Go Eat This Now: Bánh Canh Cua at My Canh

The ‘cake soup with crab’ is a variation of pho you have to point to order.

North Beach is the last neighborhood anyone would expect to find most interesting bowl of Vietnamese soup in the city, but guess what, that’s exactly where it is.

My Canh, between Grant Avenue and Broadway, is a tiny Vietnamese restaurant with a blue, graffiti-mottled awning positioned between a hardware store and a vacant space — and it sits beneath a sign still bearing the name of its previous ownership. It’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of joint. Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., it shares the block with nightclubs, neon signs, and midnight mischief.

The menu has the usual suspects, from pho and fresh rolls to dishes I’ve never heard of — like goi soa tôm thot, jellyfish-and-shrimp salad with pork. What you won’t find on the menu, though, may be exactly what you’re looking for. The only way to order bánh canh cua — which translates to “cake soup with crab” — is to point to the picture of it taped to the wall.

Bánh canh cua is a rich, thick crab soup that’s made with soft, doughy noodles. It’s similar enough to most seafood-based pho, but what makes it different is the broth, which is thick and gelatinous from the tapioca flour used in its base. My Canh serves its bánh canh cua loaded with big clumps of crab in the shell, sliced pork, and cubes of blood pudding. This bowl of soup is not to be underestimated, as it’s for the true lover of Vietnam’s unique and distinct flavors. Just when you think you’ve tried enough pho for a lifetime, you discover something completely new here. It’s packed with the flavor of the crab from the claws and meat that stew in the bubbling bowl, separate yet completely intact. The broth has familiar nuances of ginger, star anise, and fish sauce, with the weight of an egg-drop soup.  Unlike the vermicelli or rice noodles that come with most varieties of pho, bánh canh cua comes with a thick, wheat-flour noodle, similar to udon or Chinese hand-pulled noodles. Their starchy bounce only further distances the soup from its close relatives.

Although the majority of My Canh’s menu is even cheaper than most Vietnamese restaurants these days, the bánh cash cua is going to run you around $13. And just a heads-up, it’s cash-only, but if you’re hanging around that block at one in the morning anyway, odds are is that you’ll probably have some.

My Canh, 636 Broadway, 415-397-8888, no website.

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