ZaLat, a pizzeria and bar located in downtown Plano, bears subtle reminders of its previous incarnation as a Vietnamese fusion joint. There’s a mural of a yellow-gold dragon curling over one wall, plenty of Asian beers behind the bar, and—for now, at least—the infamous Dragon Shot.
“Except we’re all out of xi muoi,” our waitress, Ellie, said mournfully, referring to a crucial part of the Vietnamese tequila shot. “The owner got really hungry last week during karaoke and ate them all.”
Ellie has already tackled most sides of the food industry. Her previous gigs include working in dining services for the Orlando Magic and, more recently, cooking in the kitchen of DaLat (what ZaLat was called a few months ago when it served pho). She rattled off the beer selection and looked expectantly at us. My brothers were quick to decide: one ordered a Sapporo (discounted, since ZaLat is phasing out its Asian beers), and the other asked for a Blood & Honey. Satisfied, Ellie darted away.
My brothers and I were raised in Plano, so I invited them along on my excursion to our hometown. As we sat at a table near the bar, waiting for our drinks, we watched a mismatched couple playing the Golden Tee arcade game. The lady was thin and well-dressed; her large boyfriend wore a t-shirt.
“Hard bodies belong with hard bodies,” my weightlifter brother joked. “They’re probably just friends.”
About then, the woman leaned over and kissed the guy.
“Maybe he’s rich,” my taller brother whispered.
When I suggested that perhaps the two just get along well, the conversation turned to insane hypotheticals (e.g., whether a metal or wood bat would be more effective for killing zombies). I tuned out and glanced around. ZaLat was bright and clean, with pizza ovens at the back of the restaurant and a smattering of tables around the bar. Bon Jovi played on overhead speakers. In addition to the dragon mural, the walls displayed local art.
Khanh Nguyen, ZaLat’s owner, soon stopped by to check on us. He suggested to my brothers that a wooden bat is heavier and perhaps the better choice for zombie slaying.
“But a metal bat swings faster,” one of them pointed out.
I steered Khanh away from the table for a quick chat.
“Use Newton’s Second Law of Motion,” he told my brothers over his shoulder. “F = ma!”
Khanh told me that his first ZaLat restaurant, located on Fitzhugh Avenue in Dallas, draws a solid crowd. Plano hadn’t been overly receptive to DaLat, so Khanh decided to transform the space into another pizza place. So far, he assured me, the switch has paid off.
As we chatted, I noticed that the bar had filled up a bit. The sweet couple playing Golden Tee went home with a pizza. My brothers ordered another round of beers and decided they’d go with metal bats in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
Sometime soon, Ellie told me, they’ll mix things up at ZaLat. Give it more of a lounge feel. Add a few more arcade games. The Asian beers will disappear. Soon it’ll be a place all its own, downtown Plano’s latest staple, with little trace of its previous incarnation.
They do plan to keep that awesome dragon mural, though.