Bun Bo at PPQ

ppq

Is PPQ the best Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco?

I used to be in the camp of Vietnam II for the longest time, mainly because when I worked at a Southeast Asian restaurant, that’s where almost all of my co-workers ate.

That is, until I discovered Pho Phú Quôc, otherwise known as PPQ. Which is funny: I always guessed that they had to shorten their name since I’m probably not the only one that doesn’t know how to really pronounce “pho“.


Some think it’s a variation on the French beef-in-broth dish known as“pot au feu”, which is pronounced fewh, but since I’m not a fan of it, I’m off the hook in the pronunciation department and can skip the whole quandary entirely.

(And can I tell you how much fun it is to speak English liberally? I am chatting everyone up this week—supermarket checkers, salesclerks, the tellers at my bank…basically anyone that’s not in a position to run away from me.)

What I love here is their Bo Bun, the Vietnamese cold noodle salad: a bowl of sliced cucumbers of mung beans gets topped with cold rice noodles, then meat or prawns are served on top, finished with roasted peanuts and sliced scallions, with the option of deep-friend spring rolls tucked in the bowl as well. I know deep-fried food is the devil’s lubrication, but I can’t help it and always order them.

At PPQ, the Bo Bun is terrific. The chicken strips are fried until the skin is hyper-crispy and the whole bowl comes together in one brilliant dish, that I pick and pluck at with my chopsticks until I’m scraping the last of the bean sprouts off the bottom. And anyone who’s tasted a bean sprout will certainly agree that they’re one of the least-appealing, and least-flavorful, things to eat. They’re about as insipid as bok choy, in my book.

With an ice coffee dripping away into a steel cup of sweetened condensed milk, ready to be poured over ice, this is one of my very favorite meals in San Francisco. I guess I should go back to Vietnam II, just for old times sake, and to see if it’s still good. But honestly, I can’t imagine it getting any better than this and continue to stick with the sure thing.

PPQ
1816 Irving Street, at 19th Avenue (Map)
(415) 661-8869
(No credit cards)

Related Links:

Vietnam (Eating Every Day)

3 San Francisco Favorite Ethnic Eateries (DavidLebovitz.com)

The Best Kind of Vietnamese at PPQ (Cupcakes and Kimchi)

The Burrito King (DavidLebovitz.com)

Cold Noodles on a Warm Day at PPQ (In Praise of Sardines)

38 comments

  • That sounds delicious! Thanks for the tip – will have to check it out on the next trip to SF!

  • Sure looks good too, that crispy chicken, those peanuts…ahhhh so hungry now

  • Drool. This makes me realize that I’ve been settling for mediocre Bo Bun for convenience. Got any suggestions about where to find a close copy-cat in Paris?

    Le Bambou in the 13th is pretty good for Bo Bun, but I always end up ordering #42. The beef wrapped in lot leaves is delicious, too! – dl

  • Isn’t it great when you can let loose in your mother tongue! I remember one of the great joys I had in returning home to Australia after two years in the US was the freedom to say water as ‘wah-ter’ not ‘war-ter’ and be readily understood! Simple but great joys, just like your Bo Bun by the sounds of it. Enjoy!

  • David,
    In your humble opinion, do you think Asian is better in SF than NY, Vietnamese in this case and for that matter what about in Paris, I have a favorite myself on Baxter street in China Town Nha Trang. They make great frog legs with French butter!
    Pot au feu, I can’t believe you don’t love that, it’s so good!

  • You realize that although you’re speaking English liberally, French has insinuated itself into your words….hyper crispy? That’s extra crispy in American! Whatever the language, that picture has me drooling.

  • That bowl of food looks so delicious. I just ate half a bagel with marmalade and I feel cheated and sad that I have a meal like that one.

  • I love Bo Bun… and sprouts… and especially bok choy. That’s probably my favorite legume ! Ahhhh so delicious. ;)

    Have you had bun bo hue ? There is a place in San Jo that has the best bun bo hue (referred by Viet friend). I have had it other places and it was no good. The place is called Bun Bo Hue on story road; It’s REALLY SPICCYYYY. You should check it out.

