Monday, February 11, 2008

An Loi Pho: Vietnamese in Columbia

Drive past the KFC and the Pizza Hut and go warm yourself with soup and a twist on lemonade.

It's pho. It's bun. It's a drink made with salted plums. An Loi Pho serves up friendly, accessible food with enough authenticity to make the trip worthwhile.

Outside, it is a shopping center anonymous even for the suburbs, and inside, the decor isn't much more complex. Plastic tables. Minimal artwork. Silverware and condiments laid in on every table. The menu is simple and affordable, more of a soup and grill joint than a full display of Vietnamese cuisine with its sauteed vegetables and clay pot cooking. Most dishes are $6-$10, and most everything is a variation on noodles, meat and a sauce or soup. It's a fine selection if you know Vietnamese food, and it's easy to navigate if you want to figure it out.

The basic menu sections:
  • Pho: a beef soup with noodles and a meat of your choice. Eye round, brisket and flank are all easy to recognize. Tendon and tripe may be delicious to you, but they were easy for me to avoid. They're served with a plate of bail leaves, sprouts and a lime wedge. Tear up the basil, squeeze the lime and add the spouts to your taste, along with any of the spicy condiments on the table. A bowl is a meal. A large bowl is gorging, but I don't leave overly full.
  • Bun: white, soft noodles. They're in the pho, but if you order bun, you get a bowl of noodles with the meat of your choice and a sauce to pour overtop. The sauce coats everything, and the flavors are more grilled and lemongrass.
  • Everything Else: an array of grilled meats served with rice and variations of soup and noodles. On my last visit, the Vietnamese families seemed to be eating grilled pork and chicken.
Start off with a summer roll or beef wraped in grape leaves. They're both delicious. I prefer the shrimp rolls, which are served cool not fried and dipped in a peanut sauce.

And order the "salted plum soda." Mrs. ChowHow stepped up and discovered this delicious offering. It's a hand-made drink, not a bottled soda. Club soda mixed with a little sugar and a few salted plums at the bottom. Imagine a lemonade with a touch of salt instead of sour. Refreshing and delicious. Exotic, but really not that strange.

Any An Loi meal should end with the "French coffee" that I wrote about earlier.  If you want a broader Vietnamese menu, check out Pho Dat Trahn, which is just a few shopping centers north on Snowden River.

An Loi Pho
7104 Minstrel Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: On Snowden River Pkwy north of Broken Land and south of the Home Depot. Minstrel Way has a gas station and a KFC at its intersection with Snowden, and An Loi is in the shopping center behind the gas station. Look for the red neon signs.

HocoLoco Girl on Vietnamese -- a listing of places

An Loi on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Unknown said...

this pho is terrible. i have been eating pho for years and years and there was a dramatic change of ownership i believe within the last 1 1/2y. the pho before was good, not great, not still worth going to b/c it was good. now, it is terrible. for newcomers to pho, they won't notice it, but it's really bad now. i don't know the previous owners or the new ones, but if non-vietnameses run such a place, pho goes down hill.