Hannah An learned everything she knows from her mother and grandmother. Growing up in a household where dinner parties were a nightly occurrence, she became accustomed to hosting and entertaining people. Her grandfather was a dignitary, so throwing extravagant events has always been a part of her life.
Her most relevant and cherished childhood memories are working alongside her grandmother, Diana, in the kitchen, where she learned the yin-yang of cooking. She also learned the importance of balance.
At the age of 11, An moved from her native Vietnam to California, where she worked side by side with her family in the kitchen at Thanh Long, the first authentic Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco.
In case you’re wondering, the restaurant is known for its roasted crab and garlic noodles.
“I was very close to my grandmother and she inspired me to learn new things and experiment in the kitchen," An said "My grandmother was very pioneering and always tried to do something different. I remember when she would be making some of my favorite dishes that she would show me ways to improve the dish with a unique presentation while maintaining its authentic Vietnamese flavors. She always wanted to make things better and improve upon them. She taught me to think outside of the box and to be fearless in doing something that has not been done before.”
An is the eldest of five daughters, and from a very young age, she was forced to learn about restaurant operations and front of house. It didn't take long before she became skilled at dealing with the staff and customers — from servers to casual diners and influential leaders.
“We had everyone from our neighbors coming to eat in their sweats to A-list celebrities and powerful politicians dining with us,” An said.
Thanh Long may have been her family’s first restaurant but it wasn’t long before they were managing the multi-million dollar House of An empire. In 1991, the first Crustacean seafood restaurant opened in San Francisco. Then came Orange County’s Anqi, Santa Monica’s Tiato, and Crustacean in Beverly Hills.
It comes as no surprise that An would follow in her family’s footsteps and “aspire to host the most elaborate dinner party for our family and friends every night.”
In February 2015, she debuted The District by Hannah An off West Third Street in Los Angeles. The two-story, 320-seat restaurant has become one of the top five places in Southern California to enjoy remarkable Vietnamese cuisine.
As you can imagine, the menu is delectable: Dungeness Crab and Uni Noodle, District Wok Lobster, Bo Luc Lac (Shaken Beef), Buddha Delight Clay Pot, Coriander-Crusted Lamb, and Bo Kho (Braised Short Ribs). And you can’t forget the cocktails, such as Face Down in Saigon or Side Car to Vietnam, both made with fresh squeezed lime juice and organic agave.
On a recent to trip to Vietnam, alongside Cheryl Jennings from ABC News, the mom and restaurateur visited Quang Tri by Hue (the Imperial City) where she tried the Spicy Beef Soup at a small street market. It was so delicious that she decided to add it to the restaurant’s spring menu. It’s called Imperial Spicy Beef Soup Bun Bo. This holiday soup contains beef, lemongrass broth, and an array of spices.
On the spring menu, you’ll also find Oven Roasted Oysters with Vietnamese Herbs, District Lobster Flatbread, Foie Gras French Toast, and Fresh Grilled Atlantic Octopus with Miso Sauce.
“Our menu changes seasonally at The District, as we only use fresh, seasonal ingredients in each of our dishes,” she added. “I was inspired on my recent trip to Vietnam for a charity I hold dear to my heart called Roots of Peace. I was moved to incorporate the native peppercorn spice into some of my new dishes. Roots of Peace removes land mines and plants peppercorn trees in their place.”
Since opening the restaurant, An has been celebrated for her approach to cooking on a much larger scale. Recently, she was recognized at the Asian Business Summit and spoke on a panel to a group of young women entrepreneurs at UCLA.
“At the Asian Business Summit, I received an honor from the United States House of Representatives,” said An. “I used to only be known as operations. Today, I get to tap into more of my creative side. People enjoy the new flavor I’ve added to my family's cuisine. I often hear, ‘We love the garlic noodles and crab, but had no idea how many flavors and creative dishes there could be in Vietnamese cuisine.'”
That’s not to say her triumphs were without a few struggles. During The District’s first year, Hannah had to learn what it was like to deal with investors and non-family members while running a business. When dealing with her family members, she knew that they always had the best interest of the company at heart. Now, she must oversee and double-check everything.
“In the past, I could trust my mother to oversee the food and my sisters to oversee the marketing and PR aspects of the business. Being on my own, I’ve definitely realized the challenge of managing everyone, and every single detail,” An explained.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about harmony and balance. It’s about the yin and the yang that her grandmother taught her. These are two aspects of living that An swears by. Whether it’s the food she’s preparing, cooking, and sharing with her family and guests, or the way she tackles her personal life with grace, everything is done with harmony and balance.
"You must have yin and yang in your life to be happy and successful," she said with a smile. "I don't think it's healthy to only work hard. You have to play hard, too!"
The District by Hannah An
8722 W. 3rd St., Hollywood, 90028