Occupation: Web Product Marketer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pagolac: Mom’s Vietnamese Kitchen
Reviewed Pagolac: Mom’s Vietnamese Kitchen: Wednesday, April 7, 2010
It amuses me how the city is trying to repackage the stretch of Larkin Street above the Civic Center as “Little Saigon” when it’s still the Tenderloin. If you can steel yourself to venture forth into this area — and in the daylight, it isn’t really all that bad — take a stroll to this Vietnamese gem. My partner and I originally came here because the place we wanted to go in Little Saigon was closed.
I have to admit, I was not encouraged by the pink awning that reminds me of the plastic shopping bags from Chinese restaurants. However, once inside, it turned out to be a cozy, minimally decorated restaurant with top-notch service and extremely friendly and knowledgeable owners, who are the children of a woman who was a waitress at the place for the better part of a decade. When she was hit and killed by a car while walking to the restaurant at a nearby intersection about five years ago, the children decided to carry on their mother’s home-style recipes, and you can tell because they are hearty dishes that rely less on presentation and far more on flavor. You can always tell how good the meal will be by how fresh the spring rolls are, and they are excellent here with a great dipping sauce.
Their most famous dish is the Seven Flavors of Beef set course (a two-person minimum). While it sounds indulgent and artery-challenging, it is a relatively healthy series of tasty beef dishes. It starts with the Bo Tai Chanh, a Vietnamese-style carpaccio marinated in lemon juice seasoned with chopped mint and peanuts and served with dipping sauce. Then comes the double-header: Bo Nhung Dam where you get a firepot in which you put in the raw slices of beef to cook and then wrap into rolls, and Bo Nuong Vi, marinated raw slices of beef cooked over a tabletop grill. Beef skewers come next: Bo La Lot (grilled beef balls wrapped in wild pepper leaves), Bo Cuon Moi (grilled beef wrapped over scallions), and Bo Lui, (BBQ beef). It all ends with a dessert, Chao Bo, which is a Vietnamese-style rice porridge with minced beef.
But that’s not the only draw, not by a long shot. Their homemade pho and fried noodle dishes are similarly addictive. In particular, the Pho Tai Bo Vien is a hearty bowl with a smooth broth filled with tasty noodles and even tastier rare beef slices and handmade beef balls. The Mi Xao Thap Cam is a surprise winner: fried chow mein noodles shaped like a brick and ladled with stir-fried chicken and fresh vegetables. We have also tried the other desserts here. The Chuoi Chien Kem (fried bananas with coconut ice cream) is wonderful, though the Che Mon (warm sticky rice with taro and coconut juice) is too runny for my taste.
Parking can be tricky around this area, especially since there are vagrants, who are more than willing to charge you for a space they have staked out for money. Just take the 19 Muni here. It’s well worth the adventurous journey to find pleasures a-plenty at this family-owned treasure.
Occupation: Product Designer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Zazie
Reviewed Pagolac: Mom’s Vietnamese Kitchen: Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I must say, I was surprised to find such a tasty restaurant located in the heart of one of San Francisco’s grittiest neighborhoods, the Tenderloin or, as we like to call it, “The Loin.” Had I not been advised to eat here by a fellow Check, Please! guest, I may never have discovered this restaurant. From the outside, Pagolac blends in with surrounding Vietnamese restaurants. Like other restaurants on the street, there was nothing particularly inviting about the façade or anything that would draw me inside, except maybe to escape the colorful streets of the The Loin.
Upon entering Pagolac, it appeared to be very clean and organized. However, between the lack of décor and the dim lighting, the restaurant interior seemed a bit stark and desolate. I soon found out that Pagolac easily makes up for the lack of atmosphere with the quality and deliciousness of the food.
I think this is the best Vietnamese food I have ever tasted. We ordered the seven courses of beef, a specialty of the restaurant. Because I am not a huge meat eater, I was skeptical about ordering this much beef. However, each course was on the small side, and was shared between two (or more) people. We actually had a blast making our own wraps with the rice paper, meat, vegetables, mint, and sauces provided. Ordering seven courses of beef is not just about the delicious and savory food you are about to eat, but the experience of cooking the meat yourself, softening the crispy rice paper in warm water, and enjoying making your own wraps. Each course is different and involves cooking and flavoring beef in different ways.
Along with our seven courses of beef, we each had delicious drinks that are worth mentioning. I had a fizzy plum drink that was a bit salty and like nothing I had ever tasted, and my husband had an iced lemonade that was absolutely delicious and fresh.
In addition, after seven courses of beef, we managed to fit in dessert. I had a sticky rice pudding with coconut milk and dates that was absolutely delicious. I will be saving room for this dessert next time I go to Pagolac. My husband ordered coconut ice cream that was equally delicious.
I would highly recommend Pagolac for a tasty meal that is both memorable and easy on your wallet. I think the fact that nearly everyone in the restaurant was Vietnamese speaks to the authenticity and quality of the food. My one recommendation is that they could up the ante even more by throwing a few nice pictures on the wall and improving the lighting. But what I appreciate about Pagolac is that food is the first priority, and I will definitely be back to enjoy this spot many times in the future.
Occupation: Shipping Container Sales Director
Favorite Restaurant: Della Santina’s Trattoria
Reviewed Pagolac: Mom’s Vietnamese Kitchen: Sunday, April 18, 2010
A friend (Rich Murphy) and I dined at this restaurant on Sunday at 6:00 PM. We didn’t make reservations, but we had no problem getting a table. Pagolac is near the Tenderloin and it is not a neighborhood I frequent, but it was light out and parking was easily found within a block.
This restaurant was on the dark side with very little lighting, and the walls seemed on the shabby side and could definitely use a coat of paint. There wasn’t a picture on the wall, and I found this restaurant very cold and uninviting. Our hostess was very pleasant, and the chef stopped by to ask if we were enjoying our meal.
As I love beef, we ordered the 7 Flavors of Beef course for two. It came with rice paper, which you dip in boiling hot water to soften and use to wrap the first three courses in. They brought lettuce and marinated vegetables to the table, which were very crisp and fresh. You put these on your softened wrap and then cook your beef and roll it up and chow down. The beef for the first three courses was the same, and I enjoyed the third course the most, as we grilled the beef in a heated butter sauce. I found the first two courses on the bland side, even when using the dipping sauce. The beef was the same for the three courses — one just cooks it differently.
The next three courses were skewered beef, and I found them good, but not exceptionally tasty. I’ve been to many Asian restaurants (although not specifically Vietnamese), and found these on the bland side. The beef was very fresh, so no problem with the quality.
The seventh course was Chao Bo — a Vietnamese rice porridge — and we only tasted it, as it didn’t appeal to me or my dinner partner.
This is a restaurant I would not put on my list of favorites.