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Kenko Asian Cuisine opens in Merrick, with a focus on Vietnamese cuisine

The "traditional" Vietnamese banh mi at Kenko Asian

The "traditional" Vietnamese banh mi at Kenko Asian Cuisine in Merrick is a crisp baguette filled with crumbled pork, ham, pate and pickled vegetables. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Downtown Merrick is pretty well set for sushi, with five purveyors arrayed along the two-block stretch of Merrick Avenue just north of Sunrise Highway. Two of them, Sango and Merrick Suki, are separated only by a nail salon.

Enter: Kenko Asian Cuisine, which opened in February, shut in March and reopened in April. The brief menu includes sushi, but most of it is devoted to the cuisine of Vietnam, much rarer around these parts. First up: banh mi, the great Vietnamese sandwich, the result of the French occupation of Indochina. A crisp baguette is split, smeared with mayonnaise and butter (you gotta love the French) and then stuffed with pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber and your choice of fillings. I went for the “traditional” banh mi, filled with a piggy troika of pate, crumbled pork and ham and ordered “medium spicy”; it was just about perfect. The other fillings are grilled pork, grilled chicken, shredded chicken, beef, beef short rib, tofu or vegetarian chicken or pork. All are $8.25 except the short rib, which is a dollar more.

Pho, the Vietnamese rice-noodle soup, is made traditionally here, with a clear beef broth garnished with bean sprouts, fresh herbs, onions, scallions and lemon and topped with your choice of sliced beef, chicken (grilled or shredded), tofu, shrimp, vegetarian chicken or pork or short rib ($11 to $12). The same proteins can also be had in a rice box, which also comes with hard-boiled egg, peanuts and a side salad ($9.25 to $10.25).

There are also fried spring rolls ($3.50) and summer rolls ($4.50 to $5.25), those translucent packets of rice paper filled with shrimp, fish cake, shredded chicken, vegetables or, a new one on me, smoked duck breast.

Lots of Asian beverages: bubble tea, milk tea (like bubble tea but without the bubbles), fruit slushies and smoothies and both American-style coffee and Vietnamese coffee, which is dripped into sweetened condensed milk.

Kenko Asian makes more than two dozen sushi rolls, from simple California and tuna-cucumber rolls to the inevitable Merrick roll: avocado, cucumber, tempura flakes, tuna salmon, honey-miso sauce and caviar. More intriguing are the burgers — beef, “icon pork,” crispy chicken, crispy fish and vegetarian chicken and beef — that come with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, cheese, pickled carrot and daikon and all cost $4.25.

There's no indoor seating, but Kenko is just across Merrick Avenue from a little pocket park with benches and a shady gazebo.

The corner shop just steps from the Long Island Rail Road takes over the former location of a coffee shop. For the brief time Kenko was open before the pandemic, said owner Ken Chen, it opened early to continue to serve breakfast to commuters and it hopes to do so again once there are commuters. For now, Kenko opens at 10:30 a.m. and closes at 9:30 p.m.

Kenko Asian Cuisine is at 2 Merrick Ave., Merrick, 516-623-0130, kenkoasian.com

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