Tacolicious – San Francisco, CA


Tacolicious
2031 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 346-1966

Sometimes just the name of a place gives you a sense of what you might expect.  At times this is good and at others, well not so.  I agree that setting yourself up for a meal like this isn’t the wisest thing to do, as its really just “judging a book by its cover”.  With no facts or proof to make a case either way.  But I suppose it builds the advice case for owners – pick a name, and research it well, before you plaster it on everything your restaurant will represent.  It could have inherent or unexpected nuances or meanings that you weren’t aware of and then its too late…

So being told by my dining mates that we’d be going to a place called Tacolicious after a long day of work, and the main chooser not someone I’ve really gone out to dinner with before this evening, I had my doubts before I even hopped into the taxi that would take me there from my hotel.  I wasn’t aware of the research or thought that went into this decision, and I had no time to do any checking of my own before rushing out to join them, so I couldn’t really complain.  From the sidewalk, it looked like nothing special.  A smallish-looking space in fact.  With just this one side with a window to glimpse inside.

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Fourth Street Bar & Grill – San Francisco, CA


Fourth Street Bar & Grill
55 Fourth Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 442-6734

Why not.  Another quickie post from the road.  Again with a 30 minute or so brief break for something to eat in the midst of a major business event that I was attending, I headed a few blocks away with a travel mate and we stumbled upon this sports bar looking place, known as the Fourth Street Bar & Grill.  It probably knew there would be tens of thousands of code monkeys and propeller heads in the vicinity given the nature of this massive gathering just several streets to the south, and had come up with a bare bones kind of lunch special menu to keep the masses fed, quickly and to allow the kitchen to maintain some semblance of sanity and order.  I think there were five or six deals on the small board at the bar where we placed our orders and paid cash up front.

After grabbing a drink, alas no beer for me though many others around me were partaking in some mid-day suds, I was handed this little cell phone-sized plastic device that would serve as the beckon to let me know when my food was ready.  I like these contraptions, so much better than the chaotic system of calling out orders in a busy food court (like I experienced recently at Crystal Mall in Burnaby, BC) and having no clue if they were talking about yours or someone else, if you could even hear over the buzzing drone of the crowd.  No puzzlement, you know when its your turn to go up, rather than having to hover near a busy counter and peering over the folks around you to see if your meal is next to come up to the pass.

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Cioppino’s – San Francisco, CA


Cioppino’s
400 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 773-9311

Big groups require big spaces to eat.  Case in point, our party of eight needed ample space to stretch out as well as to be grouped together for a final farewell dinner in San Fran.  With many of us wanting to do some walking around just to see more than the downtown core where we’d spent most of our week, we ended up trekking along the water front and ended up at Cioppino’s for our evening meal.  This place fit the bill as we could see other large parties inside and even got a space up on the top level tired ares that seemed more suited to diners in tables of five or more.  It had a kind of mess hall feel to it, but we were not that close to the other rambunctious gatherings taking place but not too isolated so that we felt neglected, it was a perfect balance.

Apparently, this establishment has a decent history serving up hearty Italian and seafood cuisine.  I’m sure it falls into the realm of the tourist lot, given its location.  But turns out, it didn’t feel that kitschy at all and could have been even better if on a smaller scale with more focused service and attention.  There are times when ambiance and scale really do make a difference in the whole dining experience – and this was one of them.  Perhaps they were smaller when they started, but now are a full fledged, large scale operation.  A decent choice of draft beers (including the local Anchor Steam, and Big Daddy IPA) and red wines (Sonoma, Napa Valley) gave us a good way to get our appetites going further.

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Fog Harbor Fish House – San Francisco, CA


Fog Harbor Fish House
Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39
San Francisco, CA
(415) 421-2442

Not exactly high on my personal “bucket list” but I nonchalantly accepted the invitation from two of my fellow travelers – both first timers to Fog City – to go check out the Golden Gate Bridge after a long day and make the trek over it by foot.  I had no problem with the physical act of crossing, that perhaps took us 30-40 minutes, give or take some for various stops along the way to take photos.  Though we’d only intended to do this one-way, but without any taxi options on the other side, we reluctantly made a U-turn and made the same walk over back to where we came from.  By the end of it all, we pretty hungry and luckily flagged down a ride to take us to Pier 39.

