|Soups -- not pho -- from An Loi Pho|
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.
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.