This is dedicated to You Cannot Be Serious, aka Jenny C.
Finally, ehem, FINALLY, made it out to the famed Turtle Tower last week for a quick city pho stop. I had an interview to get to down in San Jose, so I was in a hurry, and there's nothing quicker and deliciouser than a bowl of pho.
Turtle Tower is a San Francisco institution for pho lovers. If you ever ask a local for pho suggestions, 9 out of 10 times, they will blurt "Turtle Tower" without hesitation. Because of its seedy neighborhood in the beloved Tenderloin (and probably also because pho is considered a breakfast food in Vietnam), they close at 7:30pm, making it a tricky place to meet for dinner- hence I had never been.
After getting hollered at by the local neighborhood crazy folk, I finally made it to the little restaurant. I walked to the front and they told me to go to the other entrance, in the side alley. (Er, good thing they close early, cause I would not walk down this after dark in the Tenderloin).
As you can see from the little blue sign above, and the front of the menu, the "Tower" is their icon. Turtle Tower is an actual shrine of sorts, built on a tiny island in Hanoi. Wiki isn't being its usual informative self, but a charming legend about a turtle and a sword is found here.
Here, they proudly serve the Hanoi-style pho aka Northern-style pho, aka Pho bac. I've done a bit of research, and this is the most informative article I found on the differences between Northern and Southern pho (Pho nam). Northern is: wider noodles, less accoutrements, lighter broth. The description at the top of the menu at TT describes it well too:
I got the #4, which was a combination of rare beef, tripe, well-done flank and brisket.
- No basil, no sprouts
- Lemon instead of lime
- Lots of chopped scallions and cilantro
- Beef sliced thicker, more fatty, or marbled
The pho was definitely unlike the pho I usually have, which is Southern (thin noodles, sprouts, etc.). First of all, the color of the broth was so much lighter and clearer. The beef was excellent and the wider noodles also added a new dynamic. I usually like the al denteness of the thin noodles, and this was akin to eating a hearty bowl of udon. Mmmm...
The broth was definitely the high point- it wasn't salty at all and I didn't have my normal MSG mouth after I literally drank all the soup. OOPS!!! According to the article, the Northern-style has less spices in it, and is considered to be pho for purists. Also, the pho originator (although this is highly disputed).
Of course I couldn't resist ordering a few Imperial rolls- they were flakey and the pork/shrimp/mushroom/glass noodle mixture inside was just delightful. Probably the best I've ever had- they tasted so homemade, not frozen.
The pho here was definitely better than Tu Lan, another joint down the street offering Northern-style pho. Make sure to get here before 7:30pm cause they close early.
631 Larkin Street
Between Eddy & Ellis Streets
San Francisco, CA
*Kayoko usually orders everything on the menu when eating out, which is why she is always broke.