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bun rieu in san francisco and being sad about bun bo hue

The last post about SF bun rieu options was a few years ago, so I thought I'd check and see if I'm missing out on anything...

Places I've eaten bun rieu at in order of tasty goodness (I'm leaving out the places that sucked):
ha nam ninh (they add oc to their bun rieu!)
vietnam too
jasmine garden (I was totally surprised by how decent their soups are)

Places I intend on eating bun rieu at soon:
ngoc mai
quan bac
bodega bistro

Any suggestions? Any comments on the places I'm going or have been to?

Also, if anyone has any tips on bun bo hue options, I'm all ears. So far I've only been placated by the bun bo hue at ha nam ninh. Every place else just kind of makes me kind of sad in a "who peed in my soup" kind of way.

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  1. yummy yummy has an okay bun rieu.

    For bun bo hue, I make the trek to San Jose. Quan bac might be a possibility for bun bo hue in the city, but I've not had it there yet. For the food detectives out there, there used to be a grungy dive on broadway near stockton (I think) that had a really earthy version of bun bo hue but I have not been there for like five years and cannot remember the name of the restaurant.

    6 Replies
    1. re: sfbing

      I took a Vietnamese person to yummy yummy once and she got so mad at the food she almost stabbed me.

      Is the restaurant you're thinking of "Vietnam Restaurant?" That's supposedly the sister restaurant of "Vietnam Too" or "Pho Tau Bay" on Larkin.

      Vietnam Restaurant
      620 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

      1. re: monkutaro

        Yummy yummy is Chinese-Vietnamese, which might account for the reaction. The inner sunset is not rich in Vietnamese, so I can't afford to be too choosy. Plus, bun rieu is hard to find. Yummy yummy's bun rieu is pretty typical, though, in the "pour in the jar of brown glop" way that most restaurants (even in SJ) make it nowadays. My main quibble is that they put too much food in the bowl and the noodles are a little too soft. Also no rau ram. Their banh cuon are actually pretty good.

        The location is about right, but the place I remember was way more divey than Vietnam Restaurant. My guess is that place is long gone.

        1. re: sfbing

          That's so awesome. I totally remember her exclaiming, "WHERE'S THE RAU RAM??"

          If it's not Vietnam Restaurant maybe it's My Canh? That place is pretty divy and it's only one store down to the west.

          hrm. speaking of chinatown, I just remembered... I might add Golden Star to my list of to-eat places.

          My Canh
          626 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

          Golden Star Vietnamese Restaurant
          11 Walter U Lum Pl, San Francisco, CA 94108

          1. re: monkutaro

            I think it was in the My Canh space, but don't know if it was My Canh. When I went, the place had no carpet and was really dark in a "lights are a waste of electricity" kind of way. Although, the pics on yelp of My Canh's food look pretty interesting.

            My Canh
            626 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

            1. re: monkutaro

              I've had the bun rieu at both My Canh and Vietnam Restaurant on Broadway in North Beach. My Canh's version is far superior with tofu, blood cubes, and plenty of crab meatballs. They serve it with cabbage, bean sprouts, basil, chili paste, and shrimp paste. I would recommend adding My Canh's bun rieu to your list.

              My Canh
              626 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

        2. re: sfbing

          I grabbed a sandwich at Y&Y Vietnamese Deli on Clement the other day and noticed that one of the few soups on the menu was bun rieu. Also, there were some takeout menus for Yummy Yummy lying around. Could the two have the same owner?

          Also tried the bun rieu oc at Ha Nam Ninh. Pretty good, I thought, with mint plus the usual lemon/bean sprouts/jalapenos for garnish. I was expecting to be a little grossed out by the snails but they may have been the best part of the dish. Flavor was subtle and makes me suspect that they don't use that ready-made crab sludge.

          Yummy Yummy
          1015 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

          Ha Nam Ninh
          337 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

        3. Can't help too much with Bun Rieu, but I've tried Bun Bo Hue at Ngoc Mai, Ha Nam Ninh and Pho 2000.

          Both Ngoc Mai and Ha Nam Ninh were pretty good bowls, with the standard pork hock, pork blood, and beef slices. Their broths aren't as good as Bun Bo Hue An Nam in San Jose, missing the depth and overall balance. I don't believe either served julienned banana blossoms as garnish as well.

          Pho 2000's BBH had plenty of beef slices and pork blood, but no pork hock. Broth was okay.

          I'd be curious to know how Quan Bac's BBH is, as I've enjoyed their Pho Ga and Pho Bo.

          If you're willing to trek to Oakland, try Pho Ao Sen or Pho King.

          Ha Nam Ninh
          337 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          Ngoc Mai
          1696 Berryessa Rd, San Jose, CA 95133

          Pho Ao Sen
          1139 E 12th St, Oakland, CA

          Pho King
          638 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

          Quan Bac
          4112 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

          3 Replies
          1. re: DezzerSF

            bun bo hue an nam is still the tastiest bun bo hue i've had in the bay area.

            i'm favoring ha nam ninh's bbh over ngoc mai. the gf says ha nam ninh has the best pork blood. pho tan hoa's bbh was okay, but i definitely prefer the previously mentioned restaurants over that place.

            i'm planning on checking out quan bac's stuff in the next day or two. not sure if it'd be worth my time going to pho 2000.

            how do those oakland places compare to the places in SF? i rarely go over to the east bay for food reasons. eating japanese food on that side of the bridge makes me angry, but i'd consider making the trip for good bun rieu or bun bo hue.

