Anh and Chi just reinvented Vietnamese restaurant scene

Anh and Chi, a new upscale restaurant that opened in April – and a breath of fresh air in a city more used to no-frills pho shops….with a planned patio expansion this summer, it could be just the beginning of a great new era for the decades-old Vietnamese restaurant.

Willem Thomas | | June 16, 2016

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Main Street Vietnamese staple Pho Hoang has been reborn in glorious fashion

Amelie and Vincent Nguyen want to reinvent Vancouver’s Vietnamese dining scene. And the siblings, children of Vietnamese immigrants who fled the chaos of post-war Vietnam, are doing just that with Anh and Chi, a new upscale restaurant that opened in April—and a breath of fresh air in a city more used to no-frills pho shops. Building upon the groundwork laid by the Nguyen parents and their Main Street mainstay of 30 years, Pho Hoang, Amelie and Vincent have both elevated and honoured their parent’s Canadian-immigrant success story with a space that mixes the modern and the traditional.

Taking in the flowing, spotless space that is Anh and Chi’s dining room, one would be hard-pressed to believe the vision for the establishment came from two individuals who originally had little interest in the operation of a restaurant. That changed when tragedy struck in 2010. While the kids engaged in studies abroad, their father Hoang died, leaving Pho Hoang solely in the hands of their mother Ly. She tried to continue operating without him but found it a difficult task to maintain the establishment without his energy and enthusiasm. “A part of the business died with him”, says Vincent, who at the time was reconsidering his med-school studies, citing an increasing interest in the business world. “The restaurant had become stagnant.”

This stagnancy eventually led to Pho Hoang’s unfortunate closure, but it also led to a revelation of sorts for Vincent. It was “shut the doors or do something,” he says. And he would do something, choosing to honour his parent’s legacy by keeping the location and restaurant in the family. With the help of his two siblings, changes were made and an altogether new restaurant would be opened, known as Anh and Chi (which means brother and sister in Vietnamese).

With an open, inviting interior that blends custom wood furniture with design elements that range from vintage to ultra-modern, the space reflects Vincent and Amelie’s desire to mix the traditional and French design-influences from Vietnam with sleek, contemporary Main Street style. On the walls are antique oil lamps brought from Vietnam by Hoang (“We can’t forget where we came from,” Vincent says). Behind the bar, meanwhile, a massive art piece constructed out of chopsticks resembles a burning sun. The wall tiles, also shipped from Vietnam, are in three colours (Vincent, Amelie, and their sister Angela each selected a colour), while Anh and Chi’s banana-leaf decorated unisex washroom with its communal brass-fixture sink was one of the biggest changes implemented in the reopening.

With Mom still in charge of the kitchen and recipes, and a number of long-time staff still on-hand, Vincent and Amelie intend to not only further their father’s legacy in a familiar way but to improve upon what he started so long ago. The menu is a combination of old favourites from Pho Hoang and more contemporary fare. Number 37, a hugely popular item from Pho Hoang, returns but with an update. The Pho Hoang, one of three noodle soup dishes (all using a 12-18 hour broth preparation), is named in tribute to their father. The Cánh Gà—fried chicken wings—are a delectable Vietnamese classic. Also available are vermicelli bowls, salads, and family-style share plates. The bar program, established by bar manager Guy Stowell (previously of Bao Bei), features beer from Southeast Asia and some local craft mainstays, a curated list of B.C. wines, and a cocktail list split into two sections (pre-1975, incorporating Vietnam’s French influence, and post-1975, following the communist takeover era, which includes a fresh take on a Pimm’s Cup that can be ordered by the pitcher).

In the face of losing the family business, the Nguyen siblings have instead chosen to modernize it. And with a planned patio expansion this summer, it could just be the beginning of a great new era for the decades-old Vietnamese restaurant. After all, the Nguyens are nothing if not survivors.