Ahan is a takeout-focused gem on the east side
Hoang and partner Chuck Brown opened the space at the beginning of the month.
Ahan, the new Asian-inspired restaurant from Madison chef Jamie Hoang and partner Chuck Brown, has opened in the cafe space at The Bur Oak, 2262 Winnebago St.
Hoang, whose parents are from Laos, named the restaurant Ahan for the word that means “food” in Lao. “My idea behind that was that I do have a Laotian background but I want to make a lot of different southeast Asian food that has inspired me throughout the years,” Hoang says.
After growing up in restaurants — her aunt, Jean Tran, owns Ha Long Bay — Hoang attended culinary school at Madison College and has spent the last ten years working in Madison’s food industry including as sous chef at L’Etoile, executive sous chef at Sujeo and as a bartender at Gib’s. After Sujeo closed last summer, Hoang returned to L’Etoile before taking a brief break “to reassess what I wanted to do,” she says.
Hoang and Brown decided to open a food cart and began doing pop-ups last winter at the Robin Room. When Ahan’s drunken noodles at the pop-ups were a hit, Hoang and Brown next set their sights on opening a small restaurant with a focus on takeout, “but then COVID happened and we were like, ‘maybe we won’t do anything until next year,’” Hoang says.
Another plot twist came their way when one of Hoang’s friends got in contact with Jacob DeHaven, owner of The Bur Oak, who was looking for new tenants to run the music venue’s cafe space. “He got a hold of me and on June 25 we started remodeling the front area of The Bur Oak,” says Hoang.
When Ahan opened on Aug. 1, the popular drunken noodles — wide noodles with tofu or pork, tomato, bok choy, scallion, cilantro and Thai basil — made it on to the menu alongside new additions including luang prabang khao soi, which Hoang learned how to make from her mom. Made with rice noodles, chicken broth, ground pork, tomato, fried garlic and lime, the dish is “a big bowl of comforting food,” Hoang says.
Other favorites include the vegan vegetable egg rolls made with tofu, cabbage, mushroom, carrots and beets (the inside is bright red) and khao tod, Hoang’s take on a popular dish of deep-fried rice. Hoang’s version, which includes imitation crab and lots of fresh herbs, is served with lime leaf mayonnaise and “makes a nice snack that you can share… or not share,” Hoang says with a laugh. Look for $10 lunch specials on Wednesdays through Fridays (check Ahan’s instagram page for updates) or order takeout. Grab a beer from The Bur Oak’s beverage tent and a spot on the back patio on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
While Hoang has run her share of kitchens, she has enjoyed the process of opening her own place. Ahan will eventually offer indoor seating, which means Hoang and Brown also got to redesign the cafe’s space. “It’s different because I had to do other things like decide what kind of art are we going to put up,” Hoang says. “Opening a restaurant is a lot more than making delicious food for a menu … it’s been a great experience.”