Photo by Eric Tadsen

In August 2020, only seven months after the first laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 was recorded in the United States, opening a new restaurant probably wouldnt have been advisable. But Jamie Hoang and Chuckie Brown didnt see it that way when they opened Ahan in The Bur Oak. Though there would be difficulties, where some other restaurants were having to figure out how they would transition away from dine in, Chuckie says, It was nice, in a way, because we didnt have to flip our whole concept. We started out just doing takeout. Then, shortly after that, delivery. And then later, dine in.

The drive to go for it really came from Jamie. I had a hard goal of having a restaurant by the time I was 30, she says. So pandemic or no, it was happening. She already knew how to run a kitchen from working with Chef Tory Miller of LEtoile, and after working for 10 years in Madisons service industry, I just know a lot of people in the industry and have a pretty good customer base and got to know a lot of guests over the years.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

I just wanted to use my cooking background and combine that with my culture to express myself the best I can. … I think what we bring to the table is the next generation of Southeast Asian food. Not just do I bring traditional recipes from my mom (a Laotian refugee), but I bring a little bit more creativity, some farm-to-table things, working with different community members. We work with Vitruvian Farms, Garden To Be, Enos, Roots Down, Vindicator Beef, breaking the mold that everything has to be a certain way just because it always has been.

One brainchild of Jamies is the Red Curry Udon. Thats just a dish that I made up, and it became really popular. I think its just really delicious, and were able to switch out certain ingredients seasonally. Its certainly my favorite. Having the thicker udon noodle creates a burst of flavor when biting into it that just fills your mouth. The heat is there a little bit, lingering just enough to be noticed. Then there was the squash, which added just enough sweetness to bring out the heat in a meaningful way. If youre new to Southeast Asian cuisine, this is a very approachable entry point.

Another key to the success of Ahan has been the community support. Regulars all over love their location, just off East Wash by UW Health Union Corners Clinic, and Jamie and Chuckie can deliver to parts of town that might not otherwise have access to Southeast Asian foods. We love it here, says Jamie. A lot of our neighbors are amazing.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

With the summer in full swing, Ahan also has some great ways to stay cool, including their new soft-serve ice cream. For drinks, the Thai Iced Tea is almost too goodone glass might not be enough. Then theres the Chanh Mui, or salted Vietnamese limeade. Its gonna be fermented lime, says Chuckie. You take limes, slice them up a little bit, put salt in them, put them in brine, put them in the sun for a couple weeks in a jar. He describes it as a Gatorade or alcohol-free margarita. Something between those two things.

As for what to snack on, Chuckie is all-in on the Laab. Chewy Vindicator beef in rich herbs and spices so much so that they have a light and earthy texture thats quite peppery. The meat itself melts on the tongue into a bouquet of flavor, and the cilantro gives an overall plant quality that serves to further accentuate the meat. Its like a cold beef finger-food salad, says Chuckie.

Part of the evolution of the food served up at Ahan is recognizing the popularity of veganism. I think plant-based diets are a huge trend right now, says Jamie. Its also very important for many things: the environment, health. I think were just trying to help people out that are trying to follow those diets. Their online menu indicates a collection of entrees, an appetizer, and a soup that can be modified for a vegan diet. Theyre also able to meet health-related dietary restrictions (also indicated on the menu).

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

My only regret is I didnt try one of Ahans customer favorites: the summer roll. In my defense, the violas, provided by Garden To Be, werent in yet. Apparently, thats the cats pajamas. I dont know why I said that, but it sounded good in my head. Ill just edit that before this goes to print. Anyway, its dope…

Baby romaine from Black Earth Valley Produce, the aforementioned violas (Vitruvian microgreens when the flowers run out), radishes from Blue Skies Farm, cucumber, carrot, bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, scallion, and peanuts all wrapped in rice paper with some of that sweet, sour, salty, savory, spicy nuoc chm for dipping.

Theres something special happening at Ahan, and the immediate future seems to indicate that its only going to get better. Our collective understanding of Covid has grown, and many of us have taken efforts to respect the health of one another. Their Bur Oak location will hopefully be hopping more than any other year Jamie and Chuckie have been there, as old and new local celebrities perform music, stand-up, and so much more on stage. Guess Ill have to go back soon for a show and some summer rolls.

Kyle Jacobson is lead writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.

Photograph by Barbara Wilson


2262 Winnebago Street
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 867-4001