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"Real" Vietnamese in SF


JennotJenn
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I know this topic has at least been touched on before, but I'm new to the forum and not-yet-so-good at using the search function, for which I apolgize. The Dh and I are visiting SF at the end of April, and need recs for good, cheap eats, especially Vietnamese. I mean the real stuff, no fusion (well, I guess French Colonial influence would be ok...there's nothin' like a Vietnamese sub). I don't care about ambience or friendly service, I just want a place that's good and cheap, where they won't blink an eyelash if I ask for something extra spicy, and will actually deliver the goods. We currently live in the Triangle (NC), which is woefully devoid of any decent SE Asian food, so we try to get our fill when we're out of town. Also, any Thai recs would be appreciated (same criteria as for Vietnamese).

TIA,

Jen (not Jenn)

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I am an avid fan of Vietnamese food. The epicenter is in San Jose area where there are soo many of the phos, shops and restaurants selling all kinds of stuff Vietnamese.

If you are visitting Bay Area and look for this cuisine, you miss out if you do not visit the following areas:

-Tully Road off 101 freeway, Lion Plaza complex. There is a food court inside chock full of authentic Vietnamese. The problem is many do not have English words. Some do. It might overwhelm you. The shops nearby is also great source of Vietnamese goodies like Banh Mi sandwiches, cakes, etc

-Lee Sandwich shop also nearby on (King Road) and has many interesting goodies like the fluffy pork bun (white) that has outstanding fillings.

-Dynasty Mall off Story road. Inside is the Pho Thenh Long that has bun cha grilled tumeric fish that is awesome (boneless). One order of that is enough to satisfy 3 adults - make sure you get rice. There is also food court nearby that has some interesting stuff.

-For freshly made tofus, go to Binh Minh also on Tully Road off 101 (close to the 101 freeway). $1 for like 7 pcs enough for lunch. If you refry it at home, it will be even better - get the ones with the bits of clear noodles and mushrooms.

-Tung Kee noodle house, various branches are great for cheap combo noodle- make sure to get FLAT EGG noodle and separate soup or you might not be too happy.

-Vung Tau branch in SJ / Milpitas is also great for Vietnamese style NY steak with tomato fried rice, also the rice plates with broken rice and various meat cuts are great.

-Too many to mention. You can also check chowhound.com (SF area) for more recs. But the ones I mention above is enough chow for couple of days and are the main ones, maybe I miss a few great ones.

Let us know how your adventure goes !

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Oakland is a 15 minute drive by car, or you could take BART - there's a station a few blocks from the restaurant.

Cool. 15 minutes is next to nothing in my world...everything here sprawls so much and good places to eat are so few and far between that it's not at all uncommon to to have to drive 15 minutes for good eats. We won't have a car (we may rent one for a day), but Bart will be fine.

Han, DH knows the San Jose area a little, and no English isn't too scary for me at all...as long as there are pictures for me to point at like in Japan!

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If you plan to visit the SJ area then the other areas like oakland, SF, etc pales in comparison. Oakland/SF might have couple places, but SJ has hundreds/thousands - that is the scale I am talking about. San Jose is about an hour or less from SF. You might want to save your time and explore other things like Berkeley area, Mexican food places, etc. I also visitted oakland regularly but for Vietnamese food, San Jose area is where you want to go. Like SF has chinatown, then in SJ, some of these areas are like VietTowns. They usually congregate around a central large malls.

Also, there are plenty of pictures at these places fortunately. I have visitted SJ numerous times and have yet fully tried many of these places since there are so many of them. Be sure to post your findings ok. FYI, there is Indonesian bazaar held on Sunday March 14 in SJ -biggest in Bay Area or any place I have seen offering many many dishes under one roof, some great, some mediocre as usual at Napredak Hall, 770 Montague Expwy, San Jose if that interest you.

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If you like Vietnamese Banh Mi (sandwich), I heard that Saigon Sandwich in SF has no equals in the Bay area. It is in SF, tenderloin area. Do a google search for it to get more details. I personally never got a chance to try it. But some reliable people I dined with quite often had recommended this and these people have downed lots of banh mis in their life so nothing impress them so easily. Check it out.

