24 of the Most Deliciously Iconic Foods in San Francisco…(Part 2)

…or, Why I Have Gained 35 Pounds Since Returning to The City.   12 more excuses for weight gain and food-inspired happiness from the City By the Bay.

Pepperoni Pizza at Tommaso’s
1042 Kearny near Broadway, North Beach
Amidst all of the change and turmoil in The City these days, it’s so refreshing when an older eating establishment survives and thrives. That’s what’s happening at the small Italian restaurant on Kearny Street called Tomasso’s. Opened in the 1930’s as Lupo’s, the Crotti Family has owned the place since 1973 (they bought it from cook/owner Tommy Chin, hence the name Tommaso’s- an Italian version of his name!) They still make pizza the way it was made in the 30’s- in a wood-fired brick oven. This place is so special to my family that my Canadian daughter-in-law chose it for her post wedding banquet. They do pizza perfectly, the crust slightly charred from the oven, toppings are so delicious! My wife adores the fresh spinach and garlic. But my favorite is the pepperoni (I know, not a very creative choice. But at Tommaso’s, the slices of pepperoni slightly curl up during the bake, making each bite that includes these little oily spicy delights at treat. There’s reason that I use the stupid-looking photo of me devouring a Tommaso’s slice as the header photo on the AAHour Facebook page. I love Tommaso’s! Thanks Augie and Carmen!
DC eating Tomassos_Fotor

Dungeness Crab Feed at Italian American Social Club (or Charity Functions all over the Bay Area)
25 Russia Avenue at Mission, Excelsior District
New England has it’s clambakes. Minnesotans have their fish fries. Louisiana has their crawfish boils. But when it’s Dungeness crab season in Northern California, it’s Crab Feed Time! High schools and charitable organizations put out the call to all hungry crab lovers to come and feast on all-you-can-eat cracked crab. Oh sure, they all try to get you full on Sourdough bread and salad and pasta. But any crab feeder worth their claw cracker knows you don’t fill up on the prelims when the main course is on it’s way. One of my favorite crab feeds in my old neighborhood, the Excelsior District, at the venerable Italian-American Social Club. Family and old friends plop down at communal tables as the bring out bowl after bowl of marinated cracked crab. Feast ’til you can’t look at another crab leg. IASC you there! (bad pun) Then get primed for the next feed at the church in the next neighborhood.
Crab Feed

Sandwiches with Garlic Sauce and Hot Pepper Sauce on a Dutch Crunch Roll from Little Lucca
724 El Camino Real, South San Francisco
Yes, we’ve left San Francisco proper again. But, hey, I need to branch out to the other 6 Bay Area counties occasionally (where I have some favorite bars and restaurants). And a ride down El Camino Real to South City is well worth it when you’re heading for the “Little Sandwich Shack That Could” (my new Children’s book BTW)- I’m talking about Little Lucca. How can you find this tiny deli? Look for the lines that run out the door to the sidewalk.  Everyone is waiting to place an order for the best sandwich around. Step aside, Ike’s. Little Lucca has been feeding folk since 1980. every kind of lunchmeat and cheese, ready to be piled on Sourdough hard or soft rolls, or a slightly-sweet, local creation called a Dutch Crunch roll. And the topper? Have them slather on some of their delectable garlic sauce and hot pepper sauce. Huge sandwiches, they don’t skimp on the fillings! You’ll have enough for two lunches (well, I personally don’t usually have leftovers, but you will.) Endure the wait, it’s worth it!
Little Lucca dutch crunch sandwich

Oysters on the Half Shell at Le Central
453 Bush Street near Grant Avenue, Downtown/Financial District
We all know about San Francisco’s old Italian neighborhood, North Beach. And of course, the historic Chinese neighborhood, Chinatown. And contrary to newbie thinking,  The Mission was actually an Irish-German ‘hood, which evolved into our Mexican/Central American community. (Seriously, do some research about your new digs. Jeez.) Anyways, did you know there was actually a French quarter in The City? There sure was, in the area surrounding Notre Dame des Victores Catholic Church, on Bush and Pine Streets, above Kearny, (some are actually calling little Belden Lane the “French Quarter” these days). And that’s where you’ll find my favorite bistro, Le Central. They serve French classics, including a duck confit, sausage, white bean cassoulet that was started when they opened. They proudly update their sign that claims the cassoulet has been cooking for over 14 thousand days. One of my favorite thing at Le Central is the raw oyster plate at Happy Hour. Fresh oysters on the half shell for a low price. And the pomme frites! Mon dieu! Dip them in the garlic aioli mayonnaise.  Which is how the French eat fries (as we all learned in “Pulp Fiction”. No Le Big Mac here, though.)
Le Central Oysters

