Olivo’s

I am pretty psyched to be talking about Olivo’s because it is one of my favorite favorite neighborhood spots.  It’s nice to write about a place I can say I like with next to no qualifiers. 

Olivo’s can seem kind of sinister if you’ve never been there before.  It’s next door to a pretty grody laundromat and the sidewalks are pretty much abandoned, save for some transexual prostitutes.  Once I saw someone buying crack almost right in front of Olivo’s.  Actually, it’s a pretty funny story; the drug dealer and the crackhead tried to have this really sneaky handoff, it was pretty obvious but at least they tried.  The crackhead put the drugs in his mouth and started to walk off; he abruptly turned around, took the drugs out of his mouth and handed them back to the drug dealer, saying “hey, this isn’t what I wanted…”  Good stuff, huh?  You know what though, you should not let this scare you away from Olivo’s, it would be a damn shame.  Unless you prompt them in some way, drug dealers aren’t going to bother you.  And, as long as you’re obviously not selling crack, neither will crack heads.  And tranny hookers won’t bother you either, I promise.  Unless you want them to, that’s another story. 

Anyway, Olivo’s!  Olivo’s serves Salvodorean food, which may be my very favorite cuisine, based on one delectable treat:  the pupusa.  Holy geeze do I love pupusas.  If you’ve never had a pupusa, you need to drop everything and get one right the fuck NOW.  They are kind of like stuffed tortillas, but not dry, very moist, dense, flat corn cakes with a filling of cheese or beans or whatever.  I like the cheese ones the best because I am a purist.  Pupusas are generally served with curtido which is a vinegary cabbage salad.  It’s off the hook.  Olivo’s as far as I know has the best pupusas this side of Market, which is reason enough to go there.

I actually did not get a pupusa the other night at Olivo’s because I wanted to try something new.  I am really into trying new things, by the way.  So I ordered the carne asada con curtido y yucca frita.  That equaled large hunks of fried yucca, a big pile of the deliciousness that is curtido and the biggest steak I have ever seen in my entire life.  (I don’t have pictures at the moment, but I’m hoping to get some for you soon.)  It must have been nearly a foot long, the ends were falling off the plate.  I think my jaw dropped when the waitress set it in front of me because she laughed and said, “it’s big, huh?”  The craziest part:  it was ten bucks.  So, you’re thinking, ten bucks, that must have been one crap steak.  Well, nu-uh.  It was awesome.  I was shocked by how tender it was.  It was cooked perfectly medium rare and was simply swimming in jus.  I dipped my yucca in it and that was some good thinking on my part.  The fried yucca was similar in taste and texture to french fried potatoes but the crispy fried crust was thicker and chewier, yielding to a moist but flaky interior.  My only qualm with the yucca was that some of it was a little stringy, but that’s to be expected.  Anyway, the salty citrusy juices from the steak made up for anything lacking in the yucca.  The curtido was, as expected, exceptionally good.  Sometimes I’ve come across curtido that has a bit of a barnyard quality to it; I believe it is lightly pickled, and if it ferments it can have a hay-like taste that I don’t care for.  Olivo’s curtido is always fresh and crisp.  Yum.

Steve ordered a combination plate, I can’t remember the price for two items, sorry, but it’s cheap.  He got a tostada and a quesadilla.  I didn’t try the tostada because he gobbled it down right quick, but I tried the quesadilla.  Salvadorean quesadillas aren’t like the ones you’ve had before, a bit of cheese and maybe some meat and veggies in a tortilla that’s been folded in half like a crepe and made super crispy in a pan or on the grill.  Salvadorean quesadillas are more like burritos, but instead of beans and rice making up the bulk of it, it is stuffed to the gills with CHEESE.  No kidding.  Steve had meat (I think carne asada) in his, but it’s really all about the cheese.  I don’t know how they do it, but Olivo’s manages to make this simply decadent, without making it also kind of gross.  They are geniuses. 

Olivo’s has a good beer list, the prices are pretty reasonable.  There’s a giant bottle of beer you can get, I think it’s called Regina?  but it’s an insanely good deal.  We have the same waitress every time we go, she young, kinda cute, definitely gruff but efficient and really accomodating.  I know she likes to go clubbing because one friday night we were there and she was talking to another table full of guys about where she was going to go after work.  I like eating in at Olivo’s because they have some cool decor up on the walls, foreign (I’m assuming El Salvadorean, but I can’t be positive) money and stuff like that.  I want to try their breakfast soon, they advertise it in the window and it is crazy cheap.  If they have lengua on special, order it, it will rock your world.  They do it right there.  But, my only negative, tacos are probably not the thing to order there.  My personal belief, tacos should be ordered from a taco truck or taco stand or some other establishment that focuses on tacos.  Otherwise, it’s a crapshoot.

Olivo’s

1017 Larkin St

Their Yelp Page

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Irving Pizza

It was tuesday, I was attending my last pub quiz of the season at the Edinburgh Castle and I was feeling lazy so I went to Irving Pizza for dinner.  It’s two or so doors down from the bar, which is very convenient.  Also convenient, they are open til two or three in the morning every night.  So, if you’ve been out at the bars, their slices are pretty good.  Or, if you’ve been boozing it up at home, their delivery is better.  I wasn’t in the mood for pizza and I wanted to try something new so I ordered a cheeseburger.  It’s about seven bucks and it comes with fries. 

