Jasmine Garden’s Bun Bo Hue
Two doors down from what used to be called The Transfer on 14th Street is Jasmine Garden, a fairly un-assuming Vietnamese restaurant. It is nestled right in the crook of one of S.F’s major transportation hubs (from which was derived the name of the above-mentioned bar), the meeting of Church and Market Streets, where converge multiple muni rail and bus lines. You would think that the freneticism inherent in its location would breed a sense of streamlined urgency into The Garden’s general demeanor and modus operandi, but instead it has responded in the other direction, having some of the most relaxed and friendly service of any Pho joint I’ve been to. Which is not to say I require a shit-eating grin and several soupcons of obsequiousness to enjoy a meal, but it’s nice to be greeted with a smile.
The warm, glowing center of Jasmine Garden, and from which I expect radiates its overall approach to service, is the husband and wife who own it. She, stocky, bustling and cheerful, runs the front of the house; he, tall and lanky with a mischievous grin, runs the back. He’s a clean-shaven Gandalf The Grey with his soups, brewing up a fantastically rich Bun Bo Hue.
Bun Bo Hue, for the uninitiated is similar to Pho but with a dark, velvety and hot beef broth and slightly thicker noodles. The usual bouquet of basil and/or mint and sliced jalapeño come on the side, but instead of bean sprouts, which normally accompany Pho, the Hue comes with raw, shredded cabbage. The broth itself is hard to describe, so I’ll just list a couple more ingredients and let you make a cocktail of the imagination: in addition to the beef stock there’s anise, clove, lemongrass, shallots and garlic. Kapow! A fiery cauldron of heaven for a pittance. Go for the soup, stay for the service and special holiday hugs from a small Vietnamese lady. Or vice versa.
708 14th Street (@ Church)