New Location, Same Old Good Eats

Digest Foodie Fare

February 4, 2012

Story By: Dining Out Team |

For those of you who are wondering what ever happened to Vietnamese eatery Annam House, your search is over. The same folks who ran the old place — owner Mai McDowell and her brothers — have opened up shop again at a new location and under a new name. The new Saigon Pearl can be found near Ala Moana Center on Kona Street. Fans of Annam, don’t worry — Saigon Pearl still offers the same quality traditional home-style Vietnamese cuisine.

  • BBQ Combo ($12.95)
  • Spring Rolls & BBQ Chicken Noodle Salad ($9.50)
  • Green Papaya Salad ($8.95)
  • Mai McDowell
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McDowell says popular dishes include Won Ton Mein ($8.95), Green Papaya Salad ($.8.95) and BBQ Combo ($12.95), which is a rice plate served with barbecue chicken, pork chop and lemongrass short ribs.

Summer Roll ($5.75), which features shrimp, lettuce, basil, mint leaves, bean sprouts and rice noodles all wrapped up in fresh rice paper, is another customer favorite. “Our Spring Rolls ($7.95) are very good, too,” McDowell says. She explains that Saigon Pearl puts a little spin on the dish by using minced chicken instead of pork. For a tasty meal, try Spring Rolls & BBQ Chicken Noodle Salad ($9.50).

Foodies who can’t get enough pho have to try Saigon Pearl’s. Pho is beef noodle soup that comes with a variety of meat and vegetables. All of the establishment’s pho dishes are served with white rice noodles with beef broth, sliced onions, green onions, cilantro, bean sprouts, basil, lemon wedges and green chili peppers. Options include Chicken Breast ($7.50 for a medium, $8.50 for a large) and Combination ($7.95 for a medium, $8.95 for a large), which comes with beef, meatball brisket, tendon and tripe. “Pho is very popular right now,” McDowell says, “and people love our pho dishes.”

While former customers of Annam House certainly can find all of their past favorites at Saigon Pearl, the new location also brings some new dishes with it.

“We have created some new dishes for Saigon Pearl,” McDowell says. “We noticed that local people like oxtail a lot. So we created Spicy Oxtail Noodle Soup ($11.95). It has become very popular.”

Vietnamese Crepe ($10.95), an appetizer, is another new dish.

“It’s really good,” McDowell says. “It’s a thin layer of flour, and it’s crispy. Inside is pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and mushrooms.”

Other new offerings include a selection of sandwiches such as Chicken Sandwich ($5.75) and Combination Sandwich ($5.95), with liverwurst, Vietnamese ham and steamed pork cake.

The chefs at Saigon Pearl are currently working on more new dishes, including a Vietnamese stew, which should be unveiled later this month.

For Valentine’s Day, guests can enjoy Dinner For Two for $32.95, which comes with Summer Rolls, Asparagus Crab Soup, Shaken Beef, Garlic Shrimp and Rice. As a Valentine’s Day special, Saigon Pearl also will include Fried Bananas with Ice Cream for dessert.

On the Side

Saigon Pearl may have just opened at its Kona Street location in August, but this place certainly has a long history. When owner Mai McDowell and her brothers, who are the chefs, opened Annam House in 1982, it was one of the first Vietnamese restaurants on the island.

Operating under the name Annam House for years, the restaurateurs earned quite a following of loyal customers. McDowell decided to rename the restaurant Saigon Pearl when the restaurant changed locations last year.

“Saigon is the place in Vietnam where people love to eat out at restaurants,” McDowell explains. “There is so much different food there. And people call Saigon ‘The Pearl of East Asia.'”

Offering homestyle cooking, Saigon Pearl chefs learned their craft from their family’s home cooking.

“My grandmother is the one who taught us to cook,” McDowell says. “My brother learned all the recipes and everything from her.”

McDowell adds that many customers who used to frequent Annam might not know about Saigon Pearl.

“We have a lot of followers. When people come in here just by chance and they remember us from Annam, they get so excited. They are so happy that we have reopened in a new location.”

Saigon Pearl

  • Where
    • 1430 Kona Street #101
    • Honolulu, HI 96814
  • Call
    • (808) 955-7888
  • Hours
    • Open daily
    • 10:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.