I sat at one of the tiny tables in the store and waited for my burger to come up.  Irving Pizza is not much for ambience.  If you are planning on eating in you had better be drunk and with at least two other drunk friends.  Otherwise, you will probably be weirded out by old ladies coming inside and rifling through the trash looking for cans or by random homeless people wandering around outside the door.  Or you will feel lonely sitting there by your sober self, watching Friends with the counter guy.  The guys who work there are pretty nice, they’re efficient and calm in a way that comes from dealing with crazy and/or drunk people all hours of the night. 

Sorry for the very very horrible quality of the food pictures but I took these inside the Edinburgh Castle and it is dark in there.  Anyway, here are the burger and fries, in all their glory.  I haven’t had a burger like an Irving Street Pizza burger in quite a long time.  It took me back to my elementary school cafeteria.  It was definitely a frozen patty that came out of a box with dozens of other patties just like it; perfectly round, perfectly flat.  Throughout it was that purplish-grey color you find in meat that is actually full of something other than meat and there were plenty of chewy gristly bits.  You know though, I didn’t find this burger entirely unpleasant.  I certainly wouldn’t order it again, but it was kind of a nice nostalgic experience eating it.  It didn’t taste bad, just average.  Actually, the bun was quite nice, and it was loaded with fresh veggies.  The only really bad thing was that they put pepperocinis on it, and they were just a bit too spicy. 

Oh, the fries?  I didn’t actually eat more than a couple, I was pretty stuffed after the burger, but they were unremarkable.  Creamy on the inside, greaseless, but definitely from frozen and in need of some salt.

This block of Geary is kind of gross, there’re a lot of people of the smelly variety milling about.  I wouldn’t suggest making a special trip, but there are a lot of popular bars in the area and it’s not unlikely that you’ll find yourself at one of them one night.  In that case, this is a perfectly serviceable place to grab a slice post getting your drink on.  Otherwise, if you’re dying to try them, I’d suggest getting delivery.  But steer clear of the burger, unless you’re craving a flashback to your K-6 days.

Irving Pizza

928 Geary

www.irvingpizza.com

Ken’s Kitchen

Can I make a suggestion?  If you have been up drinking until 4 in the morning, don’t sleep for 4 hours then go spend 4 hours in the direct midday sun.  Or if you do, start with some belly balast, maybe pancakes and eggs?  A lean pocket won’t cut it, trust me.  And definitely don’t forget the advil.  These are things I’ve unfortunately learned from experience.  I had a rough day at the Mission Indie Mart (entirely my own fault of course) and then I had a rough time getting a cab to take me home from Mission Indie Mart.  I finally made it, it was nearly 7 pm and all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch with some food and never ever get up.  There was stuff at my house to eat, but I wanted something greasy and carb filled and meaty.  I decided to get delivery from Ken’s Kitchen.  I knew that usually I found their food too salty but in my still slightly hung over state I thought that a little extra sodium would really hit the spot.  I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my order arrived, and really appreciated the delivery guy not giving me any weird looks, even though I’m sure I looked a hot mess.  I took my meal back to the couch and started cracking open containers. 

Wonton soup was ok, standard thin broth, kind of bland wontons but everything tasted like it was made from real food, no frozen wontons or bouillion cubes were harmed in the making.  And I really like that they offer a small and a large size of soup because I love soup, but I can’t eat a regular order size all by myself and still have room for everything else.  And it’s nice to have a cheaper option, a small wonton soup was just $3.50, not bad. 

Next I dug into the mu shu chicken.  Mu shu is a dish I avoided until a couple years ago when I ordered it on a whim at Taiwan Restaurant on Clement.  I thought it was like chop suey, some crazy Americanized Panda Express stuff.  It turns out it is a dish that originated in China and was one of the first Chinese dishes to be popular in America, and was widely reproduced in less and less authentic versions around the country.  Some restaurants for example served mu shu with tortillas instead of the traditional thin flour pancakes.  Yuck.  Anyway, mu shu is actually a crazy delicious blend of shredded vegetables and mushroom and meat if you choose to add it.  You put some of this stuff in a thin steamed pancake with some hoisin sauce and eat it like a little crepe or taco.  Ken’s version was pretty tasty, but the pancakes were a bomb, though I think they may have been a victim of the delivery process.  They were super dried out.  Luckily they only give you four pancakes so I didn’t waste too much food, and the mu shu mixture is tasty on its own.  And good thing, because for 8 bucks they give you about a pound and a half.  If you order from Ken’s you’re going to have leftovers for hella days.

My last dish was pork fried rice, and I was expecting the standard stuff, with little pieces of sweet, red, dried out meat interspersed in some dryish white rice with some vegetables here and there.  I was totally surprised by Ken’s fried rice.  There was no red stained pig here, the pork pieces were substantial, about knuckle sized, and they were moist and juicy and fatty and crisp.  This was some amazing roasted pork, some one took a minute and had some pride in preparing it.  And the rice was deeply browned from soy sauce and frying and it was soft and sweet and salty.  The veggies were pretty much the norm, but that’s fine with me.  For $5.75, for delivery from the corner of Polk and Eddy this was the perfect fried rice.  And, like the mu shu, there was about a pound a half of it.  Some of it’s still sitting in my fridge (not because it wasn’t delicious, but because I couldn’t bring myself to eat too much of it.  I could feel my thighs growing with each swallow.).

