By Beryl Forman
Since the end of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese families began settling in San Diego. In City Heights, families were welcomed with settlement programs, which is why there is a large cluster of family-owned Vietnamese businesses along El Cajon Boulevard.
A-Chau, which means Of the Orient, has had their stake in this community since 1986. A-Chau was first at 54th and University, but when it was time to expand, they moved to El Cajon Boulevard at Menlo Avenue. This is in the center of what today is being branded as the Little Saigon district.
When the Nguyen family first arrived in San Diego, Hoa, the mother of the family, had a dream of owning her own business. She refined her skills in Vietnamese cooking, particularly on a selection of meats such as ham, head cheese and pâté, traditionally suited for the Vietnamese sandwich known as banh mi.
During the 1800’s, the French colonized Vietnam. There was extensive political conflict between the countries during that era, but the Vietnamese benefitted from the influence of European architecture and French cuisine. For this reason, Bahn Mi, which is served on a baguette, has a unique tie to French cuisine. Of course, the Vietnamese took it one step further by adding an array of fresh, crunchy vegetables such as cilantro, dikon, carrots, cucumber and jalapeños.
Anyone who is familiar with A-Chau will most likely mention the eggrolls, which are said to be the best. Again, mom gets all the credit for developing a perfect mixture of meat and spices. These eggrolls are sold daily by the thousands!
A third reason to routinely head over to A-Chau is for their Vietnamese coffee made by Hoa’s son, Sy, who proudly dresses for work every day wearing a suit and hat. Their coffee is made from fine espresso beans and the best sweetened condensed milk on the market. It is strong and tasty!