As the fall chill at night on the waterfront is none too pleasant, we quickly scurried to the nearest spot we could find that looked remotely decent.  Our choice was made simply by scanning the signage in our line of sight.  Fog Harbor Fish House, situated on the second deck of the structure not far from where our taxi dropped us off it was.  No wait to be had, good.  Inside was bustling however, and seemingly with people mainly much older than us.  Especially in the back of the house near the restrooms, there were packs of people with white colored hair and fitting the retired tourist demographic.  What made this very interesting was the fact that our server was also in that plus-sixty age zone.  One of my dining partners remarked, “guess we’re getting served by grandma”.  It was cute watching her waddle down the row to bring us our drinks and warm, fresh serving of sourdough bread, it made us feel like we were in grandma’s house. :)

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The Grove Yerba Buena – San Francisco, CA


The Grove Yerba Buena
690 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 957-0558

Unfortunately I did not bother to shoot a photo of the exterior of The Grove’s outlet in Yerba Buena, so this below capture from Google Street View that shows the location before they set up shop was the best I could do.  Suffice it to say, its easy to find being just three blocks from the Montgomery Street BART station, and just a block from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  Next door is a coffee house and the general area is populated by numerous large hotel chains for the business and leisure traveler.  After overpaying for some ridiculously priced hotel breakfast the previous day, we opted to drag our overworked behinds out onto the streets and by sure luck we found this place where things were more relaxed, both in terms of atmosphere and prices.

Something about the west coast lifestyle that pervades in this beautiful city must have impregnated itself in my mind for breakfast, as I was on the hunt for something nutritious and light.  Coupled with a smooth tasting Americano, my order ended up being a simple plate of fresh ingredients,  highlighted by two small poached eggs, two thick slices of grilled zucchini, and tomato bruschetta.  Given the backup in the kitchen, a number sign was given to me and it was brought out to my table by a server in a few minutes time.

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Papalote – San Francisco, CA


Papalote Mexican Grill
3409 24th Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 970-8815

In seeing Shokutsu’s review of venerable Mission Burrito institution Papalote, it got me thinking. It’s so interesting how two people with a similar philosophy and preferences can look at a similar place with a completely different view point when dining in isolation.  Especially when they come in with different expectations. From his perspective, it was a recommendation from a local guide. “Several good meals” had been had. A solid, yet unspectacular review.

On the other hand, in my never ending quest for great burrito’s, driven by my first experiences in Pasadena CA, I ran across super burrito fan website burritoeater several years ago, who consistently had the Mission location of Papalote rated in the top 3.  Of particular note was the consistently high scores for the Carne Asada and the Tofu. The carniverous side of me was intrigued that someone who was so diligent and structured in his passion for burritos could place tofu on the same pantheon as meat!! Truly shocking.

Just off the corner of Valencia and 24th, around the corner from my favorite San Francisco coffee house Ritual Coffee Roasters, Papalote can be difficult location to spot.
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Papalote – San Francisco, CA


Papalote Mexican Grill
3409 24th Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 970-8815

The Mission district has what I call a lot of “flavour”.  Colorful characters, simple ethnic shops, groceries  and eateries (many of the Latin persuasion), and a very “real” feeling about it compared to the more tamer parts of this beautiful city by the bay that I adore.  I headed down to this part of town to meet some folks before visiting their home on the edge of this area, and after being pitched a few options for something to get for takeaway chose the taqueria.  My local guide said this place was very well known and he’d had some good meals there so left it in his capable hands to drive us over after I arrived by BART.  The scene below is where I was standing waiting for my ride just across from the 24th street station, ironically in front of a McDonald’s…

So we soon ended up on the street by Papalote.  From the outside, it looked nothing special, sort of diner-like as I peered into the space where you can eat in.  Walk-in-and-take-out traffic seems to be heavy here too, as we were soon joined by a few people grabbing a menu card and giving their order to the cashier.  I was enticed by the many offerings, including the tasty sounding vegetarian ones, but in the end opted for the fish tacos.

