Navigating extensive menus at restaurants can be overwhelming—the plethora of choices leading to order anxiety and FOMO. I have a formula that helps: take the number of recommended dishes per person, multiply that by the number of people, then multiply that by two. Over-ordering ensures variety, increases the odds of finding the tasty, and provides leftovers for lunch the next day. Food for four for two is living your best life.
Five-Spice Quail at Bac Lieu
I have a few other strategies to help with long menus besides straight-up gluttony. First, focus on the chef’s recommendations/specials section—if a restaurant is calling out specific dishes, you’ll likely encounter their best work. Second, order something you’ve never eaten—it’s guaranteed to be the best version you’ve ever had. Lastly, ask the server what they recommend, and keep asking, “What else?” until something speaks to you. This last tip is how I found out about the five-spiced quail from Bac Lieu, a new restaurant in Bernal specializing in “homestyle Vietnamese cuisine.” Marinated overnight in fish sauce, soy sauce, lemongrass, and secret spices, it’s deep-fried and served with a lime wedge and side of salt and pepper. Mix these condiments to create a dipping sauce, and go to town. It’s crispy and meaty, salty and acidic—in short, the perfect drinking snack, best washed down with an ice-cold Saigon bia or two. 3216 Mission St.
Stuffed Churros at S.F. Churros “Los Munchies”
Look past the megaphone-wielding evangelists screaming the praises of Jesus Cristo and the heads-down commuters going in and out of BART on the bustling northwest corner of 24th St. in The Mission, and you’ll find a bright, beautiful diamond shining in the rough: the S.F. Churros “Los Munchies” churros cart. Two minutes and $2 gets you one of the tastiest street treats San Francisco has to offer. In one tiny cart, they mix churros dough, pipe it into bubbling fry oil and coat it in cinnamon and sugar. For an extra $.50, you can get a churro stuffed with chocolate, vanilla, strawberry preserves or cajeta (my favorite). Pro tip 1: ask for the churros dorado extra crispy. Pro tip 2: get it stuffed half-and-half with your choice of two sauces. 24th and Mission St.
Seafood Pancake at Umma I’ll always order haemul pajeon (Korean seafood pancakes) if they’re on a menu, but as everything people cook, not all versions are equal. “The two things I always disliked about Korean seafood pancakes were that they were soggy and there was never enough seafood,” says Chef Chris Oh. “So, I fixed it.” He seasons the pancake batter with doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste) and includes a generous portion of plump, juicy pieces of rockshrimp and cute baby scallops. The whole thing is double-fried to ensure crispiness, topped with a scattering of shaved scallions and served with a dish of sweetened house-made soy sauce. Relatedly, Oh has two more projects planned in San Francisco come early 2020. You heard it here first, folks. 1120 9th Ave.
Kaisen-don at Café Okawari
Chef Trevor Molyneux has been cooking in San Francisco kitchens for a decade, working with legendary chefs., including Hiro Sone (James Beard Best Chef in California 2003) of Michelin-starred Ame and Ron Siegal (opening sous of The French Laundry). Molyneux also spent time at Akiko’s, Kuma, and helped open Ju-Ni. Now he’s opened Café Okawari, a small all-day restaurant on Townsend serving American/Japanese-style comfort food. Molyneux has never been to Japan, and that’s okay—he has an evident passion and respect for the cuisine and focused experience to stand on. Taste the culmination of Molyneux’s work with the Kaisen-don, nine pieces of fresh, expertly cut sashimi over a bowl of perfectly seasoned sushi rice. A layer of colorful, crunchy pickles sits on top—eat them between bites of fish. Get the uni supplement if they have it because eating sea gonads is naughty delicious. 236 Townsend St.
Everything at Nari
Nari is chef Pim Techamuanvivit’s followup to her Michelin-starred Thai restaurant, Kin Khao. Although younger, Nari feels like the older sibling: more mature and sophisticated. Techamuanvivit and her chef de cuisine Meghan Clarke have an uncanny ability to create layers upon layers of flavors, making dishes new and familiar all at once. The enigmatic crispy veal sweetbreads, for example, satisfies the Nosratian requirements of salt, fat, acid, heat, while also adding sweet and sour to the mix. The fried Thaimus gland (see what I did there?) is just one of the many things you should order at Nari. My best recommendation is to try everything. Go with a few people, start with cocktails and order anything and everything that sounds appealing from each section of the menu. Mark my words, you’ll be seeing Nari pop up on local and national best-of and must-eat lists—starting with this one right here, right now. 1625 Post St.