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May 1, 2013 01:19 PM

Banh Xeo - SF Dish of the Month May 2013

The SF Dish of the Month for May 2013 is Banh Xeo. This is a Vietnamese dish, and you can learn some initial facts about it on Wikipedia:

The goal of Dish of the Month is to collectively try as many versions of banh xeo as possible during the month of May! So let's start exploring and eating—report back with reviews and photos.

For those who regularly eat Vietnamese food in the Bay Area, hopefully this project can lead to a new favorite version of banh xeo, and for those who don't usually seek it out, hopefully this will be an excuse to go out and try some!

Here's a link to the vote:

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  1. I'm going to be gone most of the month, but I'm always looking for good Bahn Xeo and I look forward to the reports.

    I hate to say it because overall I'm not a fan of the place, but one of the best bahn xeo I ever had was at Slanted Door -- the quality of the ingredients really made it shine.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      I'm excited about this DoM. Does anyone have a few recommendations of places to try in SF & Oakland?

      On my list: Bodega Bistro, Quan Bac, Tay Ho

      1. re: escargot3

        Binh Minh Quan in Oakland used to do a good one.

        1. re: escargot3

          Bodega's isn't especially good. I rarely get it because it means not getting one of my other favorite dishes there.

          Yummy Yummy
          Lotus Garden
          the vegan version at Golden Era

          1. re: Windy

            haven't been to any of these places in way too long, (and of course this would be DOM the one month I really can't manage to sneak away to SF) but I am with you that the banh xeo at Bodega isn't worth it compared to other much better dishes on the menu. Lotus Garden remains my sentimental favorite (so I'd love to hear some updated reports) but Sao Bien just went on my list of places to try thanks to Cynsa's pics.

            But the best banh xeo I've ever had was at Star Noodle in Maui. I'd probably go back to Maui just to enjoy it....not that one really needs such incentive...

            Now if only there were *anywhere* to try the dish in Merced...

            1. re: susancinsf

              I'd go to Maui for banh xeo. Maybe next month.

          2. re: escargot3

            I order the banh xeo at Y&Y - it has a nice crisp to the crepe with a good ratio of bean sprouts:shrimp
            914 Clement Street
            (between 11th Ave & 10th Ave)

          3. re: Ruth Lafler

            Tay Ho in Oakland Chinatown has an excellent version that is really crispy, full of goodies, and not greasy.

          4. Anh Hong in Berkeley had a good one. Though I haven't been there in over a year.

            11 Replies
            1. re: nicedragonboy

              I went to the Anh Hong in San Jose last night after originally planning on Quan Hue. Their Banh Xeo is $8.50

              A promising plate of greenery came out pre-crepe with lettuce, purple and green perilla, rau ram, cilantro, and mint accompanied by small bowls of julienned carrots & daikon, nuoc cham with garlic & chilis, and hot sauce with an empty bowl to combine to taste.

              The crepe looked different than other versions with holes like you often see on pancakes from maybe a too thick batter. It was physically thicker than typical and cooked to almost a cracker like crunch.

              Filling was mostly sprouts with small pan seared tail-on shrimp and somewhat tough pork. These were spread out a bit so you could get a bite with neither, if you weren't careful. The sprouts were blanched or steamed, but still had some crunch. There were green onions & shallots in the crepe and loose in the filling.

              Overall not that great, but I did like the Bi Cuon I also had with my meal (seen in background of 3rd picture).

              1. re: drewskiSF

                That looks and reads like the proper type of herb plate that San Jose restaurants serve. Good variety on a separate platter, not squished along the side of the banh xeo where the greens leak water onto the crepe plate and turn too warm.

                I like holes in banh xeo for a lacy effect, but only if it's very thin and crispy, not hard. I'm not a fan of the tail-on shrimp, but that seems to be the majority, and I guess people just crunch 'em up.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I don't eat Banh Xeo often so haven't seen the holey, lacy variety. Unfortunately, this was anything buy lacy and thin.

                  About the shrimp tails, I did just crunch 'em up, but your comment made me remember an old story.

                  There was a office birthday lunch at Slanted Door (Valencia St.) and one person had a shrimp dish and took off all of the tails. The head of the department asked them "Can I have those, if you're not going to eat them?" and when the person said OK with a quizzical look the dept. head said "They're a great source of fiber" and proceeded to "crunch 'em up" as you put it :)

                  They were full sized shrimp as opposed to the 1.5 inchers in the Banh Xeo

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    For some reason i thought it depended on the type of shrimp and how it was cooked. I've traveled where you are expected to eat the shrimp in entirety and watched a few westerners struggle as they peeled what they were served. as drewski said, they were tiny little things, but i think that some of the smaller varieties of shrimp have more flavor in the shell than in the flesh

                    1. re: oranj

                      Yes, depends on the type of shrimp and the cooking style.

