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The majority of times I’ve tried to eat Asian food in NYC I’ve experienced the loopy aftermath of MSG. The stuff makes me crazy and unable to control myself. One minute I’m laughing my head off and the next I’m in a coma unable to make it home and forced to take refuge on a filthy stoop. So when my friend Tessa introduced me to the fresh eating at An Choi (85 Orchard Street), I was beyond exhilarated.

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Recently opened, An Choi is a quaint Vietnamese restaurant located in the Lower East Side and owned by two brothers. The dark floors, low-colored metallic stools and ceiling riddled with dimly lit hanging light bulbs set the ambiance for a cozy intimate meal with a slight cafe feel. Not at all the unflattering fluorescent setting of most Vietnamese places you find, but that also comes at a price. An Choi has a modest menu which consists of banh mi sandwiches, spring rolls and noodles, but the foods costs almost twice the amount of the usual Chinatown suspects. For someone who has bizarre reactions to large quantities of MSG, eating Vietnamese is a must and I was willing to fork over the dough to get a taste of that Eastern flavor.

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I started off with a simple order of Goi Cuon Chay, vegetarian salad rolls served with a side of peanut sauce. Two rolls priced at $5 seemed a bit expensive and tasted just as good as the cheaper versions.

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However, the vermicelli bowls at An Choi are out of this world which is why I ordered the Bun Cha Ca ($9.50). If you’re feeling faint from starvation, not to worry, food arrives quickly here. The noodles are served in an over-sized bowl containing a slew of colorful ingredients: Hanoi style catfish, pickled red onions, crushed peanuts, sesame prawn crackers with the most unexpected twist, fresh dill! Each ingredient is neatly placed in piles, one stacked next to the other. But the fun lies in the destruction. Mix and twirl the noodles, re-arrange the bowl and be sure to meld all the ingredients together so each bite captures the essence of the dish. Don’t forget to add some fish sauce which is served in a small side bowl.

The fact I went back twice in the span of seven days is a testament to how much I enjoyed my meal. OK, so the restaurant isn’t 100% MSG free. There are still remnants in the pre-made items, such as the sauces, but the fact they don’t add any additional artificial flavoring keeps me sane once my meal is done.

An Choi / 85 Orchard Street
212 226 3700 / Hours:
Tues-Sun: Noon-10pm

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