With the huge variety of restaurants we have available to us in Shanghai, I rarely find myself going back to the same place more than once or twice - there are just too many good options for every meal. Last month, I reviewed Currify, which is a restaurant that breaks the trend for me. This month, I must do the same thing again for Saigon Mama.
First let me say that I've never been to Vietnam, so I'm not qualified to comment on the flavor of Saigon Mama's pho or banh mi compared to authentic goods from the source. I can only compare to my experiences around town at other Vietnamese noodle places like Cyclo and Pho Store, and in this regard, Saigon Mama is far and away my favorite.
The broth for the pho is rich, beefy, and utterly comforting. The meat portion is generous, especially if you order the full Saigon combo or the oxtail (which I did on my most recent trip, as you can see from the pictures). The oxtail is a nice mixup (if a bit pricy) and I don't get it every time I go, but it's a distinguishing feature for Saigon Mama.
My girlfriend usually gets the pho classic and loads it up with some of the house sauces or the sriracha, which I personally think is a bit of a misstep. The sauces are delicious, make no mistake, but they easily mask the beefy wonderfulness of the broth, and I would prefer a beef overload when eating pho. Speaking of beef overload - if you want to add beef, I recommend adding a portion of the shank for 15 CNY.
Along with my pho, I always get a banh mi sandwich to share. I prefer the pork, but the chicken is good too, beacuse they both have Saigon Mama's excellent pork pate spread on there. The bread is crispy and chewy, the pickled carrots and radish are crunchy and refreshing, and the pork is savory and rich - a perfect combination. You can eat it directly or dip in the beef broth for bonus points of deliciousness.
We usually get the wings or the crispy spring rolls as a side. It's too much food, but I do it every time anyway. The wings are very tasty, but quite fatty (not the highest quality wings frankly) so if that's not your thing, go for the spring rolls.
Total damage is normal for pho in Shanghai: 60-80 CNY for pho, 50-60 for banh mis and 40-50 for sides. My recent review is for the location in Shanghai Centre, but I've also eaten at the SML Center location across from Tianzifang many times and enjoyed it as well.
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