Dragoneats and eats and eats and eats some more
This is what work does to a person--you take forever to post! That and being sick as a dog during your first week but telling everyone, "no, I'm fine, it is just allergies." When in fact it isn't and after a full day you come home and collapse into bed so you can do it all again the next day. I mean, seriously, I finally got a job, like I'm gonna not show up in the beginning? I'm from the if you can stand, you can work generation. And before you get all up on your high horse, the doc said I wasn't contagious and it did involve sinuses, but I will spare you the details. Plus, it means I as only half lying. But, I made it through and here we are, back to food again! Actually, I can taste food again, which does seem kind of essential if I'm going to write about it.
I thought I would get back in the swing with my constant search for affordable eats in SF. One place that has been on the peripheral of my sites is Dragoneats. Over the last couple years they have opened three spots around town serving up a taste of Vietnam in sandwich, roll and bowl form all for under $7 or so. Honestly, that is kind of a bargain for most anyones pocketbook. I think I just never got by them sooner as the one closest to me is only open lunch time hours and seemed to be packed non-stop during that time. Plus, some reviews I'd read alternated wildly about, yes the price was low-ish but the size or quantity were also small.
Fortune eventually shined upon me as I was able to meet up with Ms. L, a former co-worker, who resides in the Noe Valley-ish area. She was free for a bite and I could meet her in the Haight where Dragoneats has another location which is open later for the work-a-day crowd. Point of note, don't get caught up in the prices you see online. Seems they haven't updated them recently and the ones at the shop were higher, though not by much, otherwise I might have been turned off. With Ms. L with me, it seemed like a good time to try a cross section of what they offer so we got a roll, a bowl and a sandwich, which turns out, was a banh my. Each of them was $7.25, or at least that is what I was charged on my receipt for them. Still, not bad pricing, but what do you get for it?
First up, the shrimp rolls. Rice noodles, mint, red leaf lettuce and three pieces of shrimp rolled in rice paper and served with a side of peanut sauce (or soy sauce or fish sauce your choice). Well, they are definitely fresh and crunchy with all that lettuce! Though, without the dipping sauce, there isn't much flavor going on here, no matter how many sprigs of cilantro they try to give. I think if you want straight up healthy or something, these are fine. But they are a little boring and probably won't fill you up if you are hungry. I'd call them more of a pleasant appetizer or snack as opposed to a meal. A little iffy for the price to me too when compared with the other things we got.
Like the five spice chicken bowl which is really like a deconstructed version of a banh mi but with rice noodles and seemingly more lettuce, iceburg this time, crispy shallots, celery, pickled carrots and daikon, roasted peanuts and copious amounts of cilantro. Also comes with your choice of soy or fish sauce. Yeah, fish sauce is just no, so soy and a squirt of sriracha worked really well. This was definitely more filling than the rolls though I didn't quite taste the five spice on the chicken and again, the flavor came from the sauces we added as opposed to what is in the bowl. It was nice enough and again, works as a relatively healthy option with a spot on price. We liked it, but just weren't wowed by it.
Now I had seen various things about the banh my being on the small side, but the above is what I got and I would have to disagree. It is about the same size as others I have had in this town. Only the one from Bunn Mike was just a tad larger. You get about four meatballs on the bottom then as you can see, they load it up with pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro (it's on everything!), jalapeno, cucumber and mayo on a toasted semi soft French roll. This is where all your flavor is from the sweet of the carrot to the heat of the peppers. With big chunks of juicy ground pork and all that mayo, there is no dry going on here even with all that bread. For the price and what you get, it is definitely worth it and will fill you up for sure. It was the best and most satisfying of the three things we had. And, a sandwich under $10!
After going, I can understand some of the reviews I've seen about the food and what you get. Taste wise, a few items can be underwhelming without their sauces and work more as a snack than meal. But it is the banh my which stands out for taste, size and price. It seems if you want a really good sandwich for a decent price in SF (outside of Lee's Deli), a banh my is the way to go. Fortunately there a number of good ones around like this one you can fill up on. This one comes in six other options like tofu (why!!!), roast duck and even sardine (again, why!!). To each their own I guess, but at least I now have another bargain eat I would go to again for a satisfying sandwich--I mean, banh my. Now that I'm posting again I also need to figure out when to run again. Ugh, work just complicates so many things!