    Do you want to go to L’Astrance for lunch with me and Sophie ? I haven’t made reservations yet (will try this week). Sometime after the 18th of Oct and before the 26th. Let me know toute de suite.

    Ciao !

  • GAWD that looks good!
    I was hoping you were going to say it was in Paris…Hmmm

  • There is not a greater vegetable than bean sprouts. It adds such a nice crunchy texture to anything you eat without changing the flavor. But I usually ask for my bean sprouts to be blanched before adding to my pho. Le Bambou is pretty good in Paris but its quite a hike and the line is always sooo long. I am going back to the US for a visit in 2 weeks and I too look forward to using my English liberally!

  • Oooh, I had a recommendation to eat there since it was right around the corner from where I was staying, but I didn’t have time. Rats! That bun looks delicious. Next time…

  • When I was in Paris, I found this TINY Vietnamese place, which I think was in the Latin Quarter. I remember going there and getting some seriously delicious fried chicken. I wonder if it is still there? Ring any bells?

  • I LOVE PPQ! I think we eat there at least once a month.

  • Yum! I lived in Vietnam for six months, and now my mouth is watering. The food there is insanely delectable.

  • Anne: I know! I think I’m hopelessly Parisian. I almost walked into a woman the other day on the sidewalk, and was just about to apologize….but then I caught myself in time, and just kept on going.

    Whew! That was close…

  • Thanks, David! I recently moved to the Bay area and I’ve been looking for new restaurants to try out. This one just moved to the top of the list!

  • I like the Pho, I like the curries, but my favorite from all of the Vietnamese food is Bo Bun. I am envious David, You get to eat all day and try so many restaurant! Make me want to go to SF right now and visit all of the restaurant that you’ve been mentioning in the last couple of posts!

  • This is interesting – here in Rhode Island we have a number of restaurants that offer a similar dish on the menu listed as “Bee Bong” – I have never seen it outside of RI, but here there are quite a few with that spelling.

  • Hi David,

    Just a correction, bo bun is grammatically incorrect. Vietnamese would say bun bo. But the words bun bo, shortened, is typically used to refer to bun bo Hue, a spicy brothy soup with pig’s feet and blood cubes.

    What you’ve got in the picture is bun thit nuong, Vietnamese rice noodles with grilled meats. Or specifically since you mentioned chicken and not beef, it’d be bun thit ga, and with the addition of egg rolls, it’d be bun thit ga cha gio.

    Apologies for butting in just to correct you, but it’d drive me crazy if everyone reading this mixed that up too.

  • Sounds like you had a blast — and you made me eager to hit this restaurant when I go to SF. By the way, your cheesecake brownies post was so much fun, I featured it in my best of food blogs for the week. Thanks!
    Best,
    Pirouette

    http://mspirouette.blogspot.com/2008/10/from-my-plate-to-yours.html

  • That looks amazing!

    I live 55 miles NW of Chicago, and there are no good Asian restaurants here at all.

    Our first experience when we first moved here 8 years ago, was a Chinese restaurant recommended to us. I ordered kung pao shrimp with mixed Asian vegetables.

    You know what I got? Salad shrimp, the ONLY vegetable was celery, and it was teriyaki sauce spiked with Tabasco!

    My mouth is watering just looking at that dish!

  • OMG, I have never even been to California, but I would plan a vacation just to eat that!

    I live 55 miles NW of Chicago, and we have no good retaurants here.

    We went to one Chinese restaurant that was recommened. I ordered stir fry shrimp with mixed Asian vegetables in a kung pao sauce.

    What I got? Tiny salad shrimp, the ONLY vegetable was celery, and it was teriyaki sauce spiked with Tabasco!!

  • I just love your blog and am so happy you are in San Fran right now because I am just about to go there for my first time the weekend. I will definitely have to try this restaurant out! Are there any other “must eats” in San Fran that I shouldn’t pass up. I am a pastry chef, so I have bunch of dessert spots already mapped out, but I need some good dining suggestions too! Thanks so much for your help! I am obsessed with your book, The Perfect Scoop, by the way…it is FABULOUS!!!

