Price isn’t usually that much of an issue for me unless something jumps out — and jump out it did when I took my family to the new Anh + Chi in the old Pho Hoang space on Main & 18th. I don’t mind paying more for a commensurate increase in quality, technique, freshness, and service…but I’m not sure that what I ate justified the increase in price.
TLDR: Average food with hints of greatness for a premium price.
They really did a nice job of renovating the previous space. It’s a really challenging building with a weirdly-shaped room.
Clean, modern branding, consistently applied.
Other sites/blogs have photos of the interior, so I won’t bore you with them. My take on it is that it’s spotless and doesn’t feel like a Vietnamese restaurant. It’s actually designy and tasteful. You won’t be afraid of sitting next to the window at this Vietnamese restaurant!
Aside from the branding and decor, they’ve taken cues from (for the lack of a better term) “white restaurants”, like having a full cocktail menu and hiring a dedicated hostess, food runner, and bartender. However, at times it seemed like there were 2-3 people doing the hostess job, which led to some fumbling, confusion, lost looks, and unsure body language around the hostess station at the front door. They’ve been open a little more than a month at the time of our visit, so I was expecting a bit more smoothness. However, our server was excellent. Experienced, calm, and communicative. I hope the rest of the staff get to that level.
By 6pm on a Sunday night, the place was packed and a lineup had formed. I noticed the bartender was swamped with drink orders towards the end of our meal around 6:45. Goes to show that the neighborhood has been crying out for a place like this, so Anh + Chi’s formula seems to be working, even at their higher price point.
The pricing of the “Hands” section of the menu is a smidge high, with the exception of the Grilled Skewers section which is rip-off city (more on that below). The rest of the menu items are about $1-$4 more expensive than what I’m used to seeing for Vietnamese food.
Their physical menu is missing a few dishes that are listed online. No Pho Ha Noi, no Banh Mi, no Hu Tieu, among other things. But if they initially bit off more than they could chew with their original menu, I totally support them scaling back. Make fewer dishes but make them better.
It’s not common to see shareable entrees in Vietnamese restaurants (dishes served family-style and eaten with rice). It’s usually single-person dishes like a bowl of noodles or a plate of rice with meat…at most you’d share a plate of spring rolls. These family-style dishes are a great way of experiencing another side of Vietnamese food and often show Thai or Chinese influences.
The only other restaurant that pays this much attention to family-style Vietnamese food is the new West Broadway location of Mr. Red Cafe, which I wrote extensively about in this series of Instagram posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. They only do family-style meals on Sundays, but they put more heart and generosity into their family-style meal than Anh + Chi.
Seeing local craft beer in a Vietnamese restaurant is an amazing thing. The only other place I know that also has craft beer would be Chau VeggieExpress. They also pay a lot of attention to their cocktail program (see their list here). Depending on your love of cocktails, this might be a determining factor in whether you like this place or love it.
Complimentary cucumber water. Nice touch.
Postmark Brewing Falconer’s Flight IPA (6%) – $8 for what looks to be a 14oz maybe even 12oz pour. I still haven’t been wowed by any of Postmark’s beers, and this is no exception. Nothing distinctive at all about this beer. Generically, mildly bitter with a bit of maltiness. At least they have Four Winds Saison on tap here.
Sai Gon Goi Cuon (Salad Roll/Fresh Roll) with Shrimp ($4). They serve one salad roll cut in half and call it “two pieces” on the menu. I appreciate that they included mint and used leaf lettuce instead of the dreaded shredded iceberg lettuce. However, we thought there was too much lettuce, which was suggestive of being “filler”. No complaints about the sauce. The crunchy fried spring roll wrapper tube inserted in the middle is a nice touch that added texture.
Bo Bia Goi Cuon ($4), which is a Cambodian-style salad roll that includes Vietnamese sausage, dried shrimp, egg, jicima, carrot, and basil. This one also contains that tube of fried spring roll wrapper:
But again, the amount of lettuce seemed excessive. I’d never put that much lettuce inside if I was making these at home. The only salad roll that I would consider buying from a restaurant as takeout to eat at home are the bo bia at Green Lemongrass on Kingsway, where they use Chinese lap cheong, have a better balance of fillings, and are $6.50 for two rolls (cut into four pieces).
Cha Gio (Crispy Spring Rolls) for $7. You get three spring rolls (each cut in half), a bowl of nuoc cham (which they confusingly call “light soy sauce” on the menu), green lettuce, and basil. There is no spring roll-only option — it only comes in this big basket with accoutrements, which I found to be wholly unnecessary. (They do sell single spring rolls for $2.50 as an add-on/side order though.)
