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Confirmed Fans of Phan’s Breakfast

The storefront of Charles Phan’s Out the Door on Bush Street is barely marked, with only an easy-to-miss “OTD” on the door. Someone we were meeting up with for breakfast parked right across the street from it and didn’t see it. But it was worth braving the Botoxed streets of Pacific Heights to locate—there aren’t a lot of places around that you can get a warm, soft brioche filled with coconut and dripping with caramel, hot Vietnamese coffee, chicken porridge, and semolina pancakes with cherry compote under one roof. The fact that it was served in a pleasant, sunny space with tons of natural light and a Zen vibe (lots of wood, stone, metal, very elemental in general) was a plus.

Beignets were totally different than the New Orleans style (in a good way): dense, with a creamy interior instead of being airy and puffy. A veggie bun was a little bland, though the variety of mushrooms in it was nice—covering in it Sriracha was an adequate solution. The rice cake scramble was a highlight, with big, gooey-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside chunks of rice dough fried with egg, crunchy pieces of pickled daikon, and bean sprouts. Chicken porridge was intensely chickeny, salty (but not too salty), and really satisfying, with chunks of chicken, fried shallots, and slices of Chinese doughnut on top. And that caramel coconut brioche? Destined to become a craving.

This is the only Out the Door location that serves breakfast on weekdays (there are two other locations in San Francisco), and it’s also the only location with a wine-on-tap program, serving really interesting wines from wineries like the Scholium Project. Phan told us that at this point they have to drive out to the wineries to “fill the bucket” for the taps, since it’s still a relatively new way of serving wine and there’s not a lot of distribution set up yet among wineries for tap service. We didn’t get into the wines at 9 a.m. (a mistake?), but we want to go back and check them out.

The Out the Doors are really the younger siblings to Phan’s best-known, and original, restaurant, the Slanted Door, which is where he began his miniempire by combining Vietnamese cuisine with the Bay Area ethos of ingredient-consciousness (grass-fed beef, organic chicken, farms called out by name all over the menu). His cooking still inspires debate on Chowhound, between the camp that feels it’s not authentic enough and too expensive, and those who question the idea that Western cuisines are allowed to be fancy and expensive but ethnic food isn’t. We talked to him a little bit about this subject—check out the video below.