Mouthwatering Magnet 

Fountain's An Nam Restaurant will pull you in

As I have said in the past, you just never know what you're going to find in Fountain. It seems to be a mysterious magnet for interesting restaurants. If you don't mind a short drive and a dearth of hyper-themed chain restaurants, you're sure to enjoy the newest member of the Fountain family, An Nam.

An Nam is billed as a Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant, and their Vietnamese menu is extensive. The appetizers include rice paper rolls (also known as spring rolls), featuring leaf-thin rice paper wrapped around juicy shrimp, pork, lettuce, bean sprouts, fresh herbs and skinny rice noodles. There're also egg rolls, skinnier than the Chinese version, packed with pork, shredded carrots and rice noodles, served with fresh leaves of crisp lettuce.

An Nam offers a nice selection of bun bowls, which are large bowls layered with lettuce, julienned cucumbers, bean sprouts and fresh mint, topped with a mound of thin white rice noodles, then served with your choice of topping and a sprinkling of peanuts. Because I'm often incapable of choosing, I usually get the combination bowl, topped with strips of pork, succulent grilled shrimp, chicken and a sliced egg roll.

If you're a fan of Vietnamese soups, An Nam has something for you. Besides four varieties of Pho (pronounced like "fun" without the "n"), which feature beef and rice noodles, you can also get Hu Tieu, with shrimp and rice noodles, or Mi, with egg noodles in combination with shrimp and/or pork. All the soups come with fresh herbs, bean sprouts, crisp slices of fresh jalapenos, juicy wedges of lime and a bottle of hoisin sauce, so you can season it to suit yourself.

Don't forget to look under the Chef's Specials. Ca Chien Xa Ot is a whole tilapia that has been scored (for fast, even cooking), marinated with lemongrass and ground red pepper, and pan-fried. Although it looks intimidating, the scoring makes it easy to eat, and the flavor is magnificent -- the fish crispy on the outside, meltingly tender and juicy on the inside. There's also An Nam Special X.O. Sauce, which is served with shrimp, scallops, a combination of the two, or tofu. This is another wonderful dish, because the shrimp and the scallops are cooked perfectly -- firm and moist, not even close to being overcooked.

What I haven't tried yet is the Nutty Chicken Salad, with shredded cabbage, cilantro, chicken, carrots, chopped peanuts, onions and chef's dressing -- it sounds like a perfect summer dish.

As much as I love the Vietnamese side of the menu, it might be the Chinese side that keeps me driving to Fountain for takeout every Sunday. Under Egg noodles you'll find what would usually be called lo mein, only it's much, much better than the standard. The noodles are thin and chewy, not fat and greasy. Tender chunks of chicken stir-fried with green onions are combined with the noodles and just enough seasoning. It might be mild enough for your children, but you'll wind up wanting it yourself.

Some Chinese restaurants, I fear, keep one lonely, wrinkled red pepper in their kitchen, and when a menu item is labeled spicy, they wave this poor, tired pepper over the dish and call it spicy. I'm ecstatic that this is not the case at An Nam. The Chicken in Spicy Curry Sauce had visible flecks of red pepper, and it was warm enough to tingle over the tongue and open up your sinuses (great for allergy sufferers at this time of year). The curry was a warm rich flavor without any harshness, and the chicken blended well with the onions and peppers.

The Beef with Garlic Sauce was similarly true to it's labeling -- nice and spicy with extremely tender slices of beef mingling with peppers, mushrooms and shredded carrots in rich, garlicky brown sauce. Just be forewarned: If you're restrained enough save leftovers for lunch the next day, the heat of these spicy dishes will increase upon standing overnight. Just be sure you save some fried rice to accompany the dish to soak up the wonderful sauce.

From the Springs, the easiest way to get to An Nam is taking I-25 south to exit 132. Make a left at the end of the exit and stay on that road until you come to The Markets at Mesa Ridge on your left. That's where you'll find An Nam, in a small plaza of shops that face a gigantic Safeway that looks as if it sprouted, full-blown, from a field of grass. An Nam is well worth the drive.


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