Cafe Bunn Mi, Inner Richmond, San Francisco

A dear friend mentioned on several occasion how much she loves Cafe Bunn Mi. She and her husband recently moved to Inner Richmond and mentioned Cafe Bunn Mi was one of their favorites. Located at Clement and 5th, the Vietnamese sandwich shop is near flower shops, Asian supermarkets and Green Apple Books.

We have sampled many banh mi sandwiches in SF, but none have claimed our hearts and loyalty. Lee’s is a great quick lunch fix, OTD is good, but pricey, Saigon Sandwich  is solid for traditional sandwiches, or there is a more modern takes such as Bun Mee and the luxurious pork belly banh mi  at Rock Paper Scissors.

Bunn Mi serves pho, rice plates, imperial rolls and Viet sandwiches and we believe makes authentic Vietnamese in a casual, clean, Westerner-friendly atmosphere. The staff are young, hipstery Asians who speak perfect English.

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We want to share a little secret, on days when one is not wanting noodles, feeling under (germ-based illness or alcohol induced illness) or just craving broth, one can request just broth for half or a third of the pho price. We ordered the Chicken Noodle Soup Pho for $3.00 and the broth was aromatic, warming and with bits of cilantro and slivers of fresh onion. Exactly what we wanted.

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We ordered the grilled pork sandwich for $4.00. The freshly baked house-made bread was fresh and the right vehicle for all the ingredients. The tender, marinated grilled pork was nicely charred and went well with the pickeld carrots, fresh cilantro and slices of jalapeno. The sandwich was so good and although we enjoyed half, wanted to polish off the rest.
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Cafe Bunn Mi is clean, great space with a touch of authenticity. The food has the flavors from childhood and they know what they are doing. Hands down one of the best pho broth and Viet sandwiches in SF.

We would return to try the Garlic French Fries for $3.00, Mojito Style Lemonade non-alcoholic for $3.00 and Lemongrass Steak sandwich for $5.00.

Cafe Bunn Mi on Urbanspoon

Quan Bac, Inner Richmond, San Francisco

Chúc mừng năm mới! and Year of the Snake! We have heard consistently that there is fantastic Vietnamese in the Richmond area. Per one of our aunt’s child friends in Saigon, Quan Bac is one of the best for Northern Vietnamese and famous for a clean flavored pho broth, Ga Quay Chao or five spice chicken. We visited Quan Bac along with our aunties and cousins for a fantastic Vietnamese meal and reminded us of our trip Vietnam, viisting  Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hanoi.

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The restaurant is very well decorated with Vietnamese lanterns hanging on the ceiling and quite spacious.

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We started off with soda chanh, limeade with sparkling soda. Super fresh and the right balance of tang, sweetness and carbonation._MG_4649

The Northern style pho ga, chicken noodle soup, is absolutely delicious here. The broth very fragrant, aromatic and this was was a small size bowl for $6.95. We could not imagine having the large size.

_MG_4652One of our favorite Vietnamese dishes ever tried and at Quan Bac was the Hen Xao Hanh Ram mussels fried with fragrant knotweed for $7.95. The marinated chopped mussels, bites of fried onion, scallions and knotweed were placed on the chips and devoured. Awesome texture and flavor.

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Our aunt decided on the Muc Chein Gion fried calamari for $7.25 and the Goi Cuon Thit Nuong b.b.q. pork rolls ($6.50 for 6 rolls). The fried calamari had  a fluffy fried exterior and seemed a bit under seasoned. Of the two dishes, we preferred the Goi Cuon Thit  Nuong.

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The Goi Cuon Thit Nuong b.b.q. pork rolls were very tasty, but we still prefer our mom’s  Vietnamese Fresh Vegetarian Spring Rolls (Gỏi Cuốn Chay).

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 Another Northern dish is the Bun Cha. We decided on ordering Bun Cha Ha Noi (Hanoi style bbq pork with vermicelli for $8.95. The bbq pork meatballs were delicious nuggets and went well with the mint, cilantro and vermicelli.

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The dish we were really looking forward to tryig was the Bun Ga Quay Chao five spice chicken with vermicelli  (we requested garlic noodles) for $7.50. Despite being very tender chicken, nicely five spice flavored skin with nicely flavored garlicky yellow noodles, it was not overly memorable, but glad we tried it._MG_4653We would definitely return to Quan bac for the pho and the bun cha again. Truly a delicious meal and we highly suggest it to those seeking Northern Vietnamese cuisine in SF.

Rice Paper Scissors, Hayes Valley, San Francisco

Rock Paper Scissors serves up Vietnamese street food every Thursday at Mojo Cafe, in Hayes Valley. The little plastic red stools outside the cafe made me cotemplate sitting outside, sidewalk style. However, the chilly evening, urged us to keep warmth with some pho and sanctuary of the enclosed Mojo Cafe. The wooded cafe area, seats and tables had plenty of seating and there was no wait. In the very back of the cafe area, we could spy all the bicycles. All the staff were super congenial and the dynamic and sweet Valerie Luu (Little Knock) and Katie Kwan (KitchenSidecar), run the show and are really attentive to their customers. We appreciate their love for street food. Check out their fun Tumblr!

