Vietnamese in the Heart of the City
607 Larkin St. (at Eddy), San Francisco
Open for lunch and dinner daily
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
Because I don’t have a car, I’m often running my errands around the BART stations, and over the last few months I found myself getting off at the Civic Center in San Francisco to connect to other destinations. And often as a respite in my errands, I found myself at a table at the Bodega Bistro Vietnamese restaurant.
Bodega has been around since 2003, playing up the street food delicacies of Vietnam. The window even displays the popular scooter that most Vietnamese use to get around the major cities. But sometimes Bodega gets eclipsed by another popular Vietnamese restaurant a few yards up the street called Turtle Tower.
That’s a shame, though, because I think the selection of dishes is more plentiful than Turtle Tower and the quality almost on par – but without the crowds hanging out in the front.
When I first visited, I met my friend Ken who lives near the area for a quick lunch. I wanted something simple and easy, so I ordered the Pho Ga, the Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup ($7.20). The bowl of rice noodle was fresh and tasty, but nothing exciting or spectacular.
Ken, being a vegetarian, ordered the Pho Rau Thap Cam ($7.20), which was a colorful bowl of pho, the rice noodles, with an assortment of fresh vegetables. While the soup was good, Ken said the flavor tasted so rich that he suspected it might have been a chicken broth base instead of a vegetarian stock.
One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes is bun, or the rice vermicelli in a bowl with fish sauce. Bodega offers a Bun Tom Thit Nuong ($8.10) or rice vermicelli with broiled pork and shrimp. The bowl that came out was a massive bowl with thinly sliced pork with just three pieces of shrimp, and with the accompanying thin threads of carrots and cucumber and dusted with peanut bits. The vermicelli was clumpy, which is typical of Vietnamese restaurants who cook the noodles ahead of time, but overall it delivers the freshness and satisfaction of the vegetables mixed with the pork.
I’ve also tried the Bun Rieu ($8.10), which is the rice vermicelli but served in a soup stock like pho. Bun Rieu is made using a tomato soup base and flavored with crab meat. But the crab meat isn’t what we’re used to and instead is a paste that gives a richer crab flavor but without the natural texture of crab. Bodega’s version is better than others I’ve tried in the city, giving this air of authenticity and served with shredded cabbage and other unusual vegetables, not the typical basil and bean sprouts often used to eat with pho.
And in my last visit I ordered a rice dish, the Com Ga Nuong Xa or broiled lemon grass flavored chicken with steamed rice ($7.20). The platter of food came with chicken breast that was pounded into thin pieces and then grilled. The chicken was tender but with just a subtle scent of lemon grass. It was a lot of food, with the chicken served up with steamed broccoli.
Side note: Although there are some dim lights, I always felt that it was so dark inside the restaurant even though I ate mostly at lunch.
Service at Bodega is welcoming and friendly in the beginning but they can forget about you at times, so you end up having to flag someone down to keep things moving. But the food is a nice value and offers a decent alternative to the crowds at nearby Turtle Tower.
Single guy rating: 2.5 stars (convenient and fresh)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Vietnamese in the Heart of the City