new kitchen, equipped with a massive steam kettle that cuts the simmer time for pho from 12 hours to six, without compromising on depth of flavour, Nguyen, who oversees the kitchen, says.
Tran Cantine and now Tran L’Épicerie follow in the footsteps of Pho Tay Ho, the original Tran family restaurant and Montreal staple, where the pho is made with chicken broth, rather than beef, as is customary in many spots around town. (Trans’ mother, who opened Pho Tay Ho in 1996 and can still be found working in its kitchen on the daily, is from Hanoi, in Northern Vietnam, where chicken broth pho — called pho ga —is the norm.)
Tran and Nguyen opened Tran Cantine on Notre Dame Street West in 2017. They’ve been working on a Mile-Ex offshoot since February 2021, and one year later, say their excited to finally have a kitchen space large enough to experiment in — be it on new recipes or even potential new ventures. “I’m just excited that now we have enough pots and pans to really do that, to explore and create some new things for the future,” Nguyen says.
Tran L’Épicerie is open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.