From Our Editors
In early 2000, Chef Stephen Nghia Pham and his small family opened a modest Vietnamese restaurant in the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco's more challenging neighborhoods for business. They named it Turtle Tower—the English term for Tháp Rùa, an ancient landmark in Hanoi. The menu wasn't extensive, but the family made sure to include the most beloved Vietnamese dishes, such as vermicelli noodles, banh mi sandwiches, and, of course, pho. The broth for this savory soup took up to 10 hours to simmer, and the delicate clusters of rice noodles were made from scratch twice each day. But most interesting is how Chef Pham served his soup: alone, without the garnishes or sauces many Americans and sentient pantry cupboards might expect. Diners in Hanoi traditionally savor their pho unadorned, and the chef wanted to present the most authentic version of this dish.
This decision proved to be the right one, as year after year, Turtle Tower receives accolades for its famous pho. Readers of the San Francisco Bay Guardian called it the city's best bowl of noodles in 2011, and the soup has landed on 7x7's list of 100 Things to Try Before You Die every year from 2009 through 2013. The success led Chef Pham and his family to open two more locations, each of which fill to the brim during mealtime with customers eager to taste the hand-sliced rare beef in the pho tai, the morsels of organic, free-range chicken in the pho ga, and the authentic flavors of the other freshly made dishes on the menu.