So thank you Ken, for perfectly satiating my electrolyte starved body.  I will definitely put you on my top ten post-hangover spots list.  Quite the prestigious place to be.

Ken’s Kitchen

700 Polk

http://www.kenskitchen.net/

Hank’s Eats

Before there was Hank’s Eats, the space it now occupies housed a small restaurant called Love’s.  Love’s was a breakfast and lunch only kind of place and it was awesome.  I only visited once before it closed, but from what I observed on that one visit their specialty was stuffed baked potatoes.  Like, whatever you could ever imagine wanting in a baked potato, you could get it at Love’s.  It was pleasant inside, really sunny (it’s right on the corner of Polk and Post with floor to ceiling windows on both walls) and had a sweet sort of vintage feeling green and white color scheme.  It was run by a group of little old ladies who would chatter continuously while they deftly made scrambled eggs on a hot plate and tossed breakfast burritos under the salamander to brown.  It was nice place to go on a lazy weekend late morning and I was sad to see it close ( I had never had the baked potato!).  I was prejudiced against Hank’s Eats from the start, just because it was replacing Love’s.  I avoided it for a long time after my loyalty to Love’s had waned because I was confused by it.  I didn’t understand sangria and bacon wrapped hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches together.  Also, for a long time they had an off putting photo of a woman, her head thrown back, her mouth wide open and smeared with condiments, with a hot dog propelling towards her mouth.  They must have finally taken that down.  I was still kind of down on the place, but Steve suggested we go there the other night for dinner.  I checked out their Yelp page and I noticed several reviews mentioned blue cheese tater tots, and every bad memory was erased.  I was focused:  must. have. tater. tots.  Nothing else mattered.  

   Things were kind of uncomfortable from the get go.  I was waiting on Steve and sat in Hank’s for probably about 10 minutes.  It was totally empty.  As you can see, it’s pretty dark in there.  The new decor has none of the charms of Love’s bright retro kitsch.  It’s all dark wood paneling and lots of sandstone-esque tile.  They are trying waaay too hard.  It’s counter service, so I sat studying the paper menu while the cashier kept staring at me, probably wondering if I was ever going to order.  A lot of the items sounded good, but most of them looked to have one component too many.  There were a lot of sliced almonds in places where they didn’t seem to belong.  It was hard to decide what to get, but I knew I wanted the sangria, which is advertised heavily in the restaurant, and of course the tater tots.

Steve finally arrived and we got a pitcher of sangria.  This was probably the biggest disappointment for me.  When I saw the pitcher I was pretty impressed, it seemed like a lot of punch for $14 bucks.  They offer three flavors; watermelon, peach and mango.  We got watermelon because watermelon is the best, duh.  It turned out to be one of the weirder drinks I’ve had.  The first taste was as though you had a big glass of Welch’s grape juice, put a watermelon Jolly Rancher in it then put a shit load of ice in there and set it out on the counter until all the ice melted then you drank it.  Then there was a finish of musky, dessert wine flavor.  It was pretty unpleasant, but not undrinkable.  It’s the kind of stuff where you’re drinking it and drinking it and drinking it and you think you’re going to get a buzz but you never do, but you sure get a stomachache.  Fun!

OMG, do you see those tater tots?  They’re beautiful right?  Those things were so tasty, there are not words.   I have never had tater tots so wonderfully crispy; they had a crust on them like a loaf of sourdough bread.  The blue cheese was definitely there but it was subtle and delightfully creamy.  These were good on their own, but I think even better dipped in ketchup or one of Hank’s housemade sauces.

From left to right; sweet tomato sauce was like a perfect middle ground between ketchup and barbecue sauce, it had the salty sweetness of ketchup with background chile smokiness.  The sweet mustard sauce was exactly what the name says, thinner than your average mustard, very good.  The mango hot sauce was too hot for me, but if  that’s your thing it was perfectably serviceable.

You can see Steve’s salad behind the tater tots, he ordered the Tuscan.  Goat cheese, romaine, grilled chicken, roasted red peppers…it all sounds good.  And it wasn’t bad.  I was disappointed by the chicken, it was that waterlogged lunchmeat type stuff formed into a ham shape you find wrapped in plastic in the deli case at the store.  It’s fine, but I was hoping for real chicken. 

I had a similar issue with the chicken in my wrap.  Let me start off by saying that I originally ordered the bangkok pup, a hot dog with cilantro and some spicy sauce.  The counter guy said they were out of cilantro so I took that as an opportunity to change my order to something I thought would be a little more healthy, the Cajun chicken wrap.  The description said it contained cajun chicken, which I assumed would be grilled but turned out to be fried.  It also turned out to be cold.  In fact, the whole wrap was refrigerator-cold; cold tacky tortilla, cold lettuce and tomato, cold spicy “aioli” (it was mayonnaise).  I couldn’t taste any of the blue cheese the description said it contained.  Really, this wrap was gross.  I only ate half of it, but that might have been partly because I was feeling pretty full of sangria at that point.  The half I did eat I left the very end of because it was so logged with mayonnaise.  Steve ate the chicken out of it and really enjoyed it, but agreed I probably ordered the wrong thing.  I was really disappointed the chicken was cold, but when I went behind the counter to get to the restroom I noticed they don’t have a real kitchen at Hank’s, just a refrigerated counter, a salamander and a deep fryer.  I’m interested to know how they make hamburgers with that set up.  I’m also curious why they decided to move the counter so that your customers have to go into your work area to use the restroom.  When Love’s was in the space their counter was to the left of where it is now.  Seems like an odd choice to me.

