Peruvian food is America’s new darling ethnic cuisine. I can’t say I’m surprised – it’s one of the most diverse in the world and offers not only native Peruvian flavors, but influences from the Spanish, Japanese, Africans, Cantonese and Northern Europeans.
Combining traditional dishes with a modern twist, Fresca has been my go-to Peruvian restaurant for years. With multiple locations in San Francisco, the one in West Portal is my favorite, and easily worth the long wait to be seated. I’ve tried dishes from all over their menu, and while they’re all good, my favorite remains the lomo saltado.
Made of sliced steak stir-fried with onion, tomato, soy sauce, vinegar, aji chili and served with French fries and rice, it is a classic amalgamation of Peru’s rich culinary heritage. It is the dish I recommend first to those trying Peruvian food for the first time and the one I can’t help myself from requesting over and over again. For the thirsty, Fresca has a good selection of drinks too. I usually alternate between a Cuzqueña or Inca Kola.
Peru has long been at the top of my list of countries I want to visit. I’d love to try ceviche and anticuchos and picante de cuy in Lima. Until I do, I’ll be paying Fresca frequent visits to get my fix.
The first time I ever tried poke was, appropriately, in Hawaii. I was having dinner at Sam Choy’s Diamond Head restaurant in Honolulu a few years ago and the waiter brought around an amuse bouche of raw ahi tuna, tossed with flecks of onion, nori seaweed, edible flowers and the most magnificent sauce I’ve ever tasted.
Ever since then I’ve been obsessed with recreating the dish. One of my go-to cookbooks is Martin Yan’s Chinatown, and coincidentally, it contains Yan’s adapted recipe for Choy’s tuna poke. I made this one day when I was feeling especially wistful for Oahu and you know what? I might not have to get on a plane again to taste that memorable poke.
I was never a breakfast person growing up. I mean, I like to eat breakfast (who doesn’t?), but my morning meals have usually been a little untraditional. I mean, if you can eat pasta or steak for lunch or dinner, why not at breakfast?
But I’ve caved in. I’m a breakfast person now. I like eggs and turkey bacon; I devour sausages and hashbrowns. And that’s why I’ve become a repeat visitor to St. Francis Fountain, San Francisco’s old school diner-slash-candy store in the Mission District. Expect a wait, but it’ll be an entertaining wait as the place is always packed with the most hipstery of hipsters.
The chef’s mess (scrambled eggs with bacon, peppers, cheese, sour cream and salsa) is a popular favorite, but I often get the huevos rancheros.
The eggs are cooked just right and the salsa is fresh-tasting and spicy. During my last visit, I was feeling extra hungry and ordered the biscuits with sausage gravy, which also comes with two eggs.
The potatoes were perfectly crispy and the sausage gravy was delicious, but the biscuit was huge. Too huge. It felt like a rich mass of dough covered in a rich mass of sauce. Which is what it’s supposed to be, I guess, but in this case it was just too much. I think I was expecting a flakier, less intense biscuit.
Overall, St. Francis Fountain is a solid place to go to for breakfast or brunch. You can’t really go wrong on the menu, but some items certainly stand out more than others. The service is cheerful, the crowd is fun and I love the neighborhood.
I don’t know what it is about strip malls, but they seem to attract more than their fair share of good-quality Asian restaurants. I wasn’t exactly expecting to run into a Malaysian restaurant at one of San Mateo’s many unremarkable strip malls, but when I came across Langkawi, I was more than happy to give it a try.
Langkawi has since turned into one of my go-to Southeast Asian restaurants outside of San Francisco. It’s a little out of the way and the food is standard Malaysian fare, but it’s solid and well-prepared. My favorite dish at Langkawi is the char kway teow – the noodles are chewy but not overcooked, the seasonings have just the right amount of sweet and spicy balance and I love the extra chili sauce that they provide.
During my last visit, I also tried the cendol, a dessert-drink concoction made of shaved ice, coconut milk, green pandan leaf noodles, red beans and palm sugar.
It’s like a smoothie, slurpee, and bubble tea all mixed up together, but far less gross tasting than that description sounds. In fact, cendol is delicious and the variety of textures make it fun to eat. I’ve only seen cendol on the menu of a few Malaysian and Indonesian restaurants, but I cannot wait until it catches on and becomes as ubiquitous as bubble tea. Until then, I have Langkawi.
Emeryville is unlike most other cities in the Bay Area in that it lacks a proper downtown, most homes are condos or apartments, and everything seems so new and post-industrial. But it has a charm to it that I love, even if it lacks a rich restaurant scene. Can’t Fail Cafe is tucked away in a little corner of Emeryville, and it’d be easy to miss except that there are always huge crowds of hipsters outside waiting to be seated. Co-owned by Green Day’s bassist Mike Dirnt, the restaurant has an alternative vibe, down to the rows of Barbie dolls displayed across the walls.
While I don’t go to diners often, Can’t Fail Cafe prides itself on quality ingredients and it shows. I usually order breakfast there, but on this visit, I opted for a bacon cheeseburger with French fries.
This is actually the first bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever had. I’m not really a fan of hamburgers in general, but this was pretty good. The burger was cooked to order, the bacon was crispy but not overcooked, and the cheese binded it all together. The fries were delicious too – the right thickness, salted perfectly, and fresh tasting.
Can’t Fail Cafe is exactly the kind of diner I’d want in my neighborhood for a lazy Sunday breakfast or late-night sandwich. Unfortunately, it’s not in my neighborhood, but I make enough treks to Emervyille that I can almost pretend like it is.