If you’ve got experience of dining overseas, you get used to people saying some dish or another is pretty good “...for Vietnam.” It’s easy to find varied and vibrant local food, but to worldly tastes the foreign cuisine scene could still use some improvement. Espy NY Style Pizza — Vietnam’s maybe-first pizza-by-the-slice restaurant — is helping that happen.


Since January, Espy has been serving up New York-style slices as good as any back home.

 

Owner/chef Khai Tran, a Philadelphia native, brings a dozen years of experience as a gourmet French and Italian cook to his new vocation of pizzaiolo, and it shows. Khai knows pizza. He hand-tosses dough made from scratch, his recipe the result of months of development. The sauce too is Khai’s own, cooked in-house every couple days. Ingredients at his restaurant are scrupulously fresh.

 

Mix and Match

 

Espy’s menu has something for everyone: pepperoni, cheese, vegetarian, seafood, two types of chicken, wild mushroom and more. The cashiers are happy to personalize your pie, offering ricotta, pesto, caramelised onions and roasted garlic — all homemade — or extra toppings. More extras will be available soon. Shakers of oregano, crushed red chilli, garlic salt and black pepper stand by. The sole omission is crumbled parmesan; understandable, given the cost of cheese.

 

The restaurant plans to feature a different special pizza every few weeks. If you want greens with your slice, Espy offers four salads.

 

Khai’s pizzas are delicious. The crust is crispy, light, and a little sour; the sauce bright and piquant, with just the right mix of spicy and sweet; thick, melted mozzarella gleams white next to patches toasted golden-brown; toppings are carefully scattered. Each generous slice is a whole meal.

 

Four pies stand out. The Hawaiian balances salty ham with just enough ripe pineapple. The Pepperoni is hearty, its sausage robust with umami, red pepper and garlic. The White Pizza, for cheese addicts, is sauceless, redolent of ricotta and roasted garlic and of course, extra-cheesy. The Vegetarian is loaded with broccoli, red bell pepper, olives, wild mushrooms and tomatoes. Whatever slice catches your fancy, the toppings enhance rather than overwhelm.

 

A Place to Chill

 

It’s not just the food that’s worth talking about. Espy’s ambiance is pleasant and relaxed. Customers hang out as much as eat. The owner converses with regulars or greets people outside. The staff circulates freely on the restaurant’s two floors, friendly and attentive. Service is brisk, with orders arriving quickly. Takeaway and delivery options are also available.

 

The clean, newly-renovated interior has spare décor, with an orange, white and seafoam colour scheme, and a couple of small murals. Counters with barstools line one wall while a poster demonstrates the proper way to eat NY-style pizza.

 

Espy may have hit the jackpot. Though it’s mostly expats now, more and more locals are catching on.

 

Oh, and after you go? Keep that ‘Buy 7 Get 1 Free’ card. You’ll use it. — Owen Salisbury

 

Espy is located at 154 Cong Quynh, Q1, HCMC

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