What’s on the takeout menu at Cà Phê Rang, a new place for pho and banh mi from Matty Matheson’s mentor, chef Rang Nguyen

What’s on the takeout menu at Cà Phê Rang, a new place for pho and banh mi from Matty Matheson’s mentor, chef Rang Nguyen

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Name: Cà Phê Rang
Contact info: 147 Spadina Ave., capherang.ca, @capherangrules
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Previously: Birria Balam
Owners: Rang Nguyen, Matty Matheson
Chef: Rang Nguyen
Seating: Takeout only for now, 18 when dine-in is open
Accessibility: Fully accessible

The food

In a way, this place has been in the works since 2003. Back then, Rang Nguyen was head chef of Le Sélect Bistro, where Matty Matheson first cut his teeth as a culinary school dropout. The two formed a quick, tight bond that’s stood the test of time. “Matty was always hungry for some reason,” says Nguyen, to which Matheson replies, “I was a broke-ass kid who needed a real meal.” Speaking of real meals, Matheson used to think soup wasn’t one—his first-ever bowl of pho with Nguyen all those years ago quickly disabused him of that notion.

“I wouldn’t be who I am without Rang,” says Matheson. “I learned more about French technique from him than any other chef in my career.” The menu is an ode to both Nguyen’s culinary heritage—he grew up in Ca Na, a fishing village in southern Vietnam—and the pair’s shared history at Le Sélect. As such, you’ll find the occasional French touch, like crunchy peanut praline in the sauce that accompanies the prawn spring rolls. Soul-warming pho is a mainstay, as is a wide selection of hefty banh mì, each weighing in at around a pound each.

The restaurant was open for dine-in service until recently; as of now, the entire menu is available for takeout and delivery.

The prawn spring rolls are punched up with herbs like shiso (perilla), cilantro and Thai basil. The roll is seasoned throughout with spritzes of fish sauce and served with a praline peanut sauce: it’s a creamy, crunchy nod to Nguyen’s and Matheson’s time together at Le Sélect. $9.


An uncompromising option for vegetarians, the shiitake mushroom spring roll is made with shiitake escabeche: the mushrooms, which you’ll also find in the halloumi banh mì, get their meaty texture and a serious hit of flavour from a pho-spiced chili oil marinade. Like the prawn rolls, they’re served with praline peanut dipping sauce. $9.


Here they are again.


The deep-fried fish and shrimp cake featured in this banh mì is from a recipe by chef Nguyen’s sister. Matheson first tried it on a trip to Vietnam with Nguyen—he says recreating the cake is like chasing a vivid sensory memory of that night. Tilapia and prawns are whipped with white pepper, fish sauce, and aromatics before being steamed, fried and glazed in house sweet-and-sour chili sauce. Like all of Rang’s banh mì (except the vegetarian, which uses miso eggplant), it’s served with pâté, carrot, daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, Thai basil, white onion, and spicy chili paste. $15.


A deep, heady 18-hour broth is the star of this pho, in which meltingly tender beef brisket is cooked a few hours at a time.


The rare beef—more specifically, sirloin—actually gets a slow sear on the outside first. This breaks down the connective tissue and ensures that when the strips of meat hit the piping hot broth, they relax instead of tightening up.


It’s all garnished with cilantro and served with perilla or shiso leaves, Thai basil, bean sprouts, bird’s eye chili, and lime. You can get a bowl with just rare beef or brisket, but you’d be well-advised to get this one, which has both. $16.


A whole spread.


How cute are these two?
The drinks

Vietnamese coffee, with or without condensed milk, is available iced or hot (though hot drinks are on a temporary hiatus with the takeout-only policy). There’s also a stellar avocado milkshake made with a base of house vanilla ice cream, soda, tea and a tight beer menu that includes Tiger and Heineken.

Left to right, we have a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk ($5), Vietnamese iced coffee ($4) and an impossibly creamy avocado milkshake with a base of house-made vanilla ice cream ($8). All go beautifully with a banh mì.
The space

Sprinkled around the cozy 18-seat restaurant are photos from Nguyen’s past. See if you can spot a nostalgic portrait of Nguyen and Matheson, a panoramic view of the beach at Ca Na, and a photo of Vietnamese pop sensation Tuan Anh. It’s a bright, happy vibe not unlike Nguyen’s reliably sunny demeanour. “Chef Rang’s Commandments,” as listed on the takeout menu, include “stop crying,” “love yourself” and “eat what you want.” Amen.