In 1979, Trinh Ong left Vietnam with her family and settled in the Seattle area. Forty years later, she now owns and operates Mi La Cay, a humble and welcoming establishment serving authentic Vietnamese cuisine located in the unassuming neighborhood of Little Saigon. Ong took over the restaurant from her brother, Ha Ong, who opened the restaurant in 1992.
“We founded Mi La Cay in March of 1992,” said Ong. “My brother, Ha, had a passion for trying different things, and this is something he really wanted to do. At the time I was going to school to be an accountant, but soon realized I didn’t like sitting at a desk all day.”
Trinh left her job in accounting and found she loved helping run the restaurant.
“My brother was so busy with Mi La Cay, so I went to work with him and ended up loving it,” she said. “It's really hard work, but I enjoy socializing with people. I can talk and interact with people instead of just sitting in my cubicle. Ha and I worked together for a while, until he decided to retire. Now I run the restaurant myself and I really enjoy it.”
She started learning to cook in Vietnam when she was about 12 years old.
“When we were in Vietnam, my parents had the business,” said Ong. “Then when the communists took over, they took everything from us because they thought we are capitalists and they are communist. We are also part Chinese, so they tried to throw us out of Vietnam. My parents worked hard, so mom showed me how to cook so we could share the work.”
Ong and her brother both enjoyed cooking and feeding people and are proud of the quality of food they serve. Specializing in egg noodles - all of their noodles are made in house and the freshness is apparent in every bite.
“Our house noddle soup has barbecue pork, fried chicken and a piece of fried shrimp,” she said. “My barbecue pork is not sweet like in the barbecue in Chinatown. The barbecue here is just like the kind found in the street food in Vietnam. My customers say the flavor is exactly the same. They will eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is good any time of day.”
A few ‘must try’ items on the menu are the Beef Chow Foon, Tofu Papaya Salad, Chicken Chow Mein and Tofu Veggie Noodle Soup. For dessert, save room for the Chinese Donut dipped in sweetened condensed milk. If you’re feeling brave, order the Durian smoothie.
Durian fruit is banned in many types of public transport across Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong because it is so stinky! Adventurous diners will enjoy trying the controversial treat. Dining at Mi La Cay and chatting with Ong about her love of food, is a genuinely positive experience (my daughter even made a TikTok about it!)
“There's a lot of noodle shops here, but I believe my broth and my noodles will bring customers back to the street food in Vietnam,” she said. “It is exactly the same, and that is what makes it special. I don't want to say ‘mine is the best,’ because I want to stay humble. I let customers speak for my food instead of me, and I am very thankful to them to saying it for me!”
Mi La Cay is located at 212 12th Ave S. in the International District. While the products, services, and/or accommodations in this post were provided without charge, all of the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board. Looking to support other diverse local businesses like Mi La Cay? Seattle Refined is proud to collaborate with Intentionalist, an online guide that makes it easier for you to find and connect with diverse local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.