Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A New Picture Of An Loi Pho

Soups -- not pho -- from An Loi Pho
Maybe I'm just ridiculously shallow, but the new menu at An Loi Pho gave me a new picture of the Vietnamese restaurant in Columbia.

I don't truly know it's a new menu.  For the past few years, An Loi had been just for comfort food takeout.  I'd order pho or the lemongrass chicken on nights when we needed some easy and simple.  Most everything tasted the same.  Good, but nothing new and intriguing.

That's until we were flipping through pictures in the An Loi menu last weekend.  We had gone to fight our colds with bowls of soup, and the photos in the menu offered up variations to the northern Vietnamese soup that gives the place its name.

I went with a rice noodle soup heavy on seafood (H1), and Mrs. HowChow went with udon noodles in a broth with shrimp and lean sliced pork (H4).  They're both delicious, and they come with the plate of sprouts, lime, and green herbs that let you doctor your bowl your way -- along with a half dozen condiments like soy sauce, sriracha, and a spicy oil.

Papaya salad
Suddenly, I feel like there are all kinds of options here.  More choice than just which meat you put in pho.  The soups made us happy.  I liked the mix of fish balls, squid, shrimp and pork.  Mrs. HowChow slurped her udon noodles, although she isn't a huge fan of dealing with tail-on shrimp and big pieces of pork in the bowl.

But the soups weren't even our favorite part of the meal.  I took a flyer on papaya salad, and that's a must-eat.  Shredded papaya comes mixed with cellophane noodles, shimp, cilantro and other vegetables.  It's a crisp, light salad full of the salty-sweet-citrus flavors that make Vietnamese so delicious.  They're all set in almost a broth flavored with fish sauce.

Now, I want to go back for more An Loi variation.  Remember the salted plum soda and the "French" coffee with condensed milk.  I don't claim this is Vietnamese that should make people drive from the city, but it's a better local joint than I was giving it credit before.


Anonymous said...

For better Vietnamese, I prefer Pho Dat Thanh, just a 1/2 mile up Snowden. Pho Dat Thanh has seemed to change ownership or recipes several times in the past 10 years, but they've managed to be a step above An Loi throughout.

Anonymous said...

I've never been to An Loi. My wife loves Pho Dat Thanh so thats our go to place. I'd be interested in trying it one day though.

Xani said...

I love An Loi and have for many years! I WILL drive from the city to slurp their delicious pho (nothing in Baltimore comes close). I was delighted to see they had the papaya salad last time I was there. Although now its a tough choice between that and the summer rolls. I think I need an An Loi fix sooner than later!

Katherine said...

I did not know who in the area had good papaya salad. Now I do! Thank you for the tip, HowChow. I will try it soon.