8 Sixth St, SF, CA 94103 | 415.626.0927 | website
hours: Mon. – Sat. 11am – 9:30pm | Closed Sunday | Cash Only
Mr. K and I went to the city in order to catch an early bird showing of the Hobbit and then walked over to check out the recently renovated Tú Lan, which reopened earlier this year after being shut down by the Health Department. We used to ride our bikes here for lunch regularly in the 90’s, and you can see photos from my original post back in 2007 here. The mid-market neighborhood still has a feeling of the unpredictable about it, the gritty mix of humanity makes you wish you had eyes on the back of your head. The front of the restaurant has a sleek wooden awning and it has been renovated so that it looks like it has been throughly scrubbed until clean and shiny inside and out. It is still reassuringly the same, the same layout, many of the same workers, and most importantly, the aroma of well-seasoned frying oil that lingers on the clothes you are wearing embraces you like an old friend. The bright yellow menu still has culinary icon Julia Child on the cover with Herb Caen’s column giving their enthusiastic endorsement, and we were happy to note that the prices are only slightly higher but the portions are still monstrously huge!
And the same pyrotechnics at the stove, I remember one cook always had a towel around his neck, we surmised it had to be protection from the flames
The Cha Gió Imperial Rolls ($5) from Tú Lan are the best I have ever had. They are burly and meaty, the blistered leathery surface belies the delicate crunch of the freshly fried rice paper wrapper.
You must first dunk the roll into the nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce), which helps cool it off, but you will probably still end up trying to hold the molten hot nugget in between your teeth while sucking in air so you don’t burn the inside of your mouth. The ethereally blistered wrap is translucent and shatters with a satisfying crunch that sticks to your teeth a little when you bite in. It is a heady combination: the vinegary sweet fish sauce laced with the garlicky infused ground pork filling with a generous dose of black pepper and the addictive crunch of the fried wrapper.
We decided to have a couple of our old favorites, the Ga Gung Ginger Chicken #29 ($6.50) is an addictive stir fry of diced chicken, pungent slices of fresh ginger, chunks of white and green onion, slices of jalapeno for heat, all tossed in a garlicky ginger infused sauce. It is the bomb served on plain steamed white jasmine rice.
Mr. K couldn’t resist the Tôm Ca-Ri Prawns and bean cake in Curry #55 ($7.75), stir fried with chunks of bell pepper and onion and tossed with a rich curry sauce along with a generous handful of fiery sliced jalapeno. The tofu is dense and meaty with a chewy fried crust that absorbs the flavorful spicy sauce.
We couldn’t fit another dish on the table or in our tummies, so we weren’t able to sample the unforgettable curry fried rice. Ah well, we must come back for more Imperial Rolls anyways, so that can wait for another trip. Lunchtime on the weekend seems to be a good time to visit, there was both empty counter and table space during our visit.
The owner Anthony Nguyen mans the the front register, here he is filling hoisin sauce into a to-go container. He looks relaxed and happy, the kitchen has been rebuilt with stainless steel and new equipment, the staff has been educated about safe food preparation methods and the clamoring lines of Tú Lan devotees are still there. The lusty flavors of the infamous Cha Gió Imperial Rolls and flavorful stirfries haunt me… we’ll definitely be back for more!