I’ve been asked before by wide-eyed tourists, many times, “What is your favorite restuarant in San Francisco?” And I am flummoxed. What to answer, what to say? There are too many answers! I just usually reply with, “Well, what are you looking for? Do you like seafood? Mexican? Which neighborhood?” It’s easier to classify best restaurant by different categories. So now I’d like to sort out which restaurants are truly my favorites. A word of warning: pretension is not rewarded in this list.
- Best pizza/Potrero Hill: Goat Hill Pizza. Crispy, puffy sourdough crusts,and a house specialty I love- Hilda’s Special (goat cheese, diced tomato, and pesto). Not your average droopy pizza, Goat Hill makes flavorful pies with simple ingredients on a solid, thick crust.
- Best pho/Chinatown: Great Saigon. My former coworkers and I would often say that when it was cold and overcast, it was pho weather. The satay chicken pho is to die for- overflowing with flavor, with mint, thinly sliced zucchini, tomato, crushed peanuts, onion and of course a thick tangle of clear noodles, strips of mostly white chicken, and a hearty broth. The best.
- Best pupusa/Mission: Balompié. The Mission has a lot of fancy new restaurants with valet parking, but there is also a lot of great home-style food that will fill you up for very little money. Balompié serves not just delicious pupusas in a variety of styles (I prefer loroco, a green vegetable native to El Salvador), but also fried plantains with black beans, fried yucca, and to perfectly accompany it, a tall glass of Cola Champán, a sugary sweet Salvadoran soft drink.
- Best hot beverage/Castro: Castro Coffee Company. This is a new discovery. After trying a heavenly Nutella latte recently in Washington D.C., I was haunted by the memory of that sweet, slightly salty, chocolatey taste. Lo and behold, I found that the dime-sized Castro Coffee Company serves the Nutella latte, just as delicious as the first time I tried it on the East Coast. Plus, service is very fast and friendly.
- Best beer bar/FiDi: Irish Bank. Walk right by on Bush Street and you’ll miss this nearly hidden bar in an alley. But if it’s late on a Friday and Saturday night, the noise of tables full of patrons drinking beer should call your attention. I have a thing for spots that are hidden in plain sight (see Bourbon and Branch, below), so that is one reason I love The Irish Bank. The other is that the service is friendly, the beer list traditionally Irish and European, and the blue cheese fries are the perfect snack to go with your pint of Guinness. A great place to run into old friends and meet new people.
- Best burger/Marina: Super Duper. There is a lot of debate about which is the best burger in San Francisco. Besides the In n Out in Fisherman’s Wharf, there is the L.A. transplant Umami, Roam of Pac Heights, and Super Duper, with outposts in the Castro, the Metreon and the Marina. The bun is lightly toasted, retaining crunchiness, so there is no wet bready disintegration. The meat is juicy and well-done (yes, that’s possible), and the pickles, lettuce and tomato are all fresh and flavorful. Oh, and your order is not complete without a chocolate shake.
- Best dumplings/Outer Sunset: Kingdom of Dumpling. There are two phenomenal Shanghai dumpling places within a block of each other here in the Outer Sunset, so I hope I am remembering the right one. The one with crisp, juicy green beans covered in garlic sauce. The one with light, delicate soup dumplings bursting with rich, broth and tender pork. The place is tiny, there will be a wait, but it is very worth it. Forget Chinatown, this is where you can find delicious, authentic Chinese food.
- Best cocktail/Tenderloin: The Citizen Cane at Bourbon and Branch. I find whisky, scotch, and bourbon revolting. I like a sweeter drink- not necessarily daiquiri sweet, but sweet enough. The Citizen Cane has cachaça, egg whites, cinnamon and is altogether delicious. Pass through the bookcase to the secret library, and enjoy this sweet, sweet libation.
- Best Thai/Upper Haight: Ploy II. This spot in the Upper Haight is hard to find. It’s a narrow staircase leading up to the upper floor of what was once a private home. The handwritten signs all over the place are a little…paranoid, but add to the uniqueness of the place. The tom kha soup is light and creamy, the pumpkin curry packed with veggies and served with lovely presentation. But the best part of Ploy II? Three words. Deep fried pumpkin. Because all vitamin-packed vegetables should be deep fried.
- Best taco/North Beach: Tacolicious. Consistently delicious, whether you get the carnitas, beer-braised chicken, the fish taco, or the guacamole that is as light as air. It’s always good at Tacolicious. Tender meat, perfectly braised. Oh and did I mention that the guacamole is to die for? It might be Mexican food made by and for gringos, but it is damn tasty.