  • Vietnamese food is the tops in my book. Though I had a bad experience over the weekend with a Vietnamese “fusion” restaurant in Brookline, Mass. Pho bo, bun bo, bun cha, I love it all!

  • Ohhhhhh man! I went to UCSF and ate at PPQ at least twice a week. Now transplanted to Denver, Colorado – I have yet to find anyplace that even comes close. *sob*

  • David,
    It’s me again, just to let you know that I am watching you on TV with Andrew Zimmern. You are making Bacon Ice Cream! Hmmm, not sure wether I am going to eat that! But, its so cool to see you on TV. Cheers,

  • I love PPQ. But I can’t believe you can talk about eating there without mentioning the roast crab from their other outpost on Clement Street.

  • David! I just saw you on the new “Bizarre Foods” Paris edition, one of my favorite t.v shows. I love your bacon and ice cream idea. I just now have to buy myself an ice cream maker.

    P.S.= is Andrew Zimmern the same in real life as on the show?? He seems so cute and friendly.

  • A Vietnamese friend told me that the correct way to pronounce “pho” is to say the four-letter swear word that starts with f and rhymes with truck, but don’t say the last two letters. FU**. Such a handy tip!

  • Wow … David. I’m licking my computer screen.
    Nice seeing you on Andrew Zimmern last night. I’m definitely going to be making the bacon ice cream. Must be nice to have a friend who owns a nice chateau and a kitchen equipped with a fancy ice cream maker, huh? :)

  • I love reading your San Francisco musings! My sister lives in the city and I can’t wait to go visit her and try the Bun Bo. Of course we go to Tartine every time I visit, but PPQ is now on my ‘must visit’ list. It looks like you’re having a lovely, if not gut busting, visit!

  • I’m an SF native, and I love PPQ! Not only is their bun bo great,but they also have wonderful pepper crab (kind of like salt and pepper prawns, but done with the whole crab cut up), and yummy garlic noodles.

    I lived in Paris for a bit while going to LaVarenne (1983 – 85) and used to go to a place we called the Vietnamese Lunch Counter–and it was just that: a 3-sided counter wrapped around 5′ x 4′ “kitchen”. The woman chef made fabulous Vietnamese street foods: mostly noodle dishes.

  • My favourite place in Paris for Po is a hole-in-the-wall place in the 3rd (Arts et Metiers) in rue Volta in an ancient half-timbered house – it’s like eating in someone’s kitchen in Vietnam!!!! They also have Bo Bun but I always always always have the Pho – oooh, will be in Paris next weekend – can’t wait for the Pho… and the rest!!!

  • I have a thing for decent broth/soup bases and the beansprouts soak up the lovely soup and cooks it, without loosing all the texture and making it into a mush. Crunchy veg is best!

    Go Pho! :D

  • Wow, does that ever look delicious. You must have gotten the lens/camera thing figured out. I’m sitting in a session at Blogher Boston and drooling on the keyboard.

  • This is my most favourite food in the world, and I was so glad to run into your homage to Bun Bo, or Bun Cha as some like to call it. The balance of flavours and textures in this dish are to die for. I went as far as deriving a recipe for it, and make it on a regular basis. It’s all in the Nuoc Cham David! Nuoc cham (the accompanying sauce), made of fish sauce, garlic, thai bird chilies, sugar, and lime is to die for, and can make or break bun cha!
    If you are ever in Toronto, and are looking for the perfect Vietnamese fix, make sure you visit Pho Hung on Spadina. It is by far the best Bun Cha I’ve had in the city!

  • *just recently became a fan of this blog* and I LOVE my mom’s cooking. Your pictures remind me of the days when she would cook for me every night. YUM!

  • Great post…but the part I liked best are the amazing pictures you took!

    Watch a video of Pho-Phu-Quoc Restaurant http://www.jippidy.com/Pho-Phu-Quoc-aka-PPQ/PhoPhuQuoc