Hot Meal: Hi-Tea (It's Not What You Think)
When we saw that the Quizno's down on Bush near Battery was gone, replaced by a place called Hi-Tea, we assumed the newcomer was one of those Asian bubble tea spots, like Tapioca Express or Quickly, with an array of little snacks appropriate to the name.
M. Brody The fully loaded No. 31.
When we visited the immaculate, even chic storefront yesterday, we were delighted to find both a charming setting, and that a more appropriate name for the place might be Hi-Phở. Perplexingly, Hi-Tea is rather light on
the beverages (milk tea and a few flavored fruit teas with tapioca, $2.75) and snacks (a limited line of Fiorello gelato, $3.50-$4.50 the scoop). But it offers 14 varieties of phở (identified only as "beef noodle soup, Vietnamese style"), for $6-$6.25 the generous bowlful. Beef is the only option available, in combinations ranging from a single item (beef ball or steak, say) to several. We chose the fully loaded No. 31: rare steak, well done brisket, flank, tendon, and beef balls. You order at the counter and a tray is brought to your wooden table, from which, through potted palms, you can admire both the passing parade on Bush and the judiciously chosen art hung on purple and yellow walls.
The phở's presentation was glamorous, in stoneware on red and black lacquer, though the herb-and-vegetable side plate was meager (only bean sprouts, a few sprigs of Thai basil, and a lone stem of cilantro). But the broth was tasty and the quality of the meats uniformly excellent. We especially enjoyed the firm little five spice-scented beef balls, rather like mild sausage. This was Hi-Phở indeed.
M. Brody Who knew? The dining room is modestly chic.
The place could also be called Good Morning Vietnam, since it offers Vietnamese spring rolls ($3.95) and five spice-grilled chicken or pork chop over rice ($6.25). China represents via baked rice Hong Kong style ($6.50-$7.50), served with your choice of coconut, tomato, black pepper, or cheese sauces. Pure comfort food -- and workers in those nearby high rises could certainly use some comfort these days.
Hi-Tea does both a brisk lunch business and a second wave, near closing time, at 5:30, when office cube denizens heading for home pick up expertly packaged takeout. Hi-ho BART and Muni.
Hi-Tea 110 Bush (at Battery), 391-3322. Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sun.