- Best southern comfort food/Lower Haight: Memphis Minnie’s. The Lower Haight may be associated with freewheeling hippie values, but carnivores can find plenty to love here. Besides the mouthwatering sausages at Rosamunde, there is Memphis Minnie’s, which is a slice of the Mississippi Delta right on Haight. Walk in, enjoy the gaudy decorations on the walls and tables, the mix of classic soul music playing, and serve yourself a tall, cold glass of sweet tea. I personally prefer the fried chicken, though keep in mind it is only served on the weekends. It is tender white meat coated in crispy skin, and as one of your two side dishes, I recommend the potato salad, the mac and cheese…or the baked beans or the cole slaw. Each table has four different sauces available: Texas red sauce, North Carolina vinegar sauce, South Carolina mustard sauce, and a spicy hot sauce. Don’t tell any tar heels you know, but I prefer the mustard sauce.
- Best vegetarian/Pac Heights: Berkeley Bowl at The Grove. Sometimes one needs to detox, to drink a neon purple juice or consume something green and leafy to regain some inner equilibrium. When I feel this way, I like to head to The Grove and order the Berkeley Bowl. It’s a deep, wooden bowl chock full of fresh ingredients like arugula, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, onions, chickpeas, all topped with a light, creamy ranch and served with thick toast on the side. Don’t think a bowl full of veggies can fill you up? Give yourself an hour and finish up the Berkeley Bowl. You’ll be satisfied and all detoxed.
- Best food truck: Sanguchon. The lomo saltado sandwich is a hearty, delicious meal, juicy New York steak between two crispy buns, slathered in a tangy cilantro aioli. Oh, and the sandwich is stuffed with French fries. If the thought of a steak sandwich isn’t filling enough for you, get some soft yucca fries or crispy sweet potato fries on the side.
- Best ice cream/Mission: Bi-Rite. Yes, the Mission gets to show up on here twice, because I can’t compile a list like this and not include Bi-Rite, the best damn ice cream around. Listen, I hate waiting in lines. But I’ll spend a sunny afternoon snaking my way through those red plastic ropes to make my way to that brightly lit, friendly haven of ice cream goodness. Sample any flavor you’d like. I prefer the seasonal créme fraiche, which is like the smoothest, creamiest vanilla with a slight kick of sourness. Simple, divine. If that’s not available, chocolate or strawberry will do.
El amor es un espejo
Que refleja el alma de uno
Lo bonito, lo feo, el pudor y la alegría
Miro ese espejo que eres tú
Y me veo reflejada
¿Te ves reflejado
Soccer is a sport I get into every four years when the World Cup rolls around. I admit, I usually find soccer a little boring, and I maintain that a game that can legitimately end in a tie is no sport at all. But the high level of play, the excitement, the pageantry, overrides the more boring elements of, yes, 90 minutes of playing keep away.
My main reason for liking the World Cup? Forget the soccer, it’s the hot players. So I decided to find the one hottest player on each team and present them here for your viewing pleasure. Some notes from my research: Spain and Italy were the hardest to choose from, too many cute players. Greece was the hardest to choose from because of a dearth of cute players. And goalie is still the hottest position, by far. Enjoy:
Brazil (couldn’t choose between the two):
On Wednesday, the day after “Turn Blue” came out, I downloaded the new album by The Black Keys, my favorite band. As each song was downloaded I felt a sense of both excitement and nervousness. Excitement to finally hear the new material by a band that I love. Nervousness because their previous album, “El Camino”, had fewer good songs than bad songs. The first single from “Turn Blue”, a song called “Fever”, was dissappointing the first time I heard it. The predominant sound on the song is the keyboard, rather than the guitar or the drums. Black Keys fans tend to like the band because they reassure us that rock and roll is not dead, that with each driving guitar riff and pounding drumbeat the anarchic spirit of rock and roll lives on. “El Camino” for me was mostly a disappointment, anchored by that bland nothing of a single, “Lonely Boy”. So what’s the verdict on “Turn Blue”?
I’ve listened to it a few times already, and I would say half of the songs are inspired, either solid rock ballads or lovely slower songs. The Black Keys have always done slow tunes quite well: one of my all-time favorites is “Keep your hands off her” from Chulahoma, the album of Junior Kimbrough covers. That song is practically a lullaby. So the title track “Turn Blue” is a highlight for me, with its lilting surf rock grooves, and those plaintive lyrics. One of the things I love the most about The Black Keys is the sexuality of their music. I have little patience for nasty rap songs that describe the mechanics in detail. That is not sexy. But to hear Dan Auerbach wail “My heart’s on fire/With a strange desire”, on “Strange Desire” conveys sexual desire better than most. The song “Turn Blue”, with its whisper of “I really don’t think you know/There could be hell/Below”, is a standout for me.
