Off the Grid: Civic Center

Here’s a protip: don’t go to eat at a food truck when it’s raining.  It’s tough to stand and balance an umbrella, trays of food and drinks all at once.

It was a few days before Christmas.  I braved the drizzle to meet Erin for some fusion tacos, etc.  The vendor list that day included Seoul on Wheels, Liba Falafel, Japacurry, Senor Sigsig and CupKates.  Erin and I wanted to try something from every truck, and we started at Seoul on Wheels.

I’d had their Korean tacos previously, and like the last time I ate them I was unimpressed.  I love tacos and I love Korean barbecue, but there’s something about the combination that just doesn’t work for me.  Also, the chicken was awfully dry.  The potstickers though were something else.  They were not doughy and soft like you might think of potstickers, but more like a deep fried gyoza.  The wrapping was flakey and greaseless and the pork filling was mellow and a bit sweet.  They were perfect dipped in some chile oil sauce.

Next we tried a bite from Liba Falafel.

Liba was the most crowded truck, and the least user friendly.  There was a very enticing looking spread of condiments, but there was no counter space available to rest drinks or plates on while helping yourself to those condiments.  Quite a bummer.

Luckily, the sweet potato fries were delicious as served.  They were sprinkled with chile powder and a touch of salt, and served with a wedge of flavor brightening lime.  Cooked to the edge of crunchy and no further, there was nary a soggy fry in our little bag.  We ate them along with tall cans of cold coconut juice floating with little niblets of pulp.

Next was CupKates

Erin had the salted caramel.  She liked it, but said the frosting was a little hard.  I had the special of the day, the chocolate peppermint.  I took it back to the office and ate it there.  My frosting was light and not at all sticky, and had a subtle sweet peppermint flavor.  The cake itself was as cake should be, moist with an airy crumb.  It was perhaps the most successful commercially made cupcake I’ve had, excepting a vegan cupcake I ate at Herbivore in Berkeley nearly 4 years ago that I just can’t forget.  Man, that was a good cupcake.  I’ll call CupKates second best though.

We were running short on time and tummy space, so we made Senor Sigsig our last stop.

It was there that I ate my favorite morsel of the afternoon, the sigsig taco.  The green salsa on top worried me at first glance, but it was more tangy than spicy.  A squirt of some creamy sauce was just right with a sprinkle of cold lettuce shreds and sweet charry nuggets of pork.  Unlike the Korean taco, the tortilla that served as the platform of this taco was warm and flexible.  I found myself wishing that we’d come to Senor Sigsig’s first and I’d ordered ten sigsig tacos.  I suppose that gorge-fest will have to wait for another Off the Grid visit.  Hopefully it will be on a sunny day.

Off the Grid Civic Center

Civic Center Plaza


It was sunny and gorgeous out when Steve and I met Jessie and Justin for lunch at Borobudur.  That’s why all these photos turned out so nicely.

I guess Borobudur can get a little fancy at night, but we were there for lunch so things felt pretty casual.  There were only a few other occupied tables.

Our server was brisk but nice, though also a bit distracted.  It was a warm day so cold drinks were in order.  Thai iced teas, iced coffees and beers were ordered.

Steve ordered a snack for us to share as a starter, this fish cracker thing called Kerupuk Palembang.  It’s not the first thing I would have chosen, but I was interested to try it.

It was rather like a cross between a shrimp chip (in flavor and texture) and a funnel cake (in appearance).  As it was quite insubstantial, it wasn’t especially satisfying, but the spicy peanut dipping sauce was nice.  I suppose since it wasn’t at all filling it was a reasonable appetizer.

Our lunches arrived and everybody’s food looked lovely, especially Jessie and Justin’s rice plates.

I don’t remember which plates they had, I think maybe the Nasi Uduk Lengkap?  And something else?  Whichever they had, all the rice plates are about 10 bucks, which is not a terrible price for a good amount of food, especially when some of it is white rice sculpted into a precious tower.

Steve had the barbecue chicken (ayam bakar cabe) which he said was just fine.

I had soto ayam, a slightly sweet soup that managed to be smooth and creamy without being heavy in the least.

I love those crispy wafers they topped the soup with, I’m still not sure if they’re shrimp chips or what, but they’re so good when they soak up some of the broth.

Borobudur runs a little rich for my blood, so chances are I won’t be back anytime soon.  If you’re poor like me, or a bit miserly, I think it’s a good option if you’ve got guests; for lunch if you’re looking for something a little cleaner and prettier than your average Southeast Asian spot, or if you want to splurge a bit on dinner.  I’d say, a nice place to take your parents.


700 Post Street

Dona Marta

I don’t want to bore you or get too whiney complain-ey, but I guess I should give some explanation as to why I haven’t been around for the last few months.  Part of it was a bit of insecurity;  I was feeling uninspired by my photography and writing and felt like, who I am to be doing this?  Why should I think anyone would care to read my natterings and look at my crappy digicam pics?  Then I got my first (and only) mean comment.  It was short and succinct, but very nasty.  And that really put me off the rails.  But!  I have gotten some really nice comments lately and I’ve licked my wounds and I’m ready to get back in the ring, to mix a few metaphors.  So, here we go.

Another reason that I took my extended break was the restaurant I’m going to talk about in this post, Dona Marta.  It was for sure my most exciting dining experience of last year (yes, last year, sorry, but we are going way back for the next few posts folks) and I couldn’t wait to write about it.  Then, the longer I waited to write this post and the more I thought about how great Dona Marta is, the more weird emotional wall I built up.  It got to where I was panicky about not being able to competently express myself and so I made the most logical decision (obviously) and just didn’t write the thing.  I still don’t feel quite ready, but I’m going to try.  Just for you.

