Occupation: Technology Consultant & Cookie Dough Entrepreneur
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Turtle Tower Restaurant
Reviewed Turtle Tower Restaurant: Thursday, May 9, 2013
There’s very little more that can be said about Turtle Tower. The place is somewhat of an institution in San Francisco. People know about it; it’s a thing. Yet, in my most recent experience, I’ve discovered something magical, something so delicious that the next time you visit you won’t not order this dish.
Now, if you’ve been living under a rock in San Francisco and haven’t heard of Turtle Tower, it’s a northern-style Vietnamese restaurant widely acclaimed for its pho-nomenal (I promise to sparingly pun from here-on-out) pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup. The pho ga (chicken) is the most popular– the broth is simmered for more than fifteen hours and is fortified with free-range chickens. Unlike Southern Vietnamese pho which is served with accompaniments like bean sprouts, basil, and hoisin sauce, the northern or Hanoi-styled pho at Turtle Tower is simply served with a side of green chilies and lime to add a bit of heat and acidity to a perfectly clean and pristine broth.
The combination beef pho is equally fantastic. But if you really want to add another level of depth, you can order your pho stir-fried. They basically fry the chicken or beef with leeks, carrots, and the noodles. The result is a whole other level of complexity and smokiness to the dish. Perfect hangover food, pho’sho.
But the real gem I uncovered in my most recent visit to Turtle Tower was the grilled fish, cha ca. Grilled turmeric-coated catfish is served in a deep cast-iron bowl resting over a chamber that holds a fire that sizzles the dish from below. You are given a plate of fresh green onions and fragrant dill, a bowl of roasted peanuts, and another bowl of onions in vinegar and are instructed by the waiter to add these to the cast iron to cook with the sizzling fish. After a couple minutes and a few stirs, the fish becomes nice and crispy and a curry-like texture is achieved. You add this on the fresh vermicelli noodles, season a tiny bit with the fish paste, and devour. It’s more than delicious; it’s an experience that must be experienced first-hand.
There are three locations of Turtle Tower–the one I usually go to is located on Larkin Street– but the one I visited was on Geary and was equally as delicious (though does not serve alcohol). Definitely visit either location for a large bowl of pho if you haven’t visited before, but definitely revisit for the grilled catfish pot– it’s like falling in love all over again.
Occupation: Executive Assistant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar
Reviewed Turtle Tower Restaurant: Thursday, May 2, 2013
If inexpensive, no fuss and no muss pho is your preference then this is your place. If you don’t care for really spicy Asian cuisine and want to control it as much as you can this is also your place. If you don’t want to pay for ambiance then this is definitely your place. It’s North Vietnamese so the flavors are more subdued in comparison to the flavors of Central and Southern Vietnam, where spice is king. Pho appears to be the thing to eat here; it’s also the best bang for your buck. You can have a small bowl of pho, still pretty large, for around seven dollars. If you are a vegetarian or pescatarian however, you will be disappointed as there are maybe a handful of items you can enjoy. The waiters might offer you menu items without meat, but won’t tell you what it’s substituted with.
Our server recommended the pho ga long to me. When it appeared, I tasted it without the side lemon and sliced jalapenos, so I could taste the broth, and found it bland; it tasted more like a watered down broth. I had to add a healthy squeeze of the lemon, a few of the jalapenos, some Sriracha and hot oil. The giblets were cooked well and I actually preferred them over the chicken, however I wish it came with more; there were only three large whole giblets. I would’ve also preferred them sliced or chopped coarsely, instead of whole; that would’ve made each bite have giblet and also appear to have more in the dish. There was a nice amount of noodles, not too much. I really do prefer the northern wider noodles. I did not ask for hoisin sauce, I used what was on my table.
A small bowl of my pho was a little over seven dollars, okay for how much you got, which is not bad for San Francisco standards. If you want any accoutrements, then you’ll have to ask for them. Spring roll over imperial roll is my recommendation. I prefer pho for lunch so if I’m in the area during the day I’d possibly go back, especially if the air is chill. I’d try it again, especially for a seven dollar pho. If I’m going to ask for anything, I’m going to ask them to slice my giblets.
Occupation: Retired Sales Manager
Favorite Restaurant: Copita Tequileria y Comida
Reviewed Turtle Tower Restaurant: Saturday, May 4, 2013
I visited the Turtle Tower Restaurant on a Saturday evening along with two other friends of mine. We were promptly seated at our table and were asked if we would like anything to drink. We ordered the house green tea in a pot. The tea was nice and hot and the server took our order immediately, which started to come within five minutes. The spring rolls were unusually large and wrapped in lettuce and very cold.
The Imperial Rolls with vermicelli noodles, lettuce, mint and cilantro were a very nice surprise full of vegetables, wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dipped in a very tasty peanut sauce and vinegar fish sauce.
A soup plate was my main course. The small portion is quite large, almost enough for 2 people. The broth was hot and it cooked the raw beef almost immediately. However, the broth lacked flavor; my friends also claimed their soups, number eight and number nine were quite unseasoned and lacked depth in flavor, unless lime juice or soy sauce were added.
Our side dishes were the combination fried rice and the sticky rice with chicken and sausage. Both dishes were quite good and flavorful and they did not need any sauces to be added.
For dessert I had their flan in coffee syrup. The flan lacked flavor of a homemade dessert and the coffee syrup was almost bitter and watery.
I was not impressed with the Turtle Tower as a restaurant that strives for serving excellent and tasty food to their customers. I saw it more as a fast lunch place where you go in to grab a quick bite because their service is fast rather than because you want to enjoy your dining experience.
The atmosphere and ambiance at the restaurant was that of a quiet rush, not aimed to make the guests feel welcome and happy.
The restroom was a very disappointing place to visit, very dirty, water all over the floor, no paper towels and no toilet paper seats. The sink was breaking off the wall and looked like this room had not been cleaned and serviced in days. The restaurant overall looked a little run down and uninviting.
In my opinion, the Turtle Tower Restaurant does not deserve to be recommended, and I will not return to visit it again.