Nestled deep in the Tenderloin, we’ll admit, Turtle Tower doesn’t look like much. An unassuming door leads to a small, narrow dining room with plain tables and a few condiments. The servers are relaxed, but helpful, and since it’s a smaller place, you can always get someone’s attention if needed. Having eaten at our share of Vietnamese joints, we know not to judge a book by its cover, and Turtle Tower definitely proves that it’s what goes on in the kitchen that matters.
Doing a little research, we found out that Turtle Tower does Northern Vietnamese style soup, which is why it comes with just lemon and jalapeno, as well as the standard sauce arrangement (sriracha, fish sauce, chili paste, etc). We tend to prefer having lime, sprouts and some thai basil, since it allows you to control the flavor a little to your own liking.
The Pho Ga is a chicken broth pho, and when it arrives it’s pretty standard looking, in a good sized bowl and steaming. We don’t shy away from adding the extras, so in goes the lemon and jalapenos. Oh and make sure to also add Sriracha and fish sauce (not too much, it’s potent!) for a little extra kick and saltiness. Do you ever remember being sick as a kid and feeling hungry, but nothing sounded appetizing? Then mom warms up some Campbell’s chicken noodle and it’s the best thing in the world? It’s like that, maybe even better. The broth has this full, warm chicken flavor. You can feel it warm you from your mouth to your toes. What stands out is the meatiness of the broth, which comes out from days of roasting bones. It’s not overly salty, the cilantro provides a nice balance, and there is plenty of chicken meat to go around. The noodles are fresh made each day (though bought elsewhere), and are a great vehicle for the flavor. It’s one of those dishes you slurp in silence, savoring each bite, and when you’re done, the satisfaction just stands out on your face.
The second time we went, both of us almost ordered our own bowls of Pho Ga, (I don’t know about Alex, but I dreamt about it almost every night and didn’t want to share my future bowl). But, then it occurred to us that if they can do the chicken pho so well, they must do other pho’s well, so we asked our waiter what we needed to try. He recommended the Pho Bo Xao, and boy oh boy, am I glad we decided to branch out. This pho has nearly raw veggies which add a nice crunch to the dish. Also what set this Pho apart from others, is that they dry-fry the veggies and noodles, adding a smoky and oh so savory element. Delish.
Don’t let the surroundings discourage your entry to the restaurant. If you’re cold, sick, hungover, or just plain hungry, this is a great place to go. The food is well worth the slightly anxious walk, and questionable appearance.
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