Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with the Vuong Family at Annam VL

Portland is home to many wonderful Vietnamese restaurants, but those owned by the Vuong and Luu family are probably the most well known—both in Portland and beyond. With two James Beard nominations (Best Chef NW: 2017, 2018 and—breaking news!—2024) and accolades in publications from Portland Monthly to Bon Appétit, this family of self-described “professional home cooks” has for 20 years established a devoted following at their two locations Ha VL (2738 SE 82nd Avenue) and Rose VL Deli (6424 SE Powell). In December, the family opened a third location, Annam VL (3336 SE Belmont), in the Sunnyside Neighborhood. We caught up with the family, the third generation of which is helping run the restaurants, in January to learn more.

Welcome to the neighborhood. Why did you choose the Sunnyside Neighborhood and Belmont Street?

Our original plan, which was heavily influenced by our mother, Christina Luu, was to open up the third VL restaurant in Beaverton. Unfortunately, the early times of COVID delayed many projects. With restaurants stabilized by early 2023, we began looking again. We wanted a more central Southeast Portland location and just happened to see a storefront for sale at the perfect time. We did restaurant renovations within about 30 days of receiving the keys—all with the help of our daughter and sons, extended family and significant others.

Tell us about your family’s culinary history in Portland restaurants. Also, what is signified by the “VL” in each of the restaurant names?

Ha VL was the first restaurant to open up in 2004 by our parents, William Vuong & Christina Luu, starting out as a Bánh Mì shop (Vietnamese sandwiches) and later evolved to feature súp (Vietnamese noodle soup). Our parents opened their second restaurant, Rose VL in 2015. The meals we serve are a reflection of our culture and the taste comes from the memories of our past. We like to call ourselves professional home cooks, as we mainly cook for our family and children. The VL initials are a representation of both surnames in the family, Vuong & Luu.

Your restaurants have been written about locally and nationally in major food publications. What do you feel sets them apart?

We limit our súp in batches to focus on quality over quantity. Each broth is simmered for hours, and delicately seasoned. With a rotating súp menu, no main ingredient is recycled to keep our standards up. We have a rotating menu to show that there is more than just Phở for Vietnamese súp. Our menu is a way to educate others about súp from all different regions of Vietnam. Our influences are from north and south Vietnam, and even the combination between the two different regions.

Tell us about the menu and what to expect each day?

Our rotating menu is influenced by different regions of Vietnam. These are all family recipes we have enjoyed at the dinner table. With Portland’s growing diversity, we are able to have access to more specialized ingredients in the last decade to help us cook and reminisce about our time back home. Our súp is heavily influenced by William’s Middle Vietnamese cooking style and Christina’s North Vietnamese cooking style. There are many other different regions, and even different family methods on the interpretation of traditional meals. There’s no right or wrong; it’s a matter of interpretation. What we bring to Annam VL is our presentation of our family’s súp, continuing to showcase traditional Vietnamese cuisine outside of the familiar. 

How is business so far, and how has the neighborhood responded?

We are extremely grateful for the kindness, hospitality, and love from the Belmont neighborhood. During renovation we had our doors propped open for the small social gatherings, conversations, and shared meals we had from locals and neighboring stores. From the property management, restaurants, tea shop, grocery store, bars, and much more, we are just overwhelmed with the support we have received. There is a true feel to the Belmont neighborhood that makes it feel like a community. The benefit of being able to converse with our guests and receive feedback helps our business.  Annam VL did not anticipate such a crowd during the first few months of opening.

Do you have any plans for future restaurants in Portland, and are there other neighborhoods that you believe would be good for a restaurant?

As parents, we can only desire that our restaurant follows tradition and is passed down to future generations. While it’s exciting to think of new locations, we are focusing on the quality service we can provide and community building. Our schedule is currently full.

What are your favorite restaurants in Portland?

Our family has always loved visiting local restaurants of all cuisines—including food carts! We love our next door neighbors at Straight From New York Pizza for the quick bites. We really enjoyed the innovation and food done by Peter Cho & Sun Young over at Han Oak (511 NE 24th Ave). Our family treasures would be Jin Jin Deli (8220 SE Harrison) with our favorite items being bánh bột Chiên (fried dough cake), cơm chiên cá mặn (salty fish fried rice), and Hủ Tiếu sa tế bò (beef satay noodles). While we haven’t had the chance to visit many of the new Vietnamese restaurants that are opening throughout Portland, it’s inspiring to see how much Portland has progressed to have these local businesses.

Mike Thelin

SNA Board Member

Author: Mike Thelin

SNA Board Member