Cristina Mendez and John Pham were 21 and newly married in 2017. When they cooked, they instinctively used ingredients and techniques from their cultural backgrounds. Mendez, a native Dallasite whose parents emigrated from Monterrey, pitched in Mexican components and flavors. Her husband, Pham, a Vietnamese immigrant, brought in the Southeast Asian notes. Their meals—think elote (grilled corn) with scallion oil, or an avocado–coconut milk smoothie—inspired the couple, both restaurant industry veterans, to start their own venture blending Mexican and Vietnamese cuisines. It felt like a natural fit, in part because the two traditions share more in common than you might think: grilled beef and pork preparations are common in both cuisines, as are sandwiches (bánh mì and tortas), offal soups (pha lau and menudo), spicy tamarind candies, chiles galore, and a heavy reliance on cilantro. After a year of planning, the couple opened their eponymous restaurant, Cris and John Vietnamese Street Food, in far North Dallas in 2018. Despite the city’s large Latino and Vietnamese communities, the couple were still nervous at first that their food might not catch on. Mendez admits it was difficult in the beginning. “People came in very hesitant, but at least [the fusion concept] got people through the door,” she says. “Once they tried it, people were hooked.”
Wedged between a 7-Eleven and a laundromat in a tucked-away strip center, Cris and John’s beige exterior conceals a colorfully appointed interior, splashed with murals featuring scenes from Vietnamese street life. The menu is creative and bold in flavor, with many options. Diners can choose from traditional Asian and Mexican dishes, as well as hybridized foods, the most popular of which is the phorrito. The star of Cris and John’s menu was inspired by a similar preparation Pham saw served in California. He told Mendez that he could put his own twist on it and make it pop. That’s precisely what the phorrito does.
Composed of every element of pho except the broth—rice noodles, jalapeños, onion, basil, bean sprouts, hoisin, sriracha, and a choice of grilled chicken, beef, or tofu—the phorrito is wrapped in a house-made flour tortilla. The tortilla is dipped in broth, then pan-fried before assembly; a side of extra broth is available, not unlike the way birria tacos come with consommé for dunking. The tortilla has an egg roll–like interior flakiness and is a stratified delight of textures. Prime among them is the chewy bite of the noodles that soak up the “angry broth,” so called for its spice level. The umber-colored liquid is infused with cayenne and lemongrass. It’s got a kick, but it’s nothing the average diner can’t handle.
The dish is available as an individual order or, better yet, as part of a series of special platters that are perfect for splitting with friends. The platter to order is the $35 tray that includes not only the phorrito, but also three flattop-crisped cheesy birria tacos as good as any birria around, standard (but not standout) elotes with cream and cheese; stout, crunchy churros; and a sweet, cooling horchata swirling with boba pearls. The latter is another nod to the braiding of cuisines at Cris and John. It alone is worth a trip to the restaurant. On the side are two dipping cups, one with Vietnamese coffee for plunging the churros in, and another with mango-habanero salsa to amp up the tacos or the phorrito. Extra packets of hoisin sauce and sriracha are tucked into the corners of the tray. Lime wedges garnish the platter. Aside from the phorrito, my favorite option was the birria tacos in handmade corn tortillas. Their filling, marinated in mango and habanero, has a hint of sweetness from the short rib, a favorite Korean beef cut, that distinguishes it from the plethora of birria tacos on taqueria menus.
I would put Cris and John’s birria tacos up against the best birria tacos in the state, including Maskaras Mexican Grill in Dallas, Calisience in Fort Worth, El Remedio in San Antonio, and La Tunita 512 in Austin. Nevertheless, the phorrito is king here, and it’s a testament to Pham’s culinary skill. “Everything on the menu is his own recipe … and he cooks every single day,” Mendez says. That’s true with one exception: the aguas frescas, including the horchata and tamarind-peach, are made by Mendez’s mother.
Pham and Mendez came up with the idea for the platters out of desperation during the pandemic, when business was initially slow. They hoped that customers would be eager to sample a variety of dishes at once, and they were right. Cris and John rolled out weekly variations, ranging in price from $25 to $55, for thirteen weeks. Mendez knew she was on to something on March 24, 2020, when she Instagrammed a photo of the first platter—a phorrito with angry broth, two tacos, skewers, and spring rolls. Almost immediately, she says, Dallasites called in to order it. “I could really tell that we were slowing down, and the minute I posted that, we just kind of started picking up again and getting really busy,” she recalls.
They’ve stayed busy since. During a lunchtime visit, the line to the counter reached the door. My second meal at Cris and John was meant as a mid-afternoon snack stop at around 3 p.m. When I entered, I saw a packed dining room, and not long after, a short line formed behind me. I was there for the tacos, which were one hit after another: the fried chicken tingled with a sriracha-honey glaze, and the tangy kimchi-topped beef belly was the perfect blend of crunchy and soft. Blending Vietnamese and Mexican flavors is smart from a marketing perspective, since it draws in fans from both crowds, but it’s also a recipe for creative dishes that shine. Cris and John’s founders are proud of their post-pandemic success. “We’ve outgrown our dining room,” Mendez notes. She and Pham hope to expand into the empty space next door. The sooner the better. The phorrito broth might be angry, but Cris and John’s future is bright.
Cris and John Vietnamese Street Food
5555 Preston Oaks Road, Suite 5, Dallas
Hours: Sunday 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–8 p.m., Monday 11 a.m.–3 p.m., Tuesday–Friday 11 a.m.–8:30 p.m.
(Note that the restaurant is closed on Saturdays.)