Manju and Ethan Eat Food and Save the World Part 2
We had an exciting day: one of marching down Market Street at the Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco and volunteering at Vida USA. We were happy, but also starving and tired. We had to go somewhere good to recharge, refuel, and just relax with some delicious food. We sat next to each other on BART in hungry silence, the sound of our stomachs nearly outmatching the grumbling of wheels on tracks.
Our destination was an unsuspecting, white building that sits just at the corner of San Pablo and Page in Berkeley — Super Super Pho. Upon first glance, the place looked like a typically square, white house. This restaurant, converted from a family home years back, is one of the most-visited and best-rated Vietnamese restaurants in the area. Super Super Pho is a family-run, small business that has been catering to Berkeley residents for years. Grandparents bring traditions and cuisine from home to here, running the kitchen, while the rest of the family finds other ways to help out. They were all super (super… haha get it) friendly and welcoming. When we asked the son for his recommendation, he pointed out his favorite dishes and we joked about our spice tolerance.
We sat down to eat, and it felt almost as if we were at our grandmothers’ houses. The restaurant had a relaxed and warm, homey feel to it, probably because it’s family-operated. The interior was clean, simple and bright, even though it’s outside looked run-down. There was a breezy outdoor patio with a canopy of leafy plants providing shade from the harsh sun.
After waiting around for 10 minutes, we got two rounds of spring rolls, both fresh and fried. The spring rolls had a light taste whose slightly-chilled temperature was perfect for a warm, sunny afternoon. Six delicately-wrapped pieces were served on a plate along with a small dish of crunchy, rich peanut sauce. Underneath the moist, stretchy rice wrapping, each bite of roll offers hidden tangy mint flavors, complementing the surprising softness of the white rice noodles. Next up were the fried spring rolls. These thin, golden-colored rolls were warm and flaky, and their exterior crumbled in our mouths at the first touch. The warm cabbage filling at its center melted on our tongues, and served with a red-tinged translucent sauce, the pleasantly surprising flavors of the fish sauce were a perfect match for this fried delicacy. These two dishes, with a wide variety of both full and fresh flavors, were the perfect appetizer to excite the taste buds, priming our appetites for the following main course.
After we devoured the spring rolls, the server brought out a Banh Mi with butterfly shrimp. Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich, with vegetables, meat, cilantro, pickled carrots, cabbage, cucumber, and jalapeño served on a French roll or baguette. The cold crunch of the bread roll, cucumbers, and carrots complemented the warm, tender shrimp. Ordering Banh Mi was a good decision; it had a light and simple yet deeply satisfying taste. Of the variety of the condiments on the table, ranging from soy and fish sauce to Sriracha, Hoisin and sweet chili sauce, we added a dash of Sriracha and Hoisin sauce on our Banh Mi. Although it was delicious without sauce, we wanted to deepen and intensify the flavors. Even though the Banh Mi was satisfying in taste, it was not enough for a whole meal. We washed down the shrimp Banh Mi with Thai iced tea. Spicy, fresh and sweet tastes lingered on our tongues. Thai iced tea had become staple for Asian restaurants. The caffeinated black tea had rich but sweet floral hints.
As we finished the Banh Mi, we turned to the next dish — the Pho rare beef. At first we didn’t expect much from the dark brown broth, which was as unsuspecting as the restaurant itself. As we dipped our spoons into the bowls, the intense scent from the rare beef flank pho entered our noses. Right in front of our eyes, the red slices of beef, slowly turned to a solid brown as it cooked from the heat of the broth. With the spoon in our hands, we swirled the contents of the bowl around, releasing strong aromas of the simple ingredients that made up this wonderful dish. The spices of the nutmeg and the slivers of green onions, both aggressively normal kitchen staples, combined to create an incredibly complex dish. Served along with the pho were sliced jalapeños, rice noodles, and diced onions topped with bean sprouts and a splash of lime. In our experience, you cannot go wrong with pho. Pho is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, and at restaurants we ALWAYS get it. Pho is the epitome of comfort food where each bite is like a warm hug. Ethan’s choice of toppings are a splash of hoisin sauce and some sort of Chinese chili. He likes the sharp burn of the spice that matches well with the sweetness of the soup. But if hoisin sauce and chili are not your jam, pho tastes equally delicious as is!
If there’s one thing you take away: Vietnamese food is delicious. The rich and vibrant flavors of the dishes we had, though simple and light, complemented each other in beautiful concert. Sea food, beef, vegetables — we had it all. Our food came in a timely fashion (a wait of approximately 10 minutes), the service was friendly and inviting. It was a bit expensive for our taste, though not astronomically so. One thing to keep in mind is that Super Super Pho is a bit out of the way. There’s no way to get there conveniently through public transportation, and it’s in the middle of far-west Berkeley, bordering Emeryville. If you have a car and are willing to make the short drive, there is a convenient parking lot right behind the restaurant. If you are looking for delicious, heart warming Vietnamese cuisine, go to Super Super Pho. The food and atmosphere will not disappoint!
Fresh Spring Roll:
Butterfly Shrimp Banh Mi: