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Food & Drink

The Story Behind the Jucy Lucy Joint in Vietnam

The story must be re-told!


The crew at Circle Cafe, from left to right: Ngô Văn Rin, Huỳnh Thị Minh Anh, Huỳnh Thị Mỹ Lệ, and Huỳnh Thị Bến

Like clockwork, a menu description from Circle Cafe goes locally viral every couple years. You can understand why it excites Minnesotans:


These posts spawn predictable speculation around how and why a small restaurant in the port city of Hoi An began selling our state's top culinary export. Some variation of "a guy from Minnesota is involved" often comes up, but details are in frustratingly short supply.

It wasn't always this way. Before the Star Tribune Media Co. nuked the City Pages website, verified intel abounded there about Twin Cities expat Jeff Hoganson and his wife Huynh Thi Minh Anh, owners of the Circle Cafe—because I talked with Hoganson!

Let's set the record straight yet again: When Circle Cafe opened about 10 years ago, its menu was devoted to Vietnamese staples like phở, vermicelli salad, and bánh mì. After a few months in business, Huynh wondered if her touristy patrons might enjoy cheeseburgers. Her husband, who had just moved to Vietnam, was able to provide expert Jucy Lucy details gleaned from his buddies, Blue Door Pub co-owners Pat McDonough and Jeremy Woerner.

“I told her she should try doing a Jucy Lucy,” Hoganson told me. “With that, Circle evolved into being a burger joint.”

Today, the place offers a classic Jucy Lucy, plus riffs like The Aussie with the Lot (bacon, fried pineapple, pickled beetroot, egg, fried onion, special sauce), the Kimchi Jong-un (a kimchi-topped reference to North Korea's food-crazed supreme leader), and the Blue Cheese (an homage to Blue Door's Blucy). The very fun menu also includes tacos, hot dogs, and Hangover Noodles.

I have zero recollection of tracking down a local tourist who dined at Circle Cafe, but south Minneapolis resident John McCauley even provided me a burger review.

“The burger was really good, cheese was melted in the middle and toppings were super fresh—meat was cooked just right too,” he raved of the Lucy at Circle Cafe. “I might be biased since it was the first hamburger I’d had in at least two months, but I thought it was a true-to-form Jucy Lucy.”

With a knowing chuckle, Hoganson boasted that a couple Minnesota guests have dared to blaspheme by calling Circle Cafe's Lucy better than the ones Obama once downed at Matt's Bar. While most Circle Cafe diners are tourists from Europe and Australia, he reported, an increasing number of Vietnamese guests are sampling Minnesota's internationally famous inside-out burger. (The Jucy Lucy has made its way around the world, with options in Norway, Australia, and likely most everywhere else... I believe Thomas Friedman once wrote a tedious book on this very subject.)

“I think people are more curious about foods they typically wouldn't eat,” Hoganson said. “Especially young adults and parents who want to expose their children to different foods and cultures.” 

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