For anyone who has lived — or particularly anyone who grew up — in or around the Harvey Park, College View, Ruby Park or Mar Lee neighborhoods that surround South Federal, hearing the name “Rapidos” will bring to mind a certain set of memories. They may be hazy, forming mere outlines of collective meals — with the expeditions themselves always ringing as important to the overall impression as the dense cheese and green chili-laden bags that seemed to appear then vanish as if by magic. For the husband and wife team Long Nguyen and Shauna Seaman — both metro area natives and graduates of the original Tacos Rapidos many times over — nostalgia has been the creative fuel for the quickly-acclaimed Pho King Rapidos. Informed by a pre-dawn experimentalism, the food truck smashes together the flavors of the duo’s Vietnamese heritage, New York deli and street staples and a distinctly Denver lens on Mexican fare.
With Nguyen acting as the leading culinary force behind the whole project, Seaman has still found time to lend her talents. Spending her days as an ER Doctor at The Medical Center of Aurora, she still has been largely in charge of the scheduling, social media and marketing — helping to grow awareness for a brand that clearly has no shortage of personality. The trailer’s immediately recognizable blue bear — smirking in full-flex from behind a set of shades — is hard to miss, the whole design a testament to the represented locations. The crown — perched in an ever-so-slight droop — signifies New York, with Rapidos — laid out in slick calligraphy — cementing the operation to its Colorado roots. While the name has been floating around for the better part of eight years — with Nguyen going so far as to claim the email and domain names four years ago — each word has developed a greater significance as the project has taken on a life of its own. “We wanted to do a food truck always,” smiled Seaman.
The couple, who have been married since 2015, first relocated to New York when Seaman matched for a residency at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. It didn’t take long for Nguyen — who had a history in food and beverage — to begin working at and ultimately managing the West Village pasta darling dell’anima, where he learned to craft noodles alongside head chef Andrew Whitney. In between long hours at their respective trades, the duo was falling in love with bodega sandwiches and Halal carts. After returning to Denver in 2018, Nguyen continued his managerial streak, eventually resuming the role at Tavernetta.
Despite the name having been around for the better part of a decade, Pho King didn’t actually have its first service until September 17, 2020. The first sandwich was sold at an unofficial location on South Broadway. “We just paid for the meters,” laughed Seaman. Since then the duo has maintained a busy schedule, posting up at breweries, HOA-approved neighborhoods and private lunches for businesses including Lockheed Martin.
Most items, no matter how conventional they appear on paper, will likely be at least subtly cross-pollinated by each of the three food traditions. The chicken over rice ($10) draws both from the Halal classic and Hainanese chicken, the quintessential dish combining lemongrass-marinated chicken thighs, chicken broth rice with garlic and ginger, NYC chicken cart white sauce, Szechuan chili crisp and mustard greens sauteed with garlic. The best example of this might be the al pastor banh mi ($10) which takes thick slabs of pineapple-marinated pork with house mayo, cucumbers, pickled carrots, lettuce and a robust mix of fresh herbs.
With each food item being built from the ground up, Nguyen always conducts a great deal of menu testing, noting that his friends and family have been more than willing to help with research and development. Nguyen’s mother Thuy Nguyen has even contributed recipes, with the exquisite wing sauce coming directly from her hands. Each week the menu will be different, with a rotating set of fan favorites often being joined by brand new items. The only sure staples are the chop cheese ($9) — a Harlem staple with a seasoned burger patty, chopped and integrated with melted Monterey Jack, house mayo, lettuce and tomato on a hoagie — the chicken and rice and the jackfruit banh mi ($9) — a vegetarian-friendly reimagining that uses MisoHot chili paste to utterly delightful effect.
Pho King’s busy schedule usually finds them out at least six days a week, sometimes conducting multiple services in a single afternoon. Nguyen hopes that the swell of popularity continues, with plans to add a second trailer by the end of the year. It should also be noted that a bodega breakfast sandwich is on the horizon. “I’ve seen a lot of friends I hadn’t seen for 20 years because of that truck,” smiled Nguyen.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.