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A16 – San Francisco, CA


A16
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 771-2216

Whenever I am in a city with great pizza, I make sure to eat as much of it as I can while I am there.  San Francisco has a great pizza scene and I managed to eat at Pizzeria Delfina and A16 on this trip. (I note that Foodosophy member almatonne recently covered Pizzeria Delfina here.)

The pizza here is a thing of beauty – leopard-spotted from the intense heat of their wood fired oven. I had the baby octopus and clam pizza tonight. The crust was near perfect (though not quite as perfect as the crust at Pizzeria Delfina) and the toppings were well seasoned and well balanced.

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Pizzeria Delfina – San Francisco, CA


Pizzeria Delfina – two locations
3611 18th St, San Francisco, CA.  (415) 437-6800
2406 California St, San Francisco, CA.  (415) 440-1189

[Note: Foodosopher's previous post on Pizzeria Delfina here]

The San Francisco Bay Area is usually considered one of the top cities in the country to eat pizza.  Of the many well-regarded pizza places (A16, Piccolo, Pizzaiolo, Tony’s, Pizzetta 211, Dopo, et al.) Pizzeria Delfina is considered amongst the best, with a style that is typically described as Napoletana-inspired.

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La Posta Vecchia – Santa Cruz, CA


La Posta Vecchia
538 Seabright Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 457-2782

California has a long tradition of Italian immigration beginning in the 19th century.  Although New York is probably more closely associated with this wave of newcomers, in the mid-1800s California had the most Italian immigrants of any state.  In Santa Cruz and elsewhere along the coast, northern Italians quickly became very prominent in the fishing industry.  They also played important roles in developing California’s vegetable, fruit and wine industries.

Even today, one can see the imprint of this immigration (e.g. Del Monte foods, Ghirardelli chocolates).  Perhaps this explains this state’s strong ties to Italian cuisine – indeed, California cuisine in my mind is primarily rooted in Italian sensibilities with French, other European and some Asian techniques and ingredients thrown in for good measure.  Despite this, it’s only been in the last decade or so that authentic regional Italian food has been widely available.

Russian River Brewing Company – Santa Rosa, CA


Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
707-545-2337

A few years ago, I unwittingly developed a taste for American IPAs.  From years back I enjoyed the IPA from Bridgeport, the rather enjoyable brew pub in Portland, OR whose killer app is the aroma from its non-stop pizza ovens combined with a variety of decent beers.  But for whatever reason, a couple of years ago, I went from occasionally enjoying an IPA to suddenly finding it to be my favorite style of beer – well, provided it’s a west coast IPA, which I find to be cleaner, more focused and stylish than its Pacific-removed brethren.   The recent evolution of IPA (as the story goes) took a step forward when Vinnie Cilurzo, then at Blind Pig in San Diego, jacked up the regular IPA with even more hops, and balanced the extra bitterness with more sweetness from malt, which inevitably led to more alcohol. And thus the double IPA was born.  <Cue the manna from heaven sound effect.>   Now Mr. Cilurzo is co-owner (with his wife) of the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA, smack in the middle of California’s touristsorry, wine – country.

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Han Sung BBQ – Santa Clara, CA


Han Sung BBQ
2644 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 246-7799

The stretch of El Camino Real in Santa Clara, CA, is a few miles long and home to one of the densest regions of Korean restaurants in North America.  Here, critical mass has been reached and an entire ecosystem of supermarkets, bars, clubs, video stores as well as countless soon tobu and Korean barbecue places (and much more, I’m sure, if I could only read Korean) has evolved.  This handily solves the question of where one goes to get Korean food in the Bay Area south of San Francisco or Oakland. The harder question is which place to choose?

