In San Francisco, every neighborhood has its culinary icons. Casual and consistent, these spots become the go-to places for the neighborhood people, venues to catch up with friends, or somewhere to grab a quick meal. Some are eclectic coffee shops, others corner bodegas with great delis, and, in Nob Hill, it is an unpretentious and tasty Vietnamese restaurant named Cordon Bleu. The weathered blue and white sign outside along with the thick, fragrant smell of five spice chicken are the only indicators of the tiny 14 seater.
We squeezed inside the restaurant and sat at narrow bar, right in front of the open grill that is the center hub of the restaurant. Toting a simple drink menu comprised of the typical soft drinks and hot tea, food reins king at Cordon Bleu. It’s not a place that diners visit if they are concerned with immaculately cleaned tables and hyper attentive service. Chances are there will be a wait to get in, a wait to order, and a wait to get your food. Instead of stopping to chat with the regulars, the three ladies running the place yell greetings over the crackling of the meat on the grill. There are simply too many hungry mouths to feed to stop for a catch up. On really busy nights, you will sometimes see a smile and a head nod, but not much more.
The menu is short and to the point: five spice chicken, pork noodle salad, tofu, and various combinations of all the above. The specialty is the five spice chicken and it cannot be grilled fast enough. Seconds after the barbecued chicken legs are pulled of the grill and plated, the cooks throw on raw, marinated pieces for another round. It’s a never ending routine from open until close.
A steaming plate of five spice chicken and noodle salad with grilled pork were placed on the counter and quickly pushed our way. The hot steam hit my face hard, warming all of my foggy, evening chills. A thick fried imperial roll is served with almost everything. The portions are huge, cheap and taste even better the next day so don’t be shy about ordering a lot. You will thank yourself tomorrow. On a cold night in the city, I highly recommend grabbing a tall beer at the corner store, heading to Cordon Bleu and settling in for a flavor packed meal. Be friendly and strike up a conversation with your bar mates, who knows, they may just end up being your upstairs neighbor.