I think what all this boils down to is that I ordered the wrong thing.  I’ll probably be back to Hank’s Eats, I’d like to try one of their hot sandwiches or the burger.  The tacos sound interesting and the hot dogs seem to be their specialty, so it seems like I made a big mistake not ordering one of those.  Also, they have a pretty interesting and cheap beer list.  I think ordering beer instead of sangria would have made an impact on my meal as well, it seems like Hank’s serves more beer food than sangria food.

Two dollar cans of Pabst with food, if you’re in to that kind of thing.

Anyway, Hank’s Eats is really reasonably priced, they have a diverse menu and they are in a fairly nice stretch of Polk street.  The atmosphere isn’t the greatest but if you order the right thing it could make up for it.  I’d stay away from the wraps and the chicken.  But hey, if you love cold chicken, it could be for you.

Hank’s Eats

1101 Polk St @ Post

Hank’s Eats on Yelp

PS – What is up with restaurants not having websites?  It’s 2009 people, get with it.

El Tesoro Geary

It’s entirely possible that it’s been a year since I’ve had a San Francisco burrito. 

Over the last 10 months I’ve been going through something of a health nut phase, attempting to eat in a manner more friendly to my body.  The monster tubes of carbohydrate and fat that are the burritos of SF’s taquerias don’t exactly fit in with my new habits, so they have been eschewed.  Well, until this past Sunday anyway.  Sunday is the night that I am home alone, the night that my dinner plans are entirely up to me.  Which sucks, because I despise making decisions, especially when it comes to what I’m going to put in my face.  I’ve been known to spend literal hours trying to decide which restaurant to order delivery from, only to give up and eat gardenburgers and microwaved mac & cheese.  Such is the glamourous life I live.  This past Sunday it seemed I was doomed to play out the same scenario; I was poring over the menus on delivery.com, trying to decide which Thai place had the cheapest noodles…but I didn’t feel like anymore damn noodles.  And pizza was out too, just not in the mood.  I had a sudden urge for the comfort of creamy beans and cheese; I wanted a burrito, damn it!  For once on a Sunday night, the idea of leaving my house wasn’t completely abhorret to me, so I decided to walk to El Tesoro on Geary for take out.

El Tesoro is a fairly standard San Francisco taqueria except that it is in a nice little Mexican market.  This is a pretty awesome market to go to if you want a large selection of Bimbos treats, chicharrones or canned seafood.  Also, a good place to go if you want to make pickled eggs a la Joe Jost’s (I use this guy’s recipe) because they carried the jarred yellow peppers that are integral to the recipe.  El Tesoro’s kitchen is in the corner of the market, they have a small seating area that seems like it would be pleasant enough to sit in if you don’t live two blocks away.  I ordered a chile verde super burrito, which comes with guacamole and sour cream in addition to the regular fixings; beans and rice, salsa and cheese.  It usually bothers me that super burritos almost always come with guacamole AND sour cream, because I really only want the guac, but if you ask for no sour cream you still pay the full price, and adding guacamole to a regular is more expensive…it’s complicated.  That evening, however, I was feeling decadent, so the sour cream was okay.  I was also feeling a bit parched, and I noticed they had big plastic barrels of colorful liquid chilling on a hotel pan full of ice.  They were making my mouth water.  I ordered a strawberry agua fresca and started sucking it down while I hit up the salsa bar.   

They had some interesting stuff at the salsa bar, like a creamy looking green salsa and whole pickled jalapenos.  I wasn’t feeling too adventurous so I went with a standard pico de gallo and a darker red, less chunky salsa with lots of chile seeds.  My burrito was finished so I took it and started my walk home, still sipping on my agua fresca. 

When I’d started drinking it I was wowed by the freshness of the flavor.  It was definitely real fruit, not those from powder drinks you’ll sometimes find.  There were chunks of strawberry and tiny seeds coming up through the straw and there was a slight pulpy texture to the sweet liquid.  I was enjoying it until I got about two blocks away from El Tesoro.  That’s when I started noticing an odd, off flavor.  It was like when I was a kid and my dad would chop onions, then use the same knife and board to chop up watermelon.  The predominate flavor was the sweet fruit, but there would be a definite onion note.  Yum.  I decided to cool it on the agua fresca until I got home.

When I got home and took the burrito out of the bag I was pretty surprised by how large it was.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve bought burrito, but I’m pretty sure this was larger than average.  I unwrapped the foil and got down to business. 

