Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Burgers of Akron

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- The Sweet Hamburgs of Northeast Ohio

I've had Swensons on my radar since at least 2010, when a thread on LTH  first appeared. So I was excited to finally get a chance to try them and also Sky-Way and Bob's Hamburg, the last one being another spot long on my to-try list. After a little bit of browsing around I soon found a third drive-in giving Akron as many as Kenosha. So the question then became is Akron's burger game on the same level as it's most famous residents basketball game? Seeing as how I had Grub Seeker on my side it was possible to try all four spots out. I gotta keep my burger credentials at a presidential level.
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Bob's Hamburg

The reason we'd be in Akron was the fact we were headed to Pittsburgh. I knew when we decided to take the trip that these stops would be made but there were plenty of others to stop into as well. So we did the homework and found Bob's to close early Sunday at a time we probably wouldn't make it. Thus it was the very first stop of an eventual thirty.

Our view at the counter

Bob's is the elder statesman of burger shops in Akron having been around since 1931. They're the only one on here that's not a full service drive-in. More like a diner, and dive. Surprisingly the bleached blonde spiky hair was nowhere to be found on the walls inside. It's got everything going for it as far as a classic All American Hamburger stop. They do a classic Midwest style smashed burger on a very old school 4x2 grill with a broiler on bottom used to toast the buns. The balls of beef are the biggest I've come across from a spot as old as Bob's but I don't know if it's always been that way. While prices have changed they're still damn cheap coming in at $4.40 for a single and less than a dollar more for a double. All the way is mustard, pickle, onion, lettuce and Bob's Special Sauce. I had to go with that and came to learn the special sauce was very similar to chili sauce with a hint of cumin. The onions were of the McDonald's variety and thus you couldn't help but think of Mickey D's when eating this burger. Though the rest of it, specifically the beef, made this one so much better. Probably my favorite in Akron. I do love those onions.

Double Cheeseburger
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Swensons Drive-In

Ah yes, finally. Swenson's has a few locations but the original is the one to go too. Sunday evening so it was packed with cars and runners, literally, the Curb boys sprint to and from each car. Seriously hopeful none of them startle the wrong guy in that crazy state. The star of the show here is the Galley Boy. The cheeseburger I long wanted to try. I love unique eats and while some of them don't add up I thought the Galley Boy was a whiz kid. The top sauce was a mayo based concoction similar to the ones in the spots coming up while the bottom sauce was a sweet tangy BBQ variety supposedly made with brown sugar. When it was all put together I thought it worked wonderful. As this was our last stop before heading home I immediately regretted not ordering another for the road. I also realize I forgot to get a bologna sandwich. Hopefully there's a next time. I liked Swensons.



The Galley Boy Hamburg
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Sky-Way Drive-In

Next up was another locals favorite, this one around since 1952. We went to what I believe was the original but then we passed this one seen above with neon and I was able to snap a perfect pic at the red light. This place too is curbside service only and though it wasn't as packed as Swensons there were some people there. The site brags about the beef being fresh and the burgers being cooked to order. You want a medal for that? Their famous "sandwich" is the SkyHi which is a double decker hamburger with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onion.

SkyHi Sandwich

Sounds familiar but Jim called it a generic Big Mac without the signature McD's onions. No sesame seeded bun either, instead it was toasted plain. I liked it more than that but not as much as Jim's Hamburger Heaven in Elmhurst which I think makes the best Double Decker burger. The special sauce from here was more like a garlic infused mayo and I pretty much agree with Peter's assessment in that it's a perfectly good fast food burger but in a town taking them so serious it's not the best. I forgot to order the onion rings and those looked really good.

The insides
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Dilly's Drive-In

If what I read online was correct than Dilly's is the baby of the Akron burger boys. It only got its start in 1986. There's not nearly as much online about this spot but the Akronite's that like it swear by their signature dilly sauce. It too is a curbside only drive-in and home to the Dilly Burger.

Double Dilly Burger

This was another damn good burger but I couldn't detect the tangy BBQ/Sugar sauce that was in a Swensons offering. From what I read there was many comparing the two so I don't know if thats supposed to be the case or not but it was a good burger. Someone described the sauce as tartar sauce though I didn't think it tasted much like that. There was some relish and green olive taste to it and I liked it with the cheddar but didn't detect another sauce. They also have a pepper burger served with fried banana peppers on top. Again...I forgot to order that. Haha.