Ravioli from Lucca Ravioli
1100 Valencia Street at 22nd, Mission District
Since I was a kid growing up in The Mission, and we lived at 20th and Lexington, I remember Mom taking us to the Italian Delicatessen with the red, green and white striped awning at 22nd and Valencia to get fresh ravioli. Talk about a place that has withstood the tests of time, Lucca still makes fresh ravs, and tortellini and other pastas. You can watch the daily process through the window on the Valencia sidewalk. Sold in flat boxes,  the traditional meat filling brings back memories of bowls of ravioli topped with my Mother’s excellent Bolognese sauce. (Lucca makes sauce as well, and 4 other types of ravioli- cheese, spinach, pumpkin, and a special holiday rav with meat, spinach and turkey). I love the staff there, some of which have been at Lucca for decades. They’re all cool, funny and helpful! Old school, in the best of ways.
Lucca Ravioli

San Francisco-Style Potato Salad (Herman’s)
Various locations, kind of…
Herman’s Delicatessen, on Geary between 5th and 6th Avenues, was the Pride of the Richmond. The owner, Herman Voss, made a German-style potato salad that is revered to this day. Potatoes cut thin, not diced, with a creamy, sweet but not too sweet mayo/white vinegar base, shreds of carrot and that’s about it. Simple, but unique, the Herman’s potato salad (or San Francisco-style, as it is know today) was deemed the world’s best. No celery, no mustard, no pickle relish, no onion. Nothing else, but deliciousness. A company called Luciers made it for a while, as well as Bob Ostrow (“the maestro, the delicatessen man!” as my wife likes to sing their jingle). You can find a pretty tasty knock-off of it at Lucky Stores.
Hermans Potato Salad_Fotor_Fotor

Meatball Sandwich on Focaccia at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
566 Columbus Avenue at Union Street, North Beach
How do you improve on the stupendous delectable focaccia from Liguria Bakery? Well, you don’t. BUT you can use that impeccable pizza bread to make an outstanding sandwich, and that’s what the folks at Marios’ Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe have done! Back in the day, Mario’s was the neighborhood cigar stand, where little old Italian retirees would sit outside and smoke their Toscanello “guinea stinkers” cigars in the afternoon.  The original owner’s son has made the old tobacco shop into a cafe, and they make the most delicious oven-baked sandwich, with slices of Liguria pizza focaccia as the bread, stuffed with meatballs, Swiss Cheese and grilled onions. Grab a cold Peroni and mangiare! I will take the old Mounds candy bar motto and attribute it to Mario’s sandwich: Indescribably delicious.
Meatball sandwich

Shrimp Chow Mein and Diana’s Meat Pie at Henry’s Hunan
924 Sansome between Broadway and Vallejo, Lower Telegraph Hill
San Francisco is at no shortage when it comes to choices for Chinese cuisine. From authentic Hong Kong-style fare to Americanized Cantonese-inspired “sweet and sour” offerings, we have it all at within our grasp. Henry Chung and his family have been serving Hunan style dishes for over 40 years. When I was working at CBS Radio on Battery, I would often stop at Henry’s Hunan on Sansom to grab some dinner for the family. Henry’s shrimp chow mein, with soft noodles, large shrimp and fresh vegetables, is as good as it gets. And his wife, Diana, has created one of the oddest, and most delicious, mashups ever- a Asian-influenced meat pie, a flaky deep-fried flour cake filled with savory ground beef. So weird, and so good!
Chow Mein henrys Hunan
meat pie henrys_Fotor

Tortellini Carbonara at Sodini’s Green Valley
 510 Green Street near Grant Avenue, North Beach
When we were kids growing up in San Francisco, my parents would occasionally take the family to dinner in North Beach. We went to family style Italian dinner houses like The Montclair, 622 Green, Capp’s Corner, Gold Spike and Sam Remo. As well as Caesar’s nearer to the Wharf. Most are gone, but one remains, thanks to the efforts of the Sodini Brothers, Peter and Mark: Green Valley Restaurant on Green near Grant. This was always a favorite, a place where you sat at communal tables and feasted on plates of hearty, home-cooked Italian classics. My dad likes to say “The service was so good that, sometimes, they pre-buttered your bread.” (No waste of table bread at the old GV!) No pre-buttering these days, Green Valley is loud and fantastic, with local angels like Linda and Rachel waiting your tables. Mark Sodini is the perfect host. And the food is delicious and plentiful. And the Tortellini Carbonara, with it’s rich, mushroom and pancetta cream sauce, is beyond compare. You’ll love Sodini’s, even if you do have to butter your own bread.
Sodini tortellini

