Choosing where to eat out in San Francisco is sometimes a very difficult task. It doesn’t get easier the more you do it, in fact it builds more anxiety. In the 2nd edition of my three-part blog series about eating out in San Francisco, I try to go a little deeper — beyond the obvious choices and easy hits covered in the first post. In this edition there will be a heavier focus on Asian food, and I’ll take you a bit further outside of the city center to neighborhoodswhich aren’t traditionally ranked very high on the list of “must visit” restaurants in city. I should note, the task of choosing the restaurants in this section made this the most difficult post I’ve done yet.
What defines my idea of one cut deeper,but is still very approachable and not overly adventurous eating? My goal was to stay away from the bigger-name restaurants (ex; A16, Slanted Door, Wayfare Tavern, Park tavern, etc), and to instead, move around to more obscure restaurants in different neighborhoods. I assume these will spark some debate, but that’s the fun part!
So we begin withIzakaya Sozai — a restaurant that has been around for bit, but is not near the city center — or even in a location you may have heard much about. Japanese food is much more than Sushi and Teriyaki — much much more. Izakaya is a type of Japanese restaurant much like the Tapas bar is to Spain with small dishes that are meant to be eaten while drinking (right in my wheelhouse!). Izakaya Sozai is located in the Inner-Sunset district, near one of the main entrances to Golden Gate Park. This tiny Japanese restaurant will always have a line — it’s that good. What I really enjoy about this restaurant is that it takes traditional (well, American traditional) Japanese dishes but turns them around a bit. Take one of their signature dishes for example — Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice. This would normally look like a nigiri (fish on sushi rice). The chefs take a rice square and throw it on the griddle until it is super crispy, almost the consistency of rice cereal. And then they lightly sauce it with a Teriyaki made from balsamic. This blew my mind when I first tried it. The real star of the show here is the Tonkatsu Ramen. It is a porky, milk white broth that will warm your core on the coldest of days.Served with a perfectly runny egg, this noodle dish is a fantastic main course after some sake and beer. Other dishes that deserve a mention is the Pate (who serves Pate at a Japanese restaurant?!) It has an incredible teriyaki balsamic, along with strawberries. Also, be sure to check the specials board. It changes often, but they usually have some hits on there that are now staples, not on the paper menu, like the Tempura Maitaki Mushrooms with Truffle salt. Pro-tip: Put your name in on the wait list and head to the bar two blocks away and play some pool while you wait for your table. Second pro-tip: Go with four people. This way you can all sample more dishes!
Next on the hit list takes us to the Outer Sunset — and I mean wayyy out there (sorry Sunset residents, but you know how far 45th street is!).Outerlandsis an absolute gem. Located on 45th & Judah (at least its on the N line), it serves up some of the most soulful and belly warming food you can get in SF; a perfect retreat for those cold foggy days (in August). Their menu boasts some simple, yet incredibly tasty classics. The ‘Eggs in Jail’ is one of my favorites. A total play on the Toad in the Hole dish made by grandma in the 70’s, this version features their home baked bread, beautiful fresh eggs, and bacon that even a vegetarian would consider eating. They have such great, simple and clean dishes that it makes the ordering decision very tough. The good news is no matter what you order, you can’t go wrong. There is usually a wait, but you can call ahead for reservations. The best way to do it? Arrive, enjoy a cup of coffee and wait it out while you pour over the menu going back and forth between three different choices (I always struggle here). Pro-tip: Get a loaf of bread to go and have the most epic morning toast (or midnight) with your coffee. Pro-tip number two: Go to the beach before or after your meal here. It’s three blocks from Ocean Beach. Pro-tip number three: Bring me a loaf of bread after you eat here. I’m serious.
Moving back to a more central location, this next spot is fairly well-known, but likely somewhere a first timer would never venture to. Located right on the border of Chinatown and the Financial district,House of Nankinghas been a Chinese food staple for years. Opened in 1988, not a whole lot has changed except the size and upgrade in decor, but even that’s a stretch. It’s loud, cramped, fast-paced dining service will leave the slower diner underwhelmed and looking for attention. The servers are far from accommodating as they will come to you when they are ready, and you better be ready to order something, or it might be a while before you see them again. Don’t forget to order beer. Major highlights include pretty much any noodle dish, the scallion pancakes and whatever the Chef will bring you (he often is in the Front of the House, and you should trust his judgement), but don’t expect any help from servers onWhat is good today?If what you have read so far sound negative, here is what you need to know; this place is ridiculously delicious. It’s cheap too, which is a nice bonus. Plan on an hour wait if you go at a high time (6-9pm). And note, they will not seat you until all your party is present. And they will make you wait outside until they all show up (not even ‘my Husband is parking’ will fly). Pro-tip: Go to Comstock Saloon for a drinkpost-dinner to decompress from the full belly and slight anxiety.
Last, we come to one of my favorite places for brunch,Brenda’s French Soul Food. Located on the edge of the Tenderloin, yet very close to city hall, this southern cuisine spot is a must hit for brunch/lunch/whenever you are hungry. Specializing in southern food, Brenda’s is not light on flavor nor heat. It’s a small-ish floor that fills up really fast, with hour waits on the weekend (totally worth it). Chicory Coffee, paper napkins in coffee tins, and Louisiana hot sauce are your first impressions upon entering this establishment. Once seated, you will have had enough time to review the menu, and therefore are probably are torn between a few things. Let me give you some of my highlights. The crawfish beignets might be one of the best bites of food in San Francisco. The Shrimp and Grits are also outstanding, and can hold up against any you’ve had in the South. The Benedict and Hang-Town Fry are delicious but heavy, perfect for hangovers. And, just to reiterate, the Crawfish beignets are not to be missed. I love frequenting this place on a weekday when the line isn’t daunting. It is also a great spot to go to on the way to the airport (as long as you time it right for your flight!) — the meal will surely last you until you reach your destination. And they serve up grits to go. Pro-tip: Get there early or plan on waiting a while.
At this point, I’m sure locals and natives will have some input on places I have over looked, and those that I hadn’t even thought of, or been too. So, I welcome all feedback and would love to hear what spots you might consider in this 2nd edition of eating out! I hope those who are reading this, and plan on visiting SF sometime soon, find it helpful. Please comment!
And with that, I conclude the 2nd edition of Kellan’s Kitchen guide to eating out in SF. Get to eating, the next post will come out soon!
Photos Courtesy of The Google and my iPhone.