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best (lower cost) vietnamese in/around SF?

my boyfriend & i just moved from atlanta and are sure there's great vietnamese cuisine out here, just haven't found it yet. we're looking for cheap(er) stuff, not open door-type restaurants (though we love that too!)
i'm a pescetarian, and LOVE the wrap-it-yourself shrimp/salmon dishes (don't know what they're called! help!), and my boyfriend is looking for really good bun.

so far we've tried:
tao cafe (1 block from our apartment)- we were really bored by the food, though it's cute.
pagolac - good, but perhaps more beef-oriented than we're typically into. it was also cheap & cute, so we're willing to try it again.
sunflower cafe (also close to our place)- we were told the catfish hot & sour soup was amazing, but after ordering it, thought it was too sweet, and not 'hot'/spicy enough... the rest of our meal was good but again, not amazing.

any suggestions!?!?? we like spicy, we like fresh. if there's any other posts that relate to this, too, please let me know (have searched without much luck). we'll leave the city if anyone has suggestions about places that serve great versions of the particular dishes we're craving.

thanks all!!

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    1. Welcome to SF!

      Try the cha ca Hanoi at Turtle Tower - really great fish dish. Also great is the pho (although this is not good for pescetarians)

      Another good choice is Lotus Garden, which is in Mission/Bernal Heights. This place is a tad nicer (good service and decor) and cost can vary depending on what you order, but overall it's pretty inexpensive.

      There are lots of posts on both of these places.

      There are tons more Vietnamese restaurants to try. I'm looking forward to hearing what you guys like best, since I am always looking out for new, good Vietnamese restaurants (especially ones to visit with non-meat eating friends)

      Dave MP

      Lotus Garden
      3216 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Turtle Tower Restaurant
      631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

      1 Reply
      1. re: Dave MP

        thanks!! we'll definitely check those out & let you know what we think....

      2. Out in the Richmond there's La Vie. Pleasant environment, very good food, very solid. At one time it was on Chron's Top 100 list. Not inexpensive but reasonable.

        La Vie Vietnamese Restaurant
        5830 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

        2 Replies
        1. re: ML8000

          Isn't there a connection between La Vie and Lotus Garden? I thought I remember something like brother and sister.

          1. re: bdl

            The owners of La Vie and Lotus Garden are related, but the two are run as seperate operations. There is a similarity in the menus.

        2. PPQ on Irving and 19th has amazing pho - there's on in the Richmond district too, on Clement I think. They have seafood pho if you don't want beef.

          Personally I like Sunflower too, though it's not the best.

          2 Replies
          1. re: yogurtsoda

            Speaking of PPQ, don't miss the five spiced chicken bun, best five spiced chicken I've ever had.

            1. re: DezzerSF

              Agreed! PPQ used angus beef slices in the pho the last time I was there (and wonderful broth btw). And their five spiced chicken is phenominal. Their quality of food is excellent for the price.

          2. You'll have to adventure into the Tenderloin, but it is well worth it... Bodega Bistro on Larkin street (at O'Farrell?). They have great Bun.
            Also, try Bodhi, on Valencia between 13th and 14th. I've only been there for lunch, but the food is fresh and very good.

            1. I second Le Vie on Geary. Everything I've had there has been delicious.

              1. Lam Hoa Thuan
                2337 Irving Street @25th Avenue
                San Francisco
                (415) 661-1688/ (415) 661-8078
                Open daily 9am-9pm

                Yummy Yummy
                1015 Irving Street @ 12th Avenue
                San Francisco, CA 94122
                (415) 566-4722
                Hours: * Mon 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
                * Wed-Sun 10:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

                btw, what is "open door-type restaurants "?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Cynsa

                  slanted door! i meant slanted door, sorry!! thanks for the replies, everyone... will report back soon on our experiences at some of these places.

                2. For bun, my favorite is Loi's out in Sunset, which has amazing meats, but you won't find any 'pescatarian' options there.

                  My favorite cheap-er Vietnamese restaurants with larger menus are:

                  -Turtle Tower for pho ga
                  -Golden Flower for bun, particularly the pork and shrimp version
                  -Golden Star for beef pho with a lovely broth
                  -Lotus Garden for bahn xeo

                  They probably have large enough menus for you to find something that fits within your diet and budget.

                  1. No question - Bodega Bistro. Do a search - it's truly amazing.

                    1. hey all! thanks so much for the suggestions!! after much debate (and a lloooooong time of no vietnamese food due to people in town, busy work schedules, blah blah blah), the boyf and i ventured up to bodega bistron on sunday night. YUMMM is what we have to say. delish! he was super happy with his bun, me with my hot dish of panfried fish (cod? can't remember) to wrap with plenty of fresh herbs and rice noodles. we liked the addition of shiso and some other soapy-tasting herbs we're not familiar with. also, the fish was pan fried with a ton of dill, which i thought was tasty, yet different than what i expect from vietnamese... there's some other discussions on chowhound about this that i'll try to remember to link to here. oh, also, we really loved the papaya salad- i asked them to put the beef jerky on the side so carniverous boyfriend could eat it and i didn't have to pick it out; they gladly obliged. actually, i would say the staff was really friendly and our service was fast, in contrast to what i've read here and on yelp. all in all, two thumbs up!
                      but we'll keep exploring some of these other recs & i'll keep reporting back as to what we think. might be able to get the boyfriend to add a review of his bun as he's even more of a foodie than me.

                      thanks again for the recs!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: xepht

                        Thanks for reporting back! The fish dish with dill is cha ca -- they probably used basa. Yeah, there's been some discussion about it here. The best version I've had is at Pho Thien Long in San Jose

                        Pho Thien Long Restaurant
                        1111 Story Rd, San Jose, CA 95122