Ngoc Mai

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. 

Ngoc Mai

Their Yelp page

547 Hyde St

Golden Kim Tar

I’m realizing as I start to put this post together that I completely dropped the ball on making any fanfare about this blog’s one year anniversary.  Which, it seems, is a thing people like to do;  throw a little birthday party for their blog.  Of course, it’s not REALLY for the blog.  Blogs are not sentient beings, they cannot appreciate a celebration in their honor.   It’s a pat on the back from the blogger to themself.  Which, you know, is very attractive.  So, congratulations blog, you are one year and about 2 months old today.  Let’s celebrate with a completely boring post about Chinese takeout.

Yep, it doesn’t get a lot more boring than this.  Steve and I ordering via Grubhub from Golden Kim Tar.  Probably sitting in our jimmie jams watching Law and Order SVU eating this insipid food.  Hot and sour soup

cashew broccoli chicken

and vegetables with tofu

were all fine, just sort of bland.  And oddly sweet.  The only thing that wasn’t sweet were the potstickers

which were plump and soft and savory.  Those and the soup were the standouts from this meal.  Though, everything seemed to be made with nice, fresh ingredients and they offered a good variety of veggies that were well cooked; still a bit crisp but not too raw.

I was apprehensive about Golden Kim Tar because it’s a nondescript Chinese place, the city is full of them and they can be great, but they can also be really really bad.  I’ve been burned before.  Golden Kim Tar has surprisingly good Yelp reviews, so I knew things could go either way.  In the end, it was ok.  Not regrettable, but not life changing either.  Still, all the five and four star reviews on Yelp have me curious to try it again.  Noodle soups seem to be a specialty of the house, and that certainly hits me right where I live.  However, if I do try Golden Kim Tar again, I think I’ll eat in, in an attempt to liven things up a bit.  Go for the gusto, right?

Golden Kim Tar

434 Larkin St

Hai Ky Mi Gia

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

707 Ellis

Their Yelp Page

Ken’s Kitchen

Can I make a suggestion?  If you have been up drinking until 4 in the morning, don’t sleep for 4 hours then go spend 4 hours in the direct midday sun.  Or if you do, start with some belly balast, maybe pancakes and eggs?  A lean pocket won’t cut it, trust me.  And definitely don’t forget the advil.  These are things I’ve unfortunately learned from experience.  I had a rough day at the Mission Indie Mart (entirely my own fault of course) and then I had a rough time getting a cab to take me home from Mission Indie Mart.  I finally made it, it was nearly 7 pm and all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch with some food and never ever get up.  There was stuff at my house to eat, but I wanted something greasy and carb filled and meaty.  I decided to get delivery from Ken’s Kitchen.  I knew that usually I found their food too salty but in my still slightly hung over state I thought that a little extra sodium would really hit the spot.  I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my order arrived, and really appreciated the delivery guy not giving me any weird looks, even though I’m sure I looked a hot mess.  I took my meal back to the couch and started cracking open containers. 

Wonton soup was ok, standard thin broth, kind of bland wontons but everything tasted like it was made from real food, no frozen wontons or bouillion cubes were harmed in the making.  And I really like that they offer a small and a large size of soup because I love soup, but I can’t eat a regular order size all by myself and still have room for everything else.  And it’s nice to have a cheaper option, a small wonton soup was just $3.50, not bad. 

Next I dug into the mu shu chicken.  Mu shu is a dish I avoided until a couple years ago when I ordered it on a whim at Taiwan Restaurant on Clement.  I thought it was like chop suey, some crazy Americanized Panda Express stuff.  It turns out it is a dish that originated in China and was one of the first Chinese dishes to be popular in America, and was widely reproduced in less and less authentic versions around the country.  Some restaurants for example served mu shu with tortillas instead of the traditional thin flour pancakes.  Yuck.  Anyway, mu shu is actually a crazy delicious blend of shredded vegetables and mushroom and meat if you choose to add it.  You put some of this stuff in a thin steamed pancake with some hoisin sauce and eat it like a little crepe or taco.  Ken’s version was pretty tasty, but the pancakes were a bomb, though I think they may have been a victim of the delivery process.  They were super dried out.  Luckily they only give you four pancakes so I didn’t waste too much food, and the mu shu mixture is tasty on its own.  And good thing, because for 8 bucks they give you about a pound and a half.  If you order from Ken’s you’re going to have leftovers for hella days.

My last dish was pork fried rice, and I was expecting the standard stuff, with little pieces of sweet, red, dried out meat interspersed in some dryish white rice with some vegetables here and there.  I was totally surprised by Ken’s fried rice.  There was no red stained pig here, the pork pieces were substantial, about knuckle sized, and they were moist and juicy and fatty and crisp.  This was some amazing roasted pork, some one took a minute and had some pride in preparing it.  And the rice was deeply browned from soy sauce and frying and it was soft and sweet and salty.  The veggies were pretty much the norm, but that’s fine with me.  For $5.75, for delivery from the corner of Polk and Eddy this was the perfect fried rice.  And, like the mu shu, there was about a pound a half of it.  Some of it’s still sitting in my fridge (not because it wasn’t delicious, but because I couldn’t bring myself to eat too much of it.  I could feel my thighs growing with each swallow.).

So thank you Ken, for perfectly satiating my electrolyte starved body.  I will definitely put you on my top ten post-hangover spots list.  Quite the prestigious place to be.

Ken’s Kitchen

700 Polk