Northern Style Noodles at Turtle Tower in SF

by foodhoe on May 19, 2011

631 Larkin St., SF, CA | 415.409.3333 | website | open daily 8:30 am  – 7:30 pm | cash only

I was elated to score this awesome deal of $30 worth of food at Turtle Tower for $15, which many say serves the finest pho (pronounced fuh) in San Francisco.  Unfortunately this deal is no longer available, but it’s worth keeping your eyes open for future offers, although a bowl of pho here is very affordable! Turtle Tower is famous throughout the land for its exquisite broths which are served northern-style and do not include any of the side garnishes that you typically see. To the purist, the addition of those items can ruin a well crafted broth, that is the essence of northern style pho which is known to be simple and pure tasting.

Mr. K prefers chicken noodle soup or Phở Gà, which is Turtle Tower’s signature dish.  The owner Stephen Pham, uses free-range chickens, freshly made noodles and produce from local farmers markets.  This location in Little Saigon is the original, there’s a branch in the Richmond on Geary Bvd., and they plan to open another one on 6th and Harrison next month!  Each table has a little caddy offering pungent fish sauce, chili sauce, black pepper and a small pour bottle of vinegar.

We shared a plate of Imperial Rolls with Vermicelli Noodle, Lettuce, Mint and Cilantro ($7.95).  The petite rolls arrived piping hot, fresh from the fryer and are stuffed with of a delectable mixture of mushrooms, carrots, thin clear noodles, and ground pork.  The wrappers are fried until golden brown and  crunch apart into flaky shards when you bite into the fragrant, steaming hot crispy shells.

The rolls are accompanied with crisp lettuce leaves for you to wrap up some vermicelli noodles with a piece of roll along with fresh herbs, then dip in pungent vinegary and sweet fish sauce.

This is the only accompaniment to the bowl of noodles, a small bowl of fresh lemon wedges and slices of jalapeno pepper, along with the condiments on the table.

Being the culinary maverick, I decided to try the Chicken Noodle Soup with Chicken Giblets, Phở Gà Lòng, ($6.95).  I leaned over the bowl and inhaled,  the aroma was clean and pure, a straightforward broth dripping with rich chicken flavor and laced with the fresh herbal aroma of chopped green onions.  The noodles were wide and flat, slippery smooth with a luscious silky texture that slides down your gullet with an inordinately soothing velvety slurp. There were chunks of dark meat, thin strips of skin and pieces of giblets that provided a wealth of textures: sometimes crunchy, sometimes creamy, it was like snuggling into a cozy baby blanket in a bowl.

There was an item of interest, the golden yolk of an unborn chicken egg (sometimes also called “unhatched egg” or “young egg”), which I take to be a fertilized egg that has developed to the point where the yolk and white have merged.  It was rubbery and didn’t crumble apart the way a regular cooked yolk would in liquid, but was distinctly an egg.

Mr. K prefers egg noodles so he ordered Mì GàChicken Egg Noodle Soup ($6.25), which looked just like a bowl of ramen, but smelled completely different. The noodles were springy and elastic and the broth was clean tasting and balanced, with a deeply satisfying chicken flavor.  There is something very restorative with Turtle Tower’s version of chicken noodle soup.

read about the story of the lake in Hanoi and the story of the ancient turtle who lives in said lake where the original turtle tower is located.  The Vietnamese consider pho to be a breakfast food, the fragrant soup awakens your senses and prepares you for the day with the sense that all is well in the world.  I wish I could start every day with a bowl of this!

Turtle Tower on Urbanspoon

last year’s visit 2010

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa May 19, 2011 at 8:09 am

those dishes look rather appetizing! Nice crispy rolls.




Single Guy Ben May 19, 2011 at 10:59 am

I’ve had a congested nose all week and how I wish I can inhale a bowl of Turtle Tower’s chicken pho right about now!


hungry dog May 23, 2011 at 6:58 am

mmm…I need to check this place out–maybe the one on Geary. I could almost always go for a bowl of pho (no little egg though).


Bonnibella May 25, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for the link to the story. The pho ga here is great comfort food. I recommend you try out Pho Ga An Nam and Pho Hoi Noi in San Jose. An Nam has many dishes but all featuring the free range chicken.


Gastronomer June 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Whoa! Two thumbs up to Turtle Tower for using rice papers for their cha gio! And for using free-range chickens 🙂


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