What I find intriquing about Ngoc Mai is its homey feel. That section of Hyde Street (547 Hyde) has a residential feel instead of the grit and bustle of Jones St (Ngu Binh/Hing Ky, Shalimar, etc.) or the dense food mall block of Larkin (Turtle Tower, Bodega Bistro and the under construction Lee's Sandwiches).
A reviewer at Yelp.com kind of caught the flavor of Ngoc Mai:
"This place started off so promising. With its tiled walls, fluorescent lighting (well not entirely positive as it was the middle of sunny day, but I imagine it probably was), various knick knacks on the wall, and kitchen tucked in the back, this place had the look and smells of a place you may very well find in 'Nam. Okay, well I've never been to Vietnam. But I have eaten at places that looked like this in other parts of Asia, so I am imagining it is what a restaurant over there could look like." http://www.yelp.com/biz/QQfZ1Ih_GnCiV...
I've only had the crispy-fried banh khot (shrimp mini-crepe) and bun rieu (tomato, tofu, crab and vermicelli soup) at Ngoc Mai and if they are a notch below Vung Tau in San Jose, I still want to go back considering that the menu is so wide-ranging and reasonable (only one item is over $7.50) just to experiment. Many of their appetizers don't show up on the menus of Lotus Garden (Mission and 29th, SF)or Yummy Yummy (Irving and 11th Ave., SF)or other favorite sites.
Ngoc Mai does have a charm and it's worth dipping into some more. Also, if Ngu Binh can fine tune its menu over the next few months, it could turn out to be quite a treasure for this part of town.