Translated from Vietnamese, Anh and Chi means brother and sister. But to Vincent and Amélie Nguyen — the brother-sister team behind the award-winning Vancouver Vietnamese restaurant Anh and Chi — it means so much more. It means community, tradition and legacy. We sat down with Amélie to discuss all things Anh and Chi, from their families humble beginnings to their must-try dishes to the community that Anh and Chi has created.
A restaurant dynasty
The Nguyen family has had a space in the Vancouver food scene for almost 40 years. When Vincent and Amélie’s parents, Lý and Hoang, arrived in Vancouver as Vietnamese refugees in 1980 they missed the smells and flavours of home. So they started cooking pho. Lý would cook pho and she would bring it to a local refugee welcome centre with her husband, where people would purchase the Vietnamese soup for $2. Eventually, Lý and Hoang started welcoming people into their home to enjoy their cooking.
By 1985, Lý and Hoang opened Pho Hoang at Main Street and East 20th Avenue. Amélie recalls the early days at Pho Hoang, doing her homework in the back of the restaurant with her babysitter who also happened to be the restaurant’s cook, server and dishwasher. The menu was small with just pho and spicy beef noodle soup, but the Asian community in Vancouver supported Pho Hoang, and there was often a line waiting to get in. The Nguyen’s felt that support and were able to move into a larger space two blocks north, at Main Street and East 18th Avenue.
Pho Hoang continued to be a success through the ’90s. “If you lived in this neighborhood, you would go there after school with your parents.” Amélie remembers, “You would remember this beautiful fish tank with saltwater fish. And then you would see these like grand jade columns. It was very art deco. It was Vietnamese food, but it was clean, it was delicious and it was kind of one step up from those hole-in-the-wall restaurants.”
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Unfortunately, after Hoang’s death in 2010, Pho Hoang fell stagnant. Amélie says that “the love and luster was gone.” Lý continued to run the restaurant, and Amélie and Vincent went back to their careers and schooling in the medical field. However, the brother-sister team saw an opportunity for something bigger. So Amélie and Vincent left their lives in the medical field. Lý started cooking, Amélie started brainstorming and Vincent started building. By 2016, Anh and Chi was born in the same space that Pho Hoang had occupied. With Lý in the role of executive chef, everything in the space was new except for the floors and foundation. “We kept it to remind us that the foundation that our parents and my dad created is what we stand upon,” Amélie explains. “It’s a really sentimental restaurant if you go in and kind of coded to honour that.”
Elevating authentic Vietnamese cuisine to a Bib Gourmand rating
When you step into Anh and Chi, you are greeted with bright and trendy decor (including their gender-neutral bathroom which was nominated for a best bathroom award in 2018). But at the heart of Anh and Chi is authenticity and tradition. “My brother, my mom, and I agreed it’s going to be authentic Vietnamese,” Amélie tells us. “And [what] we mean is the flavour. The fish sauce that you taste in it and like how we prepare it, the taste is not compromised. It is authentic Vietnamese. It is what you would eat when you go to somebody’s house or somebody’s Nana’s house in Vietnam.”
Dishes are inspired by Lý’s childhood and trips that the family has taken to Vietnam. The menu also includes a beef noodle soup called Phở Hoàng, another ode to their father. Another stand-out and best-seller dish is the Khay Bánh Hỏi Lụi Nướng also called the DIY Street-Side Platter. Served to assemble tableside, it features rich flavours in either a vegetarian option with grilled tofu, shiitake mushrooms and eggplant or a meat option with pork, chicken and prawn. Drinks include local beers and wines, as well as an array of cocktails that can complement any dish.
That dedication to Vietnamese cuisine has succeeded, and Anh and Chi kitchen was recently recognized with one of the inaugural Michelin Bib Gourmand ratings in Vancouver. “My mom became one of the first Vietnamese women in Canada, to earn a Michelin Bib Gourmand,” Amélie shares. “And she was a home cook! She struggled just to raise her family, three kids in a new country, and she just did what she loved.” Lý still loves to cook often being the first one in the Anh and Chi kitchen every morning, spending weeks perfecting a new recipe and continuing to elevate Vietnamese cuisine while also keeping the authenticity of her childhood.
Our team they’re all anh and chis.
Creating a community within Anh and Chi and across Vancouver
Amélie tells us that the restaurant being called Anh and Chi is more than just a brother and a sister running the restaurant. “Yes, it’s the play on we’re brother and sister working together. But if people really wanted to know the meaning, it’s about thanking and acknowledging all the brothers and sisters that have helped our parents settle in the new country. That have helped us second generation, first time opening up a business. All the people that help and continue to help. Our team they’re all anh and chis. They’re all like brothers and sisters. We’re one big family now.”
The COVID shutdowns in 2020 helped prove how much of a family the Anh and Chi team has become. Amélie and Vincent decided to stay open for takeout during the height of the pandemic, for the community they had created within their staff and across Vancouver. Amélie remembers speaking with her brother when the pandemic started. “We opened Anh and Chi for the people and we’re going to stay open. We can’t just shut, what’s our team going to do?”
So they stayed open for takeout but also started coming up with more ideas. They sold meal kits and soon started selling sauces as well. The sauces are still available for sale locally with plans to start selling them across Canada. Eventually, when restaurants opened once again, people returned the favour and came flooding back to Anh and Chi.
Community has been at the core of Anh and Chi since the beginning. They source all their beers and wines from local BC companies, and source produce from small local businesses whenever they can. “We go for more of the small companies because we’re a small [company] and we understand what it is,” says Amélie. “We love being able to support the local economy.”
And they support more than just the local economy. While 90 per cent of all tables at Anh and Chi are walk-ins, they leave 10 per cent for reservations by donation. Each quarter, the Anh and Chi team chooses three non-profit organizations that support a variety of causes from young people living with mental illness to homelessness to refugees and immigrants seeking food and shelter. Diners are asked to donate $10 per person with every dollar going to the chairity of their choice. To date, Anh and Chi has raised over $150,000 for various local organizations through this program.
Amélie, Vincent and Lý have done so much more than create a restaurant with Anh and Chi. They have carried on their father’s legacy while also creating a legacy of their own. The authenticity is felt not just in the flavours of their Vietnamese cuisine but throughout the restaurant, their staff and the community.