                      Here's my post on eating camarones cucarachas with another chowhound where we pondered that question.

                      In the case of banh xeo, the shrimp tails aren't particularly crispy as a fried shrimp's would be, and they tend to get kind of limp wrapped inside the crepe. So they're generally not that appetizing to me.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        oh my. thank you for that link. that food sounds delicious. I agree with you on that second point for sure, a limp shrimp tail is unappetizing.

                2. re: nicedragonboy

                  Went tonight for our first time tonight and had Banh Xeo for the first time, ala Chowhound of the Month. After reading other reports, I think we hit the jackpot! Crepe was beautifully crisped, no sogginess, even after adding the ingredients. Also had the spring roll which was delicious and fresh, also. Nice sauces and crispy fresh greens as accompaniements...will definitely return. Thanks Dragonboy!

                  1. re: macadam

                    Awesome! This was at the Berkeley or the SF branch of Anh Hong?

                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      Baùnh Xeøo – Vietnamese Crepe $12.50
                      Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside Crepe filled with
                      Shrimp, Pork, Creamy Mung Beans and Bean Sprouts.
                      Served with Lettuce and Mixed Herbs.

                      1. re: macadam

                        Glad you enjoyed it. I had the same experience the last time I had it there.

                    2. Sunflower at the corner of 16th and Valencia has always been a Banh Xeo staple for me. It's not perfect in a number of ways, but average banh xeo is better than none!

                      Xahn in MV has mini-ones, but I always found them somehow underflavored.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: bbulkow

                        I went to Sunflower tonight. The waiter admitted banh xeo was his favorite dish, and he was having one as soon as he took a break.

                        bbulkow's account is accurate, not perfect but still good. Very crispy if a little greasy crepe with embedded chicken and rock shrimp, filled with sprouts. A side plate of lettuce, mint, grated carrots and daikon, and thick slices of cucumber. It's been rare to get anything but lettuce and mint anywhere I've been in the city.

                        The crepe itself wasn't all that flavorful, but I have to admit I'm enjoying the excuse to eat this all over town. It was $8.95. Also glad to have the reminder to eat at Sunflower.

                      2. Sao Bien has muscled its way to #1 on my Banh Xeo ranking. $8.95 - the crepe is crisp, hot and nicely charred, deeply golden with turmeric or saffron; the pork+shrimp+bean sprouts+mung beans with lettuce/basil/dipping sauce make ample wraps. I can't imagine it being better than this one.
                        701 Larkin Street @ Ellis.

                        18 Replies
                        1. re: Cynsa

                          Looks fantastic. Most likely turmeric, but I'll need to go find out.

                          1. re: Cynsa

                            That looks marvelous, Cynsa! If it comes with your imprimatur, it is definitely on my list!

                            1. re: Cynsa

                              I have only ordered this dish a few times, mainly because it had been a miss whenever I did. I think the only version I liked was at Pho Ha Tien on Ocean Ave (but I can't be sure), and although pretty good, I didn't think it was worth the trouble that it is to eat.

                              Anyway, since I wasn't sure what a good version was, I tried the Banh Xeo at Soe Bien today on Cynsa's recommendation. I thought it was as good as I have had, but again, just not worth the trouble. Too many bean sprouts going every which way, and the bottom was more soggy than crispy. The mild flavors are nice (still burping mint), but I guess I am just not a fan of the dish.

                              Curious about Sao Bien it relatively new within the last couple of years, or did it just get a makeover? I thought the fresh shrimp rolls were great although the peanut sauce was a little gloppy.

                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                DH hates wrapping the stuffed crepe in the lettuce, it never fails to fall apart and he says it is too troublesome... but I relish the hot crepe in the chilled lettuce layered with its veggies. I like that Sao Bien makes it hot and crisp with good chunks of pork and shrimp topping all those fresh crunchy bean sprouts and soft yellow mung beans. Am I the only one to like the clean fresh taste of bean sprouts?

                                1. re: Cynsa

                                  the joy of Banh Xeo is the contrast between the hot crispy crepe and the cool, crisp flavor of the bean sprouts, plus the medley of flavors of the shrimp and bits of pork (which I forgot to mention in my report on Quan Bac). It's a rainbow of fresh flavors.

                                  ps- it was completely crispy. nothing soggy.

                                2. re: Civil Bear

                                  Sounds like you're trying to make too big of a wrap. Try a smaller portion, just two or three bites worth that you can pinch together snugly, and it won't collapse. I can agree with you that most places I've tried banh xeo, most of the bottom half of the crepe turns soggy with standing and goes uneaten.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    You may be right, but the crepe seems to fall apart as soon as I cut in to it. Maybe I need a wrapping lesson! Will you be judging at Santa Clara this summer?

                                    1. re: Civil Bear

                                      Yes, judging in Santa Clara next month.

