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Posts from the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Bay Area and Beyond

This was not a food vacation (I’m seriously due for one of those) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try squeezing in eating and drinking opportunities whenever possible. It was a family vacation where the biggest food-related revelation was that two of my cousins had fond memories of my mom being a good cook, which only meant their home-cooking bar had been set woefully low (sorry, mom). Lasagna, one of two special occasion dishes in my mother’s repertoire, was cited specifically. The other baked crowd-pleaser was enchiladas. I did like those enchiladas.

A different cousin I hadn’t seen since she stayed with us for a few mysterious weeks during an early ’80s summer remembered my mom making strawberry jam, which is outrageous (nearly as outrageous as her tale of my sister and I calling her sock monkey, Patricia, ugly) even though we did live a few blocks from a strawberry field. I would like to preserve my Banquet fried chicken and Steak-Umm memories, thanks.

Technically, my first meal in San Francisco was a Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger, the result of inexplicable behavior that may as well now be a tradition since I did the same thing last time I popped out of the Bart station en route to a Union Square hotel. Let’s not talk about that.

mikkeller duo

Beers were had a Mikkeller, the Danish offshoot and sort of relative of Torst, pre-and-post-Kin Khao. Most drafts are one size (8 ounces) which forces you to be more selective than at its Copenhagen and Brooklyn-based brethren where smaller pours can be ordered. Not being a Brettanomyces nerd, I didn’t necessarily want a full $14 glass of the crazy funky Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru 2013 even as I’ve begun warming to sour beers.

Because they don’t know how to be confrontational on the West Coast yet are still dickish, 30 minutes after a server deposited two baskets of fries on our table that we hadn’t ordered, he returned to passive-aggressively scold us for not saying anything, which consisted of him letting us know they weren’t meant for us and then remaining next to the table as if waiting for an apology. Those fries were long gone, dude.

sears fine food pecan waffleI rarely eat breakfast on vacation (the three hour time difference put me on a normal productive human schedule) so the pecan waffles at Sears Fine Food were a treat, touristy or not.

hog island trioIf you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and drive for about an hour northwest, up grassy hills and through dark Hobbit-y patches of woods and don’t hit any cyclists or throw up from all the curves, you may arrive at Hog Island Oyster Farm. Oysters, both freshly shucked and grilled (and unlike the New Orleans specialty, smoked and non-smothered in cheese and breadcrumbs) are a perfect pit stop snack eaten at first come, first serve picnic tables overlooking Tomales Bay where sunbeams can trade places with storm cloud drizzles every ten minutes. It’s worth paying $5 for the big Brickmaiden sourdough roll–you need it for soaking up all the buttery grilled oyster remains (and to settle your stomach if you’re like me and my car sick-prone relatives).

lala's creamery ice cream

While sitting in a parked car downtown Petaluma waiting for my sister’s nausea to pass, we were treated to a show by an older mom or younger grandmother on the sidewalk clutching a not-so-plush Garfield in front of Pick of the Litter, a thrift store benefiting “forgotten felines,” (the number of animal rescue operations in Sonoma County was mind-boggling). She was in the middle of a Bubba Gump shrimp spiel to her ward, a boy born in the mid-2000s, about how once upon a time Garfield merchandise was available as far as the eye could see: Garfield books, Garfield calendars, Garfield phones, Garfield pajamas, Garfield posters, Garfield mugs, Garfield piggy banks…

How do you top that? With two scoops of ice cream at Lala’s Creamery, an old-fashioned parlor that I’m pretty sure isn’t actually old. Luckily, I have old tastes in ice cream–no seasonal berries or lavender honey for me, give me the rum raisin and butter pecan. There is actually a shake on the menu called a Grandpa. Just my speed.

china chef duo

Who says print is dead? An ad in a local paper read while passing time at Lala’s contributed to a dinner decision: China Chef, which turned out to be walking distance to the home that was our end destination. It’s like typical suburban Chinese, complete with zodiac placemats and combo specials, but with gluten-free options, coconut oil substituted on request, and meats both mock and organic that convinced my sister to take a bite of my Hot, Spicy and Crispy Szechuan Beef not “beef.” The shrimp dumplings were a nice bit of evening dim sum, and crab Rangoon will never not be ordered if presented as an option.

