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Best Vietnameses free-range chicken soup (pho ga) in SF

j
johnrsf Oct 18, 2010 09:27 AM

I'm a Jewish boy who often craves a big bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup on cold foggy days, and we have a lot of those days in San Francisco, especially this past summer. Long ago, I learned that the best places to go for good chicken soup in San Francisco are Asian restaurants, particularly Vietnamese pho joints, where they have perfected the art of making free range chicken noodle soup (pho ga). When my mother, a chicken soup lover who makes a very good chicken soup herself, visits from the Midwest and asks for chicken soup, I've always taken her to Turtle Tower, my previous favorite place for pho ga. Although Turtle Tower makes a very fine pho ga, I was often disappointed by the paltry amount of chicken they give you, even in their large bowl. Also, their long lines can be discouraging if you're pressed for time, or the weather is ugly. They're service is usually brusque as well (the only exception being when I bring my mother), but that's typical for pho joints. I'd still go back to Turtle Tower for the best beef noodle soup (pho bo) in San Francisco.

Yesterday was one such drizzly day. My partner and I were on our way to Turtle Tower with a little more than an hour to spare before our movie at AMC 1000 when we saw a line on the sidewalk outside Turtle Tower waiting to be seated. I remembered recently reading a Chowhound post buried near the end of a very long two year old discussion of bamboo noodles that mentioned the pho ga at Hai Ky Mi Gia. We turned around and walked around the corner to Hai Ky, where we got seated immediately at a long table shared with one man, usually a problem for my partner, who doesn't like to share tables. After eating there yesterday, it's our new favorite place for chicken soup in San Francisco. Upon reviewing the other posts on their pho ga (all buried under other headings), I decided that Hai Ky Mi Gia deserves a post of its own for it's pho ga.

I've eaten at Hai Ky many times, and I've always enjoyed their duck leg noodle soup and some of their other offerings, but I'd never noticed the pho ga on the menu. I almost missed it this time as well, as it's buried near the end of the back side of the menu, just above the fish cakes (also quite good!). We both ordered the pho ga with egg noodles. Our bowls arrived a few minutes later, full of hot fragrant broth with little globules of fat, a generous portion of egg noodles, and plenty of chicken. I tasted the broth first, full of chicken flavor balanced by the sweetness of onions and just the right amount of salt. Then I took a bite of the chicken breast meat, which was just barely cooked, full of fresh chicken flavor. The egg noodles were deliciously eggy and had a little snap to them as well. It was perfection in a bowl! The most amazing revelation came from the few pieces of dark meat in the bowl, where the real flavor of free range chicken came through. One of the other posts mentioning the pho ga at Hai Ky said that they will give you only dark meat upon request, and I think I'll do so next time. My partner and I consumed our bowls of soup noodles in reverential near silence, except for the sound of slurping noodles. We barely noticed the other man sharing our table, who was pretty focused on his bowl of noodles as well. Service was efficient and friendly, and the grand total for two bowls of soup including tax was $15. I'll take my mother to Hai Ky on her next visit, and I'm sure she'll enjoy it. She may not agree that it's better than her own, but since she doesn't read Chowhound, I can tell you that it is.

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

Hai Ky Mi Gia
707 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94109

  1. JoyM Oct 18, 2010 04:38 PM

    Thanks for this. I've been to Hai Ky a few times and I always get the duck noodle soup, but you've persuaded me to try the Pho Ga. If it's even better than Turtle Tower it must be good.

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

    5 Replies
    1. re: JoyM
      JoyM Oct 25, 2010 11:50 AM

      Well, I tried it and it was good, but I'm not sure I'm quite ready to give up on Turtle Tower. There's no question that Hai's pho ga has much, much more chicken, but it's also a couple of bucks more. The chicken was moist and flavorful and all-around excellent, but the broth is not quite as tasty, IMO, as Turtle Tower's. Also, I asked for dark meat but got a mixture of dark, white and a piece of chicken wing. But these are minor complaints -- having both places as lunch options, especially on cold days, makes me happy.

      I also like the place next door to Hai -- Them something. I like their congee, and it's one of the few places in the Tenderloin with decent Chinese food.

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

      1. re: JoyM
        b
        bigwheel042 Oct 26, 2010 01:12 AM

        Next door to Hai Ky My Ga is Them Ky. Definitely a dive, but they have pretty decent pho as well.

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        Them Ky
        717 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94109

        1. re: JoyM
          DezzerSF Oct 31, 2010 10:00 PM

          I have to agree with JoyM here, I like Turtle Tower's broth more, a much more homey and unadulterated chicken broth. Not sure I like the added onion flavor in a chicken broth. You do indeed get more chicken at Hai Ky, and it's nice and chewy like free range chicken is. But Turtle Tower has the formula down.

          No unborn eggs or innards option either.

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

          1. re: DezzerSF
            DezzerSF Nov 1, 2010 07:12 AM

            Here's a pic of Hai Ky's Pho Ga

             
          2. re: JoyM
            osho Jan 11, 2011 02:11 PM

            I concur JoyM.

            After reading this thread, I ventured to Hai Ky and whilst there was a ton of meat - good quality - the broth just cannot hold a candle to Turtle Tower. No way this place is going to replace Turtle Tower in my personal Pho pantheon.

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

            Hai Ky Mi Gia
            707 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94109

        2. DezzerSF Oct 18, 2010 05:31 PM

          Yes, thank you for posting this. I was almost ready to stop going there because I just didn't like their duck noodle soup broth anymore. But I will try the Pho Ga.

          1. ChowFun_derek Oct 19, 2010 10:20 AM

            This Jewish boy asks..."...so did the soup have unborn eggs like my Grandmothers"???

            1. scarmoza Jan 11, 2011 02:48 PM

              I always order the #28. Hu Tieu Ga Dai shredded chicken (free-range) ho fun noodle soup and a glass of hot soy milk. It hits the spot everytime.

              2 Replies
              1. re: scarmoza
                g
                gordon wing Jan 11, 2011 07:16 PM

                I like the chicken soup at Turtle Tower but today we tried Hai Ky Mi Gai. I had the duck leg soup with thick noodles and someone else had the free range chicken soup. I enjoyed my duck leg soup ...... the broth was satisfying but not too heavy although it did have some oil on the surface that undoubtedly added some flavor. The duck leg was moist but still with some texture. The noodles held up well as I worked my way down to the bottom of the bowl. I'd go back. I did taste the chicken broth but I should have done so before I had so much of the duck broth - which is much richer and more flavorful so it tasted a bit underflavored in comparison, Will have to go back and just have the chicken soup.

                 
                 
                 
                1. re: gordon wing
                  k
                  kairo Jan 14, 2011 12:26 AM

                  I'm pretty positive that the duck leg broth is the same as the chicken broth. It is just that the 5 spice flavor from the duck leg permeates the regular broth.

                  I've gotten the dish to go a few times and the broth (before the duck is in it) on its own really isn't that good, in my opinion. Yet I keep going back for the duck leg soup. (probably 100 times in the last 6 years). My new favorite thing is to get it without broth at all, or just use a tiny bit of the broth. If you shred the meat off the bone and mix it with the noodles... it's perfect!

                  also, my girlfriend gets the sate beef soup every time... and it is pretty great. By far the most peanuty sate soup I've ever had.

                  love their soy milk.

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