I'm a Jewish boy who often craves a big bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup on cold foggy days, and we have a lot of those days in San Francisco, especially this past summer. Long ago, I learned that the best places to go for good chicken soup in San Francisco are Asian restaurants, particularly Vietnamese pho joints, where they have perfected the art of making free range chicken noodle soup (pho ga). When my mother, a chicken soup lover who makes a very good chicken soup herself, visits from the Midwest and asks for chicken soup, I've always taken her to Turtle Tower, my previous favorite place for pho ga. Although Turtle Tower makes a very fine pho ga, I was often disappointed by the paltry amount of chicken they give you, even in their large bowl. Also, their long lines can be discouraging if you're pressed for time, or the weather is ugly. They're service is usually brusque as well (the only exception being when I bring my mother), but that's typical for pho joints. I'd still go back to Turtle Tower for the best beef noodle soup (pho bo) in San Francisco.
Yesterday was one such drizzly day. My partner and I were on our way to Turtle Tower with a little more than an hour to spare before our movie at AMC 1000 when we saw a line on the sidewalk outside Turtle Tower waiting to be seated. I remembered recently reading a Chowhound post buried near the end of a very long two year old discussion of bamboo noodles that mentioned the pho ga at Hai Ky Mi Gia. We turned around and walked around the corner to Hai Ky, where we got seated immediately at a long table shared with one man, usually a problem for my partner, who doesn't like to share tables. After eating there yesterday, it's our new favorite place for chicken soup in San Francisco. Upon reviewing the other posts on their pho ga (all buried under other headings), I decided that Hai Ky Mi Gia deserves a post of its own for it's pho ga.
I've eaten at Hai Ky many times, and I've always enjoyed their duck leg noodle soup and some of their other offerings, but I'd never noticed the pho ga on the menu. I almost missed it this time as well, as it's buried near the end of the back side of the menu, just above the fish cakes (also quite good!). We both ordered the pho ga with egg noodles. Our bowls arrived a few minutes later, full of hot fragrant broth with little globules of fat, a generous portion of egg noodles, and plenty of chicken. I tasted the broth first, full of chicken flavor balanced by the sweetness of onions and just the right amount of salt. Then I took a bite of the chicken breast meat, which was just barely cooked, full of fresh chicken flavor. The egg noodles were deliciously eggy and had a little snap to them as well. It was perfection in a bowl! The most amazing revelation came from the few pieces of dark meat in the bowl, where the real flavor of free range chicken came through. One of the other posts mentioning the pho ga at Hai Ky said that they will give you only dark meat upon request, and I think I'll do so next time. My partner and I consumed our bowls of soup noodles in reverential near silence, except for the sound of slurping noodles. We barely noticed the other man sharing our table, who was pretty focused on his bowl of noodles as well. Service was efficient and friendly, and the grand total for two bowls of soup including tax was $15. I'll take my mother to Hai Ky on her next visit, and I'm sure she'll enjoy it. She may not agree that it's better than her own, but since she doesn't read Chowhound, I can tell you that it is.
Turtle Tower Restaurant
631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Hai Ky Mi Gia
707 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94109