el favorito duo

I wouldn’t feel right ordering a burrito anywhere except the Bay Area. (This prompted an LA vs. SF debate on Facebook. To me, Los Angeles is too Mexican to eat a burrito un-self-consciously where Mission burritos are part of San Francisco’s heritage.) Taqueria El Favorito in Sebastopol is just the place for cheap, carnitas-filled flour tortillas wrapped in foil. The griddling is key. And the pickled onions are great with fatty pork.

fremont diner quad

Spending time with non-food people has its ups and downs. I wouldn’t allow Ayurvedic food at my Super Bowl party to another’s irritation, but it’s fun to see someone still excited about things like deviled eggs and brunch. (I’m not sure if brunch really is scarce in Eugene, Oregon–late alcohol-fueled breakfasts seem suited for a college town–or if it’s just not on my sister’s radar.) Ugh, have we become so jaded that delicious strips of bacon and a mound of pimento cheese can’t be enjoyed on a burger because they are so overdone? (I still say nix the jelly jars.) Fremont Diner is one of those casual places with serious food that’s worth stopping by if you’re driving from Sonoma to Napa.

rockridge duo

If you happen to be staying at an airbnb in Rockridge and don’t want to drive for food or cook, Rockridge Cafe is solid and more of a diner than Fremont Diner even with Niman Ranch name-checked on the menu. That’s corned beef hash. Pizza Rustica is also fine enough for pizza, but keep in mind that no one seems to eat after 9pm in Oakland and the upstairs tiki bar is closed on Mondays.

blind cat beer & shots

It’s not all about craft brews and local wines. A day time beer and a shot is perfectly acceptable at the Blind Cat, especially after an encounter at nearby Dynamo Donut with a staffer so comically condescending I thought I was being punked. We did not walk away from that experience with any donuts (though we did get some free coffee cake remainders after I went New York on his ass).

trick dog duo

I prefer cats over dogs, but Trick Dog is having a moment and happened to be down the street. I can get on board with nouveaux boilermakers, a shot of Mandarine Napoléon plunked into a mug of Tecate, as well as cocktails containing three rums, third wave coffee, grapefruit, and fenugreek.

moss beach distillery duo

Despite passing through Pacifica, I didn’t get to stop at the world’s nicest Taco Bell in the town where I was born. However, I did get to experience a supposedly haunted café, Moss Beach Distillery, eat some clam chowder, drink a glass of Chardonnay, and possibly see three baby dolphins playing in the waves.

lark creek grill pacific snapper sandwich

And similar to burritos only in the Bay Area rule, there are only a few American airports where I’d feel ok eating fish. I said goodbye with a Pacific snapper sandwich at Lark Creek Grill. Am I the only one who, price aside, actually likes eating in airports? Not fast food, but sit-down restaurants like you’re worldly or maybe on a business trip? Now that I live so close to LaGuardia, I’d consider hanging out there for fun if all the food wasn’t post-security.




Shovel Time: Kin Khao

twoshovelWhen a mushroom mousse turns out to be the most exciting dish in spread that includes an easy win like pork belly, you know there is something crazy going on. In the US, Thai food rarely gets tinkered with in ways that successfully builds upon tradition. Kin Khao, with an emphasis on seasonality and sustainability, is the happy result of old-school food blogger turned restaurateur Pim Techamuanvivit and chef Michael Gaines (Manresa).

kin khao mushroom hor mok

But back to that mousse. Normally, hor mok is a curried fish paste steamed in banana leaves and topped with coconut cream and lime leaves, here wild mushrooms foraged by an Edible Selby subject are transformed into a custard, called a terrine, and served in a canning jar. And none of it is obnoxious because the result is rich, meaty, and quite possibly tastier than any fish version I’ve tried. Rice crackers are the accompaniment.

