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Not Phở Enough

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on January 25, 2015

I’m a big fan of Vietnamese phở soup. Phở differs from north to south (Hanoi to Saigon) in Vietnam by the noodle width, sweetness of the broth, and choice of seasoning herbs. When I lived in Oakland, I frequented an establishment where the phở was southern (thin rice noodles, basil herbs, bean sprouts). Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve been introduced to northern phở (wider noodles, cilantro, no sprouts). Southern phở tends to predominate in much of San Francisco, with exceptions like My Father’s Kitchen, which specializes in Vietnamese comfort food where the phở is decidedly northern. For restaurants and eateries where Vietnamese cuisine is not the main focus of the menu, the phở is often mixed, for instance cilantro with sprouts. Within the past year, three separate establishments in the nearby neighborhood of the Castro have either been started with phở on the menu or have added phở to the items they offer. Since they don’t tend to offer authentic phở as such, this will be a review of the quality and taste of the phở, not its authenticity.
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URBAN PICNIC (4039 18th Street) is “casual” Vietnamese food located in a previous beloved pizza parlor. The tagline “California Vietnamese Eatery,” plus the fact that Urban Picnic is a mini-chain, emphasizes the “fast food” nature of this establishment, with that clean new chain vibe. That doesn’t mean the food is bad. The ingredients are all organic and locally sourced, with a preference for raw, minimally prepared and cooked items. But the service was lackadaisical, the soup selection limited, and the phở barely warm the three times I ate there.
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CASTRO TARTS (564 Castro) is a longtime Castro Street cafe that’s been through several iterations, the latest one offering Vietnamese sandwiches and phở soups. This place is funky and caters to the locals, with Supervisor Scott Weiner’s seal of approval posted on the window. The soup selection is pretty decent, although the quality is not much above average. The friendly ownership, and the in-house bakery items are a plus.
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SLURP NOODLE BAR (469 Castro Street) is owned by the same folks who put together the previous restaurant Fork, which took over the location occupied by the beloved Castro Fuzio. The makeover was not just physical, but gastronomical, with Slurp offering noodle dishes from around the world. The phở here is the best of the bunch in the Castro, but its only one item on a quite varied menu featuring top notch ingredients. This place is a regular Castro scene; crowded and loud, with a full bar for those interested in that kind of thing.

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