I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here before that I love soup. Soup is my favorite thing to eat. So Hai Ky Mi Gia is something of a Mecca for me. A menu devoted 100% to soup…it’s like something out of a dream…
I know I’m a dilettante, I’m not interested in trying to make myself sound like I’m not. Therefore, I’m not going to try to explain why the sign says “CHINESE CUISINE” but all the menu items are in Vietnamese. I turned to Yelp because I’ve found that it can be helpful in these kinds of quandaries, often somebody knows the proprietors or someone recognizes their native cuisine and writes a review explaining the food in response to the multitudes of ignoramuses spouting nonsense in their reviews. I didn’t find anything on Yelp but I also couldn’t get through the first page for this place. Hopefully I’ll come off better in this post than the folks on Yelp. Can I just say though, you don’t have “MSG poisoning” after your Chinese/Vietnamese/Japanese/Whatever meal. You’re sleepy and thirsty afterwards? Sounds like you just ate a shit-ton of salty carbs. Which is generally what you do at these types of restaurants. And if you want to get mad at me about it, you can read about MSG here, on wikipedia, which I believe goes straight from God’s lips to HTML.
Ok, ok sorry, that was pretty uncalled for. Back to the business at hand.
The restaurant is rather small, with two narrow rooms crammed with tables. There are a few two or four tops, but many of the seats are at long cafeteria style communal tables. I’ve never eaten here and felt overly crowded or too close to my fellow diners. They do a good job of spacing you out. It has the kind of ambience that I like; cluttered and homey, but clean, lots of clatter and chatter, but not so much that you can’t have a conversation. I know a lot of people don’t go for this, but it makes me feel comfortable. Also, it’s warm and a little humid inside, which was certainly nice when I was there right in the middle of San Francisco’s cold snap.
Hot tea is complimentary, but we also ordered coffees. I got mine hot, Steve got iced. I guess I never get hot coffee because I was totally flummoxed by the thermos of hot water that came with mine. I was like, what do I do with this, dilute my coffee with it after it’s brewed? Steve said I should pour it through the grounds again. I ended up doing a combination of both. I ended up with a good, very strong cup.
I was intrigued by #21 on the menu, Mi Sa Te, Satay Beef Egg noodle soup. I had no idea what it was, I figured peanut sauce would factor in there somewhere. When I ordered the waitress explained to me what it was without my asking, which was nice of her, even though I do like a surprise.
She described it as having some peanut sauce, and a little spicy. I didn’t find it spicy at all, but that’s okay, that’s why they have sriracha on every table. There was more than some peanut sauce, I had a bowl full of a thick peanut soup with slices of beef and some noodles floating around. My first thought was of the peanut butter soups I’ve been served as dessert at Chinese restaurants and how Steve and I kid each other about them because we don’t especially care for them. Luckily this was dissimilar to dessert soup in pretty much every respect. I looooooved this dish. First of all, I really liked that they put all the veggies and herbs in there for me, I love that stuff but if it comes to me on the side I am often too lazy/gluttonous to add it before I scarf my soup down. I really enjoyed the green crunch in my muddy soup. The peanut broth had a perfect balance of sweet and savory, and the thick grainy texture sounds unpleasant but was very nice and really familiar in a way I can’t quite place. And when it started to get a little overwhelming, I had a bowl of clear broth on the side. I was so glad I decided to try something new with this dish. It’s one of my new favorite things, and I can’t wait to start trying to replicate it at home.
This is Steve’s boring old standard, #27, Mi Ga Dai, shredded free range chicken egg noodle soup. This is before he added enough chili sauce to turn the whole thing a fiery red. Not so boring after all I guess. I kid though, Steve likes chicken soup, and I can’t argue with that. They do it well at Hai Ky Mi Gia. Steve and I both got hooked on this chili sauce they had on our table that I don’t remember from previous visits. It was thicker than sriracha, and not as spicy or fruity, it was a lot saltier. It was in an unmarked squeeze bottle, so I guess I can just hope it’s on my table again next time I’m there. I probably ended up with about half the squeeze bottle in my bowl, it was a nice accompaniment to the peanuts.
Hai Ky Mi Gia is exactly the kind of restaurant I like. I really wish that I could convince everyone to go, but I know that it is exactly the type of restaurant that a lot of people hate. The service is pleasant but brisk. The food is delicious but simple. The atmosphere is nil. It’s in the dreaded Tenderloin. Honestly, I can’t suggest that you make a special trip here if you don’t live in the neighborhood. If you live in San Francisco, chances are you have a great noodle soup place not 10 minutes walk from your house, and that’s part of the joy of a place like this. Wake up on Saturday morning, roll out of bed and pull on some clothes and in less than 15 minutes you’ve got your face in a steaming bowl of soup. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Hai Ky Mi Gia