One upside to our finicky, temperature-swinging climate? Pho is a year-round staple. The beloved Vietnamese noodle soup may seem simple, but you’ll find a wide range of northern- and southern-style interpretations in kitchens across the city. From Little Saigon’s passed-down recipes to new spins on the standard in the Mission, no two bowls are alike. Here, where to find the ten best bowls of pho in San Francisco.
San Francisco’s best pho
This 15-year-old institution is revered for its simple, flavorful pho ga. Though owner Steven Nghai Pham relocated his original restaurant into this larger, spiffier Tenderloin storefront in 2013, the unfussy chicken pho recipe remains the same: piping hot, gingery broth, a generous serving of free-range poached chicken and a tangle of slick rice noodles garnished with fresh cilantro and chilies. The handmade rice noodles here are a work of art—thicker and chewier than the usual vermicelli. The hearty pho ga is purported to be a surefire cure for the common cold.
This mom and pop shop near Turtle Tower serves up huge bowls of soup at wallet-friendly prices. The bright, bi-level restaurant is scented by giant, simmering pots of pho, which are visible in the open kitchen. The specialty here is the beef pho, laden with thinly sliced rare steak. Pro tip: the rich broth pairs well with a glass of fresh coconut water. Top your bowl with a smattering of bean sprouts, basil, mint, lime and peppers.
Though Kevin's family-run mini-chain has five locations throughout the greater Bay Area, this no-frills Sunset outpost is by far the most popular. Despite the line out the door, the turn-over is quick, thanks in part to the brusque-but-efficient servers and iPad ordering. The recipe for the sweet, spiced broth has been handed down over generations and is flavored with cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise. For connoisseurs, the pho bo is unmatched, packed with thin-sliced steak, well-done brisket, flank, tendon and tripe.
A busty mannequin wearing a "Miss Saigon" sash greets customers at this eclectic Vietnamese eatery—a welcome sight on an otherwise rather bleak corner of SoMa. The offbeat vibe is accented by lime green paint, hanging plants, chandeliers, draperies and a barren fireplace. The star dish here is the pho tai mem (affectionately referred to as 17b, after its designation on the menu), in which slices of tender filet mignon are submerged in a rich, spicy broth and topped with rice noodles, red onions and herbs.
Jasmine Garden is set with white tablecloths, an unexpectedly refined touch by San Francisco pho standards, where many of the best dishes emerge from hole-in-the-wall locales. Traditionalists throng for the spicy beef pho's addictive lemongrass broth, while non-meat-eaters rejoice in the vegetable pho, heaped with bok choy, tofu, carrots, broccoli, and cilantro. If you don't see pho on the menu, ask for the lunch menu: pho is served at all hours, but only listed by day.
The narrow, brightly lit challenger to nearby Kevin's isn't much to look at. But then again, no one's lining up for the ambiance. They're here for the curry coconut pho, an unusual spin on the classic recipe that involves a spicy coconut milk broth chock full of vermicelli noodles, chicken, potatoes and bean sprouts, with a spritz of lemon to lend an acidic kick to the rich broth. If you have room to spare, you can't go wrong with the garlic noodles.
It's easy to miss this cash-only restaurant, tucked away down a Chinatown alley. Thankfully, that means it's largely filled with locals rather than tourists. Start with the imperial roll (trust us), before moving on to the pho. Depending on your affinity for pig-parts, the top dishes here are the bun bo hue—a spicy soup with rice vermicelli, beef shank, pig's knuckles, beef tendon and blood cubes—or the velvety five-spice chicken pho. The noodles are extra thick, with a hearty chew that holds up to the hot broth. For a caffeine jolt, try the strong Vietnamese iced coffee.
Round woven lamps cast a soft glow, a colorful mural adorns the back wall, and a handful of beers are on tap at Mau's gleaming wooden counter. Purists may scoff that this is hipster-ized Vietnamese fare—but that's just because the ambiance is pleasant and the address is on Valencia. The restaurant is a collaboration between the former Slow Club chef Sante Salvoni and Tin Vietnamese owner Hung Dang. The deftly spiced pho bo (topped with picked onions) and gingery pho ga are particularly satisfying, especially when topped with a dollop of the restaurant's homemade sriracha.
If Mau is serving up a modern take on pho, Pho Tan Hoa specializes in the tried-and-true standard. Here, simple, fresh ingredients shine. The close-set tables and loud volume lend a diner feel, but lingering is discouraged. In the traditional pho bo, the dark broth and thin, chewy rice noodles can be ordered with well-done brisket, rare steak, flank, tendon, tripe or beef balls. For a change of pace, try the pho kho, in which the broth is served on the side.
Tin was owner Hung Dang's predecessor to Mau, and the space here is just as inviting: red accent wall, flattering lighting and long tables for larger groups. Situated on a high-traffic stretch of SoMa, the spot tends to attract clusters of tech types. The family-run restaurant specializes in southern-style pho, served with poached chicken, rare beef and brisket, or tofu and vegetables. The broth is lighter than its Tenderloin contemporaries, but no less flavorful.