New York Times review surprises Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood owner; Wichita surprises restaurant reviewer

UPDATED — Wichitans were surprised to find a New York Times review over the weekend of Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood. No one was more surprised than Sarah Vo, who owns the Wichita restaurant at 1556 N. Broadway.

“Everybody asks me the same question,” Vo says. “Do I have connections?”

She doesn’t, but Bonnie Bing does.

Bing, The Eagle’s recently retired fashion writer, is friends with freelance writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, who wrote the review and also is the author of “A Tiger in the Kitchen.”

“I went to Wichita for one reason: Bonnie Bing,” Tan says.

She and Houston Chronicle food editor Greg Morago know Bing from when she used to cover Fashion Week in New York, and for years they said they planned to visit Wichita.

“When I heard she retired this year, I thought this is finally the year,” Tan says.

Bonnie Bing (center) with friends Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Greg Morago.

She spent a week just “to kind of get away from New York” and work on her second book. Tan says it was an especially productive week.

“I guess whenever that book comes out I will have Wichita to thank.”

Tan still had plenty of time to tour and dine around Wichita, and she was impressed.

“This is going to sound probably bizarre,” she says, but, “I loved your grocery stores.” She was floored at how large Thai Binh is and says Wichita has some items New York doesn’t have outside of Chinatown.

Tan thinks the Wichita Art Museum is “just beautiful” and Watermark Books and Cafe, where signed copies of her book are on sale, is “darling” and she’s thrilled to see it thriving. She also enjoyed the Keeper of the Plains, the original Pizza Hut building, Riverside and Delano, where she shot pool at Club Billiards.

Sam Taylor, a poet who teaches English and creative writing at Wichita State University, is a friend of Tan’s and was one of her tour guides. (He also snapped the photo above.)

Tan loves the big sky in Kansas and all the space here, particularly because in New York “I live in a box pretty much.”

After growing up in Singapore, Tan spent her first summer in America in Topeka as an intern for the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“I have a very soft spot for Kansas.”

The Bites feature in which the Minh Hoa review appeared focuses on fairly new restaurants, which is in part why Tan chose Minh Hoa. It opened in May.

Tan appreciated Minh Hoa’s fried rice and says Vo’s chef did a superb job of getting just the right charred taste, which Tan says is important.

“His fried rice was impeccable.”

Vo says business has been picking up since the review first appeared online Aug. 31. She already has the printed version framed and on the restaurant’s wall.

Tan also enjoyed a meal at Chester’s Chophouse & Wine Bar, but she says she wasn’t able to make it to Pho Hot Bistro as recommended.

“I was scolded for not making it over there.”

She says she may have to return to Wichita to try it. And, of course, to see Bing since she won’t be at Fashion Week next week.

“New York misses her very much,” Tan says. “Fashion Week never seems right without her here.”