The burrito was similar to the agua fresca.  I started off pleased with my first few bites.  Everything seemed standard.  Then things started to go bad.  There were two distinct sides to this burrito, one with rice beans and sour cream, one with cheese meat and guacamole.  The cheesy meaty side was fine, the pork was a tiny bit dry but it had a good sour tang from the tomatillo sauce, the cheese was standard white taqueria cheese, gooey and salty, holding everything together.  The rice side was bad, real bad.  It seems that all the liquid from the chile verde had migrated into the rice where it mixed with the sour cream to create a puddle that surrounded the rice.  This had the obvious downside of giving me a soggy burrito, but it also took away the positive attribute of sour cream, which is its thick creaminess.  Instead the sour cream was turned into a milky mess.  This is something you will almost never hear me say, but the garlic in the rice was much too strong; it was funky and musty and quite unpleasant.  To pull all this subpar-ness together, the final touch was that this burrito had not been finished on the grill.  It was steamed to heat it and make it pliable, filled with stuff, folded up and wrapped with foil and that’s it.  People.  Come on.  You need to grill a burrito after you fold it up!  That’s all there is to it!  I imagine if, instead of a gummy, moist, chilly tortilla soaking up that foul sour cream liquid I’d had a crisp, warm tortilla, pockmarked with toasty brown spots this would have been a much more enjoyable meal.  It still wouldn’t be able to measure up to the greats, but it would have been palatable.  As it was, I was unable to finish more than half of this burrito.  I tried eating only the meaty cheesy side for a while, but it wasn’t working.  I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge for Steve.  The tortilla chips were pretty much the same story.  The chips themselves had that odd bitter aftertaste that chips sometimes have; I think it’s from being fried in old oil but I’m not sure, and they were slicked with grease.  The salsa had the same funky old garlic flavor that plagued the rice, the pico de gallo was slightly better than the pureed stuff.

Overall, El Tesoro was a disappointment.  I paid 9 and a half bucks for my burrito and agua fresca, which seemed a little steep to me at the time and seems even steeper now, considering the quality of the food I received.  If I were going to try El Tesoro again, I’d probably skip the sour cream and go for a grilled meat like carne asada or carnitas to minimize juiciness.  The fact is that I probably won’t go back.  There are plenty of other taquerias in the area and it’s not worth it to me to give this  El Tesoro another try (There’s another location on O’Farrell that I will be visiting sometime in the future.  It’s supposed to be better.).  Maybe I’d pick something up if I were coming in to buy my yellow peppers, but it’s unlikely.  If you still want to try El Tesoro, or if you want to buy some yellow peppers for your own pickled eggs, you’ll be glad to know that this block of Geary is pretty low on the scary-meter.  The north side of the block is lined with legit store fronts which draws in the normals and repels the unsavories.  To wrap up, you will be safe from tweekers if you decide to visit this taqueria, but you will not be safe from off-flavored food and unwarranted slightly high prices.  Better to avoid.

El Tesoro Geary

868 Geary

No website – phone number is 415-474-0530

Bodega Bistro

I’m like way into Vietnamese food.  I was way into Vietnamese food before I knew what Vietnamese food was.  When I was going to community college in Sacramento I used to go to a place called Bobo Cafe for lunch 2 or 3 times a week and get the bun with shrimp, pork and imperial roll.  I don’t know how I didn’t know it was Vietnamese.  I guess I just went in and thought, this is a different kind of food, and just ate it and enjoyed it.  Remember when you were young?  When you didn’t have to overanalyze every single thing you did?  Those were the days, huh?

Well, not so much, because you didn’t know about Bodega Bistro then, and that is a sad sad thing.  Bodega Bistro is your first stop in the area of the Tenderloin now known as Little Saigon (please don’t ask me to define Little Saigon because I have no idea.  Wikipedia says the two blocks of Larkin between O’Farrell and Eddy.  they should call it REAL Little Saigon, ha ha, thank you very much).  Bodega Bistro is something of an oddity, not only in the Tenderloin, but in terms of Vietnamese restaurants in general.  I imagine when you think of a Vietnamese place in San Francisco you think of the Pho slingers; tiny, cheap cafes with dirty formica tables.  Certainly nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with that AT ALL.  But Bodega Bistro is different; I think the name might tip you off to that.  It’s a little classier, they serve LOBSTER here folks.  But even if you are a frequenter of the cheap eats spots I don’t think you’ll feel out of place at Bodega. 

Because, apart from being purple, the most striking thing about Bodega Bistro is how comfortable it is.  Part of it is the room itself; it’s open and airy and bright with natural light.  You’ll feel like you’re outside or in some lovely courtyard.  The other part is the service; they’re not fussy here, they’re warm and casual.  Sure, they’re bringing you some quality food, some of it a little pricey and some of it traditional “fine dining” fare, but they make you feel relaxed.  It’s a nice balance between “fancy restaurant being taken care of but be on your best behavior” and “dingy pho joint, the faster you eat and get out the better.”  You will want to linger here.  On to the food!

I’ve been to Bodega Bistro many times and I have my favorites (in case you’re wondering, my very favorite is I believe #18, the crab and tomato soup) but I wanted to try something different this time.  I ended up with #10, My Tho rice noodle, which I got with soup because I love soup.  I’m really glad I did because the broth was definitely the highlight.  It was like the best wonton soup broth you’ve ever tasted with the addition of a strong garlic flavor.  The noodles were good as well, thick gelatinous cellophane type noodles that I dipped into hoisin and sriracha sauces.  I also like the greenery, a frond of red leaf lettuce and chopped green onions, but the protein in the soup was kind of disappointing.  It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed fish balls and fish cakes (I used to love them) and the ones in this soup weren’t changing my mind.  The squid was nicely textured but really really bland.  I had to dip it in the hoisin/sriracha mixture as well.  The shrimp were shrimp.  I’m pretty over shrimp.

