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Vietnam House - Excellent Banh Khot, special order Tamarind Crab and Grilled Catfish... [San Francisco]

After striking out on a crab quest for Pilinut at Bodega Bistro last week, the 4 of us went on to Vietnam House to at least scratch the itch for excellent banh khot. After our cravings were satiated, we had a conversation with the owner/manager of Vietnam House about whether they do crab as it's not on the menu. He said he could do a tamarind crab as a special order & told us he could also do a special grilled catfish.

We put our heads together and found that 7 of us could make it today. Cynsa took the lead and special ordered for us:
Tamarind Crab $30
Grilled Catfish $30
Meatballs $15
Banh Khot $7.95 (7 per order)

Then we added to the order:
Shaking beef with garlic noodles
Meat & egg pie

Everyone else please add your comments and Cynsa please add your excellent photos.

My main comment is that I'd really like to see more customers at this restaurant. There food is carefully prepared and thoroughly enjoyable. With the plethora of Vietnamese restaurants in the neighborhood, the competition is fierce. I don't want to see this place go away...

Vietnam House Restaurant
642 Eddy St. (between Larkin & Polk)
San Francisco CA 94109
415-885-3362

Business hours:
Monday - Sunday 10:00 am - 8:30 pm
Tuesday - 10:00 am - 3:00 pm

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  1. After our previous visits we concluded that the banh khot at Vietnam House was the best we'd ever had, even better than our memory of Vung Tau's. Today I somewhat diluted the flavor of my one banh khot by putting on excess greens but it seemed up to their usual high standard. This is a really special dish. With lots of coconut flavor, good shrimp and a very light custard the effect is sublime.

    The tamarind sauce on the crab was delicious, but it obscured the crab flavor. I prefer preparations that emphasize the sweet flavor of the crab. Still, I'd love to try the tamarind preparation on seafood with a stronger flavor that could stand up to it.

    The catfish was served with ample greens (lettuce, mint, rau ram, and cilantro) and dry rice paper with bowls of water for dipping them. The catfish was flavorful with lots of crispy skin and fins. Cynsa graciously de-boned the fish for us. It was nice to be able to select how much of each ingredient we wanted in our rolls.

    My first time at VH I thought the dipping sauce was too weak, but diluting it does let you spread it around more evenly without overwhelming the rest of the flavors.

    The shaking beef was very good as were the garlic noodles and the egg pie.

    My last two meals here surpassed my last meal at Bodega Bistro so I'm at a loss to understand why it's not more crowded. Great food with no wait is hard to beat.

    Thanks to Cynsa for organizing our excellent meal.

    2 Replies
    1. re: charliemyboy

      This place is on my regular lunch rotation and I'm concerned about the lack of customers as well. I can only surmise that it is a half block off of Larkin on a block with no other restaurants so the regular crowd going to lunch in Little Saigon probably doesn't even know it is there.

      I am currently working two blocks away and no one that I have mentioned the place to has heard of it.

      1. re: Civil Bear

        Civil Bear: Could you tell us about what dishes you've tried there? Have you tried any of these soups:
        Bun Rieu noodle soup with crab paste, tomato, & tofu
        Bun Mang Vit rice noodle soup with duck & bamboo
        Chao Va Goi Vit duck rice soup & duck with cabbage served with ginger sauce.

        Your thoughts about the location being what is keeping it from being busier are right on from what I can see. I feel like it's our duty to talk about this spot to keep them in business...

    2. With such careful preparation and excellent company, it shouldn't surprise anyone that meals with fellow chowhounds are so delightful. I suspect we share a sixth sense when it comes to picking out restaurants, and Vietnam House is no exception.

      The banh khot was very good, though I'd say that the last ones I had at Vung Tau were crisper and tastier. Given charliemyboy's experiences, though, it is probable that the two restaurants are tied for first in this category.

      The catfish was fried (not grilled, as originally advertised) to a crisp, and the accompanying herbs, noodle sheets, and rice paper wrapper were the perfect foil for the rich flesh.

      I was glad we finally got to try the bo luc lac, shaking beef, and this was pretty good--not the best I've ever had, but certainly worth ordering again, especially with the garlic noodles which were very tasty without any raw or chemical garlic taste.

      On the other hand, I had the excellent tamarind crab at Vung Tau some years back, and I'd have to agree with charliemyboy that Vietnam House's version could have used a lot less tamarind.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pilinut

        I've only had banh khot once at Vung Tau and on that occasion RWCFoodie said the food wasn't quite as good as on her prior visits, so perhaps I am too quick to make comparisons. This calls for further research--on to Vung Tau!

        I'll be in Southern California for a few days starting tomorrow and hope to make it to the famed Brodard Restaurant in Garden Grove to check out their banh khot and other goodies.

        Our Vietnam House lunch was further enhanced by beautiful corsages Cynsa made for us (men included--no gender bias here!) and by pilinut's homemade canelé. The canelé was really delicious, with a crispy caramelized exterior and custardy cake inside. Gifts from talented friends made a holiday lunch even more special.

      2. Distracted by eating, we have no pix of the meat egg pie that we always order on the #15 lunch combination plate or the shaking beef with garlic noodles. The Tamarind Crab gave us a smile sitting in its tamarind sauce and was finger lickin' good. The deep fried catfish was my favorite dish on the table with its crisp skin and succulent flesh to wrap in rice paper with fresh greens. The greens are generous and gave us a mix of rau ram, mint, cilantro, and lettuce.
        I like to order the banh khot at 10 am for a late breakfast and it's a great morning break.

        note to RWCFoodie: what is the name of the special order meatball dish with the rice wraps/green onion and peanuts?

         
         
         
         
         
        4 Replies
        1. re: Cynsa

          Cynsa, I don't have a copy of the menu, and I don't see the meatball dish listed on "menupages" for Vietnam House. The closest I could guess is "nem nuong", a sort of pork sausage, in this instance made into meatballs and grilled. This is the Vietnamese ground pork that's typically seen in "nem nuong cuon" and the like. The little squares of rice noodle with the garnish of lightly fried green onion and chopped peanuts to wrap the meatballs makes for a tasty package! (perhaps someone with more knowledge of Vietnamese food can give us more info on this).

          p.s. I would gladly eat an order of these banh khot at 10:00 am for breakfast (or any other time for that matter)...

          1. re: RWCFoodie

            The meat balls indeed appear to be "nem nuong" and the rice noodles are "banh hoi" which is the thinnest of all the rice noodles in Vietnamese cuisine. So on the menu, it might say "Banh Hoi Nem Nuong".

            Typically, the noodles are not the wrap itself but would also be wrapped up (along with the meat) in lettuce and herbs.

            Looks like it was a fun and tasty gathering!

            1. re: seamunky

              seamonkey: thanks for the "banh hoi" info...

            2. re: RWCFoodie

              It's not a menu item, only by special order.