The story: Hanh Nguyen enjoyed the fresh street food growing up in Vietnam, and when her family moved to the United States after the fall of Saigon, they were disappointed that they couldn’t find their favorite dishes here. Her mother opened one of the early Vietnamese restaurants, and Nguyen continues the family tradition with her Sidestreet Pho in Alameda.
Why I went: I was getting together with my friend Virginia for dinner and when thinking of a place to eat, she mentioned how Sidestreet Pho had a pretty good bun rieu. She knows I’m a fan of this Vietnamese soup noodle dish that is more than pho with its red soup base and mix of toppings. So I ventured onto the island of Alameda to check the place out.
The vibe: The contemporary decor with large images of Vietnam gave the spot a cool yet sophisticated feel, and it gets packed by families getting a quick dinner. Also, it’s popular with takeout for residents, apparently, as I saw several people come to pick up their orders.
The booze: While Sidestreet Pho does have a bar, this night I wasn’t into alcohol because of the heat wave we were experience in the Bay Area, so instead I zeroed in on one of its cooler options (the menu has smoothies and iced juices), ordering a watermelon juice. Surprisingly, though, the juice came out looking more like dessert because it was in a bowl with a big mountain of watermelon ice, with just barely some juice in the base. I waited for some of the ice to melt, so it was slow going in trying to enjoy some refreshing watermelon.
The menu: Sidestreet Pho offers many of the typical Vietnamese dishes you expect, from the papaya salad to vermicelli bowls (bun) and of course, pho. They have additional soup noodles dishes under the category mon nuoc, which is where I found the bun rieu ($10). Sidestreet’s version definitely has a nice rich red-orange color, and I really enjoyed the ground pork meatballs that were loose and easy to eat. But the bowl was primarily just the pork meatballs and thinly sliced fried tofu, lacking any other ingredients that I’ve found at other locations. The flavor was good but I was underwhelmed by the variety of ingredients.
We did start our dinner with goi hai san or seafood salad ($11), which is the first time I tried something like this in a Vietnamese restaurant (Virginia recommended it). It’s basically a salad with a shredded cabbage base, and then topped with pan fried seafood (primarily calamari and shrimp). The calamari was disappointing, with a bland flavor, so it didn’t shine in the salad. For her entree, Virginia got the bo xao xa ot or stir-fried lemongrass beef with rice vermicelli noodles ($9).
We ended our dinner with shaved ice dessert because of the heat, going for a mango shaved ice served with mochi balls. It had a great mango flavor, but I felt the ratio of mochi balls to shaved ice was 2:1 when I really wanted more ice, especially with the recent heat.
Side note: The service, while friendly, can be a bit neglectful. The servers were quick to take our order, but after that, they hardly came back to check in with us, even while we were done with our dishes.
The last bite: Sidestreet Pho is popular in Alameda, but it’s probably because it’s one of the few options on the island. The food is solid, but nothing amazing. It’s a spot to go for those who live in Alameda.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Sidestreet Pho, 2304 Encinal Ave., Alameda, Calif. PH: 510.808.5298. Open Thursday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Closed Wednesday) Reservations accepted for large parties only. Major credit cards accepted. www.sidestreetpho.com
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