A woman in front of a restaurant.
An apparently happy diner. Photo by Maria C. Ascarrunz

You know those places that have been around forever, which some call dives, others call holes-in-the-wall, but that you call your go-to place?  They’re not fancy, there’s nothing fusion-y about them, and they’re usually affordable (even on Valencia Street).  They’re not getting written up as destination places, but they’re your good old neighborhood standards that have stood the test of time AND the pandemic.  Thanh Tam II is that place.

It’s family-run, and I thought it was high time for a revisit, especially since our Mission Local executive editor, Lydia Chávez, recently raved about her newest favorite lunch: Vietnamese chicken salad, or gỏi gá.

The BF and I went and, of course, I had to try the salad.

A plate of asian salad on a wooden table.
Vietnamese chicken salad.

She was right. This was a fresh mélange of flavors and textures: Mint, cilantro, crunchy carrots and cabbage, tender chicken, and bright bursts of sweet & salty, all at once — everything that makes good Vietnamese food sing.  A salad with a high “wow” quotient! 

The BF ordered bún bò huế, a dish new to him.

A bowl of noodle soup on a wooden table.
Bún bò huế.

He didn’t 100 percent rave about this, although I found the broth quite rich in flavor. What I really love about Thanh Tam II is they’re not stingy with the fresh veggies and herbs, which are what make Vietnamese dishes. The pork cakes were their usually springy selves, but the beef, unfortunately, was mostly cartilage.  No sign of pig blood cubes, but I’m not sure if that’s a requirement, or if they’d melted into the steaming broth. 

We got some potstickers, too:

Dumplings on a plate with dipping sauce.

They were a bit doughy for us, although the flavor of the filling was good, with nice hint of ginger. 

I also ordered some chả giò (imperial rolls), my favorite type of Asian fried rolls:

Vietnamese spring rolls on a plate with rice and a dipping sauce.
Imperial rolls.

These were perfectly crisp on the outside, as Thanh Tam II (thank all the Vietnamese gods) correctly uses rice paper, rather than dumpling wrappers, unlike some godforsaken places. But the filling, at least on this night, was a bit bland and mushy. 

However, undaunted, and seeing how Thanh Tam II is always busy, I visited again.  This time with two friends in tow.

We shared a gorgeous bánh xèo:

An omelet on a plate with vegetables on it.
Bánh xèo.

One of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes, which (as usual) was prepared perfectly here, with an amber crepe that was shatteringly crispy on the outside and lusciously creamy on the inside, stuffed with sprouts, chicken, and shrimp, and a plethora of snappy pickled veg and fresh herbs to gild each bite before dipping it into an aromatic pool of golden nước chấm. 

My GF had the bún gà nướng, grilled chicken with a nice char and chew, with very crunchy chả giò, which — happily — was much better flavored and textured this time! 

Vietnamese noodle bowl with meat and vegetables.
Bun with chicken and imperial rolls.

Made me love this dish all over again. 

For my main, I had the phở tái nam: 

A bowl of soup with meat and vegetables in it.
Phở tái nam.

Rare beef (note the bit of pink flesh peeking through) and flank steak. The broth had good flavor, the flank meat was nice and chewy, and it was a humongous portion. Even though I’d ordered the medium instead of the large, I barely made a dent in it, and there were plenty of leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

My GF’s hubby ordered a special spicy chicken curry (gà xào cà ri).

A plate with rice and vegetables on it.
Gà xào cà ri.

Unassuming as this may appear, the curry had a really good kick to it, the vegetables were satisfyingly crunchy, and the whole thing was just a good, homey, dish of comfort food on a rainy night, something I’d get myself next time.

There is much more on the menu to explore (150 items!  Including banh mi!), and there is even a section of Chinese-style dishes for good measure.  Vegetarian dishes, too.  They offer beer, wine and a selection of Vietnamese soft drinks (including Vietnamese iced coffee and Thai iced tea). 

Unpretentious and reasonably priced, with quick yet friendly service; this is what we need more of in the Mission.  Stop in and say hi to the family!

Thanh Tam II
577 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

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  1. Love love love Tham Tam.
    Pork & shrimp salad, yum!
    Great prices & consistently great food.
    Thier broth for won-ton soup is the BEST IN THE CITY.
    (And, not to gross anyone out, but a nice trick if you’re on a fast for a colonoscopy/pre-surgery and can only have clear liquid for 24hrs this broth keep you satisfied & sane. Sooo delicious!)

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