A delayed opening due to the pandemic gave Huyen Thai Dinh extra time to experiment in the kitchen, leading to some inventive combinations at the Breakfast Den, the chef’s brand-new American and Vietnamese breakfast and lunch spot on the corner of 15th and South. She’s working off a slightly shortened takeout-only menu this week, with plans to add more dishes and outdoor seating very soon.
“I took family recipes and put my own little spin on them,” says Dinh, who grew up in a Vietnamese family in West Philly. “The response from the neighborhood has been great so far — everyone’s excited we’re here.”
The menu mixes American breakfast dishes with Vietnamese staples, Dinh says. There’s a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with strawberry mayo, French toast sticks drizzled with condensed milk, salads served in bowls or wrapped up in rice paper, and a breakfast bowl with eggs, rice, an egg roll, and a range of toppings, like crispy pork belly, plus Vietnamese iced coffee and other caffeinated drinks. Dinh’s version of a banh mi op la layers baked eggs, bacon, sausage patties, eggplant pate, house-made pickles, aioli, and herbs — “I use a lot of fresh herbs because that’s a big part of Vietnamese cooking,” she says.
The chef first got a taste of cooking in a commercial kitchen helping out at her mom’s deli. Her parents initially steered her away from a career in restaurants, but after college and working in sales, “ I found my way back,” Dinh says, honing her skills at breakfast restaurant the OP Cafe in Santa Monica, California. “I worked my way up to assistant manager and learned so much about how to run a restaurant. It was a neighborhood spot with repeating customers, and when I came back to Philadelphia I wanted to create something similar, a little home away from home.”
She signed the lease for the Breakfast Den, in what had been Little Spoon Cafe, early this year, with plans to open in May. COVID-19 interfered, but she’s looking at the upside: It meant more time to play around with the menu. The chef also had to spend time rethinking some dishes that don’t travel well.
The Breakfast Den is only offering to-go orders for now, but outdoor dining on the sidewalk and in an enclosed patio on the 15th Street side will be added next, along with some dishes not currently available on the takeout menu. The inside can seat 30, when indoor dining comes back.
It’s open Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.