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Philadelphia's Vietnam Restaurant honored with James Beard America's Classics Award

Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown honored with James Beard Award
Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown honored with James Beard Award 02:10

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia's vibrant food scene means there's always a new restaurant or bar to try. But after 40 years in Chinatown, a family-owned business is now being recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.

Vietnam Restaurant is one of six restaurants in the country to be awarded the 2024 America's Classics Award, an honor given to "locally owned restaurants that serve quality food, have timeless appeal, and reflect the character of their communities."

Located at 221 North 11th Street, the restaurant is an embodiment of the American Dream. After their sandal factory was taken from them in 1978, the Lai family fled from Vietnam with their eight children on a boat to Malaysia, where they spent nine months in a refugee camp before boarding a flight to Philadelphia.

Vietnam Restaurant in 1984 (left) and owner Benny Lai (right)
Vietnam Restaurant in 1984 (left) and owner Benny Lai (right) James Beard Foundation

After first starting a grocery store in 1982, two years later the family had enough money to open their restaurant. In 1989, Nhu Lai and Thuyen Luu turned the restaurant over to their son Benny, and in 2000 they moved into a larger, multifloor space.

Today, Vietnam Restaurant has two locations, in Chinatown and University City, where they also operate Fu Wah market.

Described by the James Beard Foundation as a "model of consistency for decades," Vietnam Restaurant is known for its barbecue platters, crispy spring rolls, vermicelli noodle bowls, soups and stir-fries.

Vietnam Restaurant, located at 221 N. 11st Street
Vietnam Restaurant, located at 221 N. 11st Street James Beard Foundation

"We are honored and grateful to have been selected as a 2024 James Beard Restaurant America's Classics winner!" the restaurant posted on its Instagram page. To our cherished customers, you are the heart and soul of our restaurant. Thank you for being a part of our extended family for the past 40 years. Your support means everything to us!"

And while Vietnam Restaurant is getting its well-deserved flowers, several other Philadelphia restaurants and chefs are up for their own James Beard Awards this year.

Earlier in the week, the James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for the 2024 Restaurant and Chef Awards. Another narrowed-down list of nominees will be announced on April 3, and then the winners from that list will be honored at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on June 10 in Chicago.

Here's a look at which restaurants and chefs were named as semifinalists this year:

Outstanding Chef

Dionicio Jiménez, Cantina La Martina, Philadelphia, Pa.

Emerging Chef

Yun Fuentes, Bolo

Best New Restaurant

My Loup

Outstanding Bakery

Isgro Pastries

Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic

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