After a matinee of Sweeney Todd at Red Branch Theatre where Will is in the superb production of Sweeney Todd, a whole bunch of us were looking for a reasonable dinner spot that we could also bring along 4 tweens to.
We found it in AN LOI (http://anloirestaurant.com) an unobtrusive spot in a local strip mall somewhere in Columbia. we all looked at the menu and marveled that virtually nothing cost more than $15 for main courses and $7-8 for starters, so the entire meal was a real bargain. They serve only one brand of wine (Sutter Home) and it's all priced at $15.95 a bottle; it's decent Chardonnay or Cab for the price and works well with the spices (we, of course, avoided the White Zin!).
Shrimp Green Papaya Salad was superb here with good acidity, not a ton of shrimp, but enough, and intriguing enough to get those that had never had it to give it a try and be thrilled to find a new dish. It is served here with Seaweed Jelly & Fish Sauce.
The Grand Combo Appetizer was superb and offered up a lot of choices and comes in varying sizes. We got TWO Grand ones for everyone to share and there was plenty of spare food.
Tops on this dish are the Grilled Grape Leaves stuffed with tasty Beef and served with two Dipping Sauces(for all the starters) of Fish & Peanut Sauces.
The Spring Rolls were large, stuffed to the gills and light as well, the Summer Rolls (what we would call miniature Egg Rolls) were also delish. The Grand Combo can be had with a satay-like grilled beef, chicken or pork though here not served on a skewer and hence not as dry as satay can get. The peanut sauce was amazing with this.
The main courses are hugely varied with dozens and dozens of choices, but noodle soups of varying kinds are the largest selection.
Tai is a Northern Beef Noodle soup with slices of Eye Round Steak. Many of the Pho and Bun are not very spicy (Some are) and you can add as much of the hot sriracha sauce or hoto chili in oil on each table's lazy susan loaded with various condiments.
If you seek Bun, try the Bun Ba Mon which allows you to combine three different items in the bowl.
The bowls are all huge and the broths are super, not to mention the top quality noodles.
I had the Hu Tieu Hoac which comes with rice or egg noodles in a rich chicken broth with minced pork, garlic, scallion and believe it or not a SIDE dish with a 1/4 dark meat of Crispy Fried Chicken and amazing Ginger Dipping Sauce.
Pickled Cabbage, Sprouts, Basil, Coriander and more veggies are piled high on a plate to allow you to manage your dish so it does not overflow. Needless to say, few of us finished our monster bowls and we all skipped dessert, but enjoyed the little Tamarind Sucking Candies that came with the check!
We don't get to Columbia a lot, but this was a fun spot and such a bargain, we would easily reconsider it if in the area.