Han Sung BBQ is one of many non-descript store fronts in Moebius strip mall land.  What distinguishes it from the other barbecue places is simple: real wood charcoal.  Not that gas nonsense, but the real deal.  The whole place is perfumed with this scent despite the fierce ventilation system (note: I’ve read that HSB has recently completed a re-model which most people seem to give a big thumbs up, so I imagine a few strata of soot have been scrubbed from the walls in the process).  The wonderful aroma of the charcoal when it arrives at your table… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Ristorante Avanti – Santa Cruz, CA


Ristorante Avanti
1711 Mission Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 427-0135

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.

I recall that the brilliant food writer Jonathan Gold once wrote that he’s been to Campanile in Los Angeles hundreds of times.  When I read that maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I couldn’t even fathom such a concept.  But now the combination of steady employment and living in one place for a good chunk of time has conspired to generate a small handful of places that I’ve been to so many times and with which I have such a relationship that it’s less a business and more an annex of my own home.  One of them is Ristorante Avanti, owned and run by Cindy and Paul Geise for over twenty years and still going strong.

What leads me and the many other regulars to return so often? I suspect it’s the combination of well-executed food with a menu that has both dishes that I know will be available when I’m in need of something tried, true and delicious, and a rotating list of daily specials that ensures there’s always something new and exciting to try.

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Smoqe BBQ – Aptos, CA


Smoqe BBQ
10110 Soquel Dr
Aptos, CA 95003
(831) 662-2227

Sometimes, things are tougher than they seem.

At least, I figure it must be this way, since there are many things that should be pretty easy, and yet, are usually poorly executed. Hamburgers are a perfect example. It doesn’t take much to make a good hamburger. Some nice meat, decent bun, nice fresh condiments and cheese. Yet, so many places fail. It must be more complex than I make it out to be. I feel the same way about BBQ.

In the tiny village of Aptos, just outside Santa Cruz, CA, there already exists a BBQ shop, Aptos BBQ, that serves up good ol fashioned smoked BBQ. Yet, in an embarrassment of riches, on December 9, 2009, a second BBQ shop opened up. Smoqe BBQ.

The Smoqe BBQ philosophy is simple – cooked on 100% wood, dry rubbed and slow smoked for hours. Sounds simply perfect. They pride themselves on their pizza as well – time consuming dough, all organic ingredients, wood fired oven. They’ve taken some very simple dishes, and put in the time and effort to make them as perfect as possible.

When you first walk in, the order counter sits at the front. A fairly simple, yet extensive menu is available. Some fantastic selection of beers on tap, including Leffe, Black Butte Porter, and one of my favorite IPA’s ever, Racer 5 from Bear Republic. You order from the gentleman at the front, who may or may not greet you, grab a number, and take a seat.

In terms of the interior, everything is clean and minimalistic. There is quite a bit of distance between tables – which is usually nice for privacy, but definitely kills a bit of the atmosphere.

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Pho Ha Noi – San Jose, CA


Pho Ha Noi
1759 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1561
(408) 239-0888

When discussing the origins of Pho, there are not a lot of facts available. While some think that the origin of Pho (pronounced ‘Fuh’) is from the French dish Pot au Feu, there is very little that historians can agree on. Reconstructing an oral history from something from the turn of the 20th Century can’t be easy. But there are a couple facts that are always agreed upon – Pho was originally beef, there was undoubtedly a French influence on the creation of the dish, and that it originated in the North, somewhere around Ha Noi, and was brought South with locals who migrated when the country was split into two in 1954.

Versions of Pho from the North ended up quite different than versions of the South, which was adapted a lot more for the Southern palate. As i discussed in my post on Pho Y #1, which is just across the road from Pho Ha Noi, versions in the North are much milder and more subtle. Far less anise, clove, black cardamom, and lighter treatments of charred onion and ginger, resulting in a lighter, cleaner broth. Pho Ha Noi serves a true northern style Pho, quite different than the Southern style Pho served at Pho Y #1.

Located at the intersection of Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road, it’s another in the large number of Vietnamese noodle shops in the area.
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