5 Vietnamese hot spots for under $20

By Maryse Chevriere

San Francisco’s patchwork quilt of cultures and ethnicities is a big part of what makes it such an exciting culinary capital, and Vietnamese—while maybe not the most obvious cuisines to call out—definitely holds an important place in the city’s dining landscape. Of course, there is Charles Phan’s landmark Slanted Door, well-known and lauded for its modern and slightly more refined renditions of regional classics, but this isn’t exactly the kind of spot to hit on the regular. Fortunately, there are plenty of places serving awesome, quality Vietnamese fare in the city where you can eat for under $20—here are five of our favorite spots.

My Canh
In need of a fortifying, post-party bowl of noodle soup? This perennially popular North Beach spot has your fix and more. Open until 2 a.m., this no-frills hole-in-the-wall has become a meeting ground for hungry late-night revelers thanks to its hearty portions and low prices (the majority of plates are under $10; just come prepared, since it’s cash only). While it’s an easy place to get stuck in Indecision City given the overwhelming number of options—noodle soups, noodle platters, rice noodle salads—you’d be hard-pressed to make a menu misstep. That being said, the endlessly satisfying crispy fried egg rolls, crab noodle soup, and, course, the rich, savory beef stew with thick rice noodles, are not to be missed.

Saigon Sandwich
The question of where to get the city’s best báhn mì is an easy fire-starter for foodie debate. Duc Loi Market! Bun Mee! Café Bunn Mi! Dinosaurs! There’s an argument to be made for each of them, to be sure. But, if we’re talking delicious, meal-worthy, and best bang-for-your-buck, the torch surely has to go to Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin. Of the options on this minimalist menu (there are seven sandwiches total), the most any will set you back is $4.25, for the thit cha pâté. This worthy “splurge” gets you a plump baguette bursting with slices of roasted pork, chicken liver pâté, crunchy carrot and daikon, stalks of fresh cilantro, and thick rounds of jalapeño.

Cafe Kim Thuy
Drop in to this recently opened Oakland spot if you’re in the mood for a top-notch yet affordable house-made Vietnamese meal, but don’t feel like making any decisions. The menu at the family-run lunch restaurant basically only consists of a daily rotating noodle soup. Priced at a mere $10, expect less familiar options like bun rieu, featuring a tomato base and crab meatballs, and the bun moc, a pork-lover’s dream come true.

Yummy Yummy
The emoji-cute name almost undermines the serious truth about this Inner Sunset place: It serves one of the best, beefiest bowls of pho in town. The pho xe lua (extra-large, $9.75) is a meat-lover’s paradise, brimming with slivers of rare steak, well-done flank, beef tendon, tripe, and meatballs. There are plenty of other tasty items to order on the extensive and well-rounded menu, we’re just not sure you’ll have room for it.

Da Nang Quang
Another shining star in Oakland’s mini-mecca of Vietnamese culinary prowess, the focus here is on the specialties of Central Vietnam’s Da Nang region. This a great place to break out of your pho and báhn mì box, and explore lesser-known delicacies, like basically anything with hen (aka baby clam, a regional specialty)—over vermicelli with shrimp sauce; over rice; with Vietnamese chips. P.S.: Almost every item on the menu is under $10.

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