Pagolac – home of the worst group dinner to date!

Grilled beef sausages and skewers - Pagolac
Grilled beef sausages wrapped in wild pepper leaves on a skewer (bo la lot). Grilled beef wrapped over scallions on a skewer (bo cuon mo). Grilled marinated bbq beef skewers (bo lui).
Seven flavors of beef, $18.50 per person
Pagolac, San Francisco CA

Ugh, this place sucked so bad that I’m not even going to break up the menu items into separate blog posts so as to prolong my horrible memories of this dingy restaurant. I’m just gonna post all the food at once so that I can get it over with and wash my hands of this sad, sad place.

So we had a few people from work meet up here for dinner one night, and there were about 12 of us. We made a reservation since the restaurant is small and we wanted to make sure that we got a table. Even the reservation process was lame and super shady. We actually didn’t know if we had a legitimate reservation until we were seated. They have no phone etiquette or proper communication skills.

As we waited for the last couple of people to join us (parking is horrible in that neighborhood), we started ordering beers but they didn’t have half of the beers listed on their menu! I could understand if it was the last service of the night, but we were one of the first tables seated in the restaurant. And some of the beers we got were even room temperature, fail!

The restaurant itself is darkly painted, but you could still tell how gross and dirty the walls and “decorations” were. It’s obvious that this place hadn’t been cleaned in a LONG time!

After everyone arrived, it was like pulling teeth to get our order in. It wasn’t a complicated, we were all having the 7-courses of beef. That was prearranged so that service could run quickly and smoothly. But nobody wanted to take our order. We had 3 different girls working our table, but they would disappear and try to avoid us, as if that was possible since our group took up a third of the restaurant! Please, anyone, we’re hungry! We want food! Please!

Vietnamese beef carpaccio - Pagolac
Vietnamese beef carpaccio (bo tai chanh). Thin slices of rare beef marinated in lemon dressing seasoned with fresh herbs and crushed peanuts.

After they begrudgingly took our simple order (7-course beef for the entire table), the food started coming to us at the slowest pace imaginable. And the portions were laughably TINY! The beef carpaccio shown above was for 4 people. That means each person got one micro-thin slice of beef with a few slices of red onions, cilantro and crushed peanuts. We had some serious eaters at the table, so this first dish did not bode well for the remainder of the dinner.

Sliced beef - Pagolac
Sliced beef (bo nhung dam). To be cooked in a vinegar and onion fondue.

The time between dishes was excrutiatingly long. So long that you actually had time to digest the previous dish and remain hungry the entire time. This next course came out in phases so that added even more time until we could get food into our mouths. First, the beef came out. Then the vegetables and the rice paper. At this point we still couldn’t eat anything because we have nothing to cook the beef in.

Assorted vegetables - Pagolac
Assorted vegetables.

Rice paper wraps - Pagolac
Rice paper wraps.

Water bowl - Pagolac
Water bowl. For sealing your rice paper wrappers and rinsing your fingers.

Cooking pot - Pagolac
Our pot with 5 slivers of red onions.

Then they brought out this sad looking pot and just left it on the table without lighting it! We had to wait another 5 minutes before another person came over to actually get it going. And the flame was SO weak that we had to waited even longer for the water to actually get warm enough to cook the beef! Omg, kill me already! At this point I just wanted to cut my losses and leave, but because this was with work people I stayed to endure the rest of this lame-ass meal. We spent SO much energy and calories waiting, grumbling and cooking that the 2 slices of thin beef per person didn’t provide enough calories to offset what we lost! #FML

After that, we waited even longer for them to clear the pots and set up the next course.

Marinated beef slices - Pagolac
Marinated beef slices (bo nuong vi). To be grilled at your table.

Table grill - Pagolac
Table grill. We stared at this thing way too long. Unfortunately, nobody in our party had a lighter so it remained cold for some time, just taunting us and our empty stomachs.

Hot flame - Pagolac
They finally came around to light the flame.

Grilling beef - Pagolac
But we had to wait even more for it to warm up before we started grilling the beef.

At this point, I think everybody was counting in their heads how many beef courses we’d gone through already. We all wanted to know how much longer this torture was going to last and when we could all break to get more food somewhere else because this wasn’t gonna cut it. But we knew that each set up and break down between courses was just part of the prolonged punishment.

Grilled beef sausages and skewers - Pagolac
Grilled beef sausages wrapped in wild pepper leaves on a skewer (bo la lot). Grilled beef wrapped over scallions on a skewer (bo cuon mo). Grilled marinated bbq beef skewers (bo lui).

Thanks god three courses came out at once! Each person got one beef sausage, one scallion wrapped beef, and a part of a skewer. That’s just frickin’ ridiculous. It’s just enough food for you to taste, but definitely not enough to constitute a meal.

After this plate we waited a confusingly long amount of time for our last course. People were light-headed from hunger at this point and just wanted to leave so we wanted the final course as soon as possible. Perhaps the final course was something intricate and spectacular so that’s why it was taking SO long.

Nope. It was a thimble full of thin rice porridge with a few pieces of ground beef. #FML twice! I could have ladled that into 12 bowls in 30 seconds or less.

Vietnamese rice porridge - Pagolac
Vietnamese rice porridge with minced beef, green onion and cilantro (chao bo).

Now after all that, here’s the kicker! They WOULD NOT give us our bill. We literally sat there for another 15-20 minutes after everything was cleared, with everyone at our table trying to flag a server down, but they would not give us our bill! It was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen! Here we are, a large party taking up a third of the restaurant, trying to leave and they’re keeping us hostage! You’d think they’d want the space or something. #FML three times!

When we all said our good-byes outside, everyone was talking about where they were heading next. Some of the guys were gonna grab In-N-Out double-doubles on their drive back home. Some people were going to gastropubs for more food and drinks. We went to taco bell and stuffed our faces. That was the longest dinner I had ever endured where I came out even hungrier than I started.

The service was horrible, the portions were MINISCULE, the restaurant was flat-out dirty, and the beef quality was marginal. Would I got back? HELL NO!

7×7 Magazine’s The Big Eat San Francisco: 100 Things to Eat + Drink Before You Die – 2010, 2011, 2012 (What a joke!)

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19 thoughts on “Pagolac – home of the worst group dinner to date!

  1. I hate when I’m given the bill before I’m ready to go, although in this case it sounds like you would have been delighted to have made a swift exit!

  2. What a nightmare! 7 courses and still hungry. It reminded me of a meal I had in Corsica once where they wouldn’t give us the bill. We waited over half an hour after having first asked for it.there was a big argument going on inside and they said they couldn’t give us the bill! In the end we just left the money on the table and walked off! At the least the meal was good though.

  3. Sorry that happened .Thanks for the story .First sign sometimes if the place or bathroom is dirty .Slowly walk away…

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