Walk into Cosmo’s Restaurant & Bar and you’ll see worn floors, mismatched tables and chairs, and walls adorned with retro art. On the left is a jukebox, and straight ahead is the bar, behind which a friendly bartender pours beers to regulars. Cosmo’s has all the hallmarks of a lovable neighborhood dive.
So it’s not exactly where you’d expect to find a menu of pho, mi xao — stir-fried egg noodles with sautéed beef, shrimp and vegetables — and other authentic Vietnamese dishes. But that’s what’s on the menu.
“We’d do 25 [banh mi sandwiches] per night, and they’d sell out by 9 p.m.,” he says.
In-the-know diners and industry types would gather in the bar early on Mondays to secure a sandwich before they ran out, and a cult following was created. The bar’s owner, Gerald Stogsdill, liked what he saw and encouraged Tran to keep cooking Vietnamese food.
A few years later, Tran doubled his efforts, offering Vietnamese fried chicken once a week. And two years ago, when Cosmo’s got a shiny new kitchen, he finally had the space needed to really start experimenting. Slowly, the menu grew, as Tran tested out new dishes on customers, eventually finding his groove and featuring a menu that now rivals any Vietnamese restaurant in town.
Cosmo’s continues to serve pizzas, and they’re a common order on Sundays, when they’re half price. But overall, the pizzas have been dethroned.
“These days, during the week, only about 10 to 15 percent of people are ordering pizzas instead of the Vietnamese menu,” he says.
Standouts on Cosmo’s menu include steamed pork-cabbage dumplings in a spicy, rice vinegar-spiked stock; and vermicelli bowls served with pork belly, lemongrass beef, shrimp or veggies. There’s also the nightly favorite: Tran’s Family Recipe Beef Pho. The recipe was handed down by his mom, Thua Tran, who — along with his dad — ran Vietnam Restaurant in the Casa Linda area from 1982 to 2000.
Alongside more authentic recipes, Cosmo’s has playful creations like kimchi tots, which provide a savory companion to beer. And then there’s the newest addition to the menu: tacos. Those come in Korean pork belly and lemongrass beef varieties and served in soft flour tortillas.
“I just released the tacos a couple weeks ago, and that’s been a big hit. Tacos are sexy. People like finger foods,” Jackson Tran says.
While Tran’s initial goal with the surprising menu was to give regulars a reason to keep coming back, a nice perk is that new customers are making their way to Cosmo’s, too.
To make it all work, Tran has help in the kitchen from trusty cook Trevor Ricci. But still, some dishes are too sacred.
“I do the pho stock,” Tran says. “No one else is allowed to touch that.”