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Posted on Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 5:45 a.m.

As Ypsilanti's Dalat Restaurant celebrates anniversary, owner Lang Bui eyes future

By James Briggs


For the past 10 years, Dalat Restaurant owner Lang Bui has been dishing up authentic Vietnamese fare at her downtown Ypsilanti eatery. "We cook everything fresh and healthy," she said. "That's why I have a lot of customers."

Lon Horwedel |

The 10th anniversary of the Dalat Restaurant comes as a reminder to Lang Bui, the owner, that she isn't getting any younger.

Bui opened her first authentic Vietnamese restaurant in 1990 at 421 Cross St. in Ypsilanti. But having outgrown her small space, Bui moved to a prime location at 100 W. Michigan Ave. in July 2000.

Bui's storefront neighbors have fallen in and out of occupancy during the last decade — many having been vacant for years — but the Dalat Restaurant continues to thrive.

"My customers, they know me," Bui said. "We keep going."

Customers who appreciate Dalat's commitment to authenticity travel from Ann Arbor, Novi, Southfield and even further, Bui said. Many loyal patrons, especially Vietnam natives, have even written letters expressing how much the restaurant means to them.

"'I don't have a place to eat,'" Bui said her customers tell her.

Many other Vietnamese restaurants are such in name only, Bui said. "We understand how we eat," she said.

Sticking strictly to Vietnamese cuisine comes at a cost, though. Bui has had trouble finding employees outside her own family who are experienced in cooking Vietnamese food. Some have tried it, but haven't been able to catch on.

Besides Bui, 68, the only people who work for the restaurant are her husband, Hoanh, and two daughters-in-law.

Bui, who works six days a week, is starting to feel the demands of the job. "I don't have enough people working. I need people to help me," she said.

Bui has a sister in Vietnam who has tried unsuccessfully to immigrate. Short of finding more family members who can keep the restaurant going, Bui said she hopes she can find the right people to keep it going at least another decade or two.

"I want to keep Vietnamese alive," Bui said. "I'm old now. I can't do so much as before."

But, Bui added, she only wants to keep the restaurant going if it meets her standards.

"We cook everything fresh and healthy," she said. "That's why I have a lot of customers."


Gary Lillie

Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 9:19 p.m.

Having done a 1966 tour in Vietnam my friends will often ask me when we are dining in a Vietnamese restaurant, "Is this authentic?" I tell them, "No - authentic Vietnamese food comes in little green cans with names like "Ham, Water Added, & Eggs, Chopped, Canned." I never had the opportunity to eat Vietnamese food while in Vietnam but I have eaten a lot of it since. To me, what is more wonderful than the food is to hear the stories. I would love to have the owners of Dalat record the story of how they left Vietnam. When I eat in a Vietnamese restaurant I will say, "You have a beautiful country," which opens the door to personal stories if they wish to tell them. I spoke to the old man at Dalat - we would have called him Papa San. The story he told me is like many others I have heard. I will not write what he described but few Americans could comprehend it anyway because few actually try to put themselves in the other persons shoes and visualize the event through their eyes. I wish people with the capability would create documentaries and write books through personal interviews. Their stories must be told before they are lost forever. Next time you go into Dalat look at the faces and their eyes and try to imagine what those eyes have seen. Sadly, few will ever know and fewer yet will ever comprehend.

Dug Song

Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 3:15 p.m.

Congratulations and best wishes for another successful decade in downtown Ypsi! Dalat is one of very few Vietnamese options here. A number of places in town (Saigon Garden, MisSaigon, Paradise, China Gate, Tomokun, etc.) offer ph, but only a few do much besides (cm a, banh xeo, h tiu, etc.) - most rely on their Chinese dishes for business. Otherwise, it's home cooking (hopefully Christine from still teaches thru Rec&Ed?)... My favorite was the old Miss Saigon in Ypsi, replaced by Transylvania Restaurant (Romanian!), replaced by Kaya Sushi (now Kaya Pub, straight-up Korean). The owner/chef was totally amazing (cua rang mui? in Michigan?!), but I think the business was seriously hindered by his immediate family as waitstaff (watching his grade school son teetering around with giant bowls of hot soup was terrifying). Anybody know whatever happened to him? Madison Heights is still the biggest community nearby, with some other good restaurants in Grand Rapids, and a lot of excellent places in Toronto. That Dalat has been as stable and successful as they have in Ypsi is reassuring to me in so many ways. The campus Korean and Japanese joints are OK, but I keep hoping someone will open up a take-out bnh m shop on campus. That and a Korean fried chicken joint. :-)

Kevin D.

Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 10:10 a.m.

I am so very thankful to the family for providing Ypsilanti with such delicious and healthy food. I've been going to Dalat since the early 90s, when it was introduced to me by a coworker. I used to work downtown at the library, and would have lunch at Dalat several times a week. The owner and her daughters-in-law got to know me as a regular and since I always ordered the same thing - they began preparing it as soon as I walked in!!! How is THAT for service?! In the late 90s, the Cross St. restaurant closed and I was devastated. I had changed jobs and hadn't been eating there regularly, so I had no idea they were just moving. There was no sign on the door stating otherwise. I literally grieved that I would no longer be able to eat Dalat again. Many months later I saw the owner going into the old Mellencamp's building and got excited! Sure enough, within a few months a sign appeared in the storefront windows declaring Dalat would be opening soon! I made it a point to drive by everyday, so I could see when they opened. Just so happens, they opened on our wedding anniversary - July 10th! So, that afternoon I picked up a dozen roses for my wife, and dropped off a dozen roses for the owner of Dalat. That was 10 years ago - how time has flown! Thank you, for the great article & publicity for Dalat. And thank YOU Dalat, for continuing to give us delicious food despite the great labor it takes on you. I hope that you are able to find more people to continue the restaurant into the next century!