Saving some money for tickets to a Giants’ game or admission to the Exploratorium? Far from fancy, but full of character, these tasty treasures of San Francisco
will leave you feeling so appreciative and full, you’ll start thinking you could afford to live here. Be sure to try these restaurants on your next visit.
Restaurant, Mexican, $$$
This place claims to be the birthplace of the Mission-style burrito. There are many Mexican restaurants in the Mission district, but La Cumbre is true to its name, which means ‘the summit’, by making savory, seasoned meats and stuffing the works into their huge flour tortillas. The chicken has a sweetness that can only come from a secret citrus marinade set afire. You may swear that you will not be able to finish the whole thing, but you will surprise yourself. Not many can resist the pillow soft dough at the very end. Those mighty folds are powerful sponges, saving and absorbing the dripping goodness of beans, salsa, and succulent meat throughout your meal.
The décor has a hacienda feel, dominated by several large paintings of a Latin-esque Jane Russell look-alike, which inspires a subtle connection, in the mind of the patron, between the art on the wall and the ‘generous endowments’ of La Cumbre’s burritos.
La Cumbre, 515 Valencia St, San Francisco, California, USA, (415) 863-8205
Sandwich Shop, American, $$$
Those in the know grab a pepper steak or huge, homemade meatball sandwich before heading out to Golden Gate Park, located just four blocks away. Meats are chopped with an ever-resounding ‘clang’ of the cook’s dancing spatulas, and answered occasionally by the bells of the N Judah streetcar rumbling by. Rolls are expertly toasted and corner-charred before serving.
Family run since 1971, second-generation owner Jacob Naser engages customers in friendly banter while wiping down the tables, and has by now grown used to hearing stories from folks who grew up with the subs and are happy to come back as adults and find that nothing has changed. The fries are still cut thick and round and served in brown paper sacks. Yellow Sub has also preserved the original menu, displayed as artwork on the back wall of the eating area. There are only a few tables in there, and the floor is at a slant, but that can come in handy, as you approach your sandwich at the most opportune diagonal.
Yellow Submarine, 503 Irving St, San Francisco, California, USA, (415) 681-5652
Inner Richmond is a hot spot for Chinese Dim Sum, but Clement Restaurant has the best pork buns of them all. For just over a dollar you get a fluffy bao amply filled with a sweet Chinese barbecue sauce, savory meat and sautéed onion. Simply ignore the decades of grease stains dripping from the display cases.
It’s also a place to stock up for a shared feast, and depart with the aroma of a tasty future wafting from a bright pink box.
Food is baked throughout the day, so you don’t necessarily have to get up early to get a nice, warm bun. There are only two tables there seating two people each, so you may prefer to enjoy your meal as you stroll down Clement Street, perusing the sidewalk sales of handy housewares and exotic fruits and vegetables.
Clement Restaurant, 621 Clement St., San Francisco, USA, (415) 666-3328
San Tung Restaurant
Restaurant, Chinese, $$$
San Tung Restaurant
Paper dragons hang from the ceiling at this noisy Chinese restaurant, opened over 20 years ago by Korean immigrants. Located in the Sunset District just a few blocks south of Golden Gate Park, it’s a big room with dozens of tables managed by brusque and bustling staff in white shirts and bow ties. The signature dish is the amazing dry fried chicken wings. A 10 dollar order comes with a dozen plump pieces that have been twice fried and mixed with a sweet, spicy, sticky ginger soy something sauce – you will be powerless to resist. Ask for extra napkins as soon as possible. Also known for their handmade black bean-sauce noodles and succulent dumplings, the wait for a table on an average night could take an hour.
To respond to the demand, the owners recently took over the place right next door and opened San Tung #2. As the name implies, it’s an opportunity to have the same food in slightly different surroundings. The line for a table there is usually significantly shorter, but many San Franciscans will willingly wait longer to eat under the paper dragons at the original San Tung.
San Tung Restaurant, 1031 Irving St., San Francisco, USA, (415) 242-0828
Bar, Pizzaria, Restaurant, Italian, $$$
North Beach has a history of Italian influence, and pizza places pepper the streets there. Golden Boy primes your senses with a window display of their assorted offerings, massive squares of doughy pizza mounded with creative toppings, like the incomparable ‘clam & garlic’, for about four bucks a hunk. Hard rock music plays in the background, and layers of promotional stickers have been slapped along the walls in random decoration. Tech logos, skate ads, graffiti. The written menu hangs high and has an attitude.
Narrow and dark, in an atmosphere that feels more like a bar than a restaurant, Golden Boy is ‘so Good itz Bad’. Hop up on a stool at the counter among the beer taps or against the wall near the back, and feel the heat of the pizza oven every time it opens. Look for the neon sign of a big hand pointing you to this cavern of savory delights.
One of the many splendored things about San Francisco is the plethora of places you can go for a transportive meal at a low price. Added personality, stories and quirks keep you coming back for another taste. Perhaps the real comfort that comes from waiting in long lines for food this good is the knowledge that true character and taste is alive and well in San Francisco.
Golden Boy Pizza, 542 Green St., San Francisco, USA, (415) 982-9738