Thursday, May 6, 2010

What the Phở!? A Vegan Fast Food Oasis in a San Francisco Mall Basement?

Today I escaped from the free, vegan-hostile lunch at the Web 2.0 Expo and set out to find the closest San Francisco Soup Company. The ubiquitous SF Soup Co. has at least one vegan soup every day, and that's where I like to go in the city when I'm hungry but not in the mood to make decisions. My iPhone directed me to the one in the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre at 845 Market St., an address I usually avoid because of the tourist vortices it produces. In fact, in all my years living in this city I don't think I have ever stepped inside that building. Until today.

I navigated my way to an escalator descending into the subterranean "Food Emporium," a fancy name for a vast, churning tourist chamber honeycombed with edible retail goods. It took me a while to find the SF Soup Co. due to throngs of seemingly stoned consumers dragging oversized Bloomingdale's bags around the labyrinthine food court. I was amazed by the slowness and purposelessness of some people's locomotion. Surprisingly, the Sunday-driving pace of my search was a blessing; it yielded a far more precious reward: the Loving Hut, proudly advertising "Vegan Cuisine."

The Loving Hut presents a small buffet beside the register, where a smiling server will assemble two dishes of your choice with brown or white rice for $8.25. They also provide a more permanent menu from which you can order, offering noodle dishes, sandwiches, salads, and more. Most of the food is Pan-Asian, but there are some Western oddballs in the line-up, such as a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich and "chicken tenders" with french fries. I ordered the Phở Noodle Soup and tried to find a safe place to stand and wait for it.

And wait for it. And wait for it.

The servers missed my order somehow, hastily serving several other people before I was compelled to inquire about the tardiness of my soup. After a total of 12 minutes of being jostled by downtown workfolk and out-of-town consumers, I finally got my Phở. It was delicious. I'm not a Phở expert because I've only had it twice in the past and was suspicious both times about the alleged vegan-friendliness of the broth. But I'll gladly become an expert on this rich, tasty, and spicy Phở, guaranteed to be 100% vegan*. My only complaint is that there was too much of it.

Back when I was waiting for my order, it had occurred to me that there was something familiar about Loving Hut. Something about their motto, "Be Veg. Go Green. Save the Planet." I Googled them later, and discovered that they are disciples of the very same spiritual leader that Vegetarian House in San Jose follows, Supreme Master Ching Hai. They don't announce their affiliation in this fast food context, possibly because it might repel suspicious consumers.

By the way, if you don't speak Vietnamese, "Phở" is pronounced "fuh."

* No actual guarantee offered.

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