I’m like way into Vietnamese food. I was way into Vietnamese food before I knew what Vietnamese food was. When I was going to community college in Sacramento I used to go to a place called Bobo Cafe for lunch 2 or 3 times a week and get the bun with shrimp, pork and imperial roll. I don’t know how I didn’t know it was Vietnamese. I guess I just went in and thought, this is a different kind of food, and just ate it and enjoyed it. Remember when you were young? When you didn’t have to overanalyze every single thing you did? Those were the days, huh?
Well, not so much, because you didn’t know about Bodega Bistro then, and that is a sad sad thing. Bodega Bistro is your first stop in the area of the Tenderloin now known as Little Saigon (please don’t ask me to define Little Saigon because I have no idea. Wikipedia says the two blocks of Larkin between O’Farrell and Eddy. they should call it REAL Little Saigon, ha ha, thank you very much). Bodega Bistro is something of an oddity, not only in the Tenderloin, but in terms of Vietnamese restaurants in general. I imagine when you think of a Vietnamese place in San Francisco you think of the Pho slingers; tiny, cheap cafes with dirty formica tables. Certainly nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with that AT ALL. But Bodega Bistro is different; I think the name might tip you off to that. It’s a little classier, they serve LOBSTER here folks. But even if you are a frequenter of the cheap eats spots I don’t think you’ll feel out of place at Bodega.
Because, apart from being purple, the most striking thing about Bodega Bistro is how comfortable it is. Part of it is the room itself; it’s open and airy and bright with natural light. You’ll feel like you’re outside or in some lovely courtyard. The other part is the service; they’re not fussy here, they’re warm and casual. Sure, they’re bringing you some quality food, some of it a little pricey and some of it traditional “fine dining” fare, but they make you feel relaxed. It’s a nice balance between “fancy restaurant being taken care of but be on your best behavior” and “dingy pho joint, the faster you eat and get out the better.” You will want to linger here. On to the food!
I’ve been to Bodega Bistro many times and I have my favorites (in case you’re wondering, my very favorite is I believe #18, the crab and tomato soup) but I wanted to try something different this time. I ended up with #10, My Tho rice noodle, which I got with soup because I love soup. I’m really glad I did because the broth was definitely the highlight. It was like the best wonton soup broth you’ve ever tasted with the addition of a strong garlic flavor. The noodles were good as well, thick gelatinous cellophane type noodles that I dipped into hoisin and sriracha sauces. I also like the greenery, a frond of red leaf lettuce and chopped green onions, but the protein in the soup was kind of disappointing. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed fish balls and fish cakes (I used to love them) and the ones in this soup weren’t changing my mind. The squid was nicely textured but really really bland. I had to dip it in the hoisin/sriracha mixture as well. The shrimp were shrimp. I’m pretty over shrimp.
Steve got a super delicious rendition of my old favorite from Bobo Cafe, #17, vermicelli with all the fixin’s; pork, shrimp and imperial roll. I was kind of jealous. The pork was insanely tasty, crispy on the edges and juicy and greasy (in a good way). The noodles were perfect, light like a cloud and lightly oiled so each noodle was its own entity; no clumps here.
Another of my favorite things ever, Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. I know you’re thinking “you’re supposed to get this with the little metal percolator thing on top of the glass and you wait forever for all the coffee to drip out and then you make a big mess taking it off and putting it on your napkin…” Whatever. It’s not what it looks like, which is that they have a big pitcher of stale iced coffee in the back and they pour you out a glass when you ask for it and mix it with half and half. No, when we ordered the super nice waiter told us it would be 10 minutes for the coffee. And when it came out it tasted exceedingly fresh and strong, all of which tells me that they do the little percolator for you in the back. Which is fine with me. The point is, this stuff is good like crack. I have a feeling I could put a few of these away if it didn’t take so long to get it.
This is the thing about Bodega Bistro. Everything is super high quality, everything is obviously made by someone who cares about what they’re doing. For this, you’re going to pay a little bit more than what you’d normally pay for Vietnamese food. But it’s worth it dudes. Totally worth it.
In terms of scariness;
While the restaurant is right across the street from one of the skeezier blocks in the TL (Larkin between Eddy and Turk on the west side doesn’t have any apartment entraces or storefronts, the whole block is a wall that hides the Phoenix Hotel’s parking lot, this makes it an ideal spot for shady people to do nefarious things), this is not such a bad neighborhood because it is full of Vietnamese families doing their thing. And their thing is going to Lee’s Sandwiches and getting boba and playing with their kids on the sidewalk and shit like that. So yeah, it smells horrible outside, like it does in most of the Tenderloin, but you’re not going to get hasseled. Unless you try to mess with some of the Vietnamese youth throwing the N-word around like they invented it. Because nobody likes getting messed with, fool.
So, in summary: not such a crummy area, completely delightful dining space, high quality food made totally delicious for an eensy bit more than you’d normally spend at a Vietnamese place. I think you’ll love it.
607 Larkin St