The women of San Francisco who love Cha Gió and also love wearing shorts understand that defining the "best casual Vietnamese dining in SF" is not a simple task. And while most of us would love to make Charlie Phan's grass-fed estancia shaking beef habitual, the art of crapping money is still in testing. So, with tight budgets, and with subsequently tight buns (thank you, Reebok EasyTone and/or Taylor street), the woman's search for the perfect bun (thit nuong) in SF will inevitably include some combination of the following: iced coffee, public urination, unsolicited date requests by men named "Hung Cashew Twitty" and "Your Perfect Man," vermicelli noodles, and several degrees of (usually creative) objectifying remarks. This is because most of San Francisco's best Vietnamese eateries live on Larkin Street, between Eddy & O'Farrell.
About 15 percent of the city's Vietnamese population lives in the Tenderloin district, and in early 2004 San Francisco deemed the two-block corridor on Larkin (between Eddy & O'Farrell) Little Saigon, or Sài Gòn Nhỏ. 80 percent of this area is Vietnamese-owned, and includes restaurants, travel agents, dentists, tailors, tattoo parlors, acupuncturists, doctors' offices, questionably erotic massage parlors... doctors' offices.
And while the community has effectively enhanced this neighborhood with a rich & dynamic culture, the immersive experience often seems as ephemeral as the long-winded attempts of "Hung Cashew Twitty" in articulating "how symmetrical" you are on your way there. As a woman on a journey to define the "best casual Vietnamese dining experience" in Little Saigon, you must brave both the Tenderloin streets and the inevitable objectification; and most of the time, it's worth it.
Here are some of the best Vietnamese eateries in Little Saigon, as rated by Yelp readers; I've reviewed these restaurants based on quality of food, atmosphere, and the amount of objectification I'd personally be willing to put up with to dine at them. These amounts may or may not be directly related to my menstrual cycle. Also, please note that my "star system" is instead a "bun system," named not only to represent the amount of deliciousness associated with each specific bun thit nuong, but also the amount of "ass" comments I would graciously accept for certain experiences. Little Sigh, gone!
- Mangosteen: With bright green paint and white trim, Mangosteen stands out on Larkin street as "classic Vietnamese with a modern flair." The ambiance is clean and refined, and the service is warm. However, because of the small serving sizes, I'd give this eatery's filet mignon garlic noodles only two buns ("I'd like to use your behind as a mattress," and "your crack is so centered").
- Pagolac: This "hole in the wall" family-style eatery (whose tagline reads "mom's vietnamese kitchen") boasts upbeat & friendly service, the best "Seven Course Beef" deal in the city ($16), and is my favorite place to eat claypot catfish. Pagloac gets three buns for me ("I want to take those cheeks to the theater," "I want to build a house on that," and "those dimples mean that rump is smiling").
- Turtle Tower: Favored by Charlie Phan and one of the most widely reviewed restaurants in Little Saigon since it's opening in 2000, Turtle Tower has a Pho Bo Dac Biet that gives me the chills -- and their Pho Ga is what has "made them famous." While they are often one of the busiest eateries on Larkin, the wait for a table is almost always bracketed by warm service and a cosmic broth. Because of this, I'd give Turtle Tower a total of four buns ("does your ass have an insurance policy?," "scRUMPtious," "choo choo the caboose is headed to Miami, people" and "the genetic pool has been kind to you [slap]").