North Vietnam, West S.F.

Quan Bac goes beyond pho

No matter how tempted you might be, resist ordering pho at the Inner Richmond's brand-new Vietnamese restaurant Quan Bac.

After all, San Francisco already has exceptional pho houses, including the Tenderloin's Turtle Tower and its sister restaurant in the Outer Richmond, Nha Hang Thap Rua.

Instead, consider the uncommon dishes on Quan Bac's sprawling menu. The restaurant's name translates to "Northern eatery," and though the servers banter in Cantonese, the slippery zs of the north Vietnamese dialect filter from the kitchen.

As such, crab and tomato soup ($7), bun rieu, does without the typically Southern Vietnamese addition of fried tofu. Instead, Quan Bac's heady version teems with airy crab meatballs and thin rice noodles and is accompanied by a plate of shredded red cabbage, bean sprouts, lime, mint and cilantro. The bowl has oceanic depth–like pho backhanded with Neptune's trident.

Echoes of French colonialism appear in banh mi duoi bo ($7), rich red-wine-braised oxtail stew, served with a basket of toasted bread. Even a seemingly familiar dish like ga ri nuong xoi phong ($12 per half-order), grilled lemongrass chicken, is distinctive: The chicken is of fine pedigree–golden-hued, hollow-boned and toothsome–and walloped with a vibrant marinade of garlic, lemongrass and savory fish sauce. Flanking it are pounded glutinous rice patties fried until they explode into chewy, blistered pucks.

Try to find that at your favorite pho house.

Quan Bac, 4112 Geary Blvd. (at 5th Ave.); 415-668-8898