The insides

Dilly's probably has the best view of all of the Akron Drive-in's. You can see the Goodyear Airdock, the Rubber Bowl, the Derby Downs, and watch planes land at Akron Airport while in your car enjoying a Dilly Burger.

The now vacated Rubber Bowl...See ya next time
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Bob's Hamburg
1351 East Ave
Akron, OH 44307
(330) 253-2627

Swensons Drive In
40 S Hawkins Av
Akron, OH 44312
330-864-8416

Skyway Drive-In
951 E Turkeyfoot Lake Rd
Akron, OH 44312
(330) 896-9350

Dilly's Drive-In
1921 Triplett Blvd
Akron, OH 44312
(330) 798-0170

Friday, August 28, 2015

Empanada Triangle

-Grubbing in Chicago
Empanadas Everywhere

The Cubs are on fire and Wrigleyville, and in larger part Lakeview, is buzzing. There's an entire new culture of baseball being paved and it couldn't be more exciting. Even the food options in and around the stadium have gotten better. Today I present a little empanada eating triangle that will take you thru Lakeview. The snacks which are popular in many South American countries are becoming a favorite quick bite for the residents of the neighborhood. On top of these three there's also the wonderful baked empanadas most always available in the case in front at El Mercado Meat Market.
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5411 Empanadas

We'll start off with the odds on favorite for most well known of the trio. 5411 Empanadas got its start as a food truck and they now have two brick & mortar locations including the first to open on Clark street just next door to the Century Mall. 5411 sells Argentinian style baked empanadas. The menu boasts a couple handfuls worth of flavors and each of comes wrapped its own way so the customer can tell which is which. I'm partial to the beef with malbec sauce. Others I've found to be too sweet or lacking flavor. The chimichurri dipping sauce does pair perfectly with the Malbec beef filling. For whatever reason I've found the offerings at Clark street to be better than North avenue.

Empanadas at 5411 Empanadas
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Empanadas, Burgers & More

A couple miles North on Clark you'll find this somewhat new spot with a pretty generic name. I wasn't sure what to think of it but the menu, the empanada side anyway, did tempt me to stop in. Boy am I glad I did. This place is making Colombian style empanadas which means they're fried.

Empanadas at Empanadas, Burgers, & More

The menu boasts about ten different selections though I haven't been able to order anything other than the traditional Colombian chicken which comes packed with shredded chicken, rice, hard boiled egg, and lots of onion and garlic mixed in. The other one I love is the Mexican nacho offering. It comes with seasoned ground beef, nacho cheese, refried beans, sauteed onions, and peppers. Its a big ass fiesta in your mouth. They also offer two different dipping sauces. One being a traditional Colombian style Aji dipping sauce made with tomato, cilantro, green onions and vinegar. The other is called a a Salsa Rosada and it's a blend of ketchup, mayo and a secret ingredient. I was surprised by this place.

The inside of a Macho Nacho
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Cafe Tola

Our final spot is on Southport just North of Addison. It's a cute little building that I always thought would make a great hot dog spot. For a while it was a exterminator company's office but a couple years ago this vibrant little coffee shop opened up shop. It needs to be more well known. While I don't drink coffee they make their own empanadas in house and if they have the shredded goat option available you will be in for one of the best things you've eaten lately. They must pack it in cold because somehow the baked treat packs plenty of juice when you bite into it. Go see for yourself.

Empanada at Cafe Tola
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5411 Empanadas
2850 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 755-5411

Empanadas, Burgers & More
3307 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 857-0189

Cafe Tola
3612 N Southport Ave
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 687-8428

Monday, August 24, 2015

Roadfood in Illinois

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Random Stops in the Land of Lincoln

I've got so many food stops in random Illinois towns I thought it was time to start getting some of them online. As a lifelong city resident I really do feel bad for those who rarely leave Chicago, as good as it is there's some fun places in areas outside of Chicagoland. Most of them presenting beautiful views you wont find in the city. There's some great small towns and state parks to explore and you're going to be hungry while doing so. Get out and Enjoy Illinois sometime soon.
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Candlelight Inn

Sterling, IL

This place down in Central Illinois is a classic. They've been at it for close to 50 years. Locals