Cappuccino at Caffe Trieste (with a Macaroon)
601 Vallejo Street at Grant Avenue, North Beach
It would be hard to argue that Caffe Trieste is the most representative, iconic establishment in North Beach. (OK, maybe Vesuvio on Columbus, but who wants to argue?) Anyways, this Italian coffee house has been a hip hangout way before the current wave of Hipsters invaded our city. Opened in 1956 by Giovanni Giotta, coffee lovers can thank him- he brought Espresso and Cappuccino from his home in Trieste to the West Coast. Each cup is still made the way it was made back then. Caffe Trieste was a hit with the Beat Movement writers like Jack kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Francis Ford Coppola wrote most of the screenplay for “The Godfather” here. Stop in, order the perfect Cappuccino, accompanied by one of the delicious pastries available (the macaroon- damn!) Sit back, enjoy the Jazz and Opera music coming from the jukebox, and soak in some of The City’s living history.
Cappucino Trieste

Irish Coffee at The Gold Dust Lounge
165 Jefferson Street near Taylor, Fishermans Wharf
Legend has it that the Irish Coffee was brought from a Shannon Airport bar to America by a newspaper columnist back in the 50’s. Some argue that the claims are malarkey, saying the drink has been poured in San Francisco since the Gold Rush days. No matter what the true story is, the Irish Coffee is here to stay,  a staple in pubs and taverns around The City. And my personal favorite version of this delicious drink can be found at the Gold Dust Lounge. The Bovis Family moved to the current Fisherman’s Wharf location after being unfairly evicted from their Union Square location of over a half century. They have recreated the same beloved vibe that that reigned over Powell Street imbibers since 1966.  The great prices came with them over the hill, and you can’t find a more reasonably-priced cocktail in town. Open at 9am, you can get the perfect Irish Coffee made with Jamison’s Irish Whiskey for only 5 dollars! Unbeatable. And absolutely delicious!

Various locations
If you’re reading from somewhere outside of the San Francisco Bay Area you may be asking yourself “A what’s what?”  An It’s-It, a triple threat dessert with delicious ice-cream pressed between two oatmeal cookies and covered in chocolate.  It was invented by George Whitney, the man who brought us the long-gone Ocean Beach amusement park Playland at the Beach. They had a stand that frowned the Great Highway, right next to the equally as iconic Hot House Tamale Stand. Thankfully, since Playland closed in 1972, the It’s-It is still around. Why do I love them? They had me at ice cream, cookies and chocolate.
Its Its_Fotor

24 of the Most Deliciously Iconic Foods in San Francisco…

…or, Why I Have Gained 35 Pounds Since Returning to The City. Part 1.
Everyone has their food touchstones from growing up wherever they grew up. It might be something as simple as Hostess Sno-Balls that mom put in their lunch or a chocolatey Yoo-Hoo that they spent allowance on at the corner store. A friend from New York waxes eloquent about bagels, and makes the argument that “no where on earth can you find a bagel the likes of a New York City bagel.” Texans brag about their barbecue. You should hear the arguments over their German-influenced sausage. I mean, Elgin vs. Lockhart? It’s a war, y’all! It seems everyone gets downright defensive over their hometown pizza.  And growing up in San Francisco, there are foods that bring back memories (and add the pounds, when I don’t check myself, which, if you know me, I most don’t.). Here are a few of the iconic foods that beckoned me home, to savor the flavor, and to pack on the LBS.

Focaccia from Liguria Bakery
1700 Stockton St. at Filbert, North Beach
If you’ve ever seen a long line of people standing outside this little bakery at holiday time, know that they’re waiting for the best focaccia ever made. Liguria Bakery is one of the oldest businesses in North Beach. The Soracco Family has been making basically one item for generations (yes, the ladies that help you- Mary and Josephine- are part of the family.) They have several versions- plain, garlic, rosemary, raisin, all of them delicious. But the best? Go in, ask them to cut up a pizza. They’ll put the oily, tomato-y, onion-y, caramelized-edged slices of heaven on a sheet of waxed paper, and into a paper bag for you. I defy you to get home without having a piece or two.
Liguria foccacia

