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Sunday, Jun 4, 2023

ABASD Industry of the Year Winner: Kingfisher Keeps Customers Hooked

Kingfisher Cocktail Bar & Eatery may not have received the coveted Michelin Star – yet – but the Golden Hill restaurant specializing in contemporary Vietnamese food got a huge honor earlier this month from the Asian Business Association of San Diego.

At its May 19 gala at the San Diego Hilton Bayfront, ABASD named the restaurant its 2023 Industry of the Year.

Founded in 1990, ABASD represents the interests of more than 30,000 Asian Pacific Islander-owned businesses in San Diego County.

Kim Phan

Lee Ann Kim, host and emcee of the gala, said that she knew that the founders of Kingfisher — Kim Phan, her sister, Ky Phan, and Kim Phan’s husband, Quan Le – “take care of the team, take care of the community and never put anything on the menu that they would not eat themselves!”

Kim also noted that Kingfisher was voted one of Bon Appetit magazine’s 50 best new restaurants in 2022.

Kim Phan, who said that her sister was out of town for a previously scheduled engagement, accepted the award with Le, and explained how the restaurant got off to a rocky beginning in 2020 when it opened at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“So we opened Kingfisher and were ready to start breaking ground in March 2020… so you can imagine…” Phan said. “And we are here to celebrate with friends and the community. Kingfisher is a passionate project for us to pay homage to our parents’ little to-go restaurant in El Cajon, and to our backgrounds, our culture. And thank you, it’s such an honor to be here to celebrate with our friends and our community today.”

Three years later, Kingfisher is thriving and has about 25 employees.

Phan said that the restaurant is always fine tuning its menu and is consistently “picking up new items here and there,” including vegetarian options.

She said the Dungeness crab mousse has been a big hit and that its chefs are constantly on the lookout for fresh things to bring in.

“We’re always adding some new and exciting items related to our vision,” Phan said, reiterating that the menu pays homage to the family’s Vietnamese roots, her childhood in Vietnam and is a nod to their parents’ take-out restaurant that used to be on Broadway in El Cajon.

Phan and her parents moved from Vietnam to the United States in 1994, when she was 11 and Ky was 5, first heading for Houston before making their way to San Diego. Her parents’ restaurant was called Panda Rice, and opened in the late 1990s before selling it in 2009.

Kingfisher has three sister restaurants, all called Crab Hut, also founded by the Phan sisters, in San Diego. The Crab Huts – on Convoy Street (the original, opened since 2007), Fifth Avenue and Mira Mesa Boulevard – helped finance Kingfisher.

Phan said that while Crab Hut is facing a little decrease in clientele because of people’s concern about a recession and watching their finances, Kingfisher is doing steady business.

“Crab Hut’s clientele is more family-oriented and Kingfisher is more geared to people coming from all over,” she said. “Sometimes we see guests from Los Angeles and other out of town places.”

Phan called the award from ABA “a little bit overwhelming.”

“We feel honored and appreciative to be Industry of the Year,” she said. “We feel like these are big shoes to fill and I’m not sure we deserve it but I can tell you that I feel like we will try even harder not to disappoint the community.”

Phan said the Asian Pacific Islander community supported by ABASD is important to her and her family, and that the API culture should be preserved.

“Both of my sons were born here and I want them to always have the connection and to understand where they have come from,” she said. “Food is a big part of our culture. I believe that if you don’t understand the culture, you won’t understand the food.”

She said she’s been asked why Kingfisher doesn’t offer items like Korean barbecue, which Kim Phan herself is a big fan of.

“Even though I love it, I don’t understand the culture as well as I do the Vietnamese,” she said. “I don’t want to be disrespectful. I don’t know the depths of it to put it on the menu but it’s important to connect with others. It’s important to appreciate each other live peacefully with one another.”


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