I gotta wonder, what’s wrong with serving spring rolls on a plate? Those baskets must be a pain in the ass to clean.
While fairly crispy, the wrapper was too thick. I think it’s exacerbated by the fact that they batter these spring rolls before deep frying them. That’s a technique I’ve never seen before. But it’s needless fancifying where fancifying wasn’t needed. The filling of pork, prawn, carrot, taro, vermicelli, and wood ear fungus is great though. Flavourful and lightly packed. But the batter and accompanying lettuce and herbs didn’t really improve the experience.
From the family-style menu: Rau Muong Xao Chao (Fresh Water Spinach AKA Ong Choy) for $13. Cooked with garlic and preserved bean curd (fermented tofu cubes AKA fu yu). Tasted bland and needed more bean curd, even though the pool of sauce at the bottom of the plate looked promisingly opaque.
That large bowl of rice shown above was $5, which is at least $1 too much and one rice bowlful too small.
A selection of Grilled Skewers ($3 per skewer). Each skewer we ordered came with its own sauce, which was a really attentive touch. But you are paying handsomely for it.
Eggplant Skewer – $3 each. So yeah, that’s a $6 eggplant dish you see there.
Bo La Lot (Beef in Betel Leaf) Skewer – $3.
Nem Nuong (Housemade Pork Sausage) – $3 each. This was the most painful of all. $3 gets you ONE meatball. Gimme a break.
This is the hoisin and peanut sauce that went with the pork sausage.
Anchovy sauce (mam nem) that goes with the beef in betel leaf.
Vinegar soy sauce that goes with the eggplant.
While the flavour and cooking technique on the skewers were great, the value proposition was way off. Zakkushi down the street seemed like a better value in comparison.
Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Crepe) for $15. Already partially attacked before I was able to take a photo of it, so sorry about that! It was impressively crispy, which I loved because I detest limp, soggy banh xeo.
If you’ve never had this dish before, it’s a messy one but good. You cut off sections of crepe and wrap them in lettuce with herbs, and dip the bundle into the nuoc cham and eat. You’ll be a drippy mess but it’s worth it. But for $15 (which seems about $3 too expensive), I expected more meat and to have it better distributed as well. This was my favourite dish of the night but it hurt a bit to pay $15 for this.
Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio Tom (Vermicelli Bowl) with Pork for $13. This bun comes with spring rolls and a grilled prawn. You get to choose between grilled chicken, pork, or beef. There was a nice mixture of varied veggies and a decent amount of meat for the price, but I had a couple problems with this dish. The spring rolls are again the battered kind. While more typical rice paper spring rolls stay fairly crispy after being mixed into a vermicelli bowl, the spring rolls here got soggy fast because the batter just absorbs the nuoc cham and the moisture from the veggies. By the end of the meal, they became like wet socks filled with meat. The other problem was the vermicelli noodles. They were all really short, like the noodles were broken into shorter pieces before cooking. I’m not sure the reasoning behind this, but it made eating this a strange experience, like you were eating noodles from the bottom of the bag. I gave the grilled prawn to my dad but I removed the skewer for him and it seemed to be a bit overcooked and dried out. But then I think Vietnamese people have an inexplicable love for dried-out, overcooked prawns.
Another dish off the family-style menu: Chu Tu (Trio of Char-Grilled Meat) for $18. Includes cracker-thin pork chops, beef short ribs, and a lemongrass chicken leg cut into three sections. The grilling technique on this platter was great. Nice aromatic char while keeping the meats moist.
Their house nuoc cham is flavourful but too sweet for my tastes. Depending on the dish it may not be an issue, but the marinade on the grilled meats was too sweet as well, so combining the two created too much sweetness.
The short ribs were grilled to a tender medium-rare, something I hardly ever see in Vietnamese restaurants. So kudos on that point.
The kid in our family got a scoop of Passion Fruit Kem (Homemade Ice Cream) for $3. It was quite icy, so more like a sorbet rather than an ice cream. Bits of basil incorporated into the ice cream. The kid liked it.
If I seem really hard on Anh + Chi, it’s because Vancouver has a huge glut of average Vietnamese restaurants and it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. Prove it on the plate. And if you charge a premium, you really have to prove that you serve better food than at least 8-10 other great-to-awesome Vietnamese restaurants in town.
Average food with hints of greatness. But you do pay a bit more to sit in that room.
It may not even matter in the end if they can keep that room full like they did on Sunday night.