Tao Cafe

February 8, 2007

Tao Cafe is a charming Vietnamese restaurant at the corner of 22nd and Guerrero, in a part of the Mission District that begins to take on a Noe Valley feel. The cuisine here is really French-Vietnamese, in that the offerings are Vietnamese dishes that are sometimes executed with French techniques and sensibilities. For example, Tao Cafe offers a duck confit (more on this later), as well as a Vietnamese version of the ratatouille, a Provencal stew of vegetables. Yes, one pho soup is offered, the pho bo (beef noodle soup) — at the whopping price of $8.50! — but other options are much more enticing. The menu is divided into several sections; in addition to smaller plates and appetizers, there are “large plates” (involving a meat or seafood), several vegetarian clay pots (which were quite well done when we ordered one on a past visit), and the “oodles of noodles” section, which has all the noodle dishes. Another great offer is the 3-course prix fixe (offered every day except Friday and Saturday), in which you can order an appetizer, an “oodles of noodles” dish, and a dessert, for less than $18 (the exact price depends on your choices). Every table is given a complimentary assortment of munchables to begin (which we did not take a picture of). These may or may not change, but on our visit, we were given two types of chips (shrimp and mung bean), and two types of pickled vegetables (carrot and daikon). A nice, light assortment to begin the meal. For an appetizer, we had the fresh spring roll of grilled salmon,


which was served with a ginger and tamarind sauce. The salmon with ginger and tamarind actually turned out to be a fairly nice combination, but the peak of the flavor came quickly and was short-lived. After that point in time, the flavor fell flat, rather than continuing to evolve as we chewed. The wrapping of the roll was done fairly well, though. This was an interesting dish to order, but we would still consider it to be inferior to an excellently executed, but more traditional, goi cuon (Vietnamese spring roll).

Our entree was the mi vit,


the aforementioned Vietnamese confit of duck legs, served with egg noodles. The duck in this dish was actually excellent; the meat was tender, falling right off the bone, and it was very flavorful. An entire duck leg is included, although the entree is around $12, so you are paying for it. Very tasty indeed. However, the egg noodles were a bit too clumpy and mushy from sitting in the soup; they very quickly lost that sort of light, bouncy chewiness exhibited by superior egg noodles. The broth itself was oversalted, and while some salt is certainly necessary to offset the duck, this broth had a bit too much, and the noodles, in turn, absorbed more and more of that salt as they sat longer stewing in the broth; this, of course, only increased the saltiness of the dish. Because of this, we would probably not order this dish again as a soup (it can be ordered with broth or without), since it seemed to be exactly the “soupy” aspects of it (the broth, and the noodle/broth interaction) that were not as well executed. However, since the duck confit itself was so nice, we not hesitate to order this again as a standard noodle plate.

All told, Tao Cafe is an enjoyable restaurant. The French colonial decor gives Tao Cafe the look of a tropical hotel lobby, and the setting is much nicer than what you’d find at a hole-in-the-wall (although, as you know if you’re a regular reader, Short Exact loves those dearly). The service was OK; it was generally prompt and nice, but it seemed slightly unfocused and disinterested at the same time. The food, while not perfect, is generally good and has its shining moments. Although not a destination restaurant, Tao Cafe is a perfectly nice choice in the neighborhood.



1000 Guerrero Street (at 22nd St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.641.9955
Hours: Daily, 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Vietnamese
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: Muni lines 14, 26, 33, 48, 49, 67, and J. 24 Street Mission BART station is four long blocks away.



  1. I had a very enjoyable meal there once, and have been looking forward to a return visit. The place is so much larger than it looks. Plus, I found it quite reasonable. But overall I agree with your review.

  2. Oof. I’d say that places sounds too expensive for my tastes. I am part Vietnamese, so I can’t stomach paying anything over $7.00 for pho. It is just a bowl of broth, vegetables, and cold cut sized slices of meat!! At max, that should be $6.25 for a LARGE bowl.

  3. Yeah, $8.50 for a bowl of pho is actually beyond ridiculous. Which is exactly why I have not ordered pho at Tao Cafe 🙂

    I suspect that the main reason why it is on the menu is because many people aren’t aware of the fact that Vietnamese cuisine actually does consist of more than just pho, so maybe they figured they’d offer it to appease people. I don’t know for sure, but the pho definitely sticks out on the menu. And you’re right, as long as the pho costs $8.50, I doubt I’d ever order it.

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