San Francisco’s Little Saigon lacks the size and population of the similarly named district in nearby San Jose. However, the City by the Bay’s Little Saigon is a thriving quarter amid San Francisco’s tough Tenderloin neighborhood. If you want your bowl of pho to be authentic, then this is the place to go.
Little Saigon’s official designation, putting it on a par with Chinatown, Japantown and North Beach, came in 2004 when a two block segment of Larkin Street between Eddy and O’Farrell streets was given that moniker by city officials. Named after the capital of South Vietnam (now known as Ho Chi Minh City), you will see both its English as well as its Vietnamese name, Sai Gon Nho, on the many banners that adorn city street lights.
Two eight-ton granite pillars topped with marble sculptures of mythical lions flank Larkin Street at Eddy forming the San Francisco Little Saigon Gate. This section of Larkin St and the surrounding streets are also home to 250 or more Vietnamese businesses from tailors to jewelers, dentists and restaurants.
Vietnamese food, with its unique mixture of Asian, Indian, and French influences, offers restaurant goers some tasty and adventurous dining experiences.
Needless to say, you don’t have to look very far to find good Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon.
Be warned that the area is not posh or trendy. A walk in the Tenderloin—an area that disproportionately seems to suffer from the problems of poverty, crime, and drug abuse—often reveals urban troubles at their most graphic. While few would call the area “gentrified,” Little Saigon’s businesses and residents are helping to revitalize and energize this part of the Tenderloin.
Each year, in mid-January, Little Saigon marks the Tet Fest ival (Vietnamese lunar new year). With the help and support of the area’s more than 200 Vietnamese-American businesspeople, Little Saigon puts on its biggest party of the year during these celebrations.
by Katie Calvert