Grace Hwang Lynch

Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That

Grace Hwang Lynch

Grace Hwang Lynch
Silicon Valley, California,
December 31
I'm a former television news reporter. Currently a communications consultant, freelance writer, and mother of two. I write about raising a multicultural family at HapaMama, and I'm also the News & Politics Editor at BlogHer. My work has been published in several magazines and newspapers, as well as in the anthologies "Lavaderia: A Mixed Load of Women, Wash and Word" and "Mamas and Papas:On the Sublime and Heartbreaking Art of Parenting" by City Works Press. Follow me on Twitter: @HapaMamaGrace


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 8, 2011 2:00PM

A Bite of New Orleans in Little Saigon

Rate: 17 Flag


One of my favorite parts about regional food is how sometimes odd combinations of flavors come together — under circumstances,  not corporate focus groups — informing you about the history and culture of a place or the personal journey of the cook. 


I ventured over to a part of San Jose’s "Little Saigon" (unofficial nickname, as a the city's attempts to make this an official business district sparked a huge controversy among the Vietnamese community). Politics aside, this area is chock full of Southeast Asian eateries.  Amongst the banh mi and pho shops, one sign caught my eye: Grand Opening was written in both English and Vietnamese, underneath the name Powderface. At first, it appeared to be a new salon or makeup boutique, then I saw word ‘beignet’ and immediately made a U-turn into the strip mall parking lot.  

“The name Powderface comes from the idea that when you eat beignets, you get powdered sugar all over your face,” says owner Michael Tran, a former high-tech engineer who reached back to his roots to open up this cafe, specializing in coffee and beignets. The cheeky name is reinforced by Powder Addict t-shirts and photos of patrons with powder all over their faces.  

 rolling beignets

The beignets are made to order: you can watch them being rolled and cut from dough, then deep-fried. Once golden brown, the pastries are served three to a plate in a cloud of powdered sugar, just like at Café du Monde in New Orleans. Beignets can

Powdered sugar beignets  

also be ordered with cinnamon, caramel or chocolate toppings. Coffee drinks include chicory coffee, espresso drinks and the Vietnamese specialty café sua da — French roast served iced with condensed milk.

 The unusual menu combination is a legacy to the Vietnamese diaspora following the fall of Saigon. Tran left Vietnam as a child in the 1975, landing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he grew up amidst the large Vietnamese community and attended Louisiana State University. While a student at LSU, he worked as a waiter at a five-star restaurant, picking up the techniques of French cuisine. Tran put that culinary expertise on the back burner, while working for years as a network engineer at Cisco Systems.  

Michael Tran Powderface

After teaching himself the art of deep-frying dough and testing out various recipes on his colleagues, Tran decided to go into the beignet business full-time. “You only have one life to life. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to work.” 

Text and Photos © 2011 Grace Hwang Lynch

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Wow, you're speedy Robin!
Yum and more YUM>>> Loved this.
rated with hugs
This makes me yearn for Coffee Call--a plate of beignets, a cup of cafe au lait and the atmosphere. Ah! :)Rated
Want a beignet.... NOW!
Yum! What a great story. I used to live quite close to southern California's Little Saigon (in Orange County); there were quite a few New Orleans-style crawfish places there run by Vietnamese immigrants, but no beignet joints, as far as I knew. I wish Powderface and its owner every success!
Linda, he also has a shop by the Fruitvale BART station.

Felicia, I saw a sign for a Crawfish shop, too. Now I'm curious about that!
Beautiful, elegant and delicious as usual.
I always feel so bad about my non-existent culinary skills after I read your posts...~r
I live for those unusual combinations! Now I'm thinking about savory beignets with my all time favorite ingredient -- Vietnamese Garlic Chili Sauce.
Have some beignet with your sugar?
Okay, I'm hungry now.
Strangely, I don't really like beignets that much... all the powdered sugar! But I'm enamored with all things New Orleans, and my husband and kids love beignets. I stopped in to pick some up and started talking with the owner. The story behind this place just stuck with me, and the next day I went back with my camera...
What street is this place on? I occasionally find myself in SJ.
GeeBee-- It's on Senter Rd. in a strip mall in front of a Wal Mart.
I am glad San Jose is just a little too far from me, or else it would be beignets morning, noon, and night. Love the photo of the powdered sugar in action!
If Michelle Obama had her way Café du Monde would be out of business tomorrow.
ooo, Grace.
Nothing better than virtual beignets with coffee this morning. Love 'em, can't/won't/well, maybe shouldn't eat them. Well, maybe only in N'Awlins. On second thought, in San Jose, too.
Yum! Delicious post and great photos. Am sending word to my CA family.
I love food post.
I had to relaunch.
I saw this @ Salon.
Great EP. Thank you.
I Especially, one ref.
Vietnamese culinary.
We are what we eat.
Economist say there is no free lunch. When presented with free meals - as in crooked lobby folks - We taxpayers are always paying for those creeps free lunch, clothes, and trips to the world's whore houses.
Capital Hill (hell) having swallowed the military industrial complex lies?

Lie line.
They line up.
They are on hooks.
The creeps no read.
Glistening old bums.
They dangle on lines.
if they become diet-
conscience? O my?
They bit devil hook!
They are junk fools!
They are rotten too!
Who deletes me, huh?
Why must I Relaunch?
I advocate kindness and`
eat heathy. Thank you.
Tam Biet - Later? huh.
Beautiful beignets! I love the backstory. Well done!
I wonder if there is a good banh mi place in Dallas--surely there has to be. As for beignets, I haven't found any worth mentioning here, but my kids swear that my homemade ones are just as good as the ones from CdM in NOLA. And, heaven forbid, don't buy the CdM mix in a box they sell, that stuff is awful. Scratch is the way to go.

Great story Grace, and lovely photos--multitalented you are.
I would gladly be a Powderface -- those things look terrific! Great story, Grace.