In 1975, the first major wave of Vietnamese refugees came to the United States, and since then, they have made an indelible mark on American politics, art and food culture, especially in hot spots like San Jose, a city that houses the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam itself. Bánh mi, the Vietnamese phrase for bread or sandwich, is now included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and phở shops proliferate from New Orleans to Portland, Ore., to Des Moines, Iowa. No matter where I’ve lived, finding the best place for phở has always been among my top priorities; only then could I call a place home. In my recent travails through the Bay Area’s Vietnamese food scene, I’ve found that the rumors of East San Jose being the place to find great Vietnamese food were absolutely true, thanks to specialty restaurants like Vịt Đồng Quê and Thiên Long, where you can taste mind-blowingly fresh poached duck salad and turmeric-grilled fish. Elsewhere, a new generation of chefs, like those behind pop-up Claws of Mantis, is shaking up the scene with forward-thinking interpretations of the food they grew up with. This list includes places that inhabit points all along that spectrum, in addition to reliable spots that just do phở and bánh mì really, really well.
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- The best Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area