If you stopped by Mắm when it opened, you might have thought it was a permanent restaurant. In a way, it always was more than a pop-up: The Vietnamese spot is by partners in love and life, Jerald Head and Nhung Dao began at 70 Forsyth Street, near Hester Street. As of this month, the restaurant, considered to serve some of the best Vietnamese food in town, has expanded next door taking over an additional storefront.
Head, an alum of Di An Di, and his wife, Dao, took over the Forsyth Street space in May 2022. At first, Mắm functioned as a residency, a pop-up with no specific end date, up until this October when they decided to stay more permanently and signed a lease.
Open several days a week for dinner, and on the weekends for brunch, customers could book seats via the platform Hotplate, choosing among theme nights like Vietnamese snails or hot pot with fermented rice, turmeric, catfish, and green bananas. The setup caught the attention of the New York Times’s Pete Wells, who called it New York’s “most exciting Vietnamese food” (somewhat of a rare review for the critic, who largely up until the pandemic, typically focused on more traditional restaurant formats) at the time and later listed it as one of the “100 best restaurants in New York.”
In early December 2023, Head and Dao expanded next door to 70A Forsyth Street, which enables the duo to have a total of 45 seats between the two spaces.
“It’s an extension for our dining room, and we have a massive basement which will offer us better infrastructure and more space to build a bigger menu,” says Head. Like any restaurant looking to make things more professional, they plan to move to Resy to take more straightforward reservations versus booking tickets, and a more consistent menu will eventually follow.
“The volume of guests and food we were doing, it was bound to happen [that we needed more space]. It wasn’t sustainable in this tiny space and growth,” he says.
70 Forsyth Street has been several different Vietnamese concepts in the past few years. Bếp Gà had the space for five years before closing in 2021. But it’s a bit of homecoming for the duo behind Mắm — they first held pop-ups in the space back in 2020. With the restaurant industry uncertain, they forewent signing more officially. The Bếp Gà team then handed it over to Rise & Miso, a Japanese onigiri cafe. It then found itself in the hands of Ha’s Đặc Biệt, another Vietnamese pop-up, before transferring to Mắm.
Beyond all the happenings on the Lower East Side, this weekend, Mắm combined forces with the team behind Di An Di at Williamsburg wine bar Sauced for a pop-up called Bia Hoi, a beer and wine “dream project” they have in the works together.