ao sen

There are a plethora of Vietnamese places in Oakland. Most are good and a few are great, but there have only been a handful that really stand out from the rest.

Danang was one of those restaurants that compels you to go weekly to either fulfill your craving of your favorite dish, or to fulfill your curiosity of the next delicious dish on the menu. Unfortunately it changed owners and is no longer the same restaurant.

I’ve been searching around for the next Danang and Ao Sen comes really close and even exceeds in places. This is the type of joint you would normally drive by and never notice. It doesn’t pride itself in advertisements or tries to stand out to entice the passer by. It doesn’t need to. The many times I have since been there, it has always been busy with a mostly Vietnamese clientele. The energy there is amazing. It is one of the few places that I’ve been that you can close your eyes, and then open them and transport yourself away from the hustle and bustle of Oakland. Not all oasis is made of sand and surf, this one happens to be anise and fish sauce.

ao sen

The pho is really good. It is in par with all the other pho houses around, though it is not their stand out. I will still go there if I am craving pho, but it is the other dishes that make Ao Sen truly set it apart from the standard fare. The pho has a great base with it not being too oily. The anise broth isn’t overwhelming, yet has that spiciness that is not spicy in the scoville scale, but spicy as in spiced. Not only do you get the typical been sprouts, lime, and basil, but you also get saw-leaf herb.

grilled pork chop with baked egg

The highlight of Ao Sen is really the bun and rice dishes. You have all the standard bun, though you can also get the bun cha hanoi, which is a sort of deconstructed bun with all the ingredients of the bun set aside separately by vegetables, the noodles, then the meat in the nuoc mam sauce. You then mix all the ingredients in your mouth and have the instant gratification of all the different tastes and textures churning in your mouth. The rice plates all have broken rice and small touches that set it apart. The pork is always tender and juicy and the shrimp is plump and not burnt or dry. I’m not a huge fan of the baked egg, but it is still tasty. Small touches, such as a pearl onion in the nuoc mam, pork rind croutons sprinkled over the pork chop, the hot oil, the side of pho broth that makes you wish you had enough appetite for both pho and rice plates, all contribute to Ao Sen being my favorite Vietnamese restaurant now. Go there, go there now. It is the type of place that you can visit weekly, and if you are crazy, maybe daily.

BTW, get the Vietnamese ice coffee. Although it doesn’t come with the drip and comes pre-mixed, it is super strong and you still need to wait for the ice to melt to drink without causing caffeine jitters.