I had seen CitySearch's review of Tu Lan before, but none of my friends were motivated to accompany me to the Heart of the 'Hood to try this out.
Tuesday nite, I suggested this place to a different crew, and one co-worker responded enthusiastically that she'd eaten there "a zillion times." So off we went.
Tu Lan is indeed in the 'hood. My friend mentioned that one time she was there, a woman OD'd right outside. However, it's supposed to have cheap-but-excellent Vietnamese food so..who cares if the surrounders have a little more character than other parts of SF?
We arrived at about 6:45pm - parking easily in a not-too-shabby alleyway. 6th had many spots open but those are either unmetered after 7pm or not technically parking spots yet.
There wasn't a line outside, but there were people mingling outside and inside it was crowded just enough for me to think we'd found something...but not so crowded to take away from the dining experience.
Upstairs, we immediately ordered the Imperial Rolls. Chubby beef filled deep fried egg rolls. I don't really know the difference between the names of rolls (spring, imperial, it's all the same to me). Service was fast - the rolls were cut into chunks of 8 or 10 and we gulped a lot of it down. After about 15 minutes, they were still crispy.
One person was a vegetarian and ordered something like a Bean Curd, Mixed Vegetable Over Crispy Noodles dish. It was served on a huge plate - for a 6'0" tall, medium-build guy, it bordered on just right /more than enough.
The other 3 carnivores were restricted to items containing animals that flew or swam...so we ordered Shrimp Fried Rice. Every table at the place had the SFR on the table. We also ordered a Fried Fish with Ginger plate as I have had a craving for "fish sans chips".
Again, both dishes were served quickly and very hot. The SFR had small pieces of shrimp in it, and it was fried in a lite curry powder, I believe. The rice was more moist than dry/crispy (like homemade Chinese fried rice), but I figured this may be due to their using freshly steamed rice (whereas home fried rice uses leftover drier rice from the nite before). The one serving was more than enough for 3 gals with hearty appetites.
The fish came and I don't know what type of fish it was, but it was a whole one, deep fried. The type of fish has a very flat profile, and was shorter in length than the default serving plate. There were two grill marks on the fish's side that made us remark that it looked as if the fish was run over by a boat propeller as it floated dead on the water. After that comment, we dug in heartily - the fish fell easily off the bone and was not too buttery but not too dry, either. Again, just right.
I like my dishes spicy, so I was adding the Rooster Hotsauce to everything - those with more mild tastebuds may want to write different opinions on the food.
We only had about 40 min to gobble everything up before heading to our Trivia Nite (geeks that we are) - for 4 people, 3 dishes + 1 appetizer, and a lot left over, the total came to < $24 (not including tip).
I'll be going back...with an escort, but I'll be going back. :)