Ngoc Mai is the sweetest little Vietnamese hole in the wall in the Tenderloin. I was delighted by its cheerful exterior before I ever ate there.
When I did finally sit down for a meal there I was equally delighted by the interior and the homey food. It is such a tiny place, here’s a shot from the back corner table;
but they pack a lot of personality into the square footage. Steve and I were there for lunch right before Christmas and there was tinsel everywhere in addition to their everyday decorations, like these guys.
Too cute. Ngoc Mai is run by a family; mom cooks in a cubbyhole kitchen, the daughter waits on customers and dad runs the cash register and helps out with everything else. We got tea
and a bowl of noodle soup and an iced coffee each.
Steve had some sort of combo noodle soup with pork and fish balls.
After I took this photo he added enough rooster sauce to turn the soup a murky red. Still, the deep flavor of the broth would not be overpowered by the spicy chiles. Thin ribbons of slightly chewy rice noodles mingled with torn bits of herbs instead of clumping together at the bottom of the bowl. It’s unfortunate for Steve that his soup was so good because I couldn’t stop stealing spoonfuls.
My curry chicken noodle soup was a disappointment. Doesn’t that bowl up there look like it should contain a flavor explosion? Oddly enough, this soup was totally bland. Even the onions weren’t providing any taste enhancement. The broth was oddly thin and the thread-like rice noodles slipped down my throat nearly undetected. With enough of the provided condiments I was able to make the soup a bit more enjoyable to eat, but this is definitely one of the few stinkers on the ngoc mai menu.
So, though the curry soup was a flop, I count myself as one of ngoc mai’s biggest fans. It’s one of my favorite places to recommend and one of my favorite comfy lunch spots. So if you’re looking for an affordable homestyle place to eat some great pho or try some Vietnamese street food or very fresh stirfries, I’d say, bump Ngoc Mai to the top of your list.
547 Hyde St