Namu Gaji was one of San Francisco’s most anticipated restaurant openings last year, especially after its predecessor Namu closed up shop in the Richmond District in 2011. I visited their new Mission District outpost with my friend Penny last fall soon after their reopening, eager to try out their New-American-meets-Korean fare.
I wasn’t disappointed. We started with the grilled octopus, served with onions and coated in a spicy-sweet sauce. The octopus was tender and and slightly smoky, and we nibbled on bites of banchan to accompany this dish. (Speaking of which, banchan is not complimentary at Namu Gaji as it as at traditional Korean restaurants. It’s also less varied, albeit still tasty.)
Next, we shared a plate of the beef tongue. The tongue isn’t on the menu at the moment, but I’m crossing my fingers that it’ll be back soon, since this might be the best beef tongue I’ve ever hand. This was just wonderful: so tender you could cut it with chopsticks, but browned to a slight crisp on its exterior. A garnish of lime and ground red pepper made this a simple yet satisfying dish.
Lastly, we had the ramyun, which is purportedly a must-eat at Namu Gaji. Handmade noodles, a hot dog, a panko crusted egg, and kimchi make up this dish, and while it was good, it was actually my least favorite dish of the evening. The noodles were wonderful, but huge breaded egg wasn’t needed (gooey, runny egg, please!). Still, I love the riff on budae jigae.
Namu Gaji was worth the wait and I know I’ll be back for more. It’s worth the nearly constant crowd (make sure to make reservations) and the friendly waitstaff along with a solid menu make dining here an instant favorite. Just bring back the beef tongue, guys!
San Francisco’s North Beach is just about the last place in the city I’d go looking for good ramen, but lo and behold, there it is. Tucked in between Broadway Street’s seedy strip clubs and hole in the wall pizza joints, Kirmachi Ramen is an oasis of fresh, chewy noodles and hearty, flavorful broth.
The menu at Kirimachi Ramen is limited, but the focus here is on quality, not quantity. My favorite is the tonkotsu ramen, which comes in a lighter broth than what I’m used to for tonkotsu, and that’s a good thing. I can eat the whole bowl and not feel like I overdid it afterwards. The tonkotsu ramen comes with the standard bean sprouts, pork meat, fish cake, and green onion toppings, and a perfectly cooked oh-so-slightly-runny boiled egg.
Kirimachi may be the lone ramen shop in it’s neighborhood, but don’t be fooled. It’s among the best ramen in the city.
Lers Ros Thai is arguably the most popular Thai restaurant in San Francisco. With two locations, both feature an impressive menu with dishes you’d be hard pressed to find at Thai spots more suited to American palates. The Tenderloin location is their original outpost, but I visited their Hayes Valley restaurant on my first visit. I was going to see chef David Chang speak at the nearby Herbst Theatre with my friend Penny afterwards, and what better to whet my appetite with than spicy, herby Thai food?
We started with the garlic quail. Deep-fried and flecked with loads of garlic, this was delicious. The sweet chili sauce on the side tempered the meat’s rich flavor and left us hungry for more.
As an entree, we shared an order of red curry with roasted duck. The curry was served with chunks of tomato and pineapple, lending a sweet note to an otherwise fiery dish. The duck itself was good, albeit the roasted flavor wasn’t as strong as I was hoping for.
Lastly, we split a plate of stir-fried beef with chili paste, young peppercorn, and galangal. Also spicy and rich, this dish may have been my favorite. Galangal is like ginger times ten: powerful, peppery, and slightly sweet. Oh, and note to self: do not attempt to eat the peppercorns.
The menu is long, the ambiance is modern, and the service is friendly at Lers Ros Thai. I can’t help but wonder how it compares to the original location in the Tenderloin. Guess I know where I’m going for my next Thai food jaunt.
Here’s a pro-tip: Always go to ABC Cafe with Chinese-speaking friends. Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, this casual Hong Kong-style ABC Cafe has become one of my favorite haunts for a quick lunch, but not without some help. On my first visit, I shared a meal with my friend Karen, who helped me navigate in Cantonese and narrow down what is otherwise an overwhelming menu.
I ordered the shui kau lo mein, a filling dish of shrimp, meat, and wood ear mushroom dumplings, chewy noodles, and steamed vegetables. Shui kau have since become one one of my favorite kinds of dumplings, and I’ve had them at ABC Cafe in noodle soup form, too.
Curiosity got the best of me, so I also ordered a cup of yuanyang, a hot drink that’s part milk tea, part coffee. The combination might sound, uh, unique, but I loved it. Served with a dollop of condensed milk, it was the perfect beverage for a foggy San Francisco afternoon.
ABC Cafe is nearly always busy, but the wait is short and the ambiance is super casual. Go here if you want a taste of Hong Kong without having to hop on a plane.
Mission Cheese opened over a year ago, but I didn’t get around to visiting until this summer. I was suspicious — a restaurant dedicated to just cheese? Don’t get me wrong — you can’t really go wrong with cheese, but I was hesitant to make a full meal out of a menu dedicated to cheese, cheese, and more cheese. (Oh, and a bit of wine.)
I had dinner there one evening and started off with a cheese flight. I can’t recall which cheeses we ordered, but they were all delicious, and full of salty, creamy flavor. The selection changes daily and is categorized by (American) geographic region, and the staff is more than happy to guide you through the ordering process if you’re not sure what you want.
Next, we shared an order of Eric’s country pate. I don’t know who Eric is, but he makes some of the finest-tasting pate I’ve ever had. Duck confit and pork pate are mixed with cherries and pistachios for a crumbly, meaty, oh-so-rich texture that paired perfectly with cornichons and our glasses of pinot noir.
We rounded out our meal with a skillet of mac and cheese, topped with breadcrumbs and toasted just right. I’m not sure what kind of cheese they’re using here, as the menu attributes it to a secret recipe, but it’s definitely worth ordering again.
A couple caveats about Mission Cheese: they close at 8pm, so plan on an early evening of cheese and imbibing. And they’re located on a busy stretch of Valencia Street. Hipsters. Need I say more? Still, I’ll gladly tolerate ironic flannel for this cheese. Who knew one humble ingredient could go so far?