You may forgive Cafe Grill Bar for the absence of personality in its name when you walk into the place. The cafe/grill/bar looks like the VIP lounge for Virgin Airlines, or possibly a location shoot for the fall West Elm catalog: warm browns and cool sconces on the walls, ebony tables, a lounge area with ottomans covered in beige leather or something closely approximating it. Not bad for a little neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant that opened in Crocker Amazon this week. (It's so new that it doesn't even have a Yelp listing yet. Whoa.)
SFoodie was ambling from Salvadoran bakery to Salvadoran bakery earlier in the week when we saw the place and stopped for lunch. The menu offers a stripped-down version of the food at the working-stiffs' Vietnamese
restaurants that populate Larkin Street and Oakland's International
Boulevard. That is to say, only four kinds of pho instead of 15, plus a few other noodle soups, sandwiches, and numerous rice plates. Owner Jeff, who used to manage one of the four Sushi Raw locations, told SFoodie that he opened Cafe Grill Bar with chef Tan, who moved up from San Jose to work here.
The rice plate we ordered? Solid. The first bit to disappear was a wedge of fluffy steamed egg cake, riddled with rice noodles and capped in a turmeric-yellow layer of glossy yolk. The shredded pork skin wasn't tossed with enough rice powder to give it that toasty note we love, but the marinated, grilled pork
had all the toughness of a feather bed covered in kittens. Bonuses: good rice, well-balanced nuoc cham, and a bowl of pho broth. The server told us we should really get the bun bo hue the next time we came in. Cafe Grill Bar is nothing fancy -- and yet it's the fanciest restaurant for blocks around.
Cafe Grill Bar: 4995 Mission (at Italy), 334-7781. Special thanks to Alexandra Nguy for the translation assistance.