Steve got a super delicious rendition of my old favorite from Bobo Cafe, #17, vermicelli with all the fixin’s; pork, shrimp and imperial roll.  I was kind of jealous.  The pork was insanely tasty, crispy on the edges and juicy and greasy (in a good way).  The noodles were perfect, light like a cloud and lightly oiled so each noodle was its own entity; no clumps here. 

Another of my favorite things ever, Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.  I know you’re thinking “you’re supposed to get this with the little metal percolator thing on top of the glass and you wait forever for all the coffee to drip out and then you make a big mess taking it off and putting it on your napkin…”   Whatever.  It’s not what it looks like, which is that they have a big pitcher of stale iced coffee in the back and they pour you out a glass when you ask for it and mix it with half and half.  No, when we ordered the super nice waiter told us it would be 10 minutes for the coffee.  And when it came out it tasted exceedingly fresh and strong, all of which tells me that they do the little percolator for you in the back.  Which is fine with me.  The point is, this stuff is good like crack.  I have a feeling I could put a few of these away if it didn’t take so long to get it.

This is the thing about Bodega Bistro.  Everything is super high quality, everything is obviously made by someone who cares about what they’re doing.  For this, you’re going to pay a little bit more than what you’d normally pay for Vietnamese food.  But it’s worth it dudes.  Totally worth it.

In terms of scariness;

While the restaurant is right across the street from one of the skeezier blocks in the TL (Larkin between Eddy and Turk on the west side doesn’t have any apartment entraces or storefronts, the whole block is a wall that hides the Phoenix Hotel’s parking lot, this makes it an ideal spot for shady people to do nefarious things), this is not such a bad neighborhood because it is full of Vietnamese families doing their thing.  And their thing is going to Lee’s Sandwiches and getting boba and playing with their kids on the sidewalk and shit like that.  So yeah, it smells horrible outside, like it does in most of the Tenderloin, but you’re not going to get hasseled.  Unless you try to mess with some of the Vietnamese youth throwing the N-word around like they invented it.  Because nobody likes getting messed with, fool.

So, in summary:  not such a crummy area, completely delightful dining space, high quality food made totally delicious for an eensy bit more than you’d normally spend at a Vietnamese place.  I think you’ll love it.

Bodega Bistro

607 Larkin St

http://bodegabistrosf.com

Sultan

Oh, Sultan; you are my new favorite for sure.  I don’t think I would be lying if I said that at Sultan I ate the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten.

I was scared of your spread at first because the first things I saw were a tossed green salad and a pasta salad.  A pasta salad at an Indian buffet?  I skipped it, but the green salad had olives in it, and I can’t resist olives.  Wow, I’m glad I did.  This was some bomb ass salad, fresh crisp and really garlicky.  Yum.  Next the pakoras, which I always always get at the buffets, but are almost always bad.  These were a revelation.   The best ever.  Super crispy, not doughy not greasy…like the best curly fries I’ve ever eaten.  I dipped them in an amazing tomato chutney.  The okra was like the okra I always try to make at home, but a hundred times better, sliced okra pan fried so it’s got a bit of a crunchy crust but is creamy in the middle and full of salty goodness.  The tandoori chicken was not the usual bright red drumettes you see at buffets, this tandoori chicken was gigantic pieces of supremely moist chicken.  I saw whole legs, breasts, huge drumsticks.  Like wow.  The lamb curry….oh my god, the lamb curry.  I have never had such rich unctuous lamb…deep velvety flavors, but not fatty.  And the dessert:

Holy cow.  I think the description card called this Indian bread pudding with saffron sauce.  It was like the most delicious french toast stick you can imagine, soaked in a richly sweet and spicy cream sauce. 

Sorry, am I gushing?  Do you want to hear the bad stuff?

Sultan is weird.  It has a weird layout; I’m almost always uncomfortable when a restaurant doesn’t have a proper hostess stand or foyer and just kind of opens up into a giant dining room.  And Sultan is kind of fancy, the furniture is all very nice, dark wood and leather and the walls are painted a tasteful dark-ish color, there isn’t the smoky air normally associated with Indian restaurants, but I’m pretty certain that the space Sultan inhabits was not a restaurant in its previous life.  It just doesn’t feel like an inviting place to eat.  I was pretty bummed that we were seated at a banquette table; ours was one of a row of two tops along a room length bench.  This is my very least favorite way to sit.  I don’t like how close most restaurants (including Sultan) squeeze in the two tops and I don’t like sitting on the same seat as the diners on either side of me.  I find it difficult to carry on a conversation when I’m sitting as close to my dining companion as to the person at the table next to me.  And speaking of my fellow diners, Sultan attracts a very certain kind of crowd, and that kind it seems is people in town for conferences.  On Saturday afternoon when we were there it was all folks wearing nametags from a sociology conference.  It’s not that big a deal, but I think anyone who lives in a big city will agree with this; it makes you a little uneasy to eat in a place where everyone else is from out of town.  In this case, it’s not an indication of Sultan’s quality, it’s a location thing.  Sultan is not in what I would consider to be the Tenderloin.  I would call this area the Theater District.  How can you tell the Theater District from the TL?  Well, it’s difficult to say, but I think it’s a comfort level.  If you’re a normal, and you feel totally comfortable on a sidewalk, you’re probably not in the Tenderloin.

