District One Taps Top Chef Alum To Head Kitchen

Don’t Call It A Comeback

“I wouldn’t call it a reboot,” Chef Tu David Phu declares emphatically when I ask him how to characterize his takeover of District One. This pioneering off-strip restaurant received the Eater Las Vegas’ So Hot Right Now Award and Desert Companion’s Ethnic Restaurant Of The Year Award in 2014.

“I am just stepping in to help give the restaurant new life for the new era and generation of 2024.”

Chef Tu David Phu

And Phu is particularly suited to do that.

The first-generation Vietnamese immigrant, whose family has been making artisanal fish sauce since 1895, worked in the kitchen of Daniel Boulud’s New York flagship Daniel and San Francisco’s Michelin-starred as Acquerello before his series of Vietnamese-California pop-ups prompted The San Francisco Chronicle to name him a Rising Star Chef in 2016. He’s done a stint on Top Chef, hosted a James Beard-nominated TV special, and will release his first cookbook this fall.

Yet Phu is not rolling into town with the pomp, circumstance and attitude that surrounds many “celebrity chef” arrivals. Before unveiling a new menu to the press, he was quick to praise the chef who brought District One to fame, Khai Vu—someone he refers to as “a good buddy.”

“District One is an institution,” the chef says of his new digs. “I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The identity has been integrated [into this] community’s hearts.”

The signature lobster pho will stay. The big bone soup will stay. But the new chef is definitely putting his own spin on the menu.

“All the things that you’re tasting today [are] inspired by street food,” he explained shortly before the feast was served.

Hear Al’s full interview with Chef Tu David Phu on the March 18, 2024, episode of the Food and Loathing podcast.

New Dishes, Lower Prices

Bo Bia (Spring Rolls)

The chef’s spin on Vietnamese spring rolls, also called “salad rolls,” came packed with Chinese sausage, egg, jicama, carrot and lettuce. There were two takes on carpaccio: beef (bo tai chcnh) and fish (ca tai chanh). The Vietnamese Fried Chicken wings were taken to another level by his family’s signature fish sauce. The light fried rice came topped with a near-perfect egg. And the chef was particularly proud of the skewered meats, which embrace the Cambodian side of Vietnamese culinary tradition.

He explained that all of his additions were inspired by his travels in Vietnam. But the chef is quick to dismiss talk of “authenticity,” preferring to talk of flavor or inspiration.

“If you go to Vietnam, there’s no such thing as authentic, or even origin,” he points out. “They are enterprise chefs, enterprise cooks, who have food street stalls, and they need to make the best-goddamned dish possible so people can buy it.”

Thit Nuong Skewers

“I come from a background where my parents are refugee immigrants. And I take inspiration in the places where they’ve been, and the places where they lived, and where I lived. And I’m trying to do the same things in Vegas. How do Vietnamese people exist in Las Vegas – all the cultural influences, the amazing bar scene that they have out here? [I want to] fuse those things in the most organic ways, and then create something new with it.”

One extremely fortuitous side effect of the chef’s concentration on street food has been lower prices.

“If you look at the [new] menu compared to old menus,” says Phu. “I think we shaved off about 20 percent of the costs, and we’ve reduced the prices by about 20 percent.”