Welcome to At the Table, an interactive food and restaurants column that will run occasionally in the food section. You might find one of my Grandpa Lorenzo’s recipes, or an interview with one of the hottest chefs in town. Another month might bring a look into humane farming practices, or recommendations for a restaurant where I had a particularly wonderful experience. I also want to bring you, the reader, onboard as my neighborhood eyes, ears, and taste buds — if you have a restaurant suggestion or a story you’d like me to look into, email me at [email protected].
For my first column, I’m sharing my Northside “go-to” dishes. Some may be familiar, others not so much. The restaurants might be hot and trendy, respected classics, or neighborhood favorites. I’d love to hear about your go-to dishes in the Northside, so send them to me — you might see your favorites in a future column.
Just because a restaurant is a chain doesn’t mean the food can’t shine. Take Hillstone (1800 Montgomery Street, 415-392-9280, hillstone.com) for example, which is widely regarded to have the best French dip sandwich in the Bay Area. But my go-to at Hillstone is the house-made veggie burger, a combination of brown rice, beets, black beans, and oat bran ground fresh daily and brushed with a sweet soy glaze before grilling (in a separate spot from the meat). It’s topped with melty Jack cheese, onion, tomato and cold shredded iceberg lettuce and served on a toasted house-baked bun. Tip: For a twist, order your veggie burger “California style” — it’s not on the menu, but the cooks will know to add a fan of ripe avocado, red onions, honey mustard, and arugula tossed with a touch of Italian dressing.
My current favorite North-side restaurant also has my current favorite hunk of meat: The crave-worthy beef Wellington at Maybeck’s (3213 Scott Street, 415-400-8500, maybecks.com). Served only on Wednesdays, get there early and order immediately because it sells out, then join Chef in the kitchen for the “ceremonial slicing” at 7 p.m. The puffed pastry is flaky, the mushroom duxelles earthy, and the whole beef tenderloin tucked inside is tender, pink, and juicy. Tip: Everything on the menu at Maybeck’s is delicious. I also highly recommend their fried chicken and Champagne Tuesdays.
I was a huge fan of Nick’s Crispy Tacos before partners booted namesake chef Nick Fasanella (and to add insult to injury, kept his name and recipes). But in 2011 Fasanella opened his Cow Hollow restaurant Tacko (3115 Fillmore Str-eet, 415-796-3534, tackosf.com) where you can get his original “Baja style” beer-battered fish taco topped with cilantro, cabbage, onions, roasted tomato, and lime crema. Order it “Nick’s Way” — a hard shell wrapped in a soft tortilla (so much easier to eat). Tip: Get $2 street tacos on Tuesdays.
I’m not one of those snobby food critics who refuses to visit “tourist” spots. That’s how I discovered some of the best prime rib in town at The Stinking Rose (325 Columbus Avenue, 415-781-7673, thestinkingrose.com). Slow roasted with, you guessed it, lots of garlic, the meat is juicy, tender, and cooked to medium rare perfection. Tip: If you love garlic as much as I do, start with the bagna calda (garlic cloves soaking in a hot tub of olive oil and butter with a hint of anchovy) to spread on the house-baked focaccia bread.
I’m also a huge fan of Fisherman’s Wharf (as any true San Franciscan should be), where you’ll find by far the freshest in-season Dungeness crab in San Francisco. My family goes way back with the Geraldi family, who owned The Grotto (2847 Taylor Street, 415-673-7025, thegrottosf.com) since 1935, so I was sad when they sold. But new owner Chris Henry (Tommy’s Joynt, Barrel House) took the history of the wharf’s oldest sit-down restaurant seriously. The remodel is stunning and the menu spruced up. Do not miss the addictive crab doughnuts — crustacean-stuffed fritters with sweet pepper jelly, crispy kale, lemon, and powdered sugar. Tip: The upstairs dining room features some of the city’s most breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge views.
If you’ve never tried unagi (freshwater eel) you’re missing out, and if you’ve never had the unagi sandwich at The House (1230 Grant Avenue, 415-986-8612, thehse.com) you’re missing one of the best sandwiches in town. Incredibly simple yet bursting with flavor, barbecued eel is topped with creamy avocado, crisp butter lettuce, juicy tomato, and wasabi mayonnaise and served on thick buttered toast. Tip: the unctuous garlic ginger soy grilled sea bass is also a must.
For the best cup of wonton soup in the Northside (yes, including Chinatown) head to Dragon Well (2142 Chestnut Street, 415-474-6888, dragonwell.com) — thin dough skins wrapped expertly around pork, scallion, and cabbage stuffing swimming in a delicate but tasty chicken broth topped with fresh mushrooms and spinach. Tip: This is an appetizer. Follow up with the wok-tossed prawns with garlic, red chilies, and onions in a sweet and spicy sauce.
These are a few of my go-to Northside dishes — I’d love to hear about yours.