Eating Pho, Thinking Banh Mi


Today I leave San Francisco. The eating has been terrific, though I’m well aware that flying out of New York, hitting the ground with a list of restaurants, a few selected targets, and a crowd of people I want to see is not exactly “daily life.” What if I approached New York this way? Might be interesting, though I’d never get any cooking done. (And I’d turn into Sam Sifton.)

In any case, I’m staying in the Tenderloin – generally accepted to be the least attractive of the core neighborhoods. But it does have one very strong advantage: there are more Vietnamese restaurants per block than anywhere I’ve ever been except Vietnam.  So yesterday, not only sated but stuffed beyond belief from my hamburger lunch and sizable meal at Farina the day before I decided to skip breakfast and have a light lunch of pho at Turtle Towers, where the pho – the super-sturdy meal-as-soup served in much of Vietnam – came highly recommended.

There was only one disappointment. When I was in Vietnam, every bowl of pho came with a huge plate of herbs: mint, basil, cilantro, culantro, sometimes others. Like an herb salad, really. And you’d merrily go about tearing those up and mixing them into your soup, providing incredible flavor and crunch.

That didn’t happen. But I did, for $8, get a huge bowl (I ordered a “large,” which was unnecessary), of delicious meaty broth, rice noodles, perfectly cooked brisket, thin-sliced “rare” (read: raw) beef – quite tender – a few shreds of tripe, and enough herbs to at least add some flavor.

Nice. I’m going out for more, right now, and for some banh mi for the plane ride home. Then I might tackle a pho recipe over the weekend.

Posted in Vietnamese


  1. licricket said...

    Try Pho Tan Hoa at 431 Jones Street. We love their Pho!

  2. Anonymous said...

    Pho is the best Vietnamese cuisine staple, although there are a bunch more. Any recommendations for good vietnamese places here in NYC? I’ve been lookin and lookin and not findin!can’t wait to read about and try your recipe for pho!

  3. joshfleischmann said...

    @anhvu Great pho hard to find, but Nha Trang s of Canal is decent. Best banhmi- Saigon Banh Mi, Broome off Mott

  4. Anonymous said...

    Mark – Turtle Tower’s pho is Hanoi-style, therefore fewer spices and no basil, mung beans, etc. I still have not found a good Saigon-style pho place in the ‘loin. I used to like PPQ on 19th and Irving, but the past few times it’s been lackluster. Next time you are in SF make sure you hit Saigon Sandwich up for Banh Mi – total dive but the best ever! And Pho Tan Hoa is not that great.

  5. linhpham said...

    (1) Turtle Towers serves northern-style Pho (Hanoi) where traditionally it’s NOT eaten with herbs. They are one of the best northern-style restaurants in SF. They also serve a wicked plate of egg rolls. (2) you can skip Tu Lan (Market/6th), touted Julia Child’s fav’. It seems those days have long gone. (3) the original Slanted Door in the Mission is very good, but the 2nd Slanted Door in the Embarcadero is highly overrated.

  6. linhpham said...

    @mark, sorry, but I wasn’t being fair to Tu Lan restaurant, thus, my additional comment. Tu Lan stills serves one of the best and most authentic Vietnamese food. However, due to its catering to extreme budget-conscious clientele, its protein/meat are not always of the highest quality, thus, affecting the overall taste of the dishes. @licricket – I have to second @Jessica, Pho Tan Hoa is average.

  7. Anonymous said...

    I would recommend Bodega Bistro. Amazing and definitely better than Turtle Tower. Turtle Tower is known for their pho ga… but I have to say it’s not my favorite.

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