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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Bourbon and Branch – San Francisco, CA


Bourbon and Branch
501 Jones Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 931-7292

“No photo’s allowed”.  Oops. Sorry.

While I am a big fan of history, I’ve never really believed that all things used to be better in the good old days. While nostalgia will often make the past seem much more appealing than it actually was, I will admit that occasionally, they did things better. People took more time and care in their work – more craftsmanship. One place where that still holds true is Bourbon and Branch.

Bourbon and Branch is an old Speakeasy that actually operated as “The Ipswitch – A Beverage Parlor” from 1921 to 1923.  The current incarnation is a throw back to those good old days. From a password required to get in (easily found on the web), to secret entrances to escape the prohibition agents in case they ever raided, they’ve done their best to recreate the ambiance and atmosphere of the 20′s and 30′s. Rules from no cell phones to no standing at the bar, you definitely get a feel for the period.

What they haven’t left in the 20′s is the art of mixology. Starting with very carefully selected spirits and ingredients, carefully composed to provide the best cocktails possible, they are artists and masters at blending and mixing drinks. They certainly take their time with each element, from hand juicing, straining, muddling, chilling, pouring, every aspect of creating your cocktail is deliberate and intentional.

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Pizzeria Delfina – San Francisco, CA


Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 437-6800

There’s  a movement going on all around us. I call it the gentrification of fast food. First burgers. Now pizza. Almattone argues with me that it’s “fancification”, not gentrification. Whatever you want to call it, it’s happening. Staple fast food is turning into haute cuisine.

In a recent Rachel Ray Magazine special, Ed Levine and Adam Kuban created a “March Madness” bracket for pizzerias around the US. Pitting East against West, South-Southwest against Mid-west, they identified some of the top pizzerias and dared to compared. As a sports fan who also loves pizza, i found this to be a fantastically fun exercise. One of several Bay Area competitors was Pizzeria Delfina.

Pizzeria Delfina was founded by Craig and Anne Stoll of the extremely popular Delfina Restaurant next door. The winner of the 2008 James Beard award for Best Chef in the West, Craig Stoll was inspired to create Pizzeria Delfina based on the pizzerias of NYC, and Naples. What he has done is brought his expertise and love of quality ingredients to the neighbourhood pizza joint. And the neighbourhood loves it. Between the Bi-rite and Tartine Bakery, this is a veritable stretch of culinary goodness.

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Dosa (on Valencia) – San Francisco, CA


Dosa on Valencia
995 Valencia (@ 21 St)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 642-3672

It took a long time for me to come around on South Indian food. It was one of those things that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to growing up – most cuisine where I grew up, of the South Asian variety, was usually Northern Indian, or Pakistani. Then, even when given the opportunity to be exposed to food from Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and other South Indian cultures, I eschewed them for more meat-based cuisines. I was, after all, an unapologetic carnivore. Vegetarian food was to be avoided at all costs!

Times change, as thankfully have my opinions. Once I managed to try South Indian food, i was hooked. Fantastic flavours with lots of balance, heat, and texture. Even though they do have meat dishes, for the most part, I usually stick with the vegetarian. And of all the South Indian vegetarian dishes, my favorite is the Dosa.

The namesake restaurant, Dosa on Valencia (used to distinguish from their new outpost on Filmore), is one of several South Indian restaurants that have cropped up in The Mission over the past few years. Serving a wide variety of South Indian dishes, they don’t represent one specific cuisine, but a broad representation of many cuisines from South India.

The restaurant itself is actually fairly intriguing. They have been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand three of four years they’ve been in business – Michelin’s award for good value. The decor is upscale casual, and they have an interesting and diverse beverage menu – not your average South Indian eatery.

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Mission Burger by Mission Street Food – San Francisco, CA


Mission Burger (by Mission Street Food)
inside Duc Loi Supermarket
2200 Mission St (between 18th St & 19th St)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Sat-Wed, noon-3pm

Food and cooking knowledge can come from a variety of sources. Being a detail-oriented person, I really enjoy shows that explain why, not just what. Aside from Alton Brown, who has really started turning me off with his over the top corny humour, one show that I really enjoy is the BBC classic “In Search of Perfection” with Michelin 3 star chef Heston Blumenthal from the Fat Duck. He really caught my attention with his episode on steak (it really works btw), and I’ve enjoyed the knowledge, and the hilarity of his exploits.

In his cookbook Further Adventures In Search of Perfection, Heston Blumenthal reinvents the burger to deliver what he feels is the perfect burger. While in principal, his ideas are fantastic, in practice, they are often so time consuming, and difficult to source the ingredients, that it just isn’t feasible for us “normal” people. I remember duplicating his steak recipe, and the total time required before i could put fork to mouth was almost 48 hours. His burger recipe, as tested by the dedicated hamburger folks at aht (serious eats), took over 30 hours. For a hamburger.

Enter Mission Burger, brought to you by Mission Street Food – a not for profit organization that donates their proceeds to charity. In the entire lunch counter revival I was discussing in the Villa Mexico post, they’ve set up a burger counter inside the Duc Loi Supermarket in the Mission.

There are a few very notable things about Mission Burger.
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True Sake – San Francisco, CA


True Sake
560 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA 94102-4214
(415) 355-9555

Most of the time, an establishment is somewhere you go to be served. Once in a while, you come across an establishment that you go to be educated. I get a great coffee education everytime i go to Transcend or Phil and Sebastians, a great wine education from Soif, and right in the heart of San Francisco, a great Sake education from True Sake.

The first dedicated Sake store outside of Japan, True Sake is an uncommon “liquor” store. First off, as the name suggests, they offer nothing but sake. Secondly, they are one part store, five parts school. Sake is not a very well understood beverage in North America- and with diversity and complexity similar to wine, there is a lot going on. In order to grow the market for their product, it is important that they explain, and educate users on the differences, and the diversity that is sake. Thankfully, they are both patient, and understanding.

The shop itself is clean, pretty, and simple. Sake is appropriately stored in a clean, simple environment.

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Toronado Pub – San Francisco, CA


Toronado Pub
547 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 863-2276

First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers on Foodosophy. In honor of US Thanksgiving, I’ve imbibed a tremendous amount of beer. Making this post, well, a lot less verbose than my usual posts.

In honor of the beer I’ve imbibed, I would like to introduce you to Toronado – quite possibly the best pub in North America. I say quite possibly because I haven’t been to every pub in North America. But I have a hard time imagining a better pub from a beer standpoint.

Toronado is not about the decor, or the atmosphere, unless you like quirky, unkempt beer snobs in irreverent t-shirts boasting loudly after one too many, while the strong smell of stale beer wafts over each slightly sticky table. While this doesn’t make up all their patrons – it is a bit of hyperbole, certainly, and there really are a diverse number of people who love the Toronado – it certainly makes up a good percentage that will give you the evil eye when you need to slide by them and actually try and get a beer from the bar.

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