I don’t know how many gluten-free people in this world know about the banh xeo, but it is fantastic! Banh xeo, also known as a Vietnamese crepe, is a crispy crepe made from rice flour and coconut milk and filled with mung beans, shrimp and pork. My first experience eating one was as a child in Philadelphia, but where my mom and I used to go it was called a “happy pancake.” Banh xeo is named for the sound it makes when the batter hits the griddle, or so I have read.
One afternoon, a few years ago, a friend and I were meeting for lunch and wanted a new place to try. We had eaten at a few Vietnamese places, but so far none of them were particularly good. We looked on Yelp for reviews, but honestly it’s a to each their own sort of thing. By random luck we chose Ngoc Mai, and I am so happy that we did. I have no idea how it was that I stumbled upon this place so I certainly have no idea how I figured out that banh xeo was a happy pancake, but I did and it became my new passion.
Fast forward to last weekend when I decided that I must have some good Vietnamese food to make up for the crappy Vietnamese food I had eaten the weekend before. D and I started with the bahn xeo. The crepe was crispy, but it had a hole in it. The filling was perfectly cooked and everything was fresh, but they left the tails on the shrimps. Since the crepe looks more like an omelet I was able to open it up and remove them. Banh xeo are served with lettuce and fresh herbs as well as fish sauce and pickled veggies. The way to eat a crepe is to cut a piece of the crepe off, place it in a lettuce leave, top it with herbs, hot sauce, pickled veggies and fish sauce, then wrap it up and it eat. This is a great gluten-free, egg free, soy free and dairy free dish that not every Vietnamese restaurant makes it.
Next we ordered soup. I had the duck curry noodle soup (breast meat only & upon special request) and D had the #8. The duck soup is the best soup in the house. They’re known for their bun bo hue (#1), but the curdled blood cubes aren’t for me. D liked his soup until he crunched down on a knuckle. He was not a fan and called it, “cartilaginous.”
Needless to say, Vietnamese is a staple in this gluten-free gal’s life and Ngoc Mai makes some great soups and a tasty banh xeo. You should definitely check it out! CASH ONLY
Ngoc Mai Restaurant
547 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109
Mon-Sat 10 am – 7 pm
Sun 10 am – 5 pm