Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday (same menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Prices: Dinner for two with appetizers and drinks costs about $25 including tax and tip. Cards: None. Local checks accepted.
When we drive up Wilson Boulevard these days, we're amazed by how many good Asian restaurants we find. There must be more quality restaurants squeezed along a mile-long strip than along any other street in the Washington area. And now we have another one to add to the list, only this Vietnamese restaurant, My An, is not just good, it's exceptional.
The other night, in fact, we decided to give My An the ultimate test by taking friends who had lived in Vietnam for years -- journalist friends who had been spoiled in Saigon by having a fabulous full-time Vietnamese cook. They didn't have to get further than special Hanoi soup and special grilled pork with funny noodle: "The food in this restaurant," they said, ecstatic, "tastes more like Vietnam than any we've had since we left the country."
My An has been open a little more than a year. It's run by an expatriate couple: The husband runs the floor, enthusiastically and patiently steering you through the menu; his wife runs the stoves, churning out terrific versions of standard dishes you find in most local Vietnamese restaurants, plus a lot of dishes we've never seen before. Spring rolls, called crispy rolls here, are among the best we've had -- crisp and fat with crumbled meat. The soups, which the Vietnamese like to eat for breakfast, are excellent, especially special Hanoi beef soup, which almost shouts with anise and cilantro, and sweet and sour soup, which is more savory than sweet, filled with big chunks of tomato and celery. Any of the Vietnamese dishes you've tried and liked will probably be just as good here (and we bet better) -- such as grilled beef in lemon grass and grilled pork, all tender and crusty and nicely spiced and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Also try grilled boneless chicken, juicy and tart-bitter with fresh lemon peel; shrimp paste wrapped around sugar cane, which isn't listed on the menu (after you've eaten the tender shrimp paste, suck the sweet juices out of the strips of cane). And if you want something hot, get fiery spicy shrimp.
One of the most appealing things about My An is that you can order dishes you may have never tried before. Be sure to get Appollo seafood -- fat, crisp little squid bodies, stuffed with a ground pork mixture that resembles spring roll fillings. (Do not feel squeamish about this dish, because it tastes more like sausage than seafood.)
There are two excellent fish dishes: one's Vietnamese, caramel fish -- thin catfish steaks in a thin sauce, hot with red peppers and just a touch caramel-sweet; the other's Chinese, steamed fillet with button mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, baby corn and fresh ginger.
My An isn't much to look at, with its shabby cafeteria-style tables and uninspired decorations. But dinner here is fresh and alive, with platters garnished with loads of lovely cilantro and sprigs of watercress. We recommend going with a group. It's a shame to go to a restaurant this good and order a handful of dishes, when you could dine with a crowd and sample a dozen.