But I digress.  It doesn’t matter if Sultan is in the TL or not.  What matters is that their lunch buffet costs 12 bucks, which is two or three dollars more than an average Indian buffet, but is leaps and bounds better than average.  I would love to go back to Sultan, and I would love to go with a group larger than two so I could sit at a normal table.  As much as I enjoyed my meal, I probably wouldn’t go to Sultan for dinner.  Ordering off the menu seems like a bit pricier proposition, and after all, Naan and Curry is right next door, and they will stink up my hair and give me heartburn.  Which is just what I want sometimes.

Sultan

340 O’Farrell St.

Golden Era

Have you heard of Supreme Master?  A few things you should know about her:  she loves animals, she hates alcohol and she is super rich and she built a manmade island off the coast of Florida to live on but it was seized because that is pretty illegal I guess.  Probably the most important thing you should know about her is that she’s used her clout as (basically) a cult leader to have a number of vegetarian Vietnamese restaurants opened.  I know of three in the bay area, Golden Lotus in Oakland and the Loving Hut in SF Chinatown and Golden Era in the TL.  I’d been to Golden Lotus and Loving Hut and liked both of those places because I like vegetables and I like Vietnamese food.  For some reason I had delayed going to Golden Era (which is especially weird because I had been to Golden Lotus twice and it’s in Oakland!).  Actually, I know the reason, it’s because they don’t deliver, and I am pretty delivery-centric when it comes to eating by myself.  Because I’m lazy. 

So, my old friends Lal and Zander were coming back to the bay from Colorado for a visit and invited me to a dinner at Golden Era.  I was like, fux yeah!  It is so on…and so last night I walked down the hill to O’Farrell street…turns out O’Farrell is not that nice.  For some reason I had convinced myself that the block between Leavenworth and Jones would be a fine place to live;  I think because it has a lot of trees.  However, in this case, more trees equals more shit on the sidewalk.  For the most part though, the walkway was clear of people, and I would rather deal with skidmarked pavement than hordes of bums.  Not the best trade off, but pretty fair.  Golden Era deals with the problem of unpleasant surroundings by having a sunken dining room.  Nice.  There are no windows to look out of to see the dirty dirty streets and you are far enough away from the door that the aroma of urine cannot make it’s way to you whenever another patron enters.  Good show Golden Era.

Enough about the scenery, lets talk food:

Hello, this is a spring roll.  Yes, this is after I had already massacred the majority of the roll.  Sorry for the peanut sauce carnage.  This roll was pretty good, the rice paper was pleasanty chewy and smooth, and it was nice and cold, but there was something odd and gritty/grainy in the filling that I couldn’t figure out.  I suppose it could have been ground peanuts, but it didn’t have much flavor.  Still, it didn’t take too much away from the lovely greens and tofu alongside it. 

Entrees.  Let’s take these clockwise from the left shall we?  First, my order, the House Rice Claypot.  O M G.  So good you guys.  I guess I should tell you that I am an absolute fiend for rice, so take that as you will.  This was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in some time.  Slighty oily (but not at all greasy) rice, crisp and nutty where it touched the clay pot, topped with shreds of tofu and fake chicken and black fungus and ginger…I loved it.  I really really loved it.  I wish I were eating it right now.  I ate about a quarter of it at the restaurant, took the rest home, and scarfed down the contents of the doggy bag about an hour later.  It hit all the right notes, slightly sweet, perfectly salty, chewy and steamy…if you go to Golden Era you must get this.  Or if you go to any of the other Supreme Master restaurants, as it seems they have the same menus.  Which leads to the next entree, spicy yellow curry with “chicken” and potatoes, a dish I’d eaten previously at Golden Lotus.  This is a pretty good dish.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as when I had it before, this time it was a little spicier and the fake chicken wasn’t as tasty.  Still , this was a satisfying dish at Golden Era.  It’s hard to go wrong with potatoes and yellow curry.  The deficit was definitely the protein, which was also what I had a problem with in the final dish, the Caramelized Chicken.  I’m a big fan of the Vietnamese caramelized dishes, and the sauce on the fake chicken did not disappoint.  It was sweet without being cloying, and I liked how they served the hot “chicken” on top of fresh spinach, causing the spinach to wilt and absorb the sauce, basically creating a second dish.  Two for one, score!  The issue was the fake chicken, and it’s not that it wasn’t tasty.  I am a fan of vegetarian “meats,” I generally like the texture and flavor because they are so unusual.  The flavor of the fake chicken at Golden Era did not disappoint, it was the texture.  Instead of being slightly springy and nicely chewy, I found it to be a tad bit rubbery and weirdly leathery on the outside.  I don’t know much about cooking with TVP or whatever this stuff is, so I don’t know what could cause these issues, but I wouldn’t call them deal breakers.  The food is still pretty delicious.  My one big regret from my meal is that I forgot about dessert.  I am always excited to try vegan sweets because I have found them to generally be insanely rich and indulgent.  Golden Era offers several varieties of vegan cakes, so I guess I’ll have to go back to try them.

