Dining at every Vietnamese restaurant in the Bay Area is like attempting to read every volume in a library. Everywhere you look, there’s another tiny soup shop you have never heard of. And just like those books, some will be good and some not so — but then there are the other ones. The dusty hardcovers that you’ve never heard of that are not only great, but which open your eyes to something different and new. Golden Lotus on the corner of Larkin and Willow streets in the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon is a beautiful novella, with pho rolls that will melt your heart.
Pho rolls, or banh cuon thit nuong, are rice rolls filled with grilled lemongrass pork, mint, and shallots. Unlike their close relatives, fresh rolls and spring rolls, these are made with a much thicker rice wrap. Sweating from the hot steam, the starchy casing has a gelatinous springiness that resembles the texture of a noodle more than that of rice paper. The char from the grilled pork adds a crunchy, smoky layer and the fresh mint and shallot give it a crispy freshness. Combined, everything rolled up into these little tubular bites make the most wonderful texture.
Pho rolls have the light, brightness of most Vietnamese rice rolls but they have a rustic meatier side that makes them something completely their own. They’re hot, they’re devilish, and they’re downright delicious. If fresh rolls feel like a healthy smart choice, pho rolls feel like their misfit cousin, still refreshing but just a little more devious. I could eat these things all day long. They’re savory, they’re sweet, and they pair beautifully with an ice-cold afternoon lager.
There are so many great Vietnamese joints all over this city and beyond, but Golden Lotus is one of those rare finds that often goes overlooked. Don’t skip past the pho rolls.
Golden Lotus, 631 Larkin St., 415-345-1355 or goldenlotusvietnamese.com