Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Sep 21, 2007 05:56 PM

Two days in a row at Turtle Tower

I went to Turtle Tower both today and yesterday for lunch.

Yesterday I tried the pho with well-done beef. Very good - the broth was excellent, pieces of meat were moist and lean, although I think I prefer rare beef pho and will continue to order that in the future.

Today I tried the pho ga (chicken soup) - added some chilis and lemon to this and it was very nice, the soup is not at all heavy, tastes very home-made (in fact, similar to chicken soup my Mom makes, minus the cilantro and scallions). I personally the beef broth to chicken broth, so it is rare that I order chicken soup at pho places, but it was a nice change of pace. In the future I'll probably still stick with beef.

Today I discovered that you can have house brewed iced tea instead of hot tea (tasted like jasmine green tea). This was a good discovery.

I really like the fresh rice noodles used at Turtle Tower - I would hesitate to eat pho anywhere else in that neighborhood (or in SF) since I like these noodles so much. Are there other places that use fresh noodles like this?

Small soup (which is usually plenty for me) is less than 6 dollars.

Dave MP

Turtle Tower Restaurant
5716 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Well, probably not what you are looking for, but Slanted Door uses fresh rice noodles ... or it did a few years ago.

    Turtle Tower Restaurant
    5716 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

    1. Turtle Tower has 2 locations; the original one is in the Tenderloin at 631 Larkin St. (near Eddy). I'm just mentioning it because "Places Mentioned" only seems to have the Geary St. restaurant.

      They have the best pho ga I've ever had. You can get it with dark meat chicken if you prefer, but they charge $1 extra.

      2 Replies
      1. re: JoyM

        That's strange, since I'm pretty sure I initially typed in the Larkin St. address for the "places"......that's where I ate. I am posting on technical help about it, since when I try to add a link, the Larkin address shows up, but when I pick it, the Geary one appears instead.

        UPDATED: I looked on the Technical Help page and this problem has been reported already.

        So anyone who is reading this, know that I ate at the Larkin St. location. I have never been to the Geary Location.

        1. re: Dave MP

          The Geary location is great too!

      2. Have you ever tried the rare/raw beef pho at Bodega Bistro? I had it last weekend, after noticing the line for Turtle Tower on Larkin was 20 people deep. I'd previously only had dinner at Bodega Bistro, which is quite good, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them open for lunch, albeit with a simpler menu that focused more on pho and rice dishes.

        I don't have a ton of experience with beef pho, but I thought this was a delicious example. Absolutely no feigned confusion or reticence when I asked for my raw beef on the side, so I could swish it in the hot broth myself to avoid over cooking it. The broth itself was delicious, with complex flavors that made my mouth extremely happy, though I could not identify many specific flavors other than beef. This is not a jubilant circus of spices and herbs, but rather a well choreographed bowl of pho where all the ingredients mesh. Noodles did not seem fresh, but they were well cooked dry noodles regardless. BF complained of a touch too much MSG flavor in his pork chop pho, but I'm 99% sure mine had a different broth and while I certainly tasted umami, it didn't seem to be loaded with MSG. Since I've never put pure MSG on my tongue, I don't know that I can separate out the synthetic flavor from the naturally occurring umami in prosciutto, parmesan, and other yummy foods. BF thought his direct comparison of pork chop pho to pork chop pho within a few weeks of Turtle Tower to Bodega Bistro leaned strongly in favor of Turtle Tower, but perhaps the pork chop is more of an afterthought at Bodega Bistro.

        This wasn't a cheap bowl of pho at 6-7 bucks, but it was way more than I could finish and if there's good food in front of me, I usually have no trouble scarfing it down. Judging by how deeply colored and flavored the broth was, I don't think they could make much profit on this bowl due to the amount of beef and beef bones that go into such a rich stock.

        3 Replies
        1. re: SteveG

          Another near miss, Steve! I bagged TT after seeing the line on Sunday, almost went to Bodega Bistro (which I've never tried), but ended up at Huang's Kitchen instead with a lovely bowl of pho ga.

          Bodega Bistro
          607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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

          Huang's Kitchen
          611 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Glad to hear Huang's Kitchen is good--it looked surprisingly chowish for a chinese joint in little Saigon. I like that Turtle Tower's neighbors have recognized an opportunity for good lunch business if they can provide a reasonable substitution to the hordes hoping to luck out at Turtle Tower. Bodega Bistro's pho ga was also touted as a (free) range chicken, so it looks like all 3 are serving up a superior chicken compared to many other places.

            For a nice change of pace at dinner, the whole roast squab with intact head and feet at Bodega Bistro is a nice choice at $12 or $13, and they have a limited selection of pho at dinner if you'd like to start the meal with soup. It's a reasonably wine-friendly dinner menu. Somehow I always do OK parking near Bodega Bistro if I'm in the mood for Vietnamese on a Friday night, and I haven't had any tenderloin trouble getting back to my car around 10 PM.

            1. re: SteveG

              I'd had no idea that Turtle Tower had become so popular. Anyone know whether it's staying open any later these days? That is, past 7pm or so.

        2. Thanks Dave MP for this posting. I had jury duty on McAllister and was finally able to get to the Larkin St location of Turtle Tower. Had a bowl of yummy pho ga on Monday. I almost felt bad that jury duty ended early and I won't be in the neighborhood to try more.

          1. For my last day in San Fran, and to cap a three day pho binge, I went to Turtle Tower. I had read so many positive reviews (300+ on Yelp!) that I had to give it a shot and have the legendary pho ga. I wish I hadn't read so much hype first, because I was sorely disappointed. It was nice chicken noodle soup. That's it. The broth was something I could have made myself given an hour or two and a bird. But maybe that's why so many people like it, it's very homemade tasting.

            I guess I was expecting more because I had heard so much and had to wait in line to get in. It was a very nice chicken soup, though. The imperial roll was the size of a cigar cut in half and was $2. Total rip-off. Overall, pretty good. Not worth 300+ Yelp reviews, though.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Lina

              You're right that it's not the pho ga that most places prepare. It's chicken noodle soup. It's not going to win any "best new" awards. But it's solid, tasty, and always consistently good. When it's cold outside or you're feeling a bit sick, it's the perfect meal. So my question to you is if you can name a place that does a better basic chicken noodle soup?

              1. re: junesix

                I was unsure of whether it had changed in the year and a half since this thread got started, but the last time i had the beef Pho (tai) at TT i felt like i had an MSG bomb go off in my mouth. Im not normally sensitive, and it could just have been a whole bunch of good old fashioned sodium, i can't be sure. I was sick, it was delicious, but i found myself downing gallons of water the whole rest of the day. Maybe im blaming illness related dehydration on the food I ate, and, again, it certainly was delicious. am i the only one to experience these after-effects?

                1. re: junesix

                  Well, my mom can make a better chicken soup. And my dad can. And so can I. So I guess that's the problem. I like to go out to eat for things I can't make myself, or can't easily make myself. I was surprised to wait on line for something that was so standard.