When it comes to food, Julie Wong is more concerned with flavor than authenticity. Joju, the Queens-based eatery she and her partners opened in Port Washington in June, is, first and foremost, a banh mi shop, specializing in the Vietnamese heros that seem to be following ramen and bubble tea as the next hot Asian food trend on Long Island.
But Joju’s traditional banh mis — ham, sausage, “caramel” pork or lemongrass chicken, nestled with cilantro, pickled daikon radish and carrots on a baguette — are joined on the menu by ones featuring Korean beef bulgogi (thinly sliced rib-eye) and Japanese kakuni (braised pork belly). In Vietnam, “rice plates” are usually simple affairs composed of a mound of rice, grilled meat and a vegetable garnish. At Joju, the rice bowls come piled high with any of the meats plus kimchi, pickled onions, pickled daikon and carrots, fresh cucumber and fried shallots.
“We even use a Peruvian green sauce on our French fries and in our green eggs and ham banh mi,” Wong said.
The first Joju opened in 2011 in Elmhurst, Queens, a partnership with her husband (then boyfriend) Chris Hui, her sister Joanna, and Joanna’s husband, Scott Wong. Scott was born in Vietnam, and had the banh mi chops, but Julie was the Queens-born chef whose embrace encompassed a world (or, at least, a borough of culinary possibilities).
The original menu was only sandwiches but, within weeks, customers clamored for accompaniments. That’s the origin story of Joju’s “banh mi fries” which, true to the shop’s global mission, are loaded with pork sauce, spicy mayo, Peruvian green sauce, pickled vegetables, cilantro and jalapeño. The fries — like any sandwich or bowl — can be topped with a runny or hard-cooked egg.
Joju’s drinks include sweet-and-milky Vietnamese coffee and Thai iced tea, iced green tea with fruit, and a nonalcoholic mojito with mint, lemon and fruit pulp.
The owners’ road to Port Washington was a serendipitous one. Both couples had been taking their children to play and hike at Sands Point Preserve for a few years and came to believe that Port Washington’s Main Street “felt like our vibe.” They weren’t actually looking for a new location when they noticed the vacant storefront across from the LIRR station (formerly, Bistro Etc.).
During the pandemic, many of their Elmhurst customers had moved to Long Island and had encouraged Joju to follow them. In fact, during the first few weeks of business, Wong said, “some of the old faces came into the store. Even though I was wearing a mask, they asked, ‘are you Julie? We are so happy you to see you!' ”
Everything at JoJu is packaged for easy takeout, but the bright shop also has tables for dining in.
Joju is at 43b Main St., Port Washington, 516-682-2922, jojuny.com