When it comes to Asian restaurants, one can get weary of cookie-cutter Chinese, formulaic Thai and the teriyaki joint on every corner. So I often ask servers what sets their restaurant apart from the others. When I broached that question to a Kim Anh server, he told me he didn’t know. “We don’t link to them,” was his response. At first I took his reply for haughtiness but then realized that Kim Anh does things its way and is proud of that, thank you very much.
The scene: In the same strip of businesses that houses I Love Bento and across from Tacoma Community College, the brightly lit eatery has 11 tables that feature ready-to-pour pitchers of hot tea.
The food: Vietnamese. Sure, you’ll find the staples here, but Kim Anh has variations that I haven’t found at other local Vietnamese restaurants. Common or uncommon, the portions are generous. We ordered the smallest versions whenever we could; with appetizers, they were just the right size.
Dishes sampled: For appetizers, we ordered a fresh spring roll ($1.95) and a banh bao ($2.85). While the bao came premade as they always are, we were surprised to get the spring roll wrapped in plastic. I didn’t like the fresh-from-the-fridge dull flavors. The bao, however, arrived with a steaming-hot pork filling and perfectly steamed exterior. No egg, no sausage – just delicious ground and seasoned pork.
The papaya salad ($10.95) was made of chopped papaya, cashews, almonds, shrimp, pork, fried onions, cilantro and basil along with a side of puffy and crunchy shrimp chips. It was a comprehensive plate of ingredients that makes this salad a big enough meal for any diner. I’ve had variations of this salad at some restaurants that arrived drowning in dressing, but Kim Anh holds back with great results.
When I saw hot and sour soup ($7.95) on the menu, I instantly thought of the Chinese staple. Get that image out of your mind; Kim Anh’s bears no resemblance to it. The soup came with shrimp, chicken, bean sprouts, pineapple and tomato in a clear broth and a bowl of rice noodles on the side. The variety of ingredients and the tasty broth made this soup a hit. Though it came from the kitchen steaming hot, pouring it over the noodles dramatically cooled it down – too cool for soup. Another unusual soup on the menu: crab and white asparagus ($3.15, $7.35, $8.95) had a sharp and intriguing flavor to it but can’t compare to the hot and sour.
The Vietnamese crepe ($9.55) was barely contained on it’s plate. Basically an omelet, it came with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and a plate of impeccably fresh accents: basil, cilantro and lettuce for wrapping,
Green bean pork ($6.95, $8.95) was a fairly standard treatment of the dish but a little on the salty side. It was a generous portion, but a plain cousin to the more exuberant fare on the menu.
The menu calls them rice vermicelli salads, but they are really noodle dishes with accouterments. We tried the version that came with charbroiled shrimp and pork skewers ($8.75, $11.55). The shrimp and pork had a salty/sweet flavor that mixed with the charbroil flavor perfectly but had too much fat. “Pork chewing gum” was how one diner put it. The dressing was mild and a nice complement. It came with lettuce, cilantro, cucumbers, peanuts and mint.
Drinks: To top it off, I had ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee. $2.95). Kim Anh eschews the unfortunate trend of premade, sickeningly sweet ca phe sua da; it came to the table as it should be: with its own brewer, coffee cup and glass of ice.
Service: Prompt and efficient.
Kim Anh Vietnamese Restaurant
WHERE: 1620 S. Mildred St., Tacoma; 253-460-7200
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays (open only until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays), noon-8 p.m. Sundays.
DETAILS: Cash, credit cards and debit cards
PRICE RANGE: $EDITOR’S NOTE: Drop-In Dining is a restaurant dining report where reporters drop in unannounced and sample the food, on TNT’s dime, then report what the scene and the food was like. Have a suggestion for a Drop-In Dining feature? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.