I’ve been in search of good pho for a long time…. and even though, I’ve learned not to expect anything even close to passable or authentic in San Francisco, I still can’t help but keep looking. I scour Yelp and ask around for recommendations, and one place that came up more than once was Turtle Tower. Pdho and I were walking around the Asian Heritage Festival one afternoon, and none of the food vendors looked like they were offering anything appetizing. There was definitely a lot of variety including a multitude of vendors from across the Asian continent, Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, and China. However, since we”re rarely in the Tenderloin unless we have a craving for Vietnamese sandwiches from Saigon Sandwich, we decided to forget about the festival vendors and see if Turtle Tower‘s Pho Ga (Chicken Pho) would live up to the hype.
The outside of the restaurant is simple, non-descript and blends in with the typical somewhat run-down area of Tenderloin. The sign outside of the restaurant advertises that it serves authentic North Vietnamese cuisine which I found to be very interesting. You don’t often see Vietnamese restaurants emphasize that too much. I’m not sure why that is, but I was obviously intrigued. The inside space of the restaurant is pretty small and cramped. It is not the cleanest pho place I’ve been to (but then I’ve noticed that cleaner restaurants don’t tend to be as good), but I’ve seen worst places and I usually don’t expect that much more from pho restaurants.
We each ordered a small bowl of Pho Ga but Pdho had chicken giblets in his pho as well. I was thoroughly surprised by the pho from the moment the bowl arrived at the table. First of all, the pho noodles were the slightly wide type rice noodles instead of the more traditional thin noodles. You rarely, if ever, see these noodles in Vietnamese pho restaurants. In fact, I think the last time I even had these noodles was when my Mom used to make pho for us back in the day. It’s been awhile though, so when I saw these noodles, I was so excited. The thicker noodles somehow give more dimension to the pho, it gives you more noodles to chew on. My Dad always loved the thick noodles… I guess I always have too. My only critique is the noodles were a little bit overcooked, a little too soft. However, I’m able to quickly overlook it, because the chicken and broth were so delicious! The broth in particular was very good. It was flavorful and richly tasting. I’m not sure if it reminded me of the Pho Ga I used to have as a kid, but this pho somehow gave me a homey feeling with which Pdho wholeheartedly agreed. I also liked how there was a mix of dark and white meat, and even the white meat tasted juicy and full of flavor.
The egg rolls were okay. The filling tasted good, and the outer wrapping was hot and crispy, but overall, I think it was a little bit soggy. They were also a bit on the small side which was disappointing. However, considering how good the pho was, I won’t hold these egg rolls against them.
Overall, I was really pleased with the Pho Ga at Turtle Tower, the Yelp reviews and 7×7 ranking are very well-deserved. By far, it was hands down the best Pho I’ve had in San Francisco. Granted, that is not saying a lot considering a lot of the Vietnamese food in the city isn’t very authentic and often times, it is cooked by Chinese Vietnamese people. However, at $6-7/bowl, the pho arguably could come close to some pho places down in Orange County on price and taste. I really liked it, and I would definitely come back in spite of the fact that it’s located in the heart of the Tenderloin.
631 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94109
PAFO Ratings for Turtle Tower:
Price 1 ½ stars
Ambiance 2 stars
Food 4 ½ stars
Overall rating 3 ½ stars