kin khao yum yai salad

The also meatless yum yai salad, which mixes a slew of vegetables in contrasting raw and tempuraed forms, was interesting but could’ve used something more than the mild chile jam–or a fishier or hotter version–for emphasis, though. I’m not sure that I would make this at home, but The New York Times did publish a recipe earlier this year.

kin khao caramelized pork belly

Sweet, soy glazed slices of pork belly with caramelized edges did their job, balancing out the relative lightness of the vegetable dishes.

kin khao plah pla muek

The grilled Monterey Bay squid in a lime-heavy, chile sauce, and garnished with crushed peanuts, got a little lost in the shuffle. There’s usually a dish like this, no fault of its own, when sharing plates and drinking (a bottle of biodynamic Pinot Gris rather than one of the fun-sounding cocktails) and paying more attention to the company than the food.

I will admit that half the reason I went to Kin Khao was because it was only one block from the deeply discounted Priceline hotel I stayed at my one night in San Francisco (the other half being that I love out of the ordinary Thai food) but I can’t really think of a better choice in the heart of touristy Union Square. This, plus Danish beer import Mikkeller Bar, also one block away, makes Times Square’s food and drink offerings look even sadder by comparison.

Kin Khao * 55 Cyril Magnin, San Francisco, CA

Bar Tartine

I managed to take part in Bon Appetit’s so-called “Germanic cuisine boom” in San Francisco despite having a contender two blocks from my apartment (two more days in Portland and I totally would’ve ended up at Gruner too). These things happen.

Bar Tartine struck me as more Austro-Hungarian than purely German. Some might say Cal-Hungarian. I wouldn’t, but that’s my aversion to the Cal prefix. James took to calling the hey-that’s-cool Bay Area style “Cal-tude,” which started getting on my nerves (him saying it more than the practice) but the service here was so careless and forgetful—we were given a free blueberry dessert, to be fair—that I kind of had to agree in this case. Cal-tude is not the same as the haphazard style that’s rampant in aggressively homespun/quirky Brooklyn restaurants because the venues—Bar Agricole was another practitioner—are polished in other regards.

I can easily say that I’ve never eaten food like this in NYC (maybe I should check out Hospoda?). The flavors—lots of hot paprika, offal, rye, quark—hewed traditional yet everything I sampled managed to be fresh and light instead of stodgy. And a little daring; I don’t picture goat meatballs or beef heart tartare being common in Budapest.

Bar tartine dinner

Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish. At first I thought the butter had been smoked Extebarri-style, the flavor was so prominent, but I think it was simply the heavily grilled bread. A simple open-faced sandwich was made special by the translucent slices of fish roe.

Grilled tripe, fennel, cabbage, coriander. This dish almost never came, but I wasn’t about to say, “oh, never mind” because I have a thing for cow’s stomach in all preparations and like to see how it’s handled in different cuisines. These tender strips were also given a serious grilling, and despite the presence of fennel and cabbage had a vague menudo quality thanks to a spicy broth and cilantro.

Kapusnica – smoked blood sausage, pickled cabbage, cherry, chili, hen of the woods. I’ll also always order blood sausage if I see it (I’ve never seen one quite this obscene) especially when paired with unusual mushrooms, a hit of spice and cherries (which I encountered time and again on this trip—you know you’re eating seasonally when the same ingredient shows up on your plate in numerous restaurants). The richness of the sausage still dominated, but wasn’t overly heavy.

Halaszle – Rock cod, Hungarian wax pepper, smoked broth, purslane, fennel, onion. Hmm…if they can smoke broth, maybe that butter was smoked, after all?

Bar Tartine * 561 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA



Possibly the strangest thing about Benu is that no one had any idea what I was talking about when I mentioned it (which was not that many times). Clearly, I do not fraternize with anyone particularly interested in French Laundry alumni. I could’ve just as easily said I was dining at Benihana for my birthday (the hibachi chain has been on my to-try list for some time).

The food at Benu is the style–seamlessly blending Chinese luxury ingredients with modern technique and a greenmarket sensibility–that I expect I might find in the more wealthy, aggressively image-conscious Asian capitals like Singapore or Hong Kong, but never encounter. Presentation is definitely important here, but never for the sake of showing off. The components are subtle and thoughtful.

