REVIEW: Lady Ha beckons with street food, drinks on Beltline

Lady Ha’s tagline is “Vietnamese street food and drinks.” Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Combined ShapeCaption
Lady Ha’s tagline is “Vietnamese street food and drinks.” Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Lady Ha might have bitten off more than it can chew.

Nearly six months after opening on one of the most heavily trafficked sections of the Atlanta Beltline, the biggest issue for the Vietnamese restaurant appears to be square footage: the Ford Factory Lofts space has a large, two-story dining room in addition to its second-floor cafe. Despite friendly staff and an energetic music playlist, it would be difficult to make the room feel full, even with all the tables occupied — which was far from the case on our visits.

The restaurant’s tagline is “Vietnamese street food and drinks,” and it delivers satisfying results in those categories.

The “To Share” section of the menu has a lot to offer, led by the Ha-Ha chicken nuggets. A far cry from your typical, perfectly uniform fast-food nuggets, Lady Ha serves a mixture of white and dark meat morsels coated in a light, aromatic breading. When these nuggets hit the table, the scent brought to mind fresh cinnamon doughnuts. It’s hard to disagree with the menu description that reads, “light, crispy and highly addictive!”

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The scent of Lady Ha's chicken nuggets brings to mind cinnamon doughnuts. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

The scent of Lady Ha's chicken nuggets brings to mind cinnamon doughnuts. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Combined ShapeCaption
The scent of Lady Ha's chicken nuggets brings to mind cinnamon doughnuts. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Lady Ha also touts its hickory wings, featuring them in a separate section of the menu. This is a brave choice in the shadow of the Local, a dive bar just a stone’s throw down Ponce de Leon Avenue that regularly sells out of its legendary smoked wings.

Tossed in a nuoc cham glaze and redolent of hickory smoke, Lady Ha’s wings had more than enough flavor, but could have used a boost in crispiness.

Then, there were the banh xeo tacos, which utilized Vietnamese crepes in place of hard shells, for a fun fusion dish filled with small, juicy shrimp. And, the cha gio fried egg rolls, filled with minced chicken, were nearly as addictive as the nuggets.

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The banh xeo tacos at Lady Ha use yellow Vietnamese crepes in place of hard taco shells. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

The banh xeo tacos at Lady Ha use yellow Vietnamese crepes in place of hard taco shells. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Combined ShapeCaption
The banh xeo tacos at Lady Ha use yellow Vietnamese crepes in place of hard taco shells. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

On the drinks side of Lady Ha’s menu, the beer is sourced from its sister restaurant Hopstix in Chamblee, which has 14 choices on tap, representing a wide variety of brews. The Sin Falta Mexican lager was a standout — light and refreshing, with a sharp crispness from Oaxacan green corn.

The short cocktail list leans a little sweet, but makes fabulous use of fresh herbs. The Jungle Rum is basically a mojito with the mint replaced by cilantro. The Lady Dragon is juicy and refreshing upfront, thanks to fresh strawberries and lime juice, but follows with a kick of heat from habanero-infused tequila. But, order with caution — the spice level in this drink is not always consistent.

For those riding the espresso martini bandwagon, the Bobatini uses Vietnamese coffee, which adds sweetness without compromising the strength of the flavor. It hit all the right notes and, yes, there were coffee-flavored boba at the bottom of the glass.

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The Bobatini at Lady Ha is a Vietnamese variation on the espresso martini. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

The Bobatini at Lady Ha is a Vietnamese variation on the espresso martini. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Combined ShapeCaption
The Bobatini at Lady Ha is a Vietnamese variation on the espresso martini. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

There also are a wide variety of nonalcoholic drinks that are perfect for sipping during a Beltline stroll. A counter on the restaurant’s second floor, just a few steps off the popular pedestrian corridor, allows walkers to drop in for milk tea, Vietnamese iced coffee, virgin fruit mojitos and smoothies. The full food menu is available at the counter, as well, with space to sit and eat inside, or on the patio, if you don’t take your order to go.

That is perhaps what Lady Ha should have been all along: a simple counter-service restaurant with a wide variety of drinks and a short list of well-conceived street food appetizers.

Instead, the mains on the menu appear to be an afterthought, with little of the creativity that clearly has been lavished on the drinks and appetizers. There are three types of pho, two noodle bowls and two rice bowls.

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A section of the Lady Ha menu allows diners to choose a sandwich filling for either a banh mi or a bao. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

A section of the Lady Ha menu allows diners to choose a sandwich filling for either a banh mi or a bao. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

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A section of the Lady Ha menu allows diners to choose a sandwich filling for either a banh mi or a bao. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

The shaking beef bowl was executed well, but needed more of the lemongrass flavor advertised on the menu. Similarly, the fried rice had great texture, and was studded with large, tender shrimp, but lacked flavor.

The smoked brisket pho, admittedly a tough sell on a hot summer night, hit the same note once again: solid, but not spectacular.

And, the menu of sandwich fillings that can be ordered as either banh mi or bao buns offers plenty of flexibility, but is a bit confusing.

While the entrees might not be compelling enough to fill Lady Ha’s cavernous dining room, there is plenty to like about the restaurant. Servers are committed and enthusiastic, the decor is fun, the fare is inexpensive, and the promise of enjoyable street food and drinks is fulfilled.

It’s a shame that the overly large space deadens what could be an otherwise lively atmosphere.

LADY HA

Food: casual Vietnamese

Service: enthusiastic, if a bit inexperienced

Best dishes: chicken nuggets, cha gio, banh xeo tacos, smoked pork bao

Vegetarian selections: at least two options in every section of the menu, with tofu available as a meat substitute

Alcohol: full beer list from Hopstix, along with smaller selections of cocktails and wines on draft

Price range: $$

Credit cards: all major cards accepted

Hours: 12-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Children: welcome, but no kids menu

Parking: free parking lot at Ford Factory Lofts

MARTA station: 1½ miles from North Avenue Station

Reservations: yes

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: not an issue

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 699 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 678-990-8954

Website: ladyha.com

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