You can take your 4-star rated, celebrity-visited, Michelin-starred Vietnamese restaurants in the city. My most memorable Vietnamese meals have always come from those mom and pop hole-in-the-wall joints.
But my favorite place to get some great pho (noodle soup) or a plate of bun (cold vermicelli plate) is Pho Phu Quoc (or “PPQ” for short).
Located in the heart of the Sunset District in San Francisco on Irving and 19th Avenue, I’ve been coming here since my college days…so it’s been a while. The food has never disappointed me in all that time. Never.
Their soup broth is exceptional. A good bowl of pho noodle soup has to start with a great broth that tastes like those beef bones have been simmering in that liquid all day. Theirs does. They also use Certified Angus Beef, which makes a huge difference. That alone makes the flavor and quality of the food here, stand out.
But aside from that, there are a few dishes here that are exceptional. I’ve ordered other items, but I always come back to these three.
I love starting with their cold Shrimp Rolls with large poached shrimp, mint and lettuce leaves, vermicelli noodles all wrapped in soft rice paper. I’m usually not a fan of Shrimp Rolls. Most have a dry or rubbery wrapper, wilted greens or soggy shrimp. Their Shrimp Rolls, however, have no evidence of any of these issues. Their cool and soft on the outside the way they should be, and the shrimp and greens give it texture, crunch, and flavor. Love, love, love these.
For entrees, I have a hard time deviating from two dishes, the first being the Crispy Five-Spice Chicken. The boneless chicken thigh is always juicy and tender with a crisp and flavorful deep brown skin. It’s sweet, smokey and just out of this world. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better version of this dish anywhere, and I mean it.
But my all time favorite is their Curry Chicken Pho. The broth starts with a homemade chicken broth and then it just gets better. It’s got a creamy coconut milk base and is studded with Southeast Asian curry flavors, lemongrass being the most prominent. There’s tender, flavorful pieces of white meat chicken so juicy and moist, which is literally impossible to do with white meat chicken. Then there are beautifully soft, stewed pieces of potatoes and those chewy vermicelli noodles. This is a dish that is rich and full of depth with all of its spices and flavors. There’s simply no other bowl of noodle soup like it.
Now since it’s a neighborhood joint, there’s no atmosphere or attentive service to speak of. If you’re looking for that, go elsewhere. But if you want a thoroughly solid meal for cheap, you’ve found your place. It’s one of the best cheap eats in the city for the quality of food they put out.
So the next time Bill Clinton comes to town for his favorite Vietnamese meal at that swanky place in San Francisco, I’ll be secure in knowing that I got the better meal…and the better deal.