I have resolved not to dork-out and take photos during higher-end meals, but the atmosphere while mildly stark, was not stuffy or nerve-jangling in a manner that I always associate with Corton. After settling into a relaxed (I was going to say quiet, but there was nothing hushed about the odd foursome next to us, what appeared to be married men showing off for married women who were less than impressed) corner table  I was glad that I had not left my camera in the hotel, after all.

To be perfectly frank, though, I don’t really enjoy blogging about tasting menus. Who cares what I have to say about 18 courses, wonderful as they may be? (In a similar vein, I’ve really started to tire of those talking head food tv shows where minor personalities ooh and ah over moijto ice pops or food truck fish and chips for people sitting at home on their couches.) After getting the play by play on the elaborate method used to craft the translucent kimchi wonton wrapper, I stopped focusing on techniques (well, the “shark’s fin” demanded a few questions—it’s made from Dungeness crab and hydrocolloids are involved) and took in the food at face value.

Continuing surface appreciations…here are photos without commentary. I can’t just let them flounder on flickr (do visit, if you would like to see full-sized images).

thousand-year-old quail egg, cèpes, ginger
oyster, pork belly, kimchi
wild sockeye
    belly, maple-sake cure, fennel ash
    roe, homemade sesame tofu, Serrano chili

cherry blossom, yogurt, cucumber, pistachio
beef tartare, caviar, horseradish, chive
tomato, hand-pulled mozzarella, dashi

eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche, lime
jasmine chicken with dates
foie gras xiao long bao

monkfish liver torchon, turnip, plum, brioche
abalone, potato, caper, lettuce
fresh noodles, shrimp roe, tarragon, chicken jus

“shark’s fin” soup, Dungeness crab, Junhua ham, black truffle custard
Duck, glutinous rice stuffing, fermented pepper
Pork rib, sunchoke, pine nut, cherry, black bean

Passion fruit white chocolate, chili
Peach, matcha, elderflower

Benu * 22 Hawthorne St., San Francisco,  CA


Lers Ros

Oh, thank god Lers Ros was all that it was cracked up to be. I realize NYC isn’t necessarily the United States’ Thai hot bed (that would be LA, wouldn’t it?) but I still have developed standards and am always cautious when I hear raves in other cities lacking a strong Thai presence. I’m still stinging (sorry, I’m a grudge-holder) over my disappointing meal in Chicago and that was a year-and-a-half ago.

Lers ros facade

I didn’t fall for any of the exotica beyond boar, which isn’t that wild really (the wildest thing I encountered that night was someone pants halfway down, propped up on scaffolding, poised to take a dump onto the sidewalk—I didn’t really get what all the Tenderloin hubbub was about until that moment). Alligator just seems gimmicky unless you’re in New Orleans and even then you wonder if you’re just being a tourist for giving in. Frog, venison and rabbit will have to wait for another visit.

Lers ros wild boar

Said boar. I appreciated that they didn’t shy away from offering such a tough, cartilaginous cut of meat. Serious masticating was necessary, though it was likeable in a similar way that pigs’ ears and beef tendons are. Hit with green peppercorns, chiles and sharp strips of krachai, this was a punchy dish.

Lers ros duck larb

I’ve never had duck larb, but it makes sense. The poultry is in small chunks rather than a mince, which is nice because you don’t lose the contrast between the flesh and the skin. The spice level wasn’t disappointing, either.

Lers ros pork belly

I can never resist crispy pork with basil and chiles—it’s one of my Sripraphai standards—and these generously cut chicharrón-esque cubes did the trick.

Lers Ros * 730 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA

Tadich Grill

Tadich Grill, said to be the oldest restaurant in San Francisco, reminded me a bit of the Grand Central Oyster Bar. It’s certainly not as loud and sprawling, but it’s a seafood-centric icon, not as inexpensive as the surroundings might suggest, and favored by both tourists and commuters.

Tadich grill counter
During my late lunch at the bar, solo men close to retirement age and older with a newspaper and a martini for company, filled empty counter seats on my right and left. They were there for dinner, seemingly clocked out at five on the dot. It could’ve been 1960 or 1980; the only thing missing being clouds of cigarette smoke.

