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Where in SF would you bring a visitor from South Vietnam?

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We were delighted to host Vinh, from Ho Chi Minh City, for thanksgiving- he's in college in the US but far from any good source of native Vietnamese food. Any recommendations for a touch of home for him?

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  1. Can you bring/send him to San Jose?

    There are several Vietnamese shopping centers in SJ with family run restaurants.

    From 101, Both East and West on Story

    From 101, East on Tully.

    From both Story East and Tully East is White Road, lots of choices down past Capitol.

    From 101, west on Tully (a couple of miles) is Senter, South on Center are 2-3 Vietnamese shopping centers.

    The area reminds me of reality/PBS/travel TV

    Lion on Tully was a pioneer.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Alan408

      Thanks! We'll see if we can make it down to SJ

    2. Are you sure they wouldn't just prefer burgers and pizza?

      My Vietnamese friends seem pretty easily satisfied with the standard options (Turtle Tower, Tu Lan, Saigon Sandwich). Seeing "Little Saigon" might have some entertainment value. I'm told the food is so much fresher in Vietnam, and the Pho is especially hard to replicate.... but for the most part, we're talking about street foods, and Vietnam has a little more to offer than that.

      2 Replies
      1. re: sugartoof

        Much appreciated- I know just enough to know there's substantial differences in regional cuisine- will try to ferret out which are more northern vs. southern at least

        1. re: SFoodlover

          Turtle Tower is northern. Vietnam House is probably the best authentic southern representation in Little Saigon. My favorite Southern Vietnamese Pho place in SF is Pho Phu Quoc (AKA PPQ) on Irving.

      2. vung tao in san jose

        1. maybe ask him what he would like to see and eat?

          1. If I were to visit South Vietnam, I wouldn't want to eat American food there.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

              Malcolm, if you were 18 and out of your home country for a few months, you might just appreciate a little proustian moment, I'd think...

              1. re: SFoodlover

                You're right. I missed the point about him being here for college so he has all (and more) of the American food he wants.

                1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                  Your point is very well taken, though! When my younger son was on a brief exchange program in Xi'an, China, San Francisco foodie that he is he was very excited about trying the varied foods of the Silk Road that meet China. His host family instead, with the best of intentions, kept feeding him American food- having a relative who cooks at the local Hyatt. Polite person that he is, he didn't show his disappointment- but he would have much preferred the cumin-perfumed lamb skewers of Uighur street food to the lamb chops they made for him (no doubt at considerable expense for them- and again, intent much appreciated).

            2. I'd bring him to House of Prime Rib.

              1. Thanks, all, for the suggestions. After a very full day of sightseeing, we ended up very local- at Yummy Yummy, which is roughly in our neighborhood, and which had some good posts on this board.
                Vinh was particularly pleased with the Bun Bo Nuong (more the charbroiled beef than the noodles- the beef had great flavor, but the noodles were just a mass of rice noodles), while I thought the Goi Muc, the squid salad, was really exceptional- the squid was so tender, and the flavors and textures of the salad fresh, crunchy and delightful. The Banh Khot, as some have said on this board, were a little soft and in my book a little shy on flavor. The spring rolls, veggie and with shrimp, were nice, but not particularly noteworthy, while the Hu Tiu Mi Xao Chay- billed as fresh vegetable chow fun, but the noodles didn't seem like the usual Chinese chow fun- which we ordered for the vegetarian in the family was surprisingly good and a big hit.
                We will make it down to San Jose next time. In the meantime, we'll scout out Vietnam House on our own and bring him there as well when he's next in town.
                Thanks again!

                19 Replies
                1. re: SFoodlover

                  Curious to know if your guest found Yummy Yummy to be very authentic. I always felt it was a bit Americanized in comparison to the nearby PPQ.

                  1. re: Civil Bear

                    I would say PPQ is pretty watered down as well at this point.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Can you recommend some less watered down south Viet Pho places in SF? I would love to check them out.

                      1. re: Civil Bear

                        Haven't I already done that?

                        I'm not arguing over Pho anyway. Pagolac has a similar menu as PPQ, and it's a step up. The family doesn't own multiple locations, including a failing burger and sub shop like the PPQ people do. PPQ has gone downhill in my opinion. The meats are lower in quality, and they've included garlic noodles that are packaged spaghetti, overcooked, with garlic powder.

                        Cafe Bunn Mi on Clemente is much more limited, but better than PPQ for what they do have.

                        Anh Hong and maybe Bodega Bistro are options.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          Had you? I doubt I would have asked if I had known.

                          Been wanting to try Pagolac for some time, but unfortunately it isn't open for lunch. Mediocre reviews have kept me from seeking it out on the rare occasions I am in SF in the evening.

