The Tenderloin has a bad rep, yes.
Historically, it’s always been bad here. This part of downtown San Francisco is called the “Tenderloin” because police officers used to get paid more to patrol this nasty area of the city, and were able to afford pricier cuts of meat, such as beef tenderloin.
This is where the homeless call home. It’s where rickety shopping carts packed with a lifetime of belongings crawl the streets squeaking past the makeshift flea markets that line the sidewalk floors. However, once you look past the neon-lit liquor stores located on every corner and the sleazy dive bars that stink of cigarette stained carpet, you’ll find yourself at the corner of Eddy and Larkin, where you will be greeted by the red and gold gateway to Little Saigon—home of the best pho in the city.
Since Thanksgiving, I’ve pretty much been traveling nonstop, only spending a few days here at home. And boy did I choose the right time to travel—smack dab in the middle of the worst storm to hit San Francisco in decades. I don’t usually eat out much on my own, but after a few delayed flights and nearly missing a job interview, I think I deserve a big bowl of steaming hot pho.
With dozens of pho places in Little Saigon alone, how is one supposed to choose? Well I’ve gone ahead and narrowed down the overwhelming selection to include my top 3 pho places. You can thank me later.
Top 3 Pho in the Tenderloin
1. Pho Tan Hoa
Jones and O’Farrell
This place may not be located in Little Saigon, but they make some pretty legit pho here. Although their traditional beef combo pho is pretty good, I come here for the dry pho.
What’s dry pho?
It’s basically a bowl of pho noodles with all of its ingredients, that comes with a separate bowl of broth.
Why is it so delicious?
The noodles don’t get overcooked as it’s sitting in the hot broth waiting for you to slurp them up. With every bite of noodles I wash it down with a big gulp of hot beef broth. The broth here is deeply flavored, and you can definitely taste the seasonings they put in there—including cinnamon.
2. Golden Lotus
Larkin and Ellis
Yes, this place is located in the same exact spot where Turtle Tower used to be, which is located just a few doors down. Forget the lines out the door at TT (slightly overrated in my opinion), come here for an equally satisfying bowl of pho.
I love this place not only because it’s literally a 2 minute walk from my apartment, but because they use wagyu beef! The beef slices are extremely tender and everything just tastes incredibly fresh. I also love that the noodles here are slightly wider than traditional vermicelli-style rice noodles. The broth here is on the lighter side, yet perfectly seasoned. The service is excellent and the people here are so nice—a rarity for authentic Vietnamese places. I’m also a fan of their salted plum soda, the perfect salty sweet drink to pair with a hot bowl of pho. Click on the link for an easy recipe to make at home.
3. Tuyet Mai
Hyde and Geary
Have you ever noticed the bright neon green storefront on Hyde St.? Well this is the place. There’s no way that you’ll miss it. Formerly known as Ngoc Mai, this place is very small, with the kitchen being only half the size of the dining room.
However, from this closet-sized kitchen, they pump out some pretty good pho. It’s nothing that will blow your mind, but the pho here is quite dependable and comes in a hefty portion. They are actually known for their bun bo hue, that uncelebrated spicy beef noodle soup that only seems like an after thought on most Vietnamese menus. Here it is their specialty, and I felt like a fish out of water for being the only person in the restaurant who didn’t order it. If their bun bo hue tastes as good as their pho, I’m definitely coming back to try it.