This is the San Francisco that I enjoyed the most, not the local, seasonal ethos that’s an obvious culinary draw, but lazing about in eateries that haven’t firmly settled into the twenty-first century yet. Just a few hours earlier at proper lunch time, I’d taken in the bar scene at Fishermen’s Grotto, another reassuring time capsule.

Tadich grill cioppino
Cioppino is a big thing at Tadich Grill, but it’s not what I ordered.

Tadich grill sand dabs
Sand dabs (or sanddabs, depending) are a regional flat fish. I just liked the sound of their name. Served breaded and pan fried, drizzled with a thin white sauce (homemade tartar sauce on the side), steak fries (my enemy) and institutional steamed cauliflower and broccoli, my meal could be construed as bland and geriatric—at least in comparison to how I might normally prefer my seafood.

Tadich grill exterior

But this is exactly what I’d want to be served at a 161-year-old restaurant. Just as a Harvey Wallbanger would be appropriate at Eddie Rickenbacker’s and nearly no place else. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

Tadich Grill * 240 California St., San Francisco, CA



It was pure coincidence that I was asked to write about food cooked with blood the week after I ate pig’s blood pappardelle in San Francisco. I’ve not found anything in NYC that really approaches that level of creativity; most preparations here are traditional, whether French or Filipino.

Incanto pig's blood papparadelle with foie gras & trotters

The chewy, crimson pappardelle strewn with trotter meat, hunks of foie gras and homemade raisins that were closer to grapes is hard to describe without sounding obscene. The few times I’ve brought it up, I’ve had to temper my words with, “No, it’s really good.” I’m not sure if it’s the blood or the multi-levels of decadence that’s off-putting to the uninitiated. This smaller portion we shared as a second course—many dishes are available in two sizes—was beyond rich, a glorious appetite-squelcher.

Incanto pork belly with watermelon & tomatoes

Really. We ended up taking most of the following course, pork belly with heirloom tomatoes and yellow and red watermelon to go (yes, I’m normally melon-averse but I discovered that the pork tempers the fruit’s cloying nature when I a tried a funkier take on this combo at Fatty Crab). It wasn’t half-bad room temperature for breakfast.

Incanto lamb heart

Our starter, while also meaty, was the lightest of the bunch. Just a little spicy lamb’s heart and shallots.

Incanto * 1550 Church St., San Francisco, CA

Bread Bowls ‘R’ Us

Like taco salads served in fried tortilla shells, it’s hard to take a bread bowl seriously.

The starchy serving device was the butt of a joke on Weeds a few weeks ago. In what will likely be the only amusing blip of the entire season, Andy remarked to his new boss, a snobby French hotel chef in Seattle, “I noticed you’re still serving things in bread bowls. That is so ‘80s.”

A few months ago on the JFK Airtrain, a loud man with a heavy Brooklyn accent discussing where to eat on the way home, described a chicken salad in a bread bowl as “bangin’.” I immediately wanted to know where they were going and swear I heard “Jordan’s.” The only Jordan’s I know is a lobster place, promisingly near the airport, but there’s no bread bowl on the menu that I can see.

In August I read Tao Lin’s Richard Yates (as part of the Rumpus Book Club, which has been some of the smartest money spent in recent history. I’ve read more fiction in 2010 than I have in over a decade, years lost to the internet. Don’t tell anyone, but I only thought to read anything by Richard Yates because of this title. Last night I finished The Easter Parade and am still processing it. I only watched Revolutionary Road on the flight from Bangkok in March because I was so bored and had so much time to kill—I had no idea the story was so bleak. I wonder if everything Yates wrote is full of the kind of loneliness and despair you shouldn’t curl up with on a 20-hour-flight) and liked the book more than I thought I would even though I probably wouldn’t like the author who seemed to be very much present in the protagonist, Haley Joel Osment. Uh, but he and Dakota Fanning refer to bougie, white trash types as “cheese beasts” initiated by Dakota Fanning’s mom bringing home crab Rangoon, pretty much my favorite junk food ever. Being a major cheese beast, I took offense. The shorthand could’ve easily been replaced with bread bowls.