            1. re: monkutaro

              I think the Oakland places are more "in your face" with their seasonings. The fish sauce and spiciness stand out more in their broths, especially Ao Sen the last time I went. I think I couldn't talk from choking on the broth a couple times!

              You wouldn't be missing out by skipping on Pho 2000. And from what I tasted of Golden Star's Pho Bo, I don't think you'd miss out on that place either.

              1. re: monkutaro

                oakland vietnamese seems to be stronger than sf. certainly the bun bo hue at pho ao sen trumps anything i've had in the city. in general, ethnic food tends to be stronger in outlying areas (due to cheaper rents and overall population distribution). think monterey park in l.a. or queens in nyc.

            2. I'm not an expert on what is authentic Vietnamese, but I have enjoyed the bun bo hue at Pho Garden in the Richmond. It's SPICY though. I've always been intrigued by the bun rieu, but I haven't tried it yet.

              1. i can't really say, as i'm far from an expert on vietnamese food. but i have enjoyed the bun bo hue at ngoc mai several times. decently spicy, comes with a pork hock and the usual blood cubes. i have had bun rieu once there, and while i enjoyed it i didn't love it. but i don't really feel qualified to speak on it.

                but ifi you're in SF, i'd check it out.

                Ngoc Mai Restaurant
                547 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                1. I had the bun rieu at bodega bistro. It wasn't bad, but it was basically just crab mince, noodles, and a few tomatoes. none of the extras you might see at other places like fried tofu, pork blood, fishcake, oc, etc.

                  I have some pictures of bun rieu and bbh at various places...


                  Bodega Bistro
                  607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  1. Since this thread is specific to SF, I added my report on a recent trip to Bun Bo Hue An Nam in San Jose to another thread ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4809... ). However, this thread has me curious about the differences between bun rieu (which I don't remember having before) and bun bo hue. My recent bowl of bun bo hue was great in most respects, but the broth was less intense (not as red, oily or spicy) as I remembered from past bun bu hue. I am wondering if my memories of a more intense broth are actually memories of another dish, perhaps bun rieu. I notice from the flickr pictures that the bun rieu broth looks redder than the bun bo hue broth.

                    Can anyone explain the difference between the broth in these two soups? Are there other Vietnamese (or other Southeast Asian) soups that I might try in my search for very intense red broth?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: charliemyboy

                      Bun rieu is made with crab and tomatoes, hence the red color. I don't believe there are any tomatoes in bun bo hue, it's probably only tinged red by hot pepper paste.

                      1. re: charliemyboy

                        I think the deep reddishness in some of these dishes is because of annatto. I'm pretty sure you can't get a deep red in a thin soup like that with just tomatoes.

                        I came across these recipes a while back, they might help you better than my vague ramblings: http://wanderingchopsticks.blogspot.c...

                        btw, does anyone know if mam ruoc in bbh is a common thing? my gf keeps telling me it's an offense to god, but it can't be wrong if it tastes so right...

                        1. re: charliemyboy

                          Bun rieu is made with a seafood-pork stock (ideally, crab and shrimp sometimes punched up with dried shrimp and shrimp paste) with a crab-shrimp-pork-egg patty that is broken up into meat chunks. Also preferably lots of tomatoes. In Vietnam, the crabs are these tiny brown paddy crabs which are pounded (shells and all) with mortar and pestle until it produces a slimy brown goop which is stirred into the stock. The soup is not meant to be particularly spicy and has a funky-sweet seafood flavor. The noodles are a thin round rice noodle. A thick slick of orange oil is neither required (or IMO desirable). It is actually a by product of using the canned jars of paddy crab paste that are commercially produced and submerged in a thick layer of soybean oil. If a restaurant relies heavily on the paste and skimps on the actual seafood, I find the flavor to be kind of processed.

                          Bun bo hue is a spicy meat stock seasoned with shrimp paste, lemongrass, and annatto seeds. The annatto seeds are what gives it the red color. The meats are generally pork feet, beef shank, and pork blood. The noodle is supposed to be a thick round rice noodle which can stand up to the richness of the stock. The amount of oil on top can vary. Ok-let's be honest- a lot of that "oil" is really rendered animal fat from the beef and pork. I personally like Bun Bo Hue An Nam's version because it doesn't have a 1/2 inch thick layer of grease on top, unlike the version I grew up with. Also, Bun Bo Hue An Nam's pork loaf or cha is kick ass--it is made by someone else to their specs (including a heaping dose of whole peppercorns), and sometimes they sell it by the counter.

                          1. re: sfbing

                            Agreed-- the pork loaf at BBH An Nam is truly awesome. It was the tastiest single thing in my bowl.

                        2. Golden Flower, my favorite Vietnamese for bun and pho in the Chinatown/FiDi area, just added Bun Bo Hue to their menu last week. I saw the sign today when picking up an order and am eager to try it soon. The owner is from Hue. Based on the quality of the dishes I usually order there, I have high hopes for their new Bun Bo Hue.

                          Golden Flower
                          Jackson between Kearny & Grant, SF
                          (link didn't work when posted)