Pan Sautéed Sand Dabs from Tadich Grill
240 California St between Front and Battery, Financial District
The sign on the window says that Tadich Grill is the “The Original Cold Day Restaurant”. Not exactly sure what that means, but despite the weather, any day is a good day to eat at this San Francisco classic if you’re in search of tasty seafood selections. My favorite is a not-as-well-known tiny little flatfish called a sand dab. Silly name, delectable dish. Mildly flavored, accented with simple seasonings (salt, pepper, dust of flour) sautéed and served up fresh. You can have your tilapia and ahi. Sand dabs at Tadich? Perfection!  even on a hot day.
Tadich Sand Dabs

Cheeseburger on French from Original Joe’s
601 Union Street at Stockton, North Beach
We constantly get bombarded with “Best Burger” lists.  But the one constant omission is my favorite- a perfectly char-broiled ground chuck burger laced with diced onions, topped with swiss cheese or provolone, on a Sourdough roll grilled in garlic butter. Let me quote George “Mr. Sulu” Takai- “Oh my!”  You don’t need extras or condiments, it’s just that good! Whether were at Original Joe’s- North Beach or San Jose, Marin Joe’s, the old Joe’s of Westlake or even Val’s in Daly City- a Joe’s cheeseburger makes the top of my “Best Burger” list everytime!
Joes cheeseburger on french

Italian Dry Salami from Molinari
373 Columbus Avenue at Vallejo, North Beach
Fun Fact: Most people outside of San Francisco and the Bay Area have little idea about the delicious cured meat known as Italian Dry Salami. Try ordering a salami sandwich elsewhere and you’ll get Genoa-style (larger grind and fattier),  Cotto (softer, less cured), Kosher (very Baloney-esque in my opinion), even “salami” that is more like Summer Sausage (think Hillshire Farms). OUR Italian Dry Salami is best represented by Molinari. Custom spiced pork, jammed into natural casings, is then dry cured for around 4 weeks. A white mold forms on the casing during this process. (Each salami gets hairier than Tom Selleck’s chest! You don’t want to see them during this phase.) I know that sounds nasty, but that mold what makes our salami the tastiest! Spicy, salty, amazing. We have sent Molinari salami to friends around the country, and they beg for more. Uniquely delicious.
Molinari Salami

Joe’s Special from Marin Joe’s
1585 Casa Buena Dr, Corte Madera
A simple dish that is simply mouthwateringly tasty, legend (arguably) has it that the Joe’s Special was invented at the long-gone New’s Joe’s on Columbus when hungry Prohibition-era Jazzmen wanted a filling dish after jamming at Barbary Coast nightclubs.  Ground chuck, onion, spinach and eggs in a taste-tempting scramble of delight! Whether late-night or for breakfast, a Joe’s Special works any time of day. Marin Joe’s, on the frontage road next to the 101 in Corte Madera, has been serving a perfect version of this dish since the 50’s. A Joe’s Special gives the word “special” a savory meaning.
Joes Special_Fotor

Dungeness Crab Sandwich from Nick’s Rockaway
100 Rockaway Beach Avenue at Highway 1, Pacifica
I know this one is out of The City, but it’s definitely worth the drive down Highway 1 to Pacifica for the best Dungeness crab sandwich served anywhere. Period. Sliced, butter-grilled sourdough (again!) piled with a heaping helping of lump Dungeness crab meat, just moistened with mayo. The sandwich is not cheap, but it’s absolutely worth the price. Have you ever ordered a crab sandwich and been disappointed with how little crab is in it? I assure you, Nick’s does not skimp. You will not be disappointed.
Nicks Crab Sandwich

Sourdough Bread from Boudin Bakery 
399 10th Avenue at Geary, Inner Richmond
Sourdough French bread is as San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Cars and Liberal politics. French bakers brought their techniques here during the Gold Rush and the best versions of these deliciosly sour loaves have been made here ever since. Remember Parisian? Larrabaru? Toscana? Venetian? All gone. Thankfully, the earliest Sourdough bakery is still alive and thrives. Boudin started in the original settlement and moved to it’s current location in the Richmond after the 1906 Quake and Fire, and the “mother dough” starter went with them. No respectable restaurant in The City does not start your meal off without a basket of fresh, delicious Sourdough. The best thing to ever come out of France (Catherine Deneuve excepted.) Viva le pain de Boudin!
Boudin sourdough

