Dining Out 1 minute 26 July 2018

The 5 Best Vietnamese Restaurants in San Francisco

Beyond bánh mì and pho―these restaurants offer a deeper dive into Vietnamese food culture.

Vietnamese

With such a strong influence in the city, there is no shortage of excellent Vietnamese cuisine in San Francisco. These five—serving up dishes like Dungeness crab soup, pho topped with perfectly rare beef and lemongrass-scented sea bass—are what our inspectors deemed exceptional.

Photo by Michael M Le.
Photo by Michael M Le.

Khai

What It Is: Acclaimed chef/owner Khai Duong’s upscale Modern Vietnamese restaurant in the Design District.

What Our Inspectors Say: “The petite dining room is a bit eccentric, with its daytime takeaway counter mostly obscured by curtains. Still, you’ll get a lot of face time with the chef, who’s an active presence and a great character.”

What To Order: A $115 per person, multi-course tasting menu is on offer over two nightly seatings. Currently on the menu are dishes like local sweet Dungeness crab soup with handcrafted noodles; seared rare beef with fresh plantains; and pineapple ravioli filled with durian custard for dessert.

Lau Hai San

What It Is: A nondescript diner-like space in a strip mall setting offering some 20 different variations of outstanding hot pot.

What Our Inspectors Say: “Most Westerners don’t think of hot pot when they’re craving Vietnamese food, but it’s actually a traditional favorite well worth sampling—and the proof is in this sunny spot.”

What To Order: “If hot pot isn't adventurous enough,” state inspectors, “bring a group to sample delicacies like chewy, flavorful curried coconut snails and crispy fried pork intestine.”
(Photo courtesy of Thiên Long Facebook page.)
(Photo courtesy of Thiên Long Facebook page.)

Thiên Long

What It Is: Pho takes center stage at the Quan family’s San Jose mainstay.

What Our Inspectors Say: “Tile floors and rosewood-tinted chairs decorate the space, while walls hung with photos of Vietnamese dishes keep the focus on food.”

What To Order: “It is really the pho with a broth of star anise, clove and ginger, topped with perfectly rare beef that is a true gem,” say inspectors. “Even the regular-sized portion is enormous.”

The Slanted Door

What It Is: Celebrated chef Charles Phan’s modern Vietnamese restaurant in the Ferry Terminal Building, complete with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

What Our Inspectors Say: “Reservations are a challenge at this modern stunner with a killer view of the Bay Bridge. The Slanted Door has managed to stay atop tourists’ hit lists even as its Northern Californian spin on Vietnamese food has steadily become less inspired.”

What To Order: A variety of rolls are on offer, like the house Slanted Door filled with Gulf shrimp, pork and mint, and the pan-seared rock cod with scallion and shiso. Meats include grilled grass-fed Anderson Ranch lamb rack with pomegranate seeds, frisée and fried shallots and grilled Five Dot Ranch rib eye steak with grilled chicories, crispy sunchokes and lemon-ginger vinaigrette. Wine lovers will take note of the $35 corkage fee.

Tamarine

What It Is: “Tamarine’s interpretation of modern Vietnamese cuisine is characterized by refined innovation: utilizing Vietnamese ingredients in new compositions to reflect the culinary culture and abundant produce of California,” per the restaurant’s website.

What Our Inspectors Say: “Tamarine has long been a Palo Alto standby for its refined take on Vietnamese food that doesn’t sacrifice authentic flavor.”

What To Order: Start off with Hawaiian bigeye tuna tartare tossed with coconut milk, ginger and chile before moving onto mains like shaking beef, baked branzino with stir-fried vermicelli noodles or lemongrass sea bass served with a cold mango and cilantro glass noodle salad.

Hero image by Michael M Le. 

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