It's bloody hot inside. We've just walked several blocks through the rough 'n tough Tenderloin district to get here. It's where one walks fast tightly clutching one's bag while making certain not to step on someone's foot, leg or other bodily part stretched out on the sidewalk. Similar advice was given in a SF Datebook article from 1981 and Tu Lan's take-out menu still bears the full text of this glowing but decades old food review.
One has the impression nothing much changes here if at all. The white ceilings are stained by decades of kitchen grease. All the tables and chairs are well-worn yet functional. The waitstaff take food orders with robotic efficiency which the kitchen fires out with lightning speed. We've barely finished our hard to break habit at Asian hole-in-the-wall restaurants of wiping down our chopsticks and table with paper napkins when our piping hot food arrives.
Our order includes fresh salad spring rolls to start then shrimp fried rice, lemon beef salad, and marinated pork with bean cake. So much for the idea of a starter; everything arrived at once. Tu Lan's fare is cheap and all of it perfectly acceptable if unremarkable. My favourite was the shrimp fried rice which C remarked had that crucial "wok aroma." The Vietnamese coffee was as good as any I've had. Some people really rave about this place. But as my friend C said, "I wouldn't risk my life to eat here" nor would I for the coffee.