Alameda a la carte: Sidestreet Pho

Alameda a la carte: Sidestreet Pho

Denise Shelton
Sidestreet Pho

Pho-to by Denise Shelton.

Review: Sidestreet Pho, 2304 Encinal Avenue

A new addition to the renaissance of eateries that the former Gold's Gym strip of businesses on Encinal Avenue enjoys is Sidestreet Pho, a restaurant that gives a tip of the hat to pre-war Vietnamese street cuisine.

Owner Hanh Nguyen grew up on this kind of food on the streets of Saigon. Following in the footsteps of her mother, who opened one of the first Vietnamese restaurants in America, she offers fresh, inventive versions of these classic favorites in a modern setting.

My husband and I dined there on a Wednesday afternoon. We arrived at the rather odd time of 2 p.m. because my husband had a dentist's visit that bifurcated lunchtime. Not to worry. We were not the only diners in the place - a neat, spare, open space with large photos of Vietnamese street scenes on the walls. We were promptly and pleasantly greeted and seated.

The menus are terrific, featuring not only the appropriate Vietnamese name for each dish but a through description. There is also a “terminology” section describing what may be unfamiliar terms to first-timers, like “pho”, “bun” and “mi.”

For starters we had the nem nuong cuon, or grilled pork spring rolls. If you are only familiar with Chinese-style spring rolls these will come as a surprise. They are open-ended and wrapped not in a deep-fried crust but in a translucent rice wrapper. These featured the freshest ingredients and a delicious sauce for dipping.

Naturally, we also ordered the pho. The restaurant offers 15 different kinds but, on the advice of the waitress, we ordered the pho nam gau, with flank, fatty brisket, and were not disappointed. The meat was flavorful, the broth divine, and the vegetables crisp and delicious.

From the wok selections, I also chose the bo luc lac, a shaken filet mignon with jasmine rice - mighty tasty. My husband substituted Vietnamese sausage for the shrimp in his order of com chien du'on'ng chau, a combination fried rice dish, and pronounced it “delicious.” There are a number of vegetarian options available as well.

For beverages, we had the iced tea lemonade and a really delicious watermelon slushy-type drink with mint. They can make an alcoholic version of this as well. Refreshing! Sidestreet Pho also offers snow ice in exotic flavors like mango, taro, and sweet milk; dessert drinks; Vietnamese coffee; Thai ice tea; soda; beer; and wine.

Sidestreet Pho offers fresh, flavorful food at reasonable prices: The typical entree runs about $7. We enjoyed our visit there and plan to go back soon.

The Kitchen Garden

Here we are, deep in the heart of July and the harvest has begun. My strawberry plants, while not numerous enough to provide a bowl a day, have still yielded a steady supply of both snackers and freezers. When the season is over, I plan to make a big batch of strawberry sauce.

My itty bitty blueberry bush is providing enough of whatever it is that is supposed to keep my brain lubricated. I just pick and eat a few every day. Apparently all it takes is a quarter cup a week for maximum benefit, so I'm good there. (The rest of the family will have to fend for themselves.) The dill is sporting elaborate seedheads, the garlic is getting oh-so-close to being fully formed, and the basil, celery, and various other herbs are holding up nicely.

I believe I mentioned Lazarus, my tomato plant, in a previous article. This was the spunky volunteer who emerged from the worm bin determined to live again. He's covered in baby tomatoes but I still can't tell which variety they are. Time alone will tell.

New and Notable

Once again, it's hurry up and wait for the next big thing to hit the dining and drinking scene, but General Manager Matt Lienhard assures me that “if all goes as planned” the grand opening for Capone's Speakeasy will be Saturday, August 2. Check out the website for a preview of the menu items and cocktails like the Public Enemy and Pretty Boy Floyd. There's even an Elliot Ness - a vanilla milkshake, for you teetotalers.

The Alameda Island Brewing Company is moving forward on its plans to open at 1716 Park Street. You can follow their progress on their Facebook page.


Submitted by C. (not verified) on Fri, Jul 18, 2014

I love Denise Shelton's articles about new places opening in town. Would love to see more of her writing. Thanks for keeping us informed!

Submitted by William (not verified) on Fri, Jul 18, 2014

Though the new restaurants on Encinal appear to be nice paces with good food, the lack of parking has always kept us and our friends away. We work off island, thus by the time we cab get over there, there isn't a parking spot to be had. We've tried numerous times and always are forced to somewhere else. Maybe we can try a lunch at some point.

Submitted by Putamayo C (not verified) on Fri, Jul 18, 2014

Curious ... do you "dine" even if you are having lunch? :)

Submitted by Minh N. (not verified) on Fri, Jul 18, 2014

It may not be a desirable walk for few but the Alameda Parking Structure by the Theater is not too far from these restaurants on Encinal/Oak (2 blocks) and it offers plenty of parking.