December 1, 2010

Coming to Terms with San Francisco: My Best Of List

For a long time I've been quite frustrated with my California existence, though life isn't all that bad. It's the combination of the high cost of living, farcical state government, and a healthy dose of nostalgia for place of my upbringing. Alas, I grow older and the circumstances of my life (girlfriend, career) and the realization that I have absolutely no desire to live in Texas has forced me to re-examine the place that will more than likely be me home.

I  need to come to terms with San Francisco and this seems like the perfect excuse to make a personal "best of" list for the city. True, they are common, and more true, I may have very little to add that others haven't already stated, but I can be quite negative and I need a fresh, positive outlook.

So, here are some of my favorite things that SF gives me. Things that I haven't found elsewhere, at least not to the same degree of satisfaction. Let's start with food.

I grew up in Houston, Texas, which means the majority of restaurants are chains; Chili's, Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, and McDonald's on every block. Even the good restaurants were Houston chains, like the Pappas family restaurants (Pappasitos, Pappadeux, Pappas Steak House). San Francisco could not be more of an opposite experience. We could literally try a new restaurant (or two!) every week and chances are the food would be good. So many new restaurants open and the sheer volume of one's already in existence is mind boggling. Every culture an ethnicity is represented; I've eaten every type of Asian cuisine (both traditional and fusion), Ethiopian food, Italian food that's traditional, Americanized, and modern, Moroccan, California cuisine, Mexican, Peruvian, and if I wanted, Russian and others.

I'm constantly thankful for the food offered as it makes life so exciting. I have a lot of favorites but I'm only going to discuss a handful. These are the ones I've been to dozens of times, the restaurants that have never served me anything short of amazing.

Sushi is an obsession of my girlfriend. It's not something to which someone is exposed as commonly in Texas/Oklahoma, so it was a fairly new flavor for me. It quickly became a culinary treat I crave similarly to my girlfriend. It's the perfect combination of simple flavors -- fish, rice, cucumber, done. But even more, like with all great foods there is so much room for innovation and variety despite the simple premiser. I can go to Godzilla for cheap, typical sushi if I want to walk 3 minutes from my house. Or I can try Akiko's, a hole in the wall just off Union Square that has two rolls I've never seen elsewhere: the Lizzy Roll and the Sumo Roll. But there's also Tataki, a restaurant that serves only sustainable fish and is trying to push the rolls in new directions with delicious sauces and flavor combinations.

This is an outstanding restaurant built for small groups of 4-6. It's great if you don't want to spend a lot of money but desire to consume huge quantities of delicious food. The main course consists of amazing, juicy, flavorful rotisserie chicken with fantastic sauces. But before you get there you must first order a pitcher of sangria, wade through small plates like the chicharron de pollo and a variety of ceviches. But, back to the chicken. Order the whole chicken and two sides for $15. I suggest the tacu tacu, sweet potato fries, and order a side of rice. When you pour the sauce and chicken over the top it's just delicious.

Front Porch
Who would have thought the best southern comfort food is found in San Francisco? Head into the nice part of the Mission where parking isn't too bad and bring your big pants. Order the bucket of fried chicken and pour their original hot sauce all over the top. It'll be the best chicken you've ever had, just make sure to plan a good jog the following morning.

Little Star
Hands down the best pizza I've ever had in my life. They specialize in deep dish but are more than apt at making your taste buds happy with their thin crust as well. You cannot go wrong with the pizzas, but you will be doing yourself a disservice if you don't order the plate of wings to start or forget to order some of their tasty beers or champagne mixed drinks.

Burma Super Star
This restaurant is mind-bogglingly good. If you haven't had Burmese food don't worry -- it's essentially Chinese food with some hints of Indian cuisine. In case you are not aware, this is a very good thing. A few things will greatly increase your enjoyment of Burma Super Star. Firstly, this restaurant is packed 7 days a week and they don't take reservations. Call about an hour ahead, get your name on the list, then show up with about 30 minutes to go in order to find parking. You may wait anywhere from 5 minutes to a half hour, which is fine. This place is best for a couple, though getting a table for four isn't too difficult. It'd be a disservice to Burma to not recognize their fantastic wait staff as well. Most Asian restaurants in SF seem to pride themselves on being curt with their guests, not to mention getting your drink refilled is nigh impossible. Absolutely not the case with Burma.