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/613349
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/360713

                          I've been going to the original PPQ on Irving for years and haven't noticed any decline or much change other than they now accept credit cards. And they don't serve garlic noodles.

                          I am a fan of both Cafe Bunn Mi and Bodego Bistro, but both are fusiony and neither strike me of examples of authentic South Viet eats that the OP is asking for.

                          1. re: Civil Bear

                            Pagolac can be mediocre, but it's still better than PPQ.

                            The garlic noodles at PPQ were on special.

                            Not all the dishes/options are made in a fusion style at Bunn Mi or Bodega Bistro. That's misleading.

                            In my initial post in this thread I mentioned Turtle Tower, Tu Lan, (Saigon Sandwich). All better options than PPQ, and we've barely touched on the all the options in SF.

                            Also, this idea we're getting "authentic South Viet eats" reminds me that we're only getting an approximation, with complexities, freshness, and entire flavors impossible to duplicate in the States. Pho isn't supposed to taste like the watered down, and bland stuff PPQ serves lately.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Mabe it was the "on special" garlic noodles that was throwing off your experience with the Pho at PPQ? It's the only logical answer I can think of.

                              The Pho Bo broth there is as wonderfull and flavorful as ever. Certaintly way better than at Bodego Bistro (bland) or Tu Lan (msg laden). Turtle Tower is pretty good, but again it is a completly different version (nothern), so it would be like comparing apples to oranges. Saigon Sandwich does not sell Pho, even "on special".

                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                Is the discussion about "Authentic South Viet eats" or just Pho?

                                Pho originated in the North, so it's not an apples to oranges comparison, it's a regional comparison between heartier versions, clearer broths, sweeter ones, spicier ones, more involved ones, with more noodle options and so. Then it comes down to condiments. You might as well object to comparisons between broths. It's also erroneous to think there are only two regions of Pho styles. There are differences, but I've never heard of Vietnamese living in the States rejecting one over another, even if some flavors initially taste weird to them in Pho.

                                I've been to PPQ a number of times. It used to be my go-to.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  I believe the OP was looking for "Authentic South Viet eats" for their house guest. I narrowed it down further when I asked you to recommend some less watered down south Viet Pho places in SF. You then diverged into a discussion about the quality of Vietnamese places of various styles.

                                  Even though I doubt many would argue that the differences between North and South Vietnamese Pho's are paltry, I never suggested that there are only two regions of Pho styles (Bun Bo hu would be another regional example).

                                  I also never suggested Vietnamese living in the States would reject one style Pho over another, The OP asked for recommendations that would give their guest a touch of home. Being as that person is from Ho Chi Minh City, I figured South Vietnamese recommendations were in order.

                                  Ordered takeout from PPQ last night - beef with tendon, oxtail stew and chicken curry. Everyone was happy with their Pho. It's still our go to.

                                  1. re: Civil Bear

                                    "I also never suggested Vietnamese living in the States would reject one style Pho over another"

                                    Then Turtle Tower and other suggestions still stand as superior options in my opinion. As does my dissenting opinion of PPQ, which I think is a poor version using poor quality ingredients, and a watered down approach to the cuisine, no matter what their regional style. The decline has been drastic. I no longer go to PPQ.

                                    Your endorsement of PPQ is clear. The OP went there and was happy. No reason to go in circles.

                                    1. re: Civil Bear

                                      Forgot to mention that I confirmed PPQ still uses Certified Angus Beef. Thought that may be important to anyone following this thread that may be concerned they have gone to using lower quality meats.

                                      1. re: Civil Bear

                                        Funny. Are they still displaying the posters advertising the angus beef or did you actually ask?

                                        I'm not concerned over the beef they used, I'm concerned that their food doesn't taste as good.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          I asked.

                                          You mentioned the lack of quality ingredients a couple of times, including a comment about the meat being lower in quality. My post was for those that may have been concerned that it may have been true.

                                          1. re: Civil Bear

                                            The meat *is* lower in quality.

                                            The grade of meat is trivial if it's no longer reflected in what they serve, the freshness, or how it's cooked.

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              Wow.

                            2. re: sugartoof

                              Have you been to Bodega Bistro post-Jimmie Kwok?
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9199...

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Thanks for the heads up, Melanie. Haven't been recently.

                        2. re: Civil Bear

                          Civil Bear, it's hard to say whether he was being polite or just had been so happy to have something close to home food, but he said it was "pretty good" and "pretty authentic." What I can say without doubt is that his expression while eating the Bun Bo Nuong was clearly one of delight. We'll make sure we haven't tired him out sight-seeing next time and take him to SJ- or at least to Vietnam House- and will report back then.

                          1. re: SFoodlover

                            Thanks SFoodlover, I'm glad he was able to get a taste of home.

                            Now to figure out why my previous post got deleted....