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Jul 1, 2009 07:19 AM

The VN coffee search in SF

I wrote requesting some pointers a while back; now I'm in the city following up. So far, not so good.

Sunday night I ended up at Slanted Door (surprised, incidentally, at how early things close in downtown, and especially in the Ferry Building.) Great view, as I'm sure you all know, but I wasn't really wowed by the food. Seems like more of a place to go than a place to go and eat. But never mind -- the Vietnamese iced coffee would have been a good sweet iced coffee if they had left off the "Vietnamese" adjective. It was served in a pint glass (?!), was insufficiently sweet, insufficiently strong, and the coffee had no chickory. As I said, more like an iced coffee with cream and sugar.

Yesterday, based on Melanie Wong's banh mi opus, I went to Tu Kim for lunch (surprised at how quickly the, ahem, character of the neighborhood changes as walking up from Market). Place was empty of customers at 1:15, except for an older gentleman sleeping in a chair at the entrance. It was good that I read you could get coffee and a sandwich here, because there aren't any signs to that effect, no prices, no menu, nothing to indicate to a white boy that I could eat there. But friendly enough once I got past that. The (iced) coffee was better than Slanted Door's, but it was served in a paper take-out cup (?!), even though I was obviously sitting down to eat. The coffee again seemed not to have chickory, and -- while stronger than SD's -- was still not strong nor sweet enough. Don't know what brand of milk they use here, but I wish they hadn't pre-mixed it. Part of the joy of VN coffee is watching it drip and lie on top of the milk, then stirring up the milk, having some of it stick to the spoon, licking the spoon, etc. -- the whole ritualistic aspect. And really, it needs to be in a small glass so you can observe the process.

I'm here for another couple of days, so I welcome more suggestions, but I have no car, so don't recommend the suburbs.

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  1. I'm not a VN coffee connoiseur, but try turtle tower. Condensed milk on the bottom, not premixed, in a glass. If they're not busy, you could try asking them to make it strong, but I make no promises.

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

    8 Replies
    1. re: sfbing

      Score! Thanks, sfbing. Turtle Tower's coffee was very good, maybe not great, but easily the best I've had so far -- brought out dripping, with the filter on the glass of milk, and a separate glass of ice. As quite the bonus, even though it's in the middle of a block bracketed by "Little Saigon" signs, Turtle Tower (as the name gives away) is owned/operated by Northerners, so in addition to the coffee I was able to get a Hanoi-style bun cha for lunch. Every table was full at about 1:45 pm, mostly having pho, which I'm going to try to get back for, since you don't find much Northern Vietnamese-style in California.

      1. re: Gin n Tonic

        Glad to help. Another suggestion: the chicken pho is the way to go at Turtle Tower. People have this compulsion to order the beef because that's what the Vietnamese are famous for around the world, but the pho ga really shines at Turtle Tower. Free range chicken, very clear stock. No basil.

        The beef is tender and hand cut. (They don't run frozen blocks of beef through the meat slicer here). If you're looking for something different, they also have stir-fried beef pho. The cha gio ain't bad either.

        1. re: Gin n Tonic

          My favorite VN coffee is at Vietnam on Broadway. Total hole in the wall but they do coffee right . . . at least for me - chicory coffee, black & white s.c.m. I will stop in just for a to-go coffee if I am in the neighborhood. Love it! The food can be hit or miss depending who is cooking. .. but their summer rolls are made to order and I like that. Their pork chop plate with rice and fried egg is also a 2 am standard.

            1. re: Gin n Tonic

              on Broadway, about 4 store fronts off of Columbus.

              Vietnam Restaurant
              620 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

            2. re: pastryqueen

              I just tried theirs and didn't like it so much. I thought the coffee wasn't strong enough and I much prefer Longevity brand to Black & White s.c.m.: B&W tastes oily to me, which isn't surprising since it contains nonfat milk and partially hydro soybean oil, whereas Longevity is just cream & sugar.

              Golden Flower might be my current favorite. Trung Nguyen coffee with Longevity milk, made to order. And the food is consistently good.

              Golden Flower Vietnamese
              667 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

              1. re: david kaplan

                I'll second your mention of Trung Nguyen coffee - I can't drink coffee very often but every once in awhile I give in to the craving and make VN coffee with Trung Nguyen and sweetened condensed milk just like they do in the shops - love, love, love it.

                1. re: david kaplan

                  Just had coffee at Yummy Yummy. They use a Black & White that is only milk & sugar. Checking the B&W website, I see that Vietnam Restaurant uses B&W "filled" milk, which is nonfat milk with oil added.

                  Anyway, Yummy Yummy's was strong, with good balance of chicory and sweetness, quite rich. I'd rank it right there with Golden Flower, and way above what I had a Vietnam on Broadway.

                  Yummy Yummy
                  1015 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

          1. La Vie on Geary bet. 22nd and 23rd has a lovely VN coffee. and nice food , too.

            1. I had a suprisingly good ones at Baguette Express on Larkin but once in a while they are hit or miss. The coffee is strong and has that strong chicory flavor. I think they even slip in a little baileys or something - it kinda tastes like there is alcohol in it. Give it a try.

              1. link

                Slanted Door
                Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                Yummy Yummy
                1015 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

                Tu Kim Cafe
                609 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94109