Dona Marta is at the rather sketch south easterly corner of Ellis and Leavenworth (just down the street from Bamboo Pizza!).  Not so bad on this sunny fall day, lucky for me.  Steve and I wandered inside and the place was empty except for the guy behind the counter.  Throughout our meal dudes passed in and out the doors, sometimes eating something, sometimes just chatting with the counter guy in Spanish.  As we sat down the music was switched from Latin hip-hop to romantic Spanish language songs.  It was very considerate, though either choice of tuneage would be acceptable, and was our first sign of what a hospitable place we had chosen for lunch.

I loved the look of Dona Marta.  The leftover diner stools and checked lineoleum with the bright colors of the walls, the absence of artificial light and the homey touches of knick-knacks and houseplants made me feel like I was somewhere closer to the equator.

We went up to get menus and counter-guy ended up describing every. single. item. on the menu to us.  It was great, especially because I am not at all familiar with Yucatan food.  Counter-guy began every description with “this is very good also.”  After our education we ordered and waited with sodas for our food.

Steve ordered carnitas and we were surprised by what came out.  These are not the big hunks of crispy edged pork we’re used to.

Though they were new to us, we found the slightly chewy bits of pork and soft onion to be quite tasty, especially with the soupy black beans and roasted tomato salsa that were served alongside.

I ordered panuchos because they sounded amazing, and they definitely did not disappoint.  They are griddle fried tortillas stuffed with black beans, then topped with whatever you desire.

I loved the poc chuc; with pickled onions and grilled pork it was my kind of taco type thing.  The turkey mole didn’t hit the sweet spot quite as directly, but it was solid.  I’m still not sure exactly what the black slice atop it was, though my best guess is a (blood?) sausage with an egg yolk in the center.  Whatever it was, it tasted real good.  If I were smarter I’d be eating nothing but panuchos, pupusas and tacos for the rest of my life.  One day I’ll let myself be happy…

I really want people to go to Dona Marta because I’m a little worried about it closing.  Also, I am occasionally seeing things that say “there’s a dearth of Yucatan food in San Francisco!” and when good Yucatan places are discussed Dona Marta is never brought up, which is really too bad.  The sweet people running this place should be busier than they are, especially if San Franciscans are clamoring for more food like theirs.

To wrap it up, I leave you with perhaps the best part of the whole Dona Marta experience, their amazing business card.

Ok, I think I got it.

Dona Marta

499 Ellis

Their Yelp page

Lahore Karahi

A Note:  I know it’s been a long time.  We can talk about it later.  I am planning on writing some more bits about restaurants for you, but for now I found this blog post I wrote last year that for some reason was never published…I think I was arguing with my editor (Steve) over some wording in the first paragraph.  Anyway, enjoy! 


I hate waiting to eat, which is why it took me so long to make it to Lahore Karahi. This place is lousy with Academy of Art junior hipsters; they pack the joint, spilling out into the sidewalk in a smoky cluster as they wait to get in.  This night we lingered in the tiny vestibule up front for just a short while before we were seated.  The unavoidable wait here can be attributed to a combination of it’s celebrated status

and it’s tiny cramped dining space.

We had the good fortune of getting a table in a remote corner of the room where we weren’t bumping anyone’s chair, and vice versa.  We were seated next to a mail slot, in case we happened to receive any correspondence during our meal.

Everything I read and heard about Lahore Karahi before my visit said that one MUST order the tandoori fish.  So we did, along with another of the “Tandoori Delicacies” (as they’re classified on the menu); the lamb boti.  They were served together on a hot iron platter with a scattering of bright green lettuce and sliced onions.  Both meaty morsels in our improvised surf and turf were succulent and subtly spiced.  The crunchy lettuce and onions provided a nice contrast in texture, temperature and flavor.  It was pretty well everything I’d hoped for.

We also ordered our favorite compromise veggie dish, saag paneer.  This saag paneer was lovely; it was creamy without having a prominent dairy flavor, the grassiness of the spinach was upfront.  Firm chunks of slightly salty paneer hit the “just right” texture between crumbly and silky.  And of course, the best part of blogging about saag paneer is the always appetizing photo I get to post of it.

Yum.  If anyone knows how to photograph saag paneer in a way that makes it look palatable, let me know please.

To go alongside our main attractions we had two types of naan; onion and Afghani.  They were both massive sheets of bread.  The onion was very good, much better than our last attempt at it.  The Afghani we ordered as a lark, and it was good, but a bit much.  It’s described as naan stuffed with cheese, raisins and cherries, and what you get is a naan stuffed with a very bland cheese and the bright red and green candied fruits you see in fruitcakes and the like.  It is intensely sweet.  I couldn’t come close to finishing my half of this one.  It would be more appropriate to split between, say, six or so people instead of two.

Surprisingly, Lahore Karahi lived up to my expectations.  I’ve been hearing about how great it is for years, first from a couple on the bus who mistook me for a tourist as I was wondering with my companion where to have lunch.  They told me I HAD to go to Lahore Karahi, it was the best restaurant in the city.  Since then I’ve heard it referred to as one of the best places for Pakistani food more than a few times.  So of course I was expecting it to stink.  I was proven wrong by the friendly people running this surprisingly cozy restaurant.  I will definitely be back…as soon as I figure out when their off time is…

Lahore Karahi

612 O’Farrell