Cold Shrimp Rolls with Noodles; From the 7 Courses of Beef: thin slices of beautiful red beef ready to dip in hot vinegar with rice cakes and fresh greens; Imperial Rolls
Occupation: Inside Sales Representative
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Anh Hong
Reviewed Anh Hong: Tuesday, November 15, 2005
For appetizers, we had Cha Gio Anh Hong (Imperial rolls) for $8.95, the special shrimp and beef salad (comprised of green papaya, cilantro, shrimp, and special vinegar-marinated beef) for $9.50, Coi Cuon (fresh, cold Imperial rolls with shrimp, pork, vermicelli, and vegetables), for $5.50. For main courses, we had Thit Banh Hoi (BBQ pork with rice cake) for $9.95, Ga Nuong Banh Hoi (BBQ chicken with rice cake) for $9.95, and Tom Va Muc Nuong Vi (shrimp and squid marinated in lemon grass) for $17.95. For a side dish we had fresh greens, lettuces, carrots, sprouts, and fish sauce. There are also the rice papers that are given to you with a bowl of hot water. Dip them with your chopsticks in the hot water for about a minute and a half. They will become soft, and then you put your stuff, like the rice cake, pork, carrots, and greens, inside the softened rice paper. Then, you wrap it up and dip it in the fish sauce. You can also take the Imperial rolls (Cha Gio Anh Hong) and wrap them in lettuce and the herbs/sprouts/carrots and dip them in the fish sauce as well. You can have as many of those greens as you want. One of them is an herb, but I don’t know what it’s called. All the dishes we ordered were excellent and the portion size is huge!
The flavor of the food is intense and unique at Anh Hong. The Cha Gio is authentic and small like it should be. Many places like Tu Lan make them big to save time. You can tell that the oil they are fried in is clean, unlike at Tu Lan. Mostly, I like the food because it’s marinated and fresh. The pork has that spice in it that makes you crave it in the future. I think about it and go, “yummmy!” because it’s marinated and then grilled over a fire. Same with the chicken. The shrimp and squid marinated in lemongrass is grilled in front of you on a skillet type of thing. That dish should be heated a little more before it’s brought to the table.
For beverages, their house red is a Mondavi and costs $3.50 a glass or $20.00 for the bottle. You can also bring your own wine and pay a $5 corkage fee. Hey, with $20 bucks for a bottle of Mondavi wine, what do you think? That corkage is the best in town. The white wine isn’t to my liking as it’s a Chablis. Stick with the red. They also serve 33, the Vietnamese beer, for $3.50.
The wait staff doesn’t speak English well, if at all. Sometimes you have to get someone else to describe what you want. They know me in there, so my service is pretty consistent, but you must be patient — it’s not Chevy’s or McDonalds. It’s ethnic dining and along with that comes the needed patience. The restaurant is brightly lit and starkly decorated. If they upgraded the decor it would be nice, but at least they have tablecloths. The tablecloths are nice, but it’s not like cushy romantic dining. However, something about it makes me feel cozy. It’s a good place to go for good, authentic food. Most of the patrons are Vietnamese families and you rarely see another ethnicity in the restaurant. Because large families go there, it can be noisy. I always feel comfortable at Anh Hong, although I don’t like sitting by the fish tank because I have a fish tank and feel badly about the fish that are about to be eaten.
Anh Hong has excellent value for the food. I had a party of eleven for my birthday and my dinner was free. Everyone had lots to eat and drink. There was food left on the table. The cost for that, including tip was $20 per person.
It’s a pretty short wait for a table. Pick a table, any table! Well, get there no later than 6:30 or arrive after 8:30. Otherwise you might have a wait. It’s packed every night. You get your beverage and then the food is prepared and served to you. Because the slices of pork and chicken are thin and flavorful, they are cooked quickly.
I would recommend Anh Hong to friends, in fact, I always take my out of town friends there. Personally, I go at least once a month.
Occupation: Insurance Agent
Favorite Restaurant: Aziza
Reviewed Anh Hong: Sunday, December 4, 2005
I should start this by stating that I never eat cheap food. Not ever. I buy all of my produce at the Farmers’ Market. All of my meats are naturally raised, preferably grass-fed. I would rather spend more money on superior ingredients and I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of finding cheap eats that meet my standards. So, it was with a fair degree of trepidation that I entered Anh Hong.
I’ve had very little exposure to Vietnamese foods, but I like many of the cuisine’s principles. I like the abundant use of greens, herbs and veggies. However, none of the greens or veggies were high quality or fresh. The mung bean sprouts were wilted, as were most of the greens. The veggies were limp. So, although I liked the principles, Anh Hong just didn’t deliver quality goods. One of my dining companions is Vietnamese, and she felt that the whole meal was entirely average.
