One thing that most people who have traveled to Vietnam have in common is an enthusiastic appreciation for the country’s street food. Long before the food-truck craze hit the United States, enterprising chefs had set up shop along the sidewalks of some of Vietnam’s busiest cities, grilling, steaming or boiling tasty delicacies to be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
Now Marina residents don’t have to go that far to get a taste of authentic Vietnamese sidewalk food. They need only venture to Steiner Street where Saiwalks (a combination of the words “Saigon” and “sidewalks”) opened last December. This small space with its simple seating and kitchen view serves up a variety of Vietnamese food for lunch, dinner or to go.
The simple yet versatile menu begins with fresh spring rolls and crispy imperial rolls ($7.95), all house made, and moves to báhn mì, the ever-popular sandwich served in a French baguette with your choice of all-natural chicken, pork, or black angus steak, and cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, and jalapeno ($8.95). A vegetarian option features tofu, mushrooms and asparagus sautéed in lemongrass and sesame oil. Saiwalks also offers two meal-sized salads with chicken, steak or tofu ($11.95), but it’s the street food specialties that take center stage.
Phở is the ultimate comfort food: slow-cooked broth served with rice noodles, cilantro, basil, onions, and your choice of two chicken versions, beef or the vegetarian option with apples, carrots, Napa cabbage, tofu, broccoli, and bok choy. The bún (vermicelli bowls) are a lighter, cooler option than phở. Saiwalks makes its own báhn xfo (crispy crepes) from rice flour and coconut milk, creating a French-Asian fusion dish that’s deliciously spiced with both shrimp and pork, or chicken, grass-fed beef, or tofu. All are $11.95.
The cóm día (rice plates) feature jasmine rice topped with a sweet and spicy dressing and either nine-spiced chicken, grilled lemongrass pork chop, beef, or a vegetarian choice ($13.95). Specialties made from family recipes are shaken beef tenderloin or grilled, marinated shrimp, both with rice; a grilled salmon vermicelli bowl; or a “bouillabaisse” made with unusual ingredients, including tamarind and pineapple ($16.95).
Kids’ meals include beef or chicken phở, and a barbequed chicken sandwich or rice plate ($6.95). Saiwalks offers a modest selection of wine by the glass, beer and specialty nonalcoholic drinks. Try the hot Vietnamese slow-drip coffee with condensed milk on a chilly day or the iced version when it’s balmy.
And don’t forget: If you get a craving and are too busy to stop in and dine, you can order a Saiwalks meal to go or get it delivered as well.
Saiwalks: 3348 Steiner Street, 415-549-7932, www.saiwalks.com, daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m.