Pho Garden, San Francisco CA
After not completing the burrito challenge, friend and reader Clayton took time to work up to the Pho Garden Challenge at Pho Garden. The restaurant is one of hundreds serving pho in San Francisco, but is set apart by five years of delicious traditional cooking and an enticing challenge. We’re already in San Francisco dining our way through the weekend on a mini vacation across the Bay, so Clayton joined us for lunch to take on the challenge.
Two pounds of noodles and two pounds of combination beef for $22 is a heckuva deal on its own, but if finished in one hour it’s free. The best time on record is 13 minutes, and reading the description alone before seeing the bowl, Clayton felt he was ready. The bowl was very big, though, yet with an hour to finish, he was doubtful but we thought he could do it easily. Tripe was part of the beef mix, though, unbeknownst to Clayton, and so the plot takes a twist.
Kind of like Reuben sandwiches at deli shops, August will almost always order a Thai iced tea when she sees one. This mix was perfect, with the right amount of creaminess and not too sweet.
August and Zach shared these rolls featuring shrimp, ground pork, mushrooms and glass noodles as Clayton ate through the first few minutes. On their own, the rolls were lightly crispy with a thin wrapper and tasty filling, but the tangy sweet dipping sauce made each bite complete. A strong (though enjoyable) garlic flavor with tender noodles and mushrooms complemented the savory pork.
August’s rice vermicelli bowl was more than she had hoped for. Lemongrass-marinated chicken cooked with onions and mild peppers sat on beds of fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, and julienned cucumber over a sizeable base of noodles. It came with its own serving of the same sauce as the imperial rolls, and the bowl of all the ingredients combined with that sauce was something special. “It’s a magical flavoring sauce!” she exclaimed. The vegetables provided crunch along with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts, and the chicken was delightful. She found herself seeking out every last morsel of meat from the bottom of the bowl, despite already feeling full.
“Garlic” is the first word of this entree’s category on the menu, aptly so as the garlic in the noodles was very strong and rich. It’s like a warning, because if you only mildly enjoy garlic, this would be way too much for you. Zach loved it, though, as did August when she tried a sample. His quality tenderloin beef was marinated in red wine and sauteed with potato and onion, resulting in a flavor akin to a sweeter, more flavorful teriyaki. The flavors were so well balanced, the green peppers didn’t bother him.
Forty-five minutes in, Clayton finally asked what the funny shaped noodles were and we told him they were strips of tripe. At that point, he lost his steam. For a while he was saying he wasn’t going to make it, but that put the last nail in the coffin. He officially threw in the towel with ten minutes remaining, knowing he just couldn’t eat another thing. Watch it go down at http://youtu.be/vPAlPIR7qQA.
With plans of going as green as possible, including growing some of their own specialty vegetables, Pho Garden has become almost iconic. Fresh food, sustainable goals, and a popular challenge will keep the doors open for a long time.