Ky Ans Kitchen should have opened somewhere inside the loop. Had they done that, they would be packed to the hilt all day, every day. Instead, they are located in Sugar Land off Highway 6 near West Airport, occupying a corner unit in a strip mall that is sort of back from the main road, where it’s easy to miss.
I’ve driven by Ky Ans Kitchen more times than I can remember since it opened, but never felt compelled to visit. Perhaps because it looked lonely. Perhaps because I was afraid that I would get a disappointing, Americanized version of Vietnamese food. Whatever the reason, it took me more than a year since it opened to finally make my way into the restaurant, and boy, am I glad I did.
The clean, modest space doesn’t really feel like a Vietnamese restaurant, nor does it have a Vietnamese theme. The owners - presumably second generation Vietnamese — must have a love for Japanese anime, because the entire right wall is decorated with large anime posters. There are cute hanging pendant lights and long tables in the center of the room, as well as a few booths to the left of the restaurant, next to the windows. The evening I was there, the audio system was blasting trendy dance music like Sia’s “Titanium.”
The menu is simple and very reasonably priced. Most dishes fall in the $6.99 to $9.99 range, with starters around $5. There’s a whole section called “guilt-free pho,” made of what they call “heart-healthy” savory broth infused with fresh vegetables. There’s a short appetizer menu, a couple of ramen dishes and rice and noodle dishes, but the thing that caught my eye was the section marked “Vegetarian” items on the back of the menu, which had five options, including a vegetarian pho, ramen, rice, and a vermicelli noodle.
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I was by myself, and I wanted to try a couple of things, so I went with the egg rolls and an order of vegetarian tofu vermicelli. The egg rolls, made of pork, shrimp and veggies, came four to an order and were crisp, dense and full of flavor, served attractively on white porcelain plate with lettuce and herbs and a small dipping bowl of mixed, dilute fish sauce. I would come here again just for these.
My order of Garden Vermicelli arrived looking like spring in a bowl. Crisp cucumbers, steam-cooked broccoli, tart and tangy carrot and daikon pickles and fresh sprigs of basil brought vibrancy to the dish. The tofu had been deep fried and sliced into small rectangular chunks, but had a really nice crisp to them, almost as if they had been deep fried in batter (they had not). All of this was sitting on a bed of sauteed bean sprouts flavored with a green onion and shallot. A dark brown vegetarian sauce served on the side that you could add to your liking brought the entire dish together. It was absolutely delicious.
I’ve been eating a lot of Vietnamese food lately, and find that the old school places in Houston tend to be somewhat heavy handed with their use of oil. In fact, recent visits to Kim Phat and Banh Cuon Hoa II in Chinatown — where I ordered rice vermicelli dishes with grilled pork — left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied because of the greasiness. Not so at Ky Ans. The food was fresh and clean, and I left with such a good impression that I plan to return — and soon — to try much more of the menu. I also now know where to go for a terrific meatless Monday.