cafe sua da
Saigon Street Eat has picked up where Pho Bac Hoa Viet left off. We noticed the place had closed over the summer, and I’ve heard rumors that Pho Bac Hoa Viet Restaurant’s lease had expired. This was not my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Sacramento, but it would do in a pinch. I actually liked its hole-in-the-wall-ness about it. A bit of grunge and neglect. Service was often slow but the food was fairly decent. So we were curious to see what Saigon Street Eat had to offer over its predecessor.
The new owners opened on September 1, but we were in Hawaii at Mauna Loa Observatory that day. Yesterday was out first free afternoon that we could scoot over to see what’s what. I was surprised to see the walls were not yet painted in their entirety, so there are still a few finishing touches. When we walked in, the hanging upside-down umbrellas were the first thing I noticed. Besides a woman sitting by the front door who told us to “just go sit down and somebody will be by.”
We grabbed a booth in the back. The space was a bit tight, but I like booths. You can sprawl out and throw your crap all over the cushion. A server came by and brought us a large pitcher of water and two plastic glasses. We tried to get her to take one of the plastic glasses back but she refused and insisted we might find a use for it. We checked our email. Talked for a while. I shot a couple of photos. Servers lingered in the front but did not look at us. The place was about 1/3 full. I finally asked my husband to see if he could find a menu.
The Saigon Street Eat menus are pink paper, take-out style, one page. Big change from Pho Bac Hoa Viet, with its glossy book of many pages. But the favorites were still there, a variety of Pho, spring rolls, dumplings, pot stickers. I ordered a cafe sua da. My husband said “make that two,” and she asked him what he would like to drink. The iced-coffee drinks arrived after our meals. Usually cafe sua da is served with the coffee dripping in a small metal cup over a tall glass filled with ice. This way you can press the coffee grounds down with your thumb and flip the whole thing over on the table, spilling hot coffee. But our drinks were ready to go and stirred.
I figured you can’t go wrong with Bun Thit Nuong, vermicelli salad bowl with shrimp. I asked for only shrimp but I got fried pork along with 3 pieces of small grilled shrimp. By comparison, Pho Bac Hoa Viet grilled 6 large pieces of shrimp. The flavor of the sauce was perfect, and the pork tasty, if a bit fatty with too much gristle for my tastes. We pretty much finished our lunch specials by the time our appetizer arrived.
I tasted the pho broth in my husband’s dish, and the star anise seemed a bit on the weak side, but the broth was full-bodied. My husband had also ordered the banana leaf clear dumplings, which he likened to eating rubber cement, albeit tasty rubber cement. It’s just the nature of the tapioca flour paste. The pork and dried shrimp filling was yummy, once you get past all of that chewing. We’d probably order that dish again.
The prices were affordable. The food is served quickly, except for our dumpling appetizer. I imagine after a few months, they might pull it together and improve. The music system sounds like either boy bands or country, like Luke Combs. When you figure it’s just fresh Vietnamese fast food, it’s OK for what it is. It’s like the casual food you would find served at an outdoor restaurant in south Viet Nam, possibly at picnic tables, without the thousands of motorbikes whirling by. I’m betting Millennials will love it, too.