Most of the meat was bad: tough, chewy, and flavorless. The one meat dish I kind of liked was the house made sausages; at least those had a nice flavor to them. I did enjoy cooking stuff at the table. That’s a fun experience that you don’t get at most restaurants, although the end result didn’t taste very good. What can I say? I usually eat good steaks, lamb chops, grass-fed beef I buy directly from the rancher, etc. My standards are just too high to enjoy this kind of crap (and yes, it is crap. All feedlot beef is crap.)
Service was nonexistent. I am usually extremely tolerant and patient when it comes to service, and I was with two friends who work as waiters and have much empathy for their peers, but this was ridiculous. It was impossible to find a waiter to get a clean plate, refill your water, or bring you another drink. My friend ordered a beer halfway through the meal and it was brought forty minutes later, after we had finished eating. We were lucky to arrive early so that we were able to order before the waiters disappeared. A table near us was not so lucky: after twenty minutes of trying to hail a waiter (the woman was literally standing up and waving) they walked out without paying. We were tempted to do the same when it took them thirty minutes (no exaggeration) to bring our check!
Portions were enormous and we couldn’t finish our meal. One 7 Courses of Beef meal is far too much for any person with a normal appetite. I would have rather paid more for less food if the quality was higher.
I was kind of surprised that I was sent to a chain restaurant. This was the first chain restaurant I’ve been to in ages. Anh Hong has five locations throughout California, it is hardly a mom and pop. The service and food quality reflected that sort of apathy you get from small chains. There are a ton of family-run Vietnamese restaurants in the Tenderloin that I would have rather patronized, ethically speaking.
In the end, the food wasn’t even very cheap; $100 for four people. I can get naturally-raised, fresh beef for less than $25 per person, just not seven courses of it. We did order a lot, but I think a person would be hard pressed to spend less than $20 per person there. Poor service, poor food, yet the price is still steep. Forget it.
I will not return to Anh Hong and I will not send my friends there. I would be interested in a Cal-Vietnamese fusion restaurant that uses high quality ingredients. 7 Courses of Kobe Beef is much more my style.
Occupation: Homemaker, volunteer, former marketing executive
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pisces
Reviewed Anh Hong: Sunday, December 11, 2005
It’s probably not an over-generalization to say that Asian restaurants are best enjoyed in large groups. With that in mind, I invited a few of my sister docents-in-training from the Asian Art Museum. They all accepted and brought their spouses, so seventeen of us met on a Sunday night at two large round tables — great for conversation but not a group as large as ours — and had a rollicking good time.
I can’t say Anh Hong has either decor or atmosphere. It has tables, chairs, a ceiling and floor, even tablecloths, chopsticks, and, if necessary, silverware. It has a huge open kitchen in one corner, big family groups at other large round tables, crying babies, waiters hustling to deliver hot dishes of food and clear away tables with the efficiency and regularity of the Hong Kong Star Ferry, and a large storefront window looking outside at one of San Francisco’s more shameful war zone-like street scenes. And Anh Hong has great Vietnamese food and lots of it.
I thought we’d get to taste almost everything, but my Vietnamese friend, who agreed to lead us through the menu, opted for Anh Hong’s specialty, a seven-course beef dinner. We insisted on a few extras and chose Vietnamese spring rolls, which we all tried to wrap in the abundant long, crisp romaine leaves, stuffing them with wispy thin noodles, a few marinated veggies, and a douse of vinegar sauce. We failed the neatness test, but Anh Hong passed the “yum” test. We also had a crisp shrimp ball wrapped around a woody-looking sugar cane stick. Fortunately my mentor warned us not to eat the stick. Someone wondered why it is that most Asian cuisines require an instruction manual to enjoy properly.
Then beef course followed beef course. A wiry salad of green papaya, shredded carrot, green peppers, cucumbers and… “where’s the beef?” Tiny, marinated, stamp size pieces of pale white beef. But tasty, fresh, and delicious. We got lessons in how to dip the paper thin rice cakes into steaming water long enough to make them pliant enough to wrap everything and anything that might come our way, which turned out to be tissue-thin slices of beautiful red beef to dip in hot vinegar in a pot in the center and wrap in rice cakes with those ubiquitous fresh greens. We started too soon — our mentor warned us too late — and the vinegar didn’t really get hot until we were almost done. A kind of mellow fondue or shabu shabu, which, of all we tried, was the least unusual or tasty. Next, four interesting treatments: a spicy beef sausage, steamed beef paté, beef wrapped in a Hawaiian leaf, and thin slices of beef, rolled tightly and filled with pieces of green onion, all anointed with one of the hottest red chili sauces this side of Mexico. Our only beef was “too much beef.”
One of our group, as it turned out, is allergic to MSG, and the restaurant, for all its seeming impersonality, prepared an MSG menu for her which differed completely from ours.
The meal ended with a congee-like beef and rice soup, tasty, warming but a little thin tasting. With three hours at table, seven beef dishes, an average of two bottles of beer each, and the prospect of a drive back to the East Bay for many, the evening ended with no rice, no tea, and no dessert, just seventeen satisfied happy people who, if the opportunity arises, will most certainly return.