When the sky is grey and the chilly fog rolls in off the bay, there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me feel better: a big fat bowl of hot phÃ² steaming in my face. After trolling Little Saigon in search of the perfect bowl of phÃ² tai, I am excited to report that Bodega Bistro has got just what I need. Hands down, the best noodles around, their thin rice noodles are cooked al dente, the rich broth tastes as if it has been simmering all day, the strips of rare steak are tender and fresh, and the traditional southern Vietnamese style toppings of green onions, coriander leaves (a.k.a. cilantro), bean sprouts, Thai basil, and lime wedges adds a bright freshness to this bowl of yum. Put together a little dipping sauce of hoisin and sriracha for your meat, and you are ready to start slurping away (unlike at some other establishments where they don’t even offer hoisin upon request!...ahem ahem...Turtle Tower...).
So when SF throws some wind chill at you, you know what to throw back at it. PhÃ²...lot’s of it, and mass quantities of other heart-warming, stomach-filling, Vietnamese feel-good food.
607 Larkin St
(At Eddy St)
San Francisco, CA 94109
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If you are craving more of a meat medley, the phÃ² dac biet (or as Bodega Bistro calls it, the phÃ² bodega sur demande) is also excellent with slices of rare steak, brisket, and beef meatballs. Oh, I failed to mention that the phÃ² tai is actually not on their official menu, but trust me, it’s there and waiting for you. Strangely, also not on the menu is the bÃºn riÃªu...hmmm, perhaps it is so good they want to save it all for their in-the-know clientele? And themselves. If so, I wouldn’t blame them. The bÃºn riÃªu was a knockout – rice vermicelli with flavorful chunks of crab, shrimp paste, and tofu swimming in a tomato broth that had a bit of heat to it. And don’t forget the cha giÃ². Don’t ever forget the cha giÃ². These crispy Vietnamese spring rolls are stuffed with crab meat, jicama, and wood ear mushrooms, deep fried to satisfying crispiness, and served with leafy lettuce, a side of rice vermicelli, mint leaves and pickled carrots. Wrap it all up, dip in the little bowl of nuÃ²c cham (fish sauce mixed with lemon juice, sugar, and chili pepper) and revel in the exquisite balance of savory meatiness, sweet herbal aromatics, bright acidity, and textural variety the Vietnamese have mastered in their cuisine.