But to the point, I had no idea that San Francisco is the epicenter of bread bowl culture. I knew better than to stroll around Fishermen’s Wharf, but it had to be done, if only to try and dredge up some tucked away nostalgia from barely remembered childhood visits.

Fishermen's wharf bread bowls

I don’t remember all of these hawker-type stalls with pre-scooped loaves of sourdough waiting to be filled with chowder and shrimp salads.

Bread bowl birds

The pigeons might love bread bowls even more than the tourists. 

Pigeon in a bread bowl

This bird was using a stale loaf as an edible perch.

Seafood salad bread bowls

One cheese beasty/bread bowl-esque activity I long grew out of is buying souvenir t-shirts on vacation. Then again, I just don’t wear t-shirts.

1983: I was bought a lavender sweatshirt that read San Francisco in an electric ’80s script and had geometric shapes floating in the background. I loved it so much that I completely over-wore it in sixth grade. A fact directly broadcast to me by Nathan, a biracial popular kid (his being the only black male student in our class raised his social standing) who punched me his first week as a new kid in third grade because I corrected him when he asked, “Where’s the libary?” No one likes a goodie two shoes (even my mom who replied, “that’s their business” when I told her that Nathan said his parents smoked pot—and they were cops!). “How many years have you been wearing that sweatshirt?!” he chided. It totally hadn’t been more than a year; it probably just seemed longer. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I saw photos from my double-decade high school reunion earlier this month and he was the only youthful-looking, non-obese person in the bunch. I imagine he’s still popular.

1987: During a San Francisco pit stop on the way to Patterson that only involved my dad and sister, I bought an oversized Fido Dido t-shirt featuring the Coit Tower and some loopy text that ended with the line “sometimes I get lost but it’s ok.” That shirt never got made fun of (at least not to my face). Even though there isn’t a Wendy’s on the wharf now, I’m 90% sure that’s where we ate that afternoon. I skimmed through some local alt-newspaper and fixated on a photo of a man in a band called Pray for Rain that I’d never heard of (I suspect this is the same person) and thought San Francisco must have much cooler guys than Gresham, Oregon. My sister and I tried tracking down a postcard with a photo of Andy Warhol to mail to our friend who insisted she didn’t know who he was. He’d just died. Later, we got called “punkers” at a mall in Santa Rosa while eating See’s candy on a bench, which is kind of the opposite of punk.

Fishermen's grotto

On this bright and cool 2010 afternoon, I wasn’t planning on eating anything at Fishermen’s Wharf. We still had a late lunch planned for Tadich Grill and Laotian food in Oakland for dinner. Yet I couldn’t resist the lure of the festive, candy cane striped poles decorating Fisherman’s Grotto, standing out like little rainbow beacons among bread bowls. I remembered those carnival-esque, giant birthday candles from an earlier visit, when they already seemed of another time, as anachronistic as the “hamburger sandwich” still being served on the Little Fisherman’s section of their menu.

Fishermen's grotto bar

Fishermen's grotto beer First, we peeked upstairs at the enormous near-empty dining room. The adjoining bar is amazing with shiny, blue tufted chairs, but it wasn’t open. I’m certain nothing but the prices have changed since 1983, or even 1953, the date on the painting in the small ground floor bar where we settled into stools in the back and ordered two pints of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

A raucous crew of middle-aged men (truly middle aged, 59-61, give or take, not the current anyone-over-35 usage) ordering lunch and drinking red wine (wine is so not an elite thing on many pockets of the west coast) were hamming it up with the bartender, obviously a careerist, adept at engaging tourists as well as holding his own with locals. I never wanted to leave. The only thing missing was the presence of cigarettes, though the musty scent still lingered in the wood paneled pores of the narrow room, impossible to Febreeze away even 12 years after the 1998 ban decreed on a piece of paper tacked below the bowling trophies and above the busts of composers.