The not-so-great half of the album are throwaways, and make me wonder if this is really the best that Patrick and Dan had to offer. The last track, “Gotta Get Away”, is so forgettable. It simply doesn’t pulse with the same energy as the stronger tracks. Is this the doing of Danger Mouse? Has he carefully been smoothing out The Black Keys’ edges over the last couple of albums? One common thread in all the albums, going back to “The Big Come Up”, is the rawness of The Black Keys’ sound. And yes, it has been softened over the years, to its creative apex on “Brothers”, where they threaded the needle perfectly between mainstream success and their trademark bluesy sound. I hope that the Keys continue to innovate and evolve as they have on “Turn Blue”, yet still maintain that libidinous edge that their fans have come to know and love.
What would a post about my favorite band be without some music? As mentioned above, here is “Keep your hands off her” from “Chulahoma”:
Yesterday, through sheer luck and twist of fate, I ended up having lunch at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, followed by a quick tour of the ‘campus’. Strolling through the central plaza of the campus, where young people in cutoff shorts were eating ice cream cones, riding bikes, and eating at cafeterias stocked with a salad bar, pizza, and sandwiches, I was transported to my freshman year at UC Santa Cruz, which looked and felt eerily similar (even the music playing in the cafeteria, such as Incubus and Third Eye Blind, was right out of my freshman year). As a mere thirty three year old, I normally don’t feel old. I stride comfortably between the carefree abandon of the 20′s and the sweet responsibility of family and career that many experience in their thirties. And yet I was torn while walking the Facebook campus yesterday, between yearning to work in such a carefree place and being a bit put off by a such a place. A publicly traded company that does everything in its power to keep its twenty something employees in a state of prolonged adolescence?
I couldn’t help thinking of the broader connection to bro culture and the infamous Peter Pan syndrome of many San Francisco men. They are able to live a life of little responsibility, having fun all the time and never committing to a community, a home, a woman, a career. And again, I’m torn. I don’t deny that it’s an appealing lifestyle. But it’s essentially a prolonged adolescence, a state of arrested development. It ultimately bothers me because at some point in life, we must grow up. College is awesome, from ages 18 to 22, but do I really want to relive that lifestyle as a woman in her thirties? No. I am free from the responsibilities of family, as I am unmarried with no children, but I do feel a sense of responsibility to myself and my community. I realize there is more to life than having fun (though having fun and enjoying oneself is important). Serving others, being a good daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, using one’s talents for good. I think these things are the hallmark of maturity. And because I’ve wanted to be a grownup since I was about 5 years old, I look on at the extreme youth culture of Silicon Valley with some bemusement. I mostly think, grow up kids.
Having said all that, Facebook, if you ever want to hire me, give me a call!
I recently found a link online to UC Berkeley’s online quiz, part of their Greater Good project. It is a test of how one reads other people, as a way to gauge one’s emotional intelligence. And I have been thinking a lot about emotional intelligence lately, as I ponder which skills and abilities I have that would lend themselves to the right career.
I had a moment at my job a couple of weeks ago where I was asked to help construct chairs. It involved using tools and being handy, and it was not exactly up my alley. While I was attempting to be of some assistance, I noticed that our new secretary was sitting at her desk with tears rolling down her face. I promptly invited her to go out to get coffee, and she agreed, and as we left the office she told me what was bothering her. In that moment I thought to myself,this really reveals my stengths and weaknesses. The prospect of working with my hands, being handy, makes me nervous, simply because it has never been my forte. Yet I believe that emotional intelligence- recognizing the emotions of others and responding appropriately- is a strength, one that frankly I think is more important in life than many others.
Note in the post below that I try to figure out what happened to the company morale at my former employer, and there was a realization that my own emotional intelligence would not be rewarded. You look around and see the qualities being rewarded, and they are not qualities that you have, or would want to have. In professional and personal settings, emotional intelligence is of the utmost importance; luckily there is a growing body of research supporting this. I admit that I could improve, especially since I only scored 15 out of 20 on the quiz. Sometimes it is difficult to know not what others are feeling, but how to respond to them. Someone starts to cry- do you hug? Let them cry it out? Different people respond different ways. I try to recognize what others want in the moment. Sometimes you can just tell when someone wants to be alone.
This last weekend I was with a friend and her three year old daughter at a children’s birthday party, and it gave me great satisfaction that I was able to calm her down when she geot fussy and turn her cries into giggles. These little victories reinforce how satisfying and necessary it is to comfort others. Let’s all endeavor to improve our emotional intelligence and respond better to others so that they may respond better to us.