The Hanoi-Style Beef Pho for $11 with fresh rice noodles in a house made beef broth, served with hanger steak onions, cilantro, and lime was so satisfying. The rich broth, slices of steak and the balance of fresh, herbal accoutrements really warmed and made us happy. We definitely could not finish the whole bowl, but would return for more. The bowl of broth and noodles reminded us of our first trip to Vietnam and prompted dialogue and warm conversations about our families, travels and roots.
The Vegetarian Bo Bia Spring Rolls for $7 came with several spring rolls filled with with fried tofu, egg, fresh jicama and carrots and served with a thin, sweet peanut sauce. The rolls were fresh and had a nice twist of flavor and textural contrast with the jicama and egg, but could never beat our mom’s vegetarian fresh rolls, but still a nice reminder of home.
The uber decadent Pork Belly Banh Mi for $8 with perfectly caramelized and rich pork belly and decadent housemade chicken pate and mayo was definitely smooth and tasty. The with fresh daikon pickles, cucumbers, jalapenos, and cilantro cut the buttery flavor of the pork and pate. The sandwich was definitely shareable and a treat.
For vegans there is a Vegan “Smoked Duck” Banh Mi for $8 with soy/wheat-based “duck” with seared trumpet mushrooms and vegan mayo, which we would like to try.
Although we were stuffed, there were several desserts on our radar. I made a mental note that Rock Paper Scissors have Snickerdoodle Cookies made with Vietnamese cinnamon and sugar for $3. We have made homemade BMH’s snickerdoodles, but was curious about RPS’s version. If we are near Hayes on a Thursday we would be back. Strike that, when we want pho, we’d seek out Rice Paper Scissors on Thursdays.

Pho Countryside, Quincy

Pho Countryside used to be the former Pho Yuen Dong. I’m glad this place was renovated October 2011 and has new ownership. The results are very pleasing and hopefully will help drive business. Service is pretty attentive but please note it can be somewhat rocky if the place is very busy. The menu is varied and has many classic Vietnamese dishes such as bo luc lac, goi cuon, bo bay mon and many others. The prices for a decent Vietnamese meal are fair and certainly will not put a hole in your pocket.

Goi cuon – grilled pork fresh summer roll with peanut sauce

These fresh rice paper salad rolls are one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. I typically get one as an appetizer but if you have the privilege of having a goi cuon party at home, don’t hesitate to have a lot of them for dinner. My favorite version has boiled or grilled shrimp in it but my dining companion that night is allergic so we went with grilled pork. The pork was freshly grilled and you could taste the sweet and savory marinade. Paired with the Hoisin peanut sauce, it’s always a winner for me. If you want to try making them at home, we have a good vegetarian goi cuon recipe on our site that you could easily sub the tofu for grilled pork.

Bo la lot- ground beef wrapped in betel leaves

Basically you take a lettuce leaf, layer on the vermicelli and vegetables along with a few bo la lot, then roll it up and dip it in nuoc mam cham if desired. When you bite into it, you’ll get a wonderfully herbacious, almost lemony taste from the betel leaves and slightly peppery aroma to the beef. The aroma is truly different and it also helps to seal in the beef’s moisture and juices while being grilled.

Bo luc lac- shaken beef with red rice

This is a very popular traditional Vietnamese steak and rice dish. The title for “shaking” beef or “luc lac” comes from the physical shaking of the wok or pan the beef is cooked in. Bo luc lac usually comes with a lime-salt-pepper sauce or a soy-chili sauce. This version came coated in a mild soy-chili sauce. The red rice here is just plain old regular white rice jazzed up with a bit of tomato paste to make it orangy-red colored. It’s a more traditional way to eat bo luc lac.

Bun thit nuong chai gio- vermicelli noodle bowl with grilled pork and spring roll

This is one of the most common and popular Vietnamese dishes around. There’s always many variations in a restaurant because there’s so many ways to serve vermicelli noodles with vegetables. The savory and slightly sweet lemongrass marinaded grilled pork, crunchy spring roll, fresh herbs, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon, crushed roasted peanuts, scallion oil and nuoc mam cham drenched vermicelli is always a standby comfort food for me. Somehow it always reminds me of my childhood and eating out with my parents.

Any time we’re going to do a little food shopping at Kam Man, we’ll definitely be visiting Pho Countryside to sample their Vietnamese cuisine, we’ve already got our eyes on the chicken or beef pho and the banh xeo.

