Keeping up with San Francisco’s restaurant scene is often scrumptious, sometimes sumptuous and usually satiating—but it is always sisyphean. There is just no way to sink one’s teeth into every culinary creation this city turns out.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.
701 Union St., 415-872-7023
North Beach newcomer Hilda and Jesse isn’t kidding around with the tagline, “Brunch without boundaries.” The dishes coming out of the kitchen are redefining the idea of what brunch can be. Forget poached egg benedicts and old-fashioned flapjacks. Chefs and co-founders Kristina Liedags Compton and Rachel Sillcocks have beef tongue, fried artichokes and lamb tartare on the menu.
Situated on the corner of Union Street, the restaurant peers into Washington Square across Columbus Avenue. Inside, the décor is a retro-futuristic take on 1950s Americana. Striped wallpaper and vibrant DIY contemporary art brighten up your eyeballs. Jane Jetson would feel right at home here—and so did I. Despite being packed with customers, the windows and interior lighting defeated any sense of claustrophobia.
If you’ve never had a nine-course meal at the French Laundry in Yountville, Hilda and Jesse have come up with a tasting menu to rival it. My friend and I kept exclaiming out loud about the exquisite vegetable preparations. Sillcocks arrived at the table with an avocado “toast,” which was actually a sweet potato in a light tempura batter. She confirmed that horseradish and dill are two of the chefs’ favorite ingredients. Don’t miss out on the perfectly seared asparagus or the fried artichokes.
3332 18th St., 415-457-5225
When The Slanted Door opened on Valencia Street, my co-workers treated me to a birthday lunch there. Even though that was 20 years ago, it still feels like it was a special occasion, that we were eating something exceptional. The chef and owner, Charles Phan, woke up my palate with his version of “shaking beef.” When the restaurant moved to the Ferry Building, I contented myself with regular visits to Out the Door, his faster-food takeaway shop.
After returning to the Mission in 2011 with Wo Hing General Store—and closing it in 2013—Phan has opened a more modest sandwich shop on 18th Street, between South Van Ness and Capp Street. Chuck’s Takeaway promises a “perfected Vietnamese baguette” that’s baked in-house.
At $16 per sandwich, Phan’s baguette menu features mackerel, veggies or pâté options. The egg salad comes on thick slices of milk bread. He coats the “mustardy mayo” egg salad in a chive “crust” for a very green-tasting sandwich. I also tried Mom’s Meatballs, with a cilantro-forward tomato sauce. This isn’t Tony Soprano’s meatball sandwich.
Note: this is, as the name suggests, a takeaway joint. There aren’t any tables to sit inside or outside at a parklet.
1014 Clement St., 628-226-9139
The cute factor that’s gone into the abbreviation of Diamond Coffee n’ Pastry is totally earned. Take a bite of their “croffle” and you’ll see what I mean. The pastry is a hybrid, part waffle and part croissant. On the outside, it looks like a Belgian waffle. The croissant contribution is harder to detect. The French layered pastry is mostly subsumed by the waffle but manifests itself as a soft, chewy, interior texture. After one bite, I was wrong to think the formula for waffles couldn’t be improved.
The croffle menu suggests all sorts of toppings—seasonal fruity, tiramisu, dipped chocolate with toasted “mashellow.” I held fast and ate my croffle with an angel-white dusting of powdered sugar. I also tried a strawberry cream cheese danish.
The coffee and tea drinks selection is vast. During my visit, I counted five different kinds of pour overs and more than a dozen espresso concoctions. My ordinary latte was quite alright.
Diamond is the name of the owner’s Shih Tzu. That’s why there’s a section of the cafe specifically designated for dogs and their companions. It’s a raised landing toward the back. My Great Dane would take up most of the space, but it is large enough to comfortably accommodate half a dozen shih tzus like Diamond. There’s also a parklet for customers on that quiet stretch of Clement Street right before it stretches into Park Presidio Boulevard.
3161 24th St., 415-829-3569
At Donaji, I tried a Oaxacan dish called tlayuda. It was huge and looked—and tasted—like a Mexican pizza. Instead of stuffing a soft tortilla with your favorite ingredients, Donaji spreads out an 11-inch tortilla and cooks it until it’s crispy. They top it with refried beans, pickled cabbage, cheese, avocado, salsa and a protein. It’s even sliced into triangles for easy delectation.
The menu also features red pozole and memelitas, which are akin to the tlayuda but smaller. And the vehicle that carries the toppings is deep-fried masa instead of a tortilla. Donaji also carries a nice variety of tacos, including a veggie one served with a fried egg, birria, the new Bay Area favorite, one with fried chicken breaded in masa harina, and a fish taco, the old standby.
I recommend an order of at least several tamales. The online menu currently says that the vegan, the pork, and the cheese and poblano tamales are all out of stock. Even if you can only order the roast chicken with salsa verde, get some for the entire family. These are some of the best tamales I’ve tried on 24th Street where Mexican delicacies aren’t in short supply.
518 Divisadero St., 415-865-0909
Banh Mi Viet is bravely serving sandwiches a few doors down from the Divisadero location of Bi-Rite’s grocery and deli. Bi-Rite even serves their own Americanized, yet still delicious version of a banh mi. But the recent opening of Banh Mi Viet felt as exciting as the long-past opening of Bun Mee’s first location on Fillmore Street. I’d be happy to find a takeaway Vietnamese restaurant like Banh Mi Viet in every neighborhood.
On the chalkboard menu inside, there’s a description of what comes with every sandwich. Whether yours is made with cold cuts, chicken, beef, tofu or fish cake, it’s also served with pâté, cilantro, cucumber, pickled radish and carrots, and mayonnaise. The owners have posted a paper menu at the front entrance that also spells everything out.
I always love a spring roll but blanked out at the register and forgot to order one (options are chicken, shrimp, or tofu). Although the emphasis here is obviously on the sandwich, I did try an order of beef vermicelli, one of three entrées, and was not disappointed. They also serve a rice plate entrée and one with sticky rice. If you feel like eating there, Banh Mi Viet has a substantial parklet built out onto Divisadero.