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If you like Vietnamese Banh Mi (sandwich), I heard that Saigon Sandwich in SF has no equals in the Bay area. It is in SF, tenderloin area. Do a google search for it to get more details. I personally never got a chance to try it. But some reliable people I dined with quite often had recommended this and these people have downed lots of banh mis in their life so nothing impress them so easily. Check it out.

The Banh Mi are very good at Saigon Sandwich; similar to the best at Tully Road in San Jose.

Another idea is Thanh Long out in the Sunset (Judah and 47th). Re: public transportation; I think there is a streetcar line on Irving a block away---but the restaurant is is way west of downtown; a few blocks from the ocean. Not cheap but great dungeness crab, roasted or 'drunk'; their garlic noodles are fabulous. Other good stuff on the menu if you don't go for the crab. This may be a slightly fusion restaurant--but is has been owned and run by a Vietnamese familiy since the early 70's. They also own another restaurant downtown, Crustacean. I have not been there; I believe it is more 'upscale' but it may be worth checking out the menu.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I second Han's rec of Lee's Sandwiches, a large chain growing by the minute, but still some decent sandwiches. Good for a beginner.

Also Dynasty Mall, I keep hearing about. Recently, my friend's co-worker, who is Vietnamese, said this is the best place for fish, I forget the restaurant but probably the one Han mentioned.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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At Pho Thenh Long in Dynasty Mall in SJ, the grilled boneless fish (bun cha) is probably the single greatest dish there. The others are pretty mediocre IMO unless others found it otherwise. It is served in a heated platter with burning fire underneath. The fish sits on top of dills. I would just order this item with rice and leave plenty of tips to the waiters. Maybe the pho is ok, not sure as I forgot how it tasted. The other item was the thick fun noodle that has good charred wok marks and thick brown sauce that is quite ok but nothing spectacular - the combo variety is good.

Two other places that has this spectacular dish is Minh in Milpitas and also another place in SF but the name escapes me. The portion at Pho Thenh Long will dwarf the others though, it's quite cheap at something like $12 or so for so much fish and flavor.

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I'd avoid Than Long.  It's very over priced.

I'm a big fan of Sunflower, at 16th and Valencia.  Can't vouch for the "authenticity", but it's damn good.

Damn good and cheap works for me. I guess by authentic I do sorta just mean damn good and cheap, anyway. Consider it on my short list :biggrin:

edited to add I'm going to also add the Banh Mi at Saigon Sandwich to the list too. There's a place here that does pretty decent ones for next to nothing, and while I'm sure they're not the best out there, they're still tasty, so I'm sure Saigon Sandwich will be a fave.

Edited by JennotJenn (log)

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Cheap and good works for me and 2 of my favorites in SF are Minh's Garden on Clement between 3rd and 4th Ave., and Minh Tri on Irving between 6th and 7th Ave. No connection that I know of. Minh's Garden is better IMHO. Both are friendly mom and pop places; certainly no reservations are needed. Can't speak for the entire menu of either so take this recommendation with a grain of salt.

That said...if I could have my all-around most satisfying and lip-smacking meal, it would be MG's hot and sour soup with prawns followed by a noodle bowl with barbequed pork and imperial roll. MT does both well, too. Just note that neither does pho; go to Pho Hiep #2 on Irving around 22nd Ave. if you want that.

Have fun!

Edited by ingridsf (log)

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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If you like Vietnamese Banh Mi (sandwich), I heard that Saigon Sandwich in SF has no equals in the Bay area. It is in SF, tenderloin area. Do a google search for it to get more details. I personally never got a chance to try it. But some reliable people I dined with quite often had recommended this and these people have downed lots of banh mis in their life so nothing impress them so easily. Check it out.

The Banh Mi are very good at Saigon Sandwich; similar to the best at Tully Road in San Jose.

