Tiger Nguyen
Server, Saigon Bistro, 1032 S Jackson Street (International District), 329-4939.

Finding Saigon Bistro's tucked-away location and negotiating its ridiculously designed parking lot is a bit of an ordeal, but it's completely worth it. This casual, airy Vietnamese cafe is regularly buzzing with families and groups of students, who come to savor the clean, spicy flavors of grilled meats rolled in rice paper with fresh mint and cilantro, SB's signature vegetable crepes, or steaming bowls of the best pho around. Tiger devotes his between-shift time to finishing his undergraduate degree in biology and preparing for his future gig as a law student.

How long have you been at Saigon Bistro?

"Four years--I had just moved here from Honolulu to go to the University of Washington, and wanted a flexible, decent-paying job that wasn't boring and had lots of interaction with people."Were you familiar with Vietnamese food before you started here?
"I grew up eating Vietnamese food, but because I grew up here [in the United States], my command of the Vietnamese language was lacking. A side benefit of working here is that my Vietnamese has improved quite a lot."
What do you find yourself discussing with your customers?
"I remember a great conversation the other day with one of our regulars. He's a ceramic artist, and said he can't get any work done in the studio until he has one of our crepes. I've also had great conversations about travel and culture, though most often the talk is centered around food."
What do you like to eat here?
"My favorites seem to change every week, but I really like the grilled lemongrass beef served on the bun--'bun' is just the Vietnamese word for vermicelli noodles made from rice. It combines a nice assortment of fresh vegetables with herbs such as mint and basil, and a little pineapple. I like the lemongrass beef because of the nice contrasts: spicy and savory against the freshness of the veggies and lightness of the noodles."
Do the cooks ever make you guys special stuff that isn't on the menu?
"The owner is a big curry fan, but for some reason we don't have it on the menu yet. He has made it for the staff numerous times, and it's always been good. One recent batch was made with fresh organic chicken, eggplant, potatoes, and lots of basil. It was spicy, rich, and really, really satisfying."

Interview by Hannah Levin