An Choi isn’t your grandma’s pho house. This upbeat, trendy pho spot has a lounge feel. Instead of a serene Asian tune whisking you away to lands in the Far East, An Choi spins tracks like Biggie’s Mo Money Mo Problems. While many first and second generation immigrants shy away from their parent’s heritage, the young staff at An Choi embrace it by serving quality Vietnamese food without selling out their roots. Although I was impressed with the atmosphere, I was not there to be social. I was there to evaluate the food. As a lover of pho, I cringe when I see this perfect food fused with a medley of other cultures. The broth speaks for itself and does not need a superficial twist. From the looks of dishes in adjoining tables that did not seem to be an issue here, but there was only one way to find out: It was time to order.
Delicious spring rolls are not a deal breaker for whether I recommend a pho restaurant. In Vietnam, most of the restaurants I went to had terrible spring rolls. What separated An Choi from other restaurants was their selection of spring rolls. For $8, I ordered a combination plate which included the traditional shrimp and pork along with shrimp and avocado, and my favorite, catfish.Innovative spring rolls do not run afoul to the notion of staying true to tradition. Although I’ve never had an avocado and shrimp spring roll in Vietnam, the one I sampled at An Choi had me convinced that this pairing was authentic.
The moment of truth arrived by way of a medium-sized bowl which was a bit disappointing considering that it cost $12.50. The meat, the onions, the noodles, and the broth were all placed in a tidy arrangement, though I was willing to sacrifice the nice presentation for a more generous portion.
Anxious to get to work, I slurped my first spoon of broth and waited for my stomach to provide affirmation if this bowl was worth the price. Immediately, I was overcome by the taste of pepper that seemed to be concentrated in the center of the bowl. Another sip produced the same reaction, too much pepper.
Patient, I mixed in the sriracha and hoisin and hoped that this would balance the broth. It definitely did. Moments later I found myself in pho heaven but now I faced a new problem: the ratio of noodles to broth was askew. I asked the waitress if I could have more broth and she said it would cost $1.50 extra. In order to enjoy this bowl, I agreed to the charge.
When the broth arrived, I was able to taste it without the corruption from pepper. It was much, much better. I poured it into my bowl and was happy it was filled to the brim. Starting over, I was at peace with my additional purchase.
As the end of my adventure was drawing near, I found one more imperfection: the noodles were cut too short. I’m not sure if this was done to save space but this along with the imbalance could have easily been avoided if the pho had come in a larger bowl.
An Choi is certainly a cool place to go for pho if you’re looking for a more upbeat atmosphere. The creative spring rolls were a welcomed change to the traditional delight. The pho, thanks to my degree in broth chemistry, was where it needed to be. The price, though higher than most places, is acceptable because of the experience. Overall, I would recommend An Choi as a casual, fun place to get pho but would look elsewhere for a daily spot.