It’s easy to forget sometimes how small San Francisco really is. I was reminded of this recently when I trekked to the foggy Outer Sunset District to grab some takeout at my favorite Chinese barbecue joint. For unctuous roasted duck, you must go to Cheung Hing (2339 Noriega Street, 415-665-3271). There’s always a line out the door, but it’s worth the wait. Arrive early enough and you can also get roast pork with crackling skin.
BEST BARGAIN MEAL
For a sit-down meal and one of the best deals in the city, head to nearby Parkside for Taraval Okazu Ya (1735 Taraval Street, 415-759-6850). On cold nights the windows steam over thanks to the popular sizzling platters — fresh seafood dusted in rice flour and cooked until golden on a cast-iron skillet over a bed of bean sprouts, carrots, peas, zucchini, and caramelized onions.
The selections change by season and include local catches like halibut and petrale or more universal fare like swordfish, catfish, and sturgeon. Platters come with miso soup, rice, and green tea ice cream, and most are under $20. This is a place I prefer to keep to myself, but my food writer duty calls.
SMALL BUT MIGHTY MARKET
Decades ago my mom shopped at a farm stand in Sunnyvale, the Corn Palace, where she got the freshest produce from growers at a great price. That was a precursor to today’s farmers’ markets, but unfortunately many have become trendy, huge, and pricy. Not so at the charming North Beach Farmers’ Market (699 Columbus Avenue, northbeachfarmersmarket.com), where every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. you’ll find a beautifully curated selection of locally grown and handcrafted gastronomic delights.
A collaboration of North Beach Neighbors and restaurant Piazza Pellegrini, the small but mighty market features vegetables from Veliz Organic Farms, herbs and flowers from Fly Girl Farms, fruit from Resendiz and Rodriguez Farms, and more.
I made my mom’s pomodoro sauce from ripe, juicy San Marzano tomatoes hand-picked by Rosaria Veliz. I’m also a huge fan of the hot curry humus from Obour, smoked salmon spread by Freshway Fish, and the wide array of Bolani East & West Gourmet flatbreads and dips (think spinach-filled dough slathered with lentil curry). Don’t miss Upper Crust Baking Company’s “Chalapeño” — challah bread studded with jalapeños and cheddar and jack cheeses.
There’s usually live music, and on a recent visit, Cole Hardware had a booth for kids to build their own terrariums.
COCKTAILS AND TAPAS
A friend suggested we check out Hotel San Francisco (653 Commercial Street, 415-263-9222), and it was well worth yelling over the raucous Friday happy hour crowd for the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had — a smooth concoction of Rittenhouse Rye, Four Roses Bourbon, maple Frangelico, and aromatic bitters, topped with a house-dried blood orange slice. The remaining liquid gold is served alongside in a precious apothecary bottle.
HSF’s tapas are also noteworthy. I loved the Greens & Grains, which was as pretty as it was tasty with cucumber, avocado, fava, kale, grains, grilled chicken, and edible flowers. The chicken liver pate was also a hit. Rotating specials mirror the quirky personalities of the owners from Down Under: Mani Mondays (free manicure with drink purchase) and Friday Lobster Lunch with $99 magnums of Collet Champagne. They also cater to groups — the night we visited, a bachelorette party was having a blast as the bartender served cocktails lit with sparklers.
AUTHENTIC TUSCAN FOOD
One of my favorite Italian spots, North Beach Restaurant (512 Stockton Street, 415-889-2947) is in the midst of a renaissance. After patriarch-founder Lorenzo Petroni passed away in 2014, the place faltered a bit before settling back into what it’s always been known for — consistent, authentic Tuscan food served in a classy setting where you might find Willie “Da Mayor” Brown or Russian tourists sampling Petroni’s impressive grappa collection.
Packed during a late Saturday supper, the meal was on point, from garlicky linguine with fresh clams to my favorite salad in the city, topped with a snowfall of Roquefort curls that melt into the mixed greens. Other standouts are the local grilled petrale in lemon and butter sauce, delicate abalone doré, house-cured prosciutto with melon, and chicken livers sautéed in a mushroom Barbera sauce.
All the pastas are terrific, but my favorite is the simply classic Spaghettini Lorenzo: strands of al dente pasta lightly coated in tomato sauce, just 247 calories and cholesterol free (according to the menu, “as tested by UC Berkeley.”) It doesn’t stay that way, however, when showered with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
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