Wrap Delight at 426 Larkin, half a block down from Saigon Sandwich, is quite a bit better than Saigon Sandwich in my opinion. The lady who owns and operates Wrap Delight used to make the sandwiches at Saigon Sandwich before she opened her own place. I haven't tried Bahn Mi at any of the San Jose places, but hers are the best ones I've had yet.

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Wrap Delight at 426 Larkin, half a block down from Saigon Sandwich, is quite a bit better than Saigon Sandwich in my opinion. The lady who owns and operates Wrap Delight used to make the sandwiches at Saigon Sandwich before she opened her own place. I haven't tried Bahn Mi at any of the San Jose places, but hers are the best ones I've had yet.

Thanks for the tip Malik; must check that out next time.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Come on, folks... travelling out of the city is a bit obsessive and excessive especially if you're going to weather the traffic all the way down to SJ and back. You may as well take a flight to Vietnam.

That said, there are plenty of authentic Vietnamese restaurants in the Tenderloin District that you can *walk* to from downtown SF.

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You may as well take a flight to Vietnam.

Gee, maybe a little exaggeration here?

One person's jaunt is another person's grueling road trip. I think she can decide for herself if she doesn't mind cruising down to San Jose.

On the other hand, with gas at over $2/gallon, that will add considerably to the "cheap eats" being sought.

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You may as well take a flight to Vietnam.

Gee, maybe a little exaggeration here?

One person's jaunt is another person's grueling road trip. I think she can decide for herself if she doesn't mind cruising down to San Jose.

On the other hand, with gas at over $2/gallon, that will add considerably to the "cheap eats" being sought.

I probably won't drive down there, but only because we'll only have a car for one day, and yeah, there's stuff closer by. But DH goes to San Jose on business every once in a while, so I'm passing those suggestions on to him so that he doesn't have to eat at, say, Applebee's the next time he's there.

I live in Raleigh, NC, and reguarly drive across town or to Chapel Hill or Durham for eats (this takes at least 30 minutes in good traffic---even to go across town). I'm the jerk that's always at least 15 minutes getting back to work because she *had* to go across town for the falafal.

Edited by JennotJenn (log)

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My 2 cents here. I agree that renting a car and driving down to SJ is a huge (and not pleaseant) shlep that will add greatly to your costs, so I'd only do that if you are really on a mission. (That said, I'm making a beeline the next rare occasion that I'm down there).

There's a pretty large Vietnamese population here in SF concentrated in the tenderloin. Larkin street is the main drag for restaurants and is on the edge of the tenderloin and not too scuzzy. Larkin street extends West from the SF Civic Center so you can begin or end your restaurant trek with a visit to the new Asian Art Museum if you like. Using the museum as a marker you can walk up the next 5 or 6 blocks and see many options.

I like Saigon Sandwich the best, they use Bakers' of Paris bread. Next, I like Wrap Delite. Only the barest if any seating. But don't let that put you off! Squeeze in, eat it walking down the street or find a bench. The sandwiches are $2 to $2.25. These are both on the same side as the museum, Wrap Delite is 2nd block up, Saigon S the third block. I've also noticed a brand new shop catty corner from Saigon S. called Cynthia's.

Saigon Sandwich 560 Larkin St at Eddy

Wrap Delite 426 Larkin at Golden Gate

As you walk further up, there will be many restaurants, mostly on the left. There's a white building with blue writing Turtle Cafe? which is said to be regional and is all local Vietnamese clientele. I've not tried it but the menu looks straightforward and cheap. There was one we tried not too far up...modern looking glass and green marble maybe and #2 in the name (others are in LA), and popular, the Pho was ok but not the clear broth I'm used to. Pagolac is on my list, as they have a nice selection of things to wrap in rice paper I'm told are good, and the catfish claypot. I went to one around the corner from Pagolac. Scope out these and around the corner ones--they are all pretty inexpensive and I bet you can't go wrong.

Further up at Geary and Larkin is a great little Thai place, very cute and modern. The food is extremely hot and spicy. This seems so much more authentic than most of the cookie cutter Thai in SF. Thai House Express has some unusual dishes, I've had the salads (so hot!) and a mild braised pork house special (not hot, very homey). They have specials.

