Cheap Eats

Michael's Genuine Alum Brings Bao and Bánh Mì to Doral

Bubble Cafe's vegetarian Asian soup.
Bubble Cafe's vegetarian Asian soup. Photo by Zachary Fagenson
click to enlarge Bubble Cafe's vegetarian Asian soup. - PHOTO BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
Bubble Cafe's vegetarian Asian soup.
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Manny Sulbaran is making one of the best soups in Miami.

It starts with a chocolate-hued mushroom broth that's infused with ginger, garlic, lemongrass, star anise, kaffir lime, and a touch of soy. It's filled out with egg noodles, cabbage, herbs, crispy garlic, and a soft-boiled egg. It can be enhanced with pork belly, duck, brisket, pork shoulder, or chicken thigh for another $4, though it's perfect without them.

Several years ago Sulbaran, who is 45, was known as king of the lunch special at Michael Schwartz's eponymous flagship restaurant. Each day he'd create an ever-rotating sandwich and soup offering that garnered a solid following. One day, it was housemade Palmetto Creek Farm porchetta with cilantro & kumquat-fennel slaw on ciabatta. The next it was a roast beef sandwich with red wine vinaigrette-dressed radishes, red onions, and parsley and hot sauce aioli.

Eventually, Manny was moved to open the first location of what is now Schwartz's Genuine Pizzeria in the Design District. Then, he left, seeming to vanish into the traffic-racked abyss that is Doral. For the last few years, his pocket-sized lunch spot Bubble Cafe & Tea Lounge, which was awarded best inexpensive restaurant back in 2017, has catered to the surrounding community and office workers with sandwiches, salads, wraps, pastries, and occasional plated dishes featuring thoughtfully prepared proteins and vegetables reminiscent of his days working with Schwartz.

Lately, it hasn't been working out, so he retrofitted the restaurant and revamped the menu to an Asian concept that pulls flavors from the region's east and southeast. New Times was invited for a look.

Alongside the soup come spring rolls with nuoc cham ($8), and rice or egg noodle bowl ($8) with pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, cabbage, and herbs.
click to enlarge Duck bao - PHOTO BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
Duck bao
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
The other main attractions here are the pairs of bao buns and baguette sandwiches ($8) filled with everything from pork belly and roasted duck to braised brisket and pork bánh mì. The duck, which is best tucked into a fluffy steamed bun, combines the tender juiciness you expect of Peking and roast duck with the aromatic notes of French confit. Taiwanese pork belly comes crowned with house pickled mustard greens, crushed peanut brittle, cilantro, and Kewpie mayonnaise, while the pork shoulder in the bánh mì sandwich is roasted for six hours in a blend of five spices, soy, and ginger. In lieu of the baguette, Sulbaran opts here for a toasted hoagie roll that does an OK job of rounding out a sandwich but doesn't quite mimic the city's best, which can be found at Ani Meinhold and Cesar Zapata's Phuc Yea.
click to enlarge Pork shoulder bánh mì - PHOTO BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
Pork shoulder bánh mì
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
"We wanted something that would be crispy, but also with a bit of fluffiness to absorb the juices of all the meats," Sulbaran said. "If you look closely, you'll see ingredients and flavors from all parts of Asia being blended here, and we're trying to respect them and put them together in the right way."

Bubble Cafe & Tea Lounge. 11402 NW 41st St., Doral; 305-722-0501;
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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson