Make healthy, fresh food from scratch, and be a gracious host — this is the doctrine of Lan’s Asian Grill. The family-owned Asian restaurant has brother and sister Tom and Monica Lim at its helm. Lan’s takes its name and, most importantly, the fresh cooking philosophy from Tom and Monica’s mother.
“My mother would always explain cooking for guests like this: She would show us a head of lettuce and take the first two layers off and say, ‘If these are good, you go ahead and eat them, but don’t serve that to your guest. Give them the best you have to offer — the heart of the lettuce’,” says Tom Lim.
The Lim family has always been surrounded by the culinary art. Back in Laos, the whole family was forced to make and sell food from little kiosks and bicycles just to make ends meet. Lan found adoration for cooking during her experience in Laos and passed it on to her kids.
After years of watching their mother in the kitchen, the two siblings found their own love for cooking and decided to open Lan’s as a dedication to their mother.
“The biggest reason we started the restaurant is because we didn’t want our mom’s passion for cooking to die.”
Late last year, Lan’s opened an express location in MacEwan University. But don’t let the word “express” fool you. Every dish is still made from scratch, as it would be in the restaurant. Lim runs the restaurant, which he calls “the mother ship,” and his sister runs the show at the MacEwan location.
The family business was actually approached by the University of Alberta first, but due to the sheer size of the school, Lan’s cooking philosophy would not have panned out. “We usually only have enough ingredients for the day, and all the food is ultimately fresh,” says Lim. “With the U of A, we would have had to have things hang around in the fridge, which didn’t sit well with us.”
After declining the U of A, Lan’s was approached by MacEwan for a smaller-scale express location. “MacEwan wanted to change the food culture on campus and they thought that by bringing in an independent business would be the best direction,” says Lim.
The MacEwan location offers three main dishes: a hot, sweet, and spicy Tom Yum Pho soup, lettuce wraps, and a Thai stir-fry. There are a couple of appetizers as well, but the one that stands out is a fan favourite: the green onion cakes. And these are not the half-size microwaved green onion cakes you receive from ordering Chinese take-out. These are hot, fresh, full-sized green onion cakes.
All recipes are traditional and passed down, and each has its own unique sense of flavour. Two of the great beverages that Lan’s offers are the traditional iced Vietnamese coffee and the iced Thai milk tea.
Lim says the menu will rotate every now and then and will eventually feature a type of dessert. “We like to switch it up,” says Lim. “We can see what dishes are the most popular and try new things.”
It is apparent that both siblings are dedicated masters of their craft. The Pad Thai (one dish offered at their restaurant) has a sauce that takes a substantial amount of time and care. “We’d love to offer the Pad Thai at MacEwan, but that sauce takes my sister close to three days to make, and it only lasts a week.”
Lan’s has a laminated statement at its restaurant booth that sums up what it is all about: “Lan’s…we do food fast, not fast food.”
So far, the new location has been receiving nothing but positive feedback. For Lim, who is 39, this completely makes sense.
“The younger and future generation is more in tune to what’s on their plates these days,” says Lim. “I mean, the first thing you put in your body that may or may not make you sick is food, so you should choose wisely.”
Photo by Madison Kerr.