Needing a pho fix, I headed out with a group of co-workers to my old standby, Golden Star (11 Walter U Lum Place, just off Clay). As usual, the place was packed, and since it can get pretty close in there even when it isn't warm outside, we decided to try Golden King, which is essentially across the street (757 Clay). (Thanks for the rec, nja.) A pleasant change, with tables spaced well apart and maybe even air conditioning (at least it was perfectly comfortable inside). It wasn't empty, but not super-crowded either.
The menu is pretty typical, if somewhat larger than many: imperial rolls, salad (spring/summer) rolls, and a couple of other apps; several varieties of pho and bun; seafood and other soup noodles (including, for the adventurous, chicken with chicken's intestines); a variety of rice plates; plus assorted chow fun/chow mein, fried rice and main plates. They also have the usual variety of drinks, including three-color bean drink, soda plum, soda lemonade, salty lemonade, Thai iced tea, etc.
The five of us had a decent cross section of the menu: imperial rolls ($4.50) and shrimp-pork salad rolls ($4.75) to start, followed by pho tai (mine) ($4.50), "flame broil" pork bun (listed as "vermicelli" on the menu) ($4.75), five spice chicken rice plate ($4.75), grilled pork chop and fried egg rice plate ($5.50), and sauteed lemon grass shrimp ($5.95). One soda plum ($1.75), one Thai iced tea ($1.95), one diet Coke ($1.15 for a can -- the best buy in town) rounded it out.
Thumbs up all around. The imperial rolls were some of the best I've ever had -- not greasy, a nice bite to the wrapper, delicious filling. I'm not a huge fan of salad rolls but they were proclaimed delicious by the rest. My pho was very tasty, with a broth that was more complex (and a little heavier, in a good way) than most. The beef at Golden Star is a little thinner and more tender, but this was perfectly fine, and better than many. Ample quantities of bean sprouts and basil to accompany, although I needed to supplemente the two meager chile slices.
I had only small tastes of the other dishes (these people need to learn to share!) so have limited first-hand knowledge. I loved the bun, which may be the largest I've seen, with a really great balance of meat/veggies/noodles. The chicken (a whole leg and thigh) was falling-off-the-bone tender, and was imbued with just the right amount of five-spice flavor. The shrimp were sweet and crisp, with a nice citrusy zip from the lemongrass, crunch from the celery and carrot, and zip from the chili sauce. The pork was my least favorite but, as my co-worker reminded me, it was *his* lunch, not mine, and he loved both it and the accompanying fried egg. About $10 each with a generous tip.
As to the overall comparison with Golden Star: Golden King wins hand-down in the atmosphere department -- it's hardly what you'd call upscale, but it is less cramped, less frantic and therefore more pleasant. The food at both places is very good, although Golden King gets the nod for the imperial rolls and bun. It may be a tie on the pho, although they're quite different. I haven't had any rice or main plates at Golden Star, so can't really compare, although they always look good. Nice to know there are two worthy choices within half a block of each other.
Now if we could just get some good banh mi in these parts ...