I recently flew to San Francisco – one of my very favorite domestic cities – to attend the 2nd Annual Foodbuzz Fest (here’s last year’s write-up). Follow along for the next two weeks as I recap my weekend trip!
Directly after the farewell brunch, I headed back to our hotel and settled out the bill, packed up again all neatly since I had to check my luggage – um, a big scary knife made an appearance in the swag bag – and then walked over to Turtle Tower. Since the first time I went to Turtle Tower a year ago, I have returned on every subsequent visit to San Francisco. (Okay, that makes a total of three visits, but considering I have limited meals whenever I’m in San Francisco, this speaks volumes.) However, my cousin’s wife, who first told me about the place, actually raved about the chicken pho. But I’ve always gotten the other pho – the one more similar to my standard order here in NYC at Pho Bang – because that’s what’s normal to me, and I have an aversion to ordering chicken in restaurants. Sue me.
On the walk over to Turtle Tower, it started drizzling lightly, which made me happy – though it could spell disaster for my afternoon flight home – because to me, rainy, ugly weather is perfect pho weather. While I waited for a seat, I decided for sure this time I would try the pho T raved about to me last year. And so I did; it came quickly, the above. Clear broth, smelling all the world amazing and just like what you want when you’re feeling under the weather.
Per usual, perfectly cooked noodles.
And though I never really look for meat in my pho, I found it lovely and incredible that they include chicken skin in the pho. I need to learn how to make this at home… Hanoi style pho anytime I want. The broth was wonderfully sweet, clear, not as ‘murky’ as regular pho tends to be (with the addition of star anise), and just amazing. I happily slurped all my soup down.
Funny note: since I was by myself, they asked if I’d be willing to share my table with someone who was also waiting. I agreed, if only so I could eat faster and get going – oh, and this is the first time out of three visits that I sat in the front section (the restaurant is split in two, cut in half by the kitchen, so you access the back portion by continuing down the side street to a side door). It was a bit awkward sitting directly across from someone and not talking to them – I had no book, just my BlackBerry to occupy me – and my snobby, ignorant, slightly racist self presumed that he didn’t speak English based on his looks, age, and that he ordered completely in Vietnamese after discussing a menu item with the waitress for a few minutes. He saw me taking pictures of my meal, and intently watched me doing so; I avoided his gaze because I didn’t want to get sucked into a conversation about what I was doing or why I was doing it. But he offered to take a picture for me by gesturing and making the universal “take picture” signs with his hands; I politely declined because I didn’t want a picture of me eating. Towards the end of the meal, a couple sat down next to us and proceeded to order rather quickly – they were both very familiar with the menu – and the man sitting across from me asked them about their order, I guess. They started raving about #6, saying the noodles are fried before being put in the pho (!!!), and insisting that the man try them the next time out. And that’s when I heard the man sitting across from me speak English – slightly accented, but mostly just fine. Color me stupid. Encouraged by the friendliness of the couple, though, I asked them to clarify; their noodles were fried, then put in the soup?! That sounds amazing! So they clarified and said yes, they appear to be fried first… and then said “We have too much food! Take some of this [Empress roll]!” and proceeded to hand both myself and the man sharing my table a spoon filled with fried spring rolls of sorts. I had to decline because I was so full (I’d literally drank the entire bowl of soup, and I knew I was ready to burst out of my pants), but the friendliness and the enthusiasm with which the two encouraged eating really touched me. If it matters, neither of them were Asian, but I heard them (before I started talking to them) talking about the meal ahead of them, expressing their excitement. And the man across from me told them he was from Seattle but whenever he flew into San Francisco, he made a special point of going to Turtle Tower, hadn’t yet had the dish they mentioned, but would get it next time. Nice. (Our tables were really close, so it’s not like we were leaning over to peer at their food.) I love San Francisco.
And after that, though I was super duper full, I headed diagonally across Larkin Street to Saigon Sandwich, where there was a line out the door. Okay, it’s a small place, so a line of over 5 people definitely leaks out the door, but still, everyone waited patiently in the sprinkle.
The menu remains the same, with one small change: everything’s gone up in price by 25c from last year. Not that big a deal; the sandwiches are still super cheap!
*cough* I actually ordered two, figuring correctly I’d eat one on the plane and one at home in NYC. Hey! it was months before that since I had banh mi! So whatever. And these are cheaper than in NYC. Unfortunately, as I opened the sandwich on the plane…
It became clear that the sandwich was too awesome-smelling for the other passengers. I’m all for eating stinky food whenever I want to, but on an airplane, in a small space, I just couldn’t justify it. So I quickly ate half, put the rest away, and then ate it when I got home. Still yummy, and she still put too many jalapenos on when I said I didn’t want it spicy. Ah well. I love banh mi, what can I say?
Yvo says: As always, neither place disappoints. Love them. I will continue to go whenever I return to San Francisco and have a mealtime available to my own choices… yum.
highly recommended… both of them, duh, that’s why I made a point to visit them during a weekend when every single other meal was sponsored (except the first one)