Golden Plates 2023: Anh and Chi embraces its culinary roots
Sitting in a sun-drenched booth at Anh and Chi, restaurateur Vincent Nguyen reflects on what brought him to the Mount Pleasant restaurant.
“My parents, like many other refugees in the country, started working odd-end jobs, gathering enough money to open up a little mom-and-pop shop on Main,” he tells the Straight.
Originally, the Nguyen family ran Pho Hoang in the same spot on Main and 18th Street. But in 2015, the family decided to update its humble image into something more contemporary—and Anh and Chi was born.
The restaurant buzzes with energy. All the tables are filled with patrons—couples, small families with children, girlfriends out to lunch. A queue of would-be diners is forming outside the door. Servers run back and forth carrying bamboo-bottomed platters of aromatic sizzling meats atop vermicelli noodles. The dish, topped by fresh herbs, is known as the Streetside Platter, a bestseller at Anh and Chi.
The restaurant has earned multiple accolades, including being designated as a bib gourmand from Michelin. And, after winning the Golden Plates Award for Best Vietnamese in 2017, 2021, and 2022, Anh and Chi has claimed that title again this year, as well as the award for Best Main Street haunt.
But all the accolades in the world won’t make the Nguyen siblings forget their roots.
Over Anh and Chi’s chả giò (crispy spring rolls), bánh khot, (crispy turmeric cakes filled with prawns, coconut milk, green onions), and gỏi bắp chuối cua lột (soft shell crab salad made with fresh banana blossoms and Vietnamese mint), Nguyen reveals his trajectory from medical school dropout in Australia to renowned Vancouver restaurateur.
After the passing of their father, Nguyen and his sister, Amélie, decided to revive their family’s restaurateur legacy—with none other than their mom, Ly (who has since retired) as its chef.
“I love people,” he says. “I love food. And what better place to do it than the exact location that my parents have built a community and a following for the last 25 years?”
Nguyen credits his sister for sharing the story and culture behind Vietnamese cuisine and their family recipes.
“Some people see Vietnamese cuisine as kind of like cheap fast food—go get your soup or rice at night and leave,” he reflects. “You want to emphasize that, well, there’s more to it. We’re living in a family of chefs. With my mom, we get to eat amazing food everyday. Many other people, they don’t get to experience that. So we wanted to create a space that’s welcoming, with great decor, great service, great food. And all under one roof.”
One of the most ordered dishes remains the beef noodle soup—a dish you can find at any Vietnamese restaurant, but done exceptionally well here.
“The beef noodle soup is named Pho Hoang, paying homage to my dad and my mom’s restaurant back in the day, so that’s our classic dish,” Nguyen shares. “And then there’s our lemongrass chicken on rice. We named it Number 37 because it was our number-one seller at the old restaurant. We always pay a little homage to our history.”
That’s not the only place where the Nguyens honour their mother’s recipes at Anh and Chi. Remember the banana blossoms on the gỏi bắp chuối cua lột? Those are plucked straight from the heart of Vietnamese banana tree, and flown in two-to-three times per week.
“Mom was in the kitchen every other day, maybe, in the first year,” Nguyen says. “As any parent would. It’s her food that’s going out there, [so she trained] not only myself but my chefs, too. Mom’s like, ‘Well, these are our authentic dishes.’ That baton has been passed… You’ve got to know your roots, where you come from.” GS
Anh and Chi is located at 3388 Main Street.
Check out the rest of our Golden Plates 2023 coverage here.