Once inside order a little bit of everything. The Burmese Samusas are delicious, especially because of the sauce. Do not leave without ordering either the Tea Leaf or Rainbow salads. Both are amazing, though I must give the nod to the Tea Leaf. You've never had anything like it, I promise (unless you've been to Burma Superstar or your aunt is Burmese). I have had so many delightful things on the main menu -- it's hard to go wrong. Order 1 or 2 of the main dishes, but don't forget to order the coconut rice. Finally, before you leave order the fresh fruit platha for dessert.

I think this is a good start for food. Let's move on to...people.

Filipinos are awesome!

There are a ton of Filipinos in the Bay Area. A large percentage of them are good friends with my girlfriend and therefore, at least from my side of the equation, have become good friends of mine. I love Filipinos and frankly, they don't exist in Texas.

"Surely Filipinos exist in Texas," you say. "Maybe," I reply. "But chances are we just thought they were a Mexican dude."

You may think I'm being insincere but I'm absolutely not. Filipinos are loyal, jolly, and fun loving folks. They laugh heartily and love to eat. They are very close to their family and respect them greatly. I haven't been terribly pleased with Filipino cuisine outside of Lumpia, but I also haven't had good Filipino food yet. So who knows?

The City Itself

Crissy Field is easily one of my favorite places on this planet. In the midst of this packed, loud, and often dirty city exists this serene and beautiful field of tall grass. From the field one has a view of the bay, Alcatraz island, the Golden Gate bridge, Marin, as well as a series of charming old military buildings that are now used as a rock climbing gym, etc. I love how quiet and open the field is.

I go there at least once per week, often more, and few things bring me more pleasure than wading through the soaked grasses in my galoshes, coffee in hand, with my tiny beast of a Corgi running around with sheer joy on her face.

If you live in the right neighborhood in San Francisco (for me, that's around Fillmore street/Pac Heights), you can enjoy a slew of great restaurants, pretty streets, and kind people. I walk my dog on a 40 minute loop twice per day. Although the route rarely differs, it's always a good walk to be had. It's become a great part of my routine that I don't think would be as enjoyable in the suburbs. If I had 30 acres in the country, sure, that would top this. But, I'm not a millionaire.

I think more than anything I like walking. When I lived in Austria during college I loved walking everywhere and chose to do so in lieu of public transit. You see so much more. I've spent a maddening number of hours in traffic for my commute, so the arrival of a relatively car-free evening or weekend is a breath of sometimes dirty, urine filled air, but air nonetheless.

The Giants

I'm admittedly a fairly terrible sports fan. It's a phenomenally huge time commitment and it's difficult to commit time to a team that is likely to lose. Unless you follow the Yankees the chances of your team going all the way are nil. But, I've always loved baseball. The game moves slowly, but I understand the components, the intricacies, and love the ease of the crowd and religious fanaticism with which baseball fans revere the hot dog.

I went to my first Giants game the first week I moved to San Francisco. Perhaps ironically they were playing my former team, the Houston Astros. Naturally, the Giants won. I was able to develop a strong affection for the team via a Vice President at my girlfriend's company who owned two sets of season tickets and often gave them out for free. I saw Tim Lincecum pitch 6 wins the first year he won the Cy Young. Even though the Giants were a losing team I loved the pitching staff and the sheer beauty of AT&T park. Then, last year, the Giants had a .500 season. And this year they win the World Series! I haven't had a team win the championship since Michael Jordan left the NBA and the Rockets picked up the scraps for '93 and '94 championship victories.

I've only been a fan for 4 years but I saw through the bad and delighted in the incredible. Lincecum, Wilson, Sanchez, Cain -- these are great players on a great team. I cannot wait to see where they go.

I think this post is getting a bit long, eh?

And you?
What do you love about San Francisco? What do you love about where you live? I know I'm horribly guilty of complaining constantly. Surely there is plenty to pick apart in all fairness, but if things are outside of my control does that do anything but degrade my blood pressure?

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