An Nguyen has quietly been behind some of the best Vietnamese cuisine in Denver over the last decade or more, but now the chef has her own restaurant. Nguyen grew up watching her mom, Ha Pham, run the kitchen at her family's restaurant, New Saigon, and after earning a college degree in graphic design, took her place at her mother's side and learned every cooking station and every sauce on the eatery's extensive menu.
In 2017, Pham and her husband, Thai Nguyen, were ready to retire and sold New Saigon to a new owner, at a time An wasn't ready to take over the family business. She'd just had a new baby and wanted to dedicate her time to her family, and had also been running New Saigon Bakery & Deli next door with her sister, Thoa, getting up before dawn every day to handle the savory side of the menu.
But she knew that she wanted to return to cooking the food she grew up with, and had been planning on opening a restaurant with close family friends; they only needed to find a suitable location. And when the owners of King's Land Seafood at 2200 West Alameda Avenue retired and put their their restaurant up for sale last fall, Nguyen seized the opportunity and bought the place.
King's Land closed on January 1, but An Nguyen's plans were already in motion, so she was able to quickly take over and open Savory Vietnam Pho & Grill on January 4. Using her graphic design skills, she had already designed the restaurant's sign, saving time and money by sending her illustrations directly to a sign manufacturer. The new sign is already hanging above the front entrance.
She was also able to install her new menu quickly by retaining several of the chefs from King's Land. While she admits that there's been a bit of a language barrier between the Chinese-speaking chefs and her own Vietnamese staff, she says she's learning a little Chinese while also retaining a few of King's Land's dishes, most notably the whole barbecue duck and the house wok-tossed lobster. Nyugen's cooking is grounded in southern Vietnamese tradition, but she says she plans to introduce weekend specials from other regions soon — and will also be working with her staff on some Chinese/Vietnamese specials.
Nguyen points out that her pho (like everything else on the menu) is made from scratch, starting with an overnight simmer of beef bones before charred onion and ginger go into the pot with other spices. While Savory Vietnam's menu isn't quite as thick as that of New Saigon, it covers a broad range of noodle and rice bowls, stir-fries, salads, seafood and grilled meats. Escargot fans will find three styles served on sizzling plates, as well as different types of snails used as ingredients in other dishes, including a fresh and vibrant Savory Vietnam salad, loaded with shrimp, squid, jellyfish, pineapple, papaya and bright herbs and vegetables, some of which Nguyen orders directly from Vietnam.
Comforting dishes like shaken beef (bo luc lac) served with rice and a salad share space with family-sized hot pots and roll-your-own spring roll platters heaped with whole fried soft-shell crab, shrimp paste and grilled-pork skewers. Nguyen notes that the menu is still a work in progress while her team gets used to the huge kitchen and dining room, which seats up to 600 guests.
While there's been a little interior decoration, Nguyen plans to do more over the coming weeks to get the place ready for Lunar New Year celebrations (including dragon dancers) at the beginning of February and for weddings and other private events in the coming year.
Savory Vietnam doesn't have a website yet, but is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. The chef says the restaurant will be closed either on Mondays or Wednesdays, but you can call 303-975-2399 before you visit.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.