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"Annie Café is pho real" Robin Garr Review in LEO

We stopped in recently to see how Annie Café is doing and were delighted at the selection, price, food quality and service.

The menu offers a good selection of Vietnamese dishes, including nearly 50 entrees priced from $5.50 (for a Southeast Asian beef or chicken dinner salad) to $9.95 (for clay pot Com Phan moi dau nguoi, a hearty dish for a winter day). Most appetizers go for under $5, and a vegetarian banh mi sandwich is just $3.75.

Dishes are listed under their Vietnamese names, but never fear, if you don’t know what Mi Hoanh Thanh Xa Xiu is, much less how to pronounce it, the menu explains each dish in clear English. (This one is egg noodles with wonton soup and BBQ pork slices.) They’re also tagged with the familiar Vietnamese menu convention — E.17 or V.6 or whatever — and I suggest calling for your pick by letter and number rather than trying to order Ban Uot Cha Lua, Banh Tom in Vietnamese…

…translucent rice paper tightly rolled around romaine leaves, cilantro, tender rice noodles and crunchy fried tofu bites, with an exceptionally fine dark hoisin-peanut sauce”

Before we got to the mains, we made short work of a couple of taste bud-whetting apps. First, a pair of carefully constructed veggie goi cuon (Vietnamese Tofu Summer Rolls, $3.00 - V3), translucent rice paper tightly rolled around romaine leaves, cilantro, tender rice noodles and crunchy fried tofu bites, with an exceptionally fine dark hoisin-peanut sauce for dipping. Then, a similarly well-executed veggie Banh Xeo ($4.50) - V4, a crispy, eggy crepe wrapping bean sprouts and onions.

Our other main dish, a veggie version of the clay pot ($7.95) - V10, was outstanding: Cubes of crisply fried tofu swam with sweet slices of onion in a dark, savory brown broth with mysterious aromatics — soy and black pepper and more. It tasted like the finest beef stock yet was certifiably animal-free. The heavy brown pot kept it all deliciously hot. From the short menu of authentic Vietnamese desserts, I chose Che Dau Trang ($2.50), a hearty, sweet pudding of “sticky” rice with coconut cream and, wait for it, tiny, sweet black-eyed peas.

A delicious dinner for two, with many cups of delicious hot tea, came to an affordable $27, and exceptionally competent service from a polite young man justified tossing the rules of percentage at this low price point and simply adding $7 as his tip.

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