And I will definitely be back.  The prices are pretty standard for a Vietnamese place, though some of the “specialty” dishes can border on too rich for my blood (that means more than 10 bucks), but one entree is really enough for two people.  So, if you’re super broke, just get some rice and share and you can eat like kings for about 6 bucks a person.  One thing to note, Golden Era does not serve alcohol (Remember?  Supreme Master is not in to it) so if that’s a problem for you, get your food to-go.  Although, in a weird bid to save the world, they ask you to bring your own to-go containers.  I’m not sure how strictly that’s enforced (since they did give me a paper box for my leftovers) but it may be something to keep in mind.  So, to sum up; very tasty veg food, kind of yucky neighborhood that is nevertheless well populated with normals, reasonable to moderate prices, haute-cult dining.

Golden Era

572 O’Farrell St

www.goldeneravegetarian.com

Thai House Express

On Tuesday I was so so so excited to start on my “field research” for this blog.  It seemed the perfect day to start because I had plans to go to the pub quiz at the Edinburgh Castle, which is something I used to do every week a year or two ago but now is a pretty rare treat.  Going to the Castle quiz means picking up food to eat before the quiz starts (you have to go early to get a good table), and I have a number of regular take out spots, but I figured with this new venture I could pick a new spot.  Well, things don’t always work out the way you plan, and as Steve and I meandered down the hill to the bar at about a quarter to six, we realized we weren’t really hungry.  So we decided to postpone ordering dinner until after happy hour; I figured I’d get peckish after I had a few beers in me.  It turns out that (at least for me) this was an exceptionally bad plan, which is something I probably could have guessed as I have an unhappy history with drinking on an empty stomach.  The gist is that I ended up drunkenly calling in a pickup order to Thai House Express.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Thai House Express, it’s just that I’ve eaten there probably a dozen or more times, always taking the food out and eating it at the Edinburgh Castle.  Although it wasn’t the new exciting experience I’d been envisioning, it was still pretty satisfying.  I ordered one of my favorites, number 101, also known as Kao Rad Na Pak.  It’s sauteed tofu with vegetables in gravy and I know that sounds boring but even in my drunken state I was aware that Thai House Express does something special with this simple dish.  The straw mushrooms are huge and obviously fresh instead of canned, the baby carrots are super sweet and crunchy.  The gravy is light and not too sweet (at other Thai places gravies are often gloopy and sugary) and the rice (which you can opt out of if you are crazy) is so light and fluffy.  It’s good stuff.  Steve ordered the barbequed marinated chicken (gai yang, number 78) without rice so he basically just got a giant pile of chicken.  It smelled pretty good, but I didn’t try any of it.  Because I was drunk. Did I mention that?  I hope I’m not destroying my credibility.  The prices at THE are pretty reasonable, I’d call them average for a Thai restaurant in San Francisco.  The people who work there are super nice and the food is fresh and good.  It looks like a nice place to eat in, which I hope I’ll do someday because I’d like to try their soups.  Soup is my favorite food and Thai soups are my favorite soups, but soup is awkward to take out and eat at a bar.  I would warn you though that if you eat in and you decide during your meal to look out the window you will probably see homeless people.  Probably lots of homeless people.  THE is right on the corner of Larkin and Geary and a lot of people of the unsavory variety have made that corner their home away from home.  I would say the scary factor at THE is pretty low, it’s on the edge of the TL so there are still lots of normals around.  The vagrants are there, but they save the scary stuff for a few blocks to the southeast. 

So, to sum up; very good food, not scary location, reasonable prices.

 

Thai House Express

901 Larkin St

www.thhexpress.com

eating the TL

I was inspired today to set a goal for myself, and a new direction for this blog.  I saw a blog called Eating Clement Street which is written by a woman who recently moved to the Inner Richmond and has decided to eat at every restaurant on Clement.  The Inner Richmond just happens to be my old hood, so I was keen to see what this blog had to say, and quickly found that it clashed with me.  Already, after only four restaurants written up.  So, as a rebuttal, I’ve decided that I will eat at and blog about every eating establishment in the Tenderloin.  I don’t know exactly how that is a rebuttal…one might say I’m just ripping this Clement Street blogger off.  Or that I’m ripping off the multitudes that she is ripping off.  A real rebuttal would be to eat at the places she goes to and write a blog about that…but I don’t live in the Inner Richmond anymore, I live in Lower Nob Hill.  The Tendernob, if you will (and I won’t).  So, I’m eating the TL.  Now, a few clarifications.  This is the Tenderloin neighborhood as defined by Yelp.  The borders are Franklin on the west, Powell on the east, Post on the north and about a third of a block south of Market (even with Stevenston Alley) on the south.  This is not how I would define the Tenderloin, (I would call it between Post and Market and Taylor and Van Ness) but it makes it easier to just go with Yelp.  I will be going to restaurants, bars , cafes, corner stores; any place serving food that is not a grocery store.  I am filtering out the more expensive places (I’m not rich) with Yelp’s qualification system, which means I am going to places with one or two dollar signs.  Also, I will be going to chain and fast food restaurants, but I won’t be going to Starbucks.  That is my one exception.  Through my Yelp research I am starting with a list of 251 restaurants.  I may find out that some of these restaurants are no longer open.  I may come across newly opened restaurants as time goes on.  I’ll cross all bridges as they come.  I will be visiting these restaurants in no particular order, just whatever strikes my fancy.  I hope that that is enough exposition because I can’t think of anything else to say.  I hope you are looking forward to some interesting adventures, because things can get pretty interesting in the Tenderloin.