Carnitas Super Burrito from Gordo’s Taqueria
2252 Clement Street at 24th Avenue, Outer Richmond (and other locations) 
There is no style of burrito better than the Over-Stuffed Tortilla Bomb of Goodness invented in our own Mission District. A multi-pound meal in itself, a Super Burrito is a large tortilla stuffed with meat, cheese, salsa, rice, beans, and more. Ay Dios mio! People spend hours arguing the merits of Mission burritos on a daily basis. La Taqueria (delicious) vs. El Farolito (equally as delicious). La Cumbre (delicious) at 16th and Valencia claims to have invented it in 1969. An odd claim, since I remember my first Super Burrito at El Faro at 20th and Folsom before then. But who gives a s**t? I’m just glad it was invented. And (here comes my shocking choice) the best version of a Carnitas Super Burrito is not found in the Mission. Head West to the Richmond and make a stop on Clement to get the primo SB at Gordo. Their carnitas is the most delectable. Their pico de gallo and hot green salsa- untouchable. Sure, you can scour the Mission and find delicious SB everywhere. Or venture out West and get the mostest deliciousest of all! [and 3, 2, 1…commence cursing me]
Gordo super carnitas

Hangtown Fry from John’s Grill
63 Ellis Street at Powell, Downtown/Union Square
Do you know about the Hangtown Fry? This is a dish with a bit of mythic history behind it, one story claiming that it was created during the Gold Rush at a hotel restaurant in Placerville (a.k.a Hangtown) when a prospector hit the Mother Lode and, big shotting it, demanded the most expensive dish that the kitchen could make. So the chef combined eggs (a prized perishable), bacon (from the East Coast) and oysters (transported, on ice, from the Bay). Tadich has had an excellent version on it’s menu for over a century and a half. But I like the one served at John’s Grill (made famous in “The Maltese Falcon”). A scrumptious omelette with fried oysters and bacon.  Nothing like a classic dish prepared in a classic style at a classic San Francisco institution. If it was good enough for Sam Spade, it’s good enough for me.
hangtown fry johns grill

Al Pastor Tacos from El Tonayense
Trucks along Harrison Street, Mission District
As far as taco fillings are concerned, I’m not especially picky. Carnitas, Carne Asada, chicken, Baja-style fish, all good in my book. Okay, I’m not a big fan of sesos (brains), tripas (intestines) or buche (fried pork stomach). Hey, I’m not Andrew Zimmern, so Bizarre Foods aren’t always my thing!  But my favorite taco filling of all is Al Pastor.   Marinated pork, roasted on a spit, then carved so that each morsel has spice and caramelization, is the tastiest of the tasty! The best version I ever had is at a small taco shack in Tijuana, just over the border, near the cab stands. Small, quickly fried corn tortillas filled with Al Pastor and a great guacamole. Simple, and crazy good! And the next best thing when I’m not in Mexico are the Al Pastor tacos on the El Tonayense trucks that can be found on Harrison Street in The Mission. There’s one near Best Buy, more scattered towards Bernal Heights. Get 2, or 3, or more. So very good!
El Ton al apstor tacos

Lazy Man’s Cioppino from Scoma’s
Al Scoma Way, off Jefferson Street, Fisherman’s Wharf
Whenever we went to Fisherman’s Wharf, my parents would walk us down the pier at Jefferson and Taylor, past the fishing boats, and take us to dinner at “the local’s favorite”, Scoma’s. The Scoma Family has been hosting San Franciscans and visitors to The City since the 60’s. And with the extensive list of seafood dishes on their menu, another San Francisco classic stands out: Cioppino. Created by the Italian fishermen from North Beach, Cioppino is a spicy, tomato and wine based fish stew, filled with shrimp, clams, Dungeness crab legs, scallops, and cod. And for messy bastahds like me, Scoma’s is a “lazy man’s” version, everything is pre-cracked or shelled.  A big bowl of cioppino, a glass of vino and some Sourdough- my mouth is watering as I type.
Scomas Cioppino

Prime Rib at the House of Prime Rib
1906 Van Ness between Washington and Jackson, Russian Hill
Meat Eaters, rejoice! This beautiful, club atmosphered temple of beef has been dispensing delicious cuts of hand-carved prime rib roast since 1949. They have a (not extensive) menu (it has a few other offerings), but the reason to come here is on the name above the door. Prime rib. The carver wheels a large silver-domed cart to your table (what I call “The Rolling Casket of Beef), opens the top, unveiling roast beefs and asking what cut you prefer.  Here is the most amazing aspect of a prime rib dinner at HoPR: they will serve you seconds if you ask them!  What?! It’s true. If you want another cut of beef once you’ve finished your first serving, they’ll gladly carve it for you.  Prime rib done in prime fashion. If you haven’t been there (or you’re leaning towards a Vegan diet) don’t miss it!
House of Prime Rib_Fotor

 To be continued…another Baker’s Dozen next week.