Perhaps it's fitting that the best Vietnamese restaurant in the East Bay doesn't serve pho or banh mi — dishes that, for most Americans, are synonymous with the cuisine. So, for first-timers, a meal at Bun Mam Soc Trang can be a process of joyous discovery: of grilled meats served over delicate grains of broken rice; of porridge overloaded with blood sausage, cubes of pig's blood, and other organ-y bits; and of the funk-forward condiment known as mam ruoc, aka fermented shrimp paste. Mostly, though (with apologies to your favorite pho joint), the restaurant is home to the tastiest Vietnamese noodle soups in town, whether you order the namesake bun mam, with its slow-simmered broth, infused with subtle tanginess of fermented mudfish; the bun rieu, with its remarkably light crab-and-pork meatballs; or any number of other equally soul-warming choices. And if all that weren't enough, the charming, family-run lunch spot is located far enough off the main drag of International Boulevard that, popular as it is, the place still feels like a hidden oasis.
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