                                      Hey, folks who voted for Banh Xeo for dish of the month, this is the final week in the spotlight. Time to report in, so far we've only heard from a couple of you.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Any new reports before the month comes to a close?

                                        1. re: hyperbowler

                                          I have one more to post. And I don't even like banh xeo.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Just like you to make the supreme sacrifice.

                                            I was away most of the month, but I have a list of four places in Oakland that haven't been reported on and I'm hoping to hit up at least two of them in the last two days.

                                            I should mention that I've had banh xeo at two places in Alameda in the past: Pho Little Saigon and Dragon Rouge. The version at PLS was not good, and they have since closed. The version at Dragon Rouge was competently executed but completely unmemorable (since, in fact, I had to cudgel my memory for a vague recollection).

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              Heheh, thanks. Actually not hard to do, as I'll eat at a Vietnamese restaurant a couple times a month anyway. It's the raw bean sprout aversion for me. And the weak nuoc mam --- it's interesting for me to read Alice Patis' complaints, since I assume she's mostly eating in San Jose. She'd be floored by how much more watery the dipping sauces are outside the South Bay.

                                              I'd hoped that we'd see a wider range of places reported and some new original ones. And maybe a fresh report on the BX at Slanted Door. I hope that someone can make it to Minh's in Milpitas too.

                                              Look forward to your input. Figured you'd be wanting some chopstick-able food after your Euro travels.

                                3. re: Cynsa

                                  Today six of us checked out the banh xeo at Sao Bien and then at Vietnam House. Cynsa has already described Sao Bien's version which was served at the same high standard today. The flavor was very good, maybe the best I've ever had. The variety of herbs is limited— you don't get any cilantro, rau ram or perilla. If that keeps you from piling on too many herbs and obscuring the flavor of the crepe that might be a good thing. The dipping sauce was good but not fantastic.

                                  Cynsa suggested we save some room for Vietnam House's banh khot, and once we arrived there we also tried the banh xeo. VH's crepe was fairly similar to SB's with lots of crunchy bean sprouts. It was harder to divide into portions, falling apart at the least touch. I didn't find it as flavorful as SB's. We were served a very ample supply of herbs including the cilantro and rau ram I missed at SB.

                                  I still think Bodega Bistro has the best dipping sauce, superior to SB's or VH's, and nuoc cham quality is a critical element in my enjoyment. But crepe-wise, SB rules!

                                  1. re: charliemyboy

                                    At Sao Bien at 11:30 am, we were ahead of the large celebrations for graduating seniors - with our order of Banh Xeo.

                                    at Vietnam House.

                                    I made the early attempt to have banh xeo at Ngoc Mai Restaurant at 10 am but they are on vacation until July 20.

                                    1. re: Cynsa

                                      Not a 'one trick pony', we also ordered bo tai canh, fish maw soup, Rau Muong Xao Gung Toa, Goi Ngo Sen Lotus Salad. The dressing on the Lotus Salad was just too sweet...I'd return to Vung Tau in San Jose for a better balanced version of Lotus Salad. The carpaccio hit all the right notes. Fish Maw soup was satisfying. The ong choi was slightly overcooked. SB is a restaurant for Chinese and Vietnamese seafood.

                                    2. re: charliemyboy

                                      Sao Bien's banh xeo was very impressive. Very large, very crispy, very fresh tasting, very coconutty - it hit all the right spots for me. For me, easily the best banh xeo I've eaten. Skimpy herb salad plate but as charliemyboy said, less herbs = less obscuring the flavors of the crepe & filling.

                                      I liked being able to compare, almost side-by-side, Sao Bien's banh xeo and Vietnam House's version. SB's crepe was more substantial in texture and didn't fall apart too badly when cut up into smaller pieces for sharing. VH's crepe was much more delicate. I liked the filling in VH's version, very tender, juicy pork strips. I enjoyed both of them very much.

                                      Loved the atmosphere at VN, after the lunch rush, very tranquil - especially after the happy (loud) multiple graduation lunch celebrations at SB...

                                    3. re: Cynsa

                                      I ate at Sao Bien last night, for the first time in many years.

                                      Banh xeo was good, but a bit overcooked (as you can see in the picture). The only herb is came with was mint (no basil), but I liked the addition of mung beans and the crepe was nice and crispy.

                                      We also had the lotus root salad, which was very good (and huge), the bun bo hue (also huge and good, though not quite as flavorful as I would have liked), and the salt&pepper shrimp (a bit overcooked, but nice flavor).

                                    4. There is also a Cambodian version of this dish and I am fond of the one at Angkor Borei.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: chaddict

                                        Thanks for the reminder. And how nice to see your name.

                                        1. re: chaddict

                                          I've had the Cambodian version (virtually identical, although the sauce is different) at Ankgor Grill in Alameda twice recently. It's a very solid version although it doesn't come with a big plate of greens. It's inexpensive, too, at $6.95.