If I were unable to see the bay outside the open doors, I would’ve sworn we were in a classier Carroll Gardens social club. “Sicilian” was bandied about; some were Italian, some of their wives were from the Mediterranean island. Turns out that everyone including the bartender had grown up together in San Francisco and were having a reunion and seemed to be having a hell of a lot more fun that I would’ve at my high school meet-up that as going on this very same weekend.

Apparently, the wharf used be dominated by vendors with fresh crab. I did not ask about when bread bowls came on the scene.

Fishermen's grotto bread bowl clam chowder

We did order one, though. No disdain. Why was I feeling sheepish? It’s merely thick, starched up clam chowder surrounded by baked sourdough, not a foodie scarlet letter necessitating BB to be scrawled across my chest.

We spent so much time soaking up the scenery that we threw off our whole day’s schedule, barely making it in the door of Vientian Café before closing. I wouldn’t have said that a bread bowl was a fair culinary trade for a plastic container of tripe-filled beef larb with fermented fish sauce, but the experience would’ve been.


Burritos get all the attention in San Francisco (and I did get one the size of tube sock filled with al pastor at El Farolito, which served as midnight snack and substantial breakfast) but Cal-Mex is hardly the only regional style available in the Mission. 


Yucatecan food was on my agenda, so I was thrilled to hear that my friend Todd had moved from Portland to an apartment around the corner from Poc-Chuc. Actually, he just said, “a Mayan restaurant,” but because I am obsessive I knew which one he meant even though I haven’t been to San Francisco since 1995. He was raving about a black turkey dish that sometimes had a mystery meatball floating in it. I loved the idea of random spongy meat showing up with your poultry.

With that said, we went to Haltun, another restaurant in the Mission, to see if they too plopped Mayan meatballs into the mix. Yes, they do. I must admit that my knowledge of this Caribbean-influenced style of cooking only comes from one meal at Coox Hanal in Mexico City, perhaps the equivalent of trying Southern food in NYC (which we seem to have an awful lot of lately), and from an episode of One Plate at Time. Clearly, I’m not an expert.

Haltun relleno negro

I do know that this dark, brothy dish gets its spooky color from charred chiles, often a mix of arbol and ancho. Charred is putting it mildly; the chiles are burnt and even the ash is incorporated into the mole paste. The meatloaf—it’s much more than a ball—is made from pork. Apparently, Poc Chuc’s version is less oily and more inky than sienna.

Haltun relleno blanco

Relleno blanco is the good twin, similar ingredients minus the darkness.

Haltun poc-chuc de puerco

Me, I just wanted a big plate of grilled pork, the so-called poc-chuc de puerco. This wouldn’t be out of place in many parts of Mexico; the Yucatecan touches were present in the pickled onions and potent salsa—habanero-usage is exclusive to this cuisine—served in a small glass dish with the circumference of thumb and first finger making the OK sign. 

Haltun chips & salsa

I’m pretty sure that’s crumbled cheese in the red salsa even though it looks a little like Thai roasted rice powder.

While it’s no LA or Chicago, I’ll always defend NYC’s Mexican cuisine (I’d say San Francisco fits somewhere in the middle). Still, we rarely get thick and pliable corn tortillas fresh of the comal like this. Handmade tortillas make all the difference, which reminds me that it’s very neglectful of me to have not visited Corona’s Tortillería Nixtamal yet.

Haltun pol-can

A banner affixed to the exterior wall described a happy hour and “Mayan tapas,” my favorite abused word. We were outside this time frame, but tapas meant appetizers so we tried a few at full price. Pol-can was a lima bean and pumpkin seed fritter made out of corn-based dough. Very new world.

Haltun salbut'

Salbutes, or salbut’ as spelled at Haltun, are like tostadas. These fried tortillas were topped with chicken. I haven’t seen these in NYC, but panuchos, a close kin, are served at La Superior in Williamsburg.

Haltun * 2948 21st St., San Francisco, CA

Humphry Slocombe & Assorted Beverages

1/2 Two things I like about vacations are drinking in the middle of the day and eating lots of sweets. My dull workaday life is sugar-free, and cocktails are relegated to the weekends. I satisfied both loves my first day in San Francisco, a Saturday when good foodies are supposed to be at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, when instead, I met up with an old Portland friend who now lives in the Mission.

