On Federal Boulevard, cash flows for pho (and more) on Christmas

We ground-truthed the trope.

Star Kitchen was slammed on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Star Kitchen was slammed on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

KEVIN-lighter

There’s a stereotype that predicts Asian food restaurants are havens for those looking to eat out on Christmas and Christmas Eve. We wanted to know if that’s true here in Denver, so we bounced around Federal Boulevard checking in on restaurants in the Little Saigon district south of Alameda Avenue.

Stepping into Star Kitchen, off Federal and Mississippi Avenue, one thing was clear: there were a LOT of people out eating in the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. A line of hungry families stretched out the front door, waiting patiently for their numbers to be called. The place was too busy to speak to anyone working there. Each employee buzzed between tables as they delivered food and processed mountains of credit cards.

One couple waiting to sit down was Hayley and Brett Truncali, who drove all the way from Blackhawk with their infant to eat “the best Chinese food in the state.” Brett, who was looking forward to Peking duck and walnut shrimp, said he thought the stereotype came right out of “A Christmas Story.” The 1983 movie about a 1940s family features a scene when a ruined holiday dinner is shored up in a Chinese restaurant. It’s an arguably racist portrayal.

But David Ngo, who was eating around the corner at Tony Pho, said the trope is “just true.”

He and his family were visiting from Texas. He said it happens back at home, too, and they knew where to find open restaurants during this holiday trip. Linda Dang, sitting across from him, said she was not missing cooking and cleaning up a big holiday meal this year.

“I think its because our parents just kind of work all the time,” Hani Baik said from the other end of the table. By that, she said, she meant first-generation immigrants, people whose work ethics wouldn’t allow them to take a night off.

David Ngo and Linda Dang pose for a portrait during dinner at Tony Pho on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

David Ngo and Linda Dang pose for a portrait during dinner at Tony Pho on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Tony Le and Duc Danh pose for a portrait inside Tony Pho on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Tony Le and Duc Danh pose for a portrait inside Tony Pho on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mike Van, who runs Saigon Bowl up the road in the Far East Center, said his customers have come to expect that they’ll be open during the holiday. He hoped to close a little early on Tuesday night. He and his family are Catholic, as are many Vietnamese families, and he was hoping to drive to Highlands Ranch for his own Christmas Eve dinner. But Van said he fielded no less than 40 calls from customers asking if they’d be open, so he decided to keep normal hours.

“Business is steady,” he said. “Tomorrow we expect it to be a very busy day.”

Van’s Christmas Day rush is something he’s come prepared for. He’s got extra waiters and bussers penciled into the schedule to handle the crowds.

He said the holiday marks a change of season. November and early December tend to be his slowest months, but these rushes usher in better sales in January when people want something hot and tasty to balance out the cold weather.

Mike Van poses for a portrait inside Saigon Bowl on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mike Van poses for a portrait inside Saigon Bowl on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Far East Center parking lot is full of cars on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Far East Center parking lot is full of cars on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Not every pho joint on Federal was open on Tuesday, but those that were beckoned customers with bright lights and cheery Santas.

On his way out of Saigon Bowl, Beau Biskner said holiday trips to Asian restaurants have become a tradition for a lot of families. He and his wife were just looking for a chance to eat without cooking before a big “fancy” brunch on Christmas Day, but Biskner works as a server at Sushi Den and said he’s seen a lot of repeat holiday customers over the years. Sushi Den first opened on Christmas Eve, so it’s a special night for the establishment.

“Its pretty big there,” he said, and he agreed: tonight, the money is flowing.

Beau and Lindsay Biskner pose for a portrait with their daughter, Leona, outside of Saigon Bowl on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Beau and Lindsay Biskner pose for a portrait with their daughter, Leona, outside of Saigon Bowl on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hayley, Brett and Leo Truncali pose for a portrait as they wait to eat at Star Kitchen on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hayley, Brett and Leo Truncali pose for a portrait as they wait to eat at Star Kitchen on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Lang Nguyen poses for a portrait inside his Pho 96 restaurant on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Lang Nguyen poses for a portrait inside his Pho 96 restaurant on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Tony Pho is lit up with cheer on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Tony Pho is lit up with cheer on Christmas Eve. Federal Boulevard, Dec. 24, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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