Pho Countryside on Urbanspoon

Tu Lan, SOMA, San Francisco (Temporarily Closed)

Tu Lan is a must visit every time we are in the SOMA vicinity (however temporarily closed until March 2013). Although it is in one of the most precarious and unsavory area of 6th and Market, it is worth the extra precaution and time. The Vietnamese food here is impeccable here, cash only and relatively inexpensive. If it is good enough for Julia Child, it is good enough for us.

Fun trinkets in the entryway

There is some bar style seating, mostly for solo diners to watch the kitchen chaos. Patrons are of all shapes and sizes stop by for eat in or take out. The waitress is pretty efficient and no nonsense, but gets the job done.

We decided on a takeout order of the Gòi Cuon Thit Nuóng bbq pork salad roll ($4.75). Two rolls were filled with nicely flavored bbq pork and lettuce, sprouts and wrapped in thin rice paper. We happily dipped the rolls in the nước chấm. We wish our mother made this version growing up. We have not seek the bbq pork in a gòi cuon at home BMH’s mom’s Vietnamese Fresh Vegetarian Spring Rolls (Gỏi Cuốn Chay)) or in other Vietnamese restaurants.

The imperial rolls (Cha Gió)  had a different egg roll skin than our mother utilizes (BMH’s Egg Rolls with Nuoc Cham). They were thicker, nice and crispy and had a nice balance of meat and vermicelli noodles on the interior.

Another shot of the bbq pork salad roll, but dining in. The rolls are served with a peanut sauce and offers a nutty kick and sweetness to the rolls.  

The Bún Thit Nuóng pork and rice noodle for $5.50 was a steal. The thick bbq pork was perfectly charred and marinated. The bits of oily scallions contrasted the fresh vegetables served with the vermicelli. It is definitely a filling plate and could serve two or would be another meal for later.

Yes, Tu Lan it is isn’t the cleanest restaurant, it’s a mom and pop shop, but boy is it good. Make the visit when it reopens. We’ll be there for the pork fresh rolls and try Tu Lan’s pho, combination plates and fried rice.

Tu Lan on Urbanspoon

Elizabeth Street Cafe, Soco, Austin

Elizabeth’s Street Cafe serves French Vietnamese cuisines such as crepes, pastries, banh mi, pho, noodles and coffee in a lovely atmosphere. Note Elizabeth’s is in the same restaurant family as Perla and Lambert’s.

The pricing is more than double the price of Vietnamese fare at the mom and pop shops I have been to, but this upcharge is certainly for diners that are seeking decor and ambiance.

Some interesting iterations of banh mi include spicy pork meatballs, grilled McAllen Ranch Flank Steak, Keffir Lime Fried Chicken and grilled lemongrass tofu for $7. The Elizabeth Street pho ranges in price from $12 to $22 (Shrimp, Red snapper, Dungeness Crab).

Butter cake, canelles and eclairs (nutella, pistachio and peanut) $3

Macarons and cream puffs (coconut, banana cream or espresso) $2

Zebra striped pillow with the seating and bar area

The Vietnamese Iced coffee being made and consumed (drip coffee and sweetened condensed milk) for $3.00. It was lightly sweet and had a deep coffee flavor. Perfection.

We ordered a canelle, banana cream puff and macarons.

The canelle tasted like a cross between bread budding and a dense flan with a caramel soaked bottom.

The chocolate chili macaron had a deep chocolate flavor with the spice coming through as the chocolate dissipates. The citrus flavored macaon was refreshing.

Next time, I will order the pineapple tatin with palm sugar ice cream, pineapple chips and star anise caramel for $8.

Elizabeth Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pho Pasteur, Chinatown, Boston

Vietnamese food is so aromatic, fresh and healthy and great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At least once a month we go to Pho Pasteur for a fix and we have been going to Pho Pasteur (Le’s) for as long as we can remember with family and now with friends. Our parents would always order a Pho Tai, the aromatic thinly sliced beef with broth, rice noodles, spouts, and mint, but as of late we have been ordering vermicelli noodle bowls.

Two essentials in life: Tea and Sriracha

Goi Cuon (Vietnamese spring rolls) rice noodles, basil, chicken and lettuce $3.50

Sweet peanut dipping sauce with crushed peanuts on top

Bun Thit Heo Nuong Cha Gio (Grilled pork, vermicelli bowl with Egg Roll) $7.95 The combination of the fresh, thinly sliced cucumber, carrots with peanuts, vermicelli and marinated, grilled pork is so delicious.

Nuoc cham, lightly sweetened fish sauce dipping sauce

Cha Gio (egg roll)s with a crisp exterior, ground pork, carrots, rice vermicelli

A little spice from peppers for pho or the fish sauce.

Pho chay (Vegetarian pho with broccoli, baby corn, carrot, aromatic broth and sprouts)

My favorite shakes are Mango and Sinh To Trai Bo (Avocado Shake) for $3.75.

Buttery, icy avocado goodness with sweetened condensed milk

Pho Pasteur on Urbanspoon