Christina Nguyen is the chef and co-owner of Hai Hai, a James Beard nominated Southeast Asian street food restaurant in Minneapolis. Working in the dining industry since 2014, Nguyen’s reputation precedes her as a self-taught chef who brings the most innovative flavors of Southeast Asia to Minnesota. Dining at Hai Hai, you can experience the excitement of Nguyen’s own trips to Vietnam vicariously through her food: whether it’s the sweet & savory Grilled Pork Belly skewers with rhubarb tocino marinade, or the Chicken Banana Blossom Salad with nuoc cham sauce, or the Cha Ca La Vong from Hanoi of turmeric coated pan-fried cod, Nguyen tells stories that flirt with your taste buds.
Growing up in the Twin Cities with Vietnamese immigrant parents, Nguyen inherited a strong work ethic from her mother and always aspired to one day become a business owner. After college, Nguyen tried her hands at opening small businesses like a boba shop called the Tea Garden and a locally-designed clothing boutique called Design Collective.
It wasn’t until 2011, when Nguyen and her now-husband and business partner, Birk Grudem, decided to open a Latin food truck in response to the blossoming food truck scene in Minneapolis. Three years later, the simple truck became Hola Arepa — a local restaurant serving the couple’s unique take on Latin street food, inspired by their trips to Latin America. The signature dishes on the menu, as the name suggests, are arepas — grilled cornmeal cake with stuffings like Chimichurri Chicken, Chorizo Sausages, or Slow-Roasted Pork. The restaurant became an instant neighborhood favorite.
The success of Hola Arepa gave Nguyen the confidence to join the larger Vietnamese food community in Minneapolis. In 2017, Nguyen and her partner opened Hai Hai. Unlike many other Southeast Asian restaurants that serve the region’s most well-known dishes like pho and pad thai, Hai Hai shines the spotlight on some lesser known delicious regional dishes, like Bun Cha Hanoi (Vietnamese meatballs), Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Crepe), and Banh Meo (Water Fern Cakes).
Awards & Press
- James Beard Award