When it comes to Asian food, the Marina has little to offer aside from sushi bars and Americanized Thai food. So if you happen to be in the neighborhood and get a craving for pho, banh mi or noodles, Saiwalks, recently opened to fill that void. With a full menu of meat-heavy and vegetarian options, the selections lean more towards southern Vietnamese street food, which seems to be the preferred style in this city.
The fried spring rolls are perfectly crispy and offer an indulgent start to the meal while the rest of the menu covers all areas like rice plates, vermicelli bowls, banh mi, and pho. With vegetarian options for each.
The beef pho was a little too sweet for my taste, though I'm partial to the Northern style soup at places like Turtle Tower. The iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk was not strong enough, but speaking from experience, I know that figuring out the grounds-to-water ratio with Vietnamese coffee can take a while. I'm hoping that this has improved since my last visit. Vietnamese coffee is a beverage that I'm so obsessed with I actually purchased coffee filters from Vietnam so that I can make one for myself almost every day.
My favorite dish by far was the bun cha vermicelli bowl with pork. Smoky grilled pork shoulder over cold rice noodles, with fresh vegetables and pineapple. The clean flavor of the cucumbers and fresh herbs balances out the charred meat and is elevated by the vinegar sweetness of the fish sauce vinaigrette. The banh xeo, a coconut milk and rice flour crepe filled with pork and shrimp was also a standout, offering a browned crunchy crepe with sweet bites of shrimp and fresh romaine lettuce.
While none of the dishes brought me back to the many amazing meals that I enjoyed in Vietnam last spring, if I were in the neighborhood, the bun cha with pork could definitely satisfy my constant cravings for anything covered in my favorite condiment, nuc cham, a Vietnamese fish sauce blend.
The price of the dishes was extremely high, making it the most I had ever spent on a Vietnamese meal. I'm sure the rent is high in that part of town and when you're the only bowl of pho around, you can get away with it.
But for now, the Tenderloin still holds the honor for neighborhood with the best Vietnamese food.
Saiwalks, 4438 Steiner St., 549-7931