Humphry slocombe secret breakfast

He was already acquainted with popular ice creamery, Bi-Rite, so we chose to immerse ourselves in weirder flavors at Humphry Slocombe. We all were swayed by Secret Breakfast, a wink-wink blend of cornflakes and Jim Beam. Second scoops included Peanut Butter Curry for me, which tasted as advertised and had the bluntness of turmeric-heavy curry powder; Olive Oil for Todd, which he said was orangey, not olivey; and a mistaken Salt and Pepper for James (he’d ask for Cayenne Cantaloupe and I screwed up the order because my brain couldn’t retain three combos of two).

The unexpected thing was that the flavors weren’t wildly distinct. I don’t think I would’ve guessed either of the two ingredients in the Secret Breakfast, which was more creamy and vanilla-ish. The cracked pepper definitely stood out because I thought it was my bowl and not the curry flavor I’d been expecting. However, I didn’t taste any salt and would’ve liked the contrast. I don’t think we converted Todd from Bi Rite, but I’d give Humphry another chance if I lived nearby. Plus, the prosciutto flavor is back on the menu today.

Humphry slocombe exterior

Odd for someone who eats ice cream like never, I also had a scoop of nectarine at brand new Mission Hill Creamery in Santa Cruz, a company started by my boyfriend’s sister’s husband’s childhood friend. Apparently, he is of the same purist, seasonal school as Bi Rite and learned from the same master somewhere in the Northeast. I thought it was interesting that he claimed that Humphry Slocombe quirks wouldn’t fly in Santa Cruz. I was just reading about a place in Maine, which strikes me as a more conservative locale, doing flavors like Thai Chile and Chocolate Wasabi, so you never know. I did not take any photos because I tend to reserve food paparazzi behavior for company who is used to it.

Dirty thieves snack

I wasn’t sure if Dirty Thieves, around the corner from Humphry Slocombe, was a true dive or a facsimile, but the booths were ripped up enough and while PBR tallboys and a shot of whiskey are hip in their own way, it’s not like housemade horehound bitters and lavender-infused Plymouth Gin. In fact, my long list of to-try mixology dens (Albemic, Bar Agricole, Comstock Saloon, Smuggler’s Cove, Hogs & Rocks, Beretta, among others) completely got top shelved once I set foot in San Francisco.

Li po

Instead, we mingled with tourists swaying to Ray Charles covers banged out on the corner piano at Gold Dust Lounge, and nursed a few beers at Li Po on a Labor Day night in Chinatown so silent we tried not to disrupt the homeless man sleeping in the doorway next to where we parked. He continued his buzzsaw snoring, perhaps the only thing keeping Lo Pan, who we kept imagining would float by in the dark, at bay.

Eddie rickenbacker's bar

I also couldn’t pass up Eddie Rickenbacker’s, a prototypical fern bar of the let’s put crap and Tiffany lamps all over the place school of décor that only now Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesdays are trying to move away from. We really wanted to see Mr. Higgins, the obese, three-legged Katrina rescued cat who lives in the bar, but he’d died three weeks prior to the date we arrived to say hi. I drank a shot of Maker’s Mark in his honor, though he was probably more of a Harvey Wallbanger feline.

Dirty Thieves continued the refreshing San Francisco tradition of warm service, irony-rich PBR or not, an antidote to the dourness I’ve just come to expect as normal in Brooklyn. In fact, our bartender was so friendly he practically apologized for not offering us free peanut butter and banana sandwiches that he’d been grilling out back. Full of Mayan food (another post) and ice cream, we still couldn’t turn down such kindness—and enthusiasm—it was as if he’d invented the combination himself.

Humphry Slocombe * 2790 Harrison St., San Francisco, CA

Dirty Thieves * 3050 24th St., San Francisco, CA

Li Po * 916 Grant Ave., San Francisco, CA

Eddie Rickenbacker’s * 133 2nd St., San Francisco, CA

Why does no one in the Bay Area have webpages?