Anothe Thai option in the area is Sai Jai at 771 O'Farrell St at Hyde. Very inexpensive and I've heard good things.

Normally you don't ask for extra spicy in Thai and Viet places, because hot condiments are provided at table. I think it's more the kind of thing at non-Asian clientele places.

The Richmond district has even many more Thai and Vietnamese places (Geary Street and Clement Street)--La Vie on Geary is often mentioned. I don't get out there much.

Aside from these 2 areas there are stand alone Vietnamese restaurants catering to local (non-Vietnamese) neighborhoods. Tell us where you are staying. But if near downtown, my fav is in Chinatown. Golden Star has a really superior Pho, great broth, and I usually start with salad rolls or something for an appetizer.

11 Walter Lum Place, between Kearney and Grant/Clay and Washington

Edited to remove mention of resto with nice decor.

Edited by nutcakes (log)
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Normally you don't ask for extra spicy in Thai and Viet places, because hot condiments are provided at table. I think it's more the kind of thing at non-Asian clientele places.

Good point, and thanks for the tip. It's rare that I've gotten any hot stuff on the side around here, so I'm used to asking.

All the places you've listed look good. We're staying at the edge of the Tenderloin, so those are very close by.

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Can I ask what hotel or the cross street? If you are on the other side of the Tenderloin, you won't want to walk through it to get to Larkin at night for sure. Don't do it

Thanks for the safety tip...seriously. I've been to some scary-ass neighborhoods and I like to make a habit of avoiding them. I knew the Tenderloin wasn't the greatest neighborhood, but I'll be especially sure to avoid it at night (and to be careful during the day).

We're staying urg...where...let me get the map...I know it's near the Westin...it's at Mason and Geary.

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Well you can take the Geary bus ($1.25), that is fine. Geary is ok in the day, if I recall, but most of the tenderloin area north of market gets pretty ugly in the day and I wouldn't ever go in there at night. I'd take the bus or approach it from the Van Ness/Polk street side.

I found an address for Pagolac which is mentioned in the Bay Guardian this week by a writer who ate the 7 courses of beef dinner ($13.95 each) there...

Pagolac 655 Larkin 11 am-10 pm 776-3234

Also in the same issue a write up on a Turkish place in the immediate area, inexpensive and good, ya might wana check it out.

A la Turka 869 Geary at Larkin

And a go to Olive, a trendy little bar with delicious thin crisp pizza's for a before or after dinner drink.

Olive Bar

743 Larkin Street | San Francisco, CA 94109

tel 415.776.9814 | fax 415.674.5142

Hours: Mon 5:30-12:30, Tues 5:30-12:30, Wed 5:30-12:30, Thurs 5:30-12:30, Fri 5:30-12:30, Sat 5:30-12:30, Sun 5:30-12:30

You'll be real insiders after this visit, going where few tourists do.

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My favorite Vietnamese lunch spot in SF is Golden Flower, which is on Jackson (between Grant and Kearny, I think) in Chinatown. Get the bun (rice noodle salad) with grilled pork and imperial rolls. It's number 40, and it can't be beat. I used to work two blocks from there and I still miss it. (They used to call me "number 40!" to me when I walked in. Sniff!) Good noodle soups, too. Anyway, if you're doing the tourist thing in Chinatown or North Beach, it's right near where the two neighborhoods meet.

Out in the Mission, there's a place with very good pho and very friendly service called Lotus Garden--it's near the intersection with Cortland, at the foot of Bernal Heights. I live in the neighborhood, so it's my takeout joint. Everything I've gotten from there has been good. A bit out of the way but accessible on the bus (parking's not bad in that area, either), and if you want a fun little jaunt then may I suggest going there after a tour of the Mission District, then head up to the top of Bernal Hill for a very pretty and distinctive view of the city?

One place that gets a fair amount of press is Tu Lan, on Sixth between Market and Mission. I don't know what others think, but I'd skip it. I haven't had great food there, despite hearing a lot of hype about it, and the neighborhood is exceedingly grotty.

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