Mixed bag for Vietnamese eats
Saigon Street Eat
Saigon Street Eat1827 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818
The Pho Bac Hoa Viet on Broadway was my first introduction to Vietnamese food, and I doubt that I’m alone in that. I lived near there in the late ’90s, and it was part of my meal rotation that leaned heavily on the pho from Pho Bac and the chicken taco plate at Los Jarritos, whose less-than-four-dollar-price fit my Tower Theatre worker budget. I always got the rare steak pho at Pho Bac, trepidatious about the more rubbery or slippery meats, and it was reliably good.
Over time, Pho Bac and I drifted apart. My tastes changed as I ventured out to Stockton Boulevard for Vietnamese food more frequently, and eventually all the way to Vietnam. And Pho Bac changed, too. It got dingier and emptier. It closed and reopened and eventually closed for good in spring 2017.
In September 2017, new owner Huan Pham opened the spot as Saigon Street Eat. It got a trend-adjacent makeover, with a ceiling lined with colorful umbrellas and a playlist of whispered covers of current radio hits. This conceit starts out amusing (“Is that ’Black Beatles’ by Rae Sremmurd as an indie-style cover?”) and becomes cloying over time.
The menu is unusual in that it contains a mix of standard dishes and oddball fare such as “crabby cream cheese wantons” and Vietnamese tacos.
Street Eat is on solid ground with its more traditional meals, such as hu tieu (noodle soup), pho and baacute;nh xèo (crepe). The pho ($9) has broth that’s one-note beefy and smells strongly of white onion. The rare steak is by no stretch rare, but the well-prepared tendon has a pleasant, gummy texture and is lacking in gamy off-notes.
Savory tendon was also abundant in the hu tieu beef stew ($9), which was hearty A.F. and laced with red annatto seed oil. It’s best ordered with chewy, curly egg noodles. The server said the gaminess of the tendon is tempered by cooking it with a secret spice that she wouldn’t reveal.
No secret to the baacute;nh xèo ($12), just a good level of crispy crunch and a tangy fish sauce dip with minimal funk. It’s one of the better versions I’ve had around town.
The pork baacute;nh mì ($8) does not earn that distinction. It’s loaded with meat that overpowers the palate and sabotages the interplay of spicy jalapeño, crunchy-sweet vegetables and cilantro that makes the baacute;nh mì such a perfect sandwich. This one is twice as big and half as good as those on Stockton Boulevard that cost less than half as much—math that not even the Republicans would be able to spin.
Also overloaded with meat are the “Vietnamese tacos” ($6), which were wrapped in raw flour tortillas. Let that last detail sink in. The oily chicken tastes reheated rather than fresh-grilled and is piled high alongside shredded iceberg and a smattering of pickled veggies—an uninspiring dish that needs a healthy slog of sriracha.
The most apt comparison for Saigon Street Eat is with Coriander Restaurant, since they are both slightly upscale Vietnamese spots a smidge off the grid. I understand not always wanting to eat on Stockton Boulevard, especially if you live downtown and want a bikeable spot, but if I want close Vietnamese food, Coriander will get my business. It has better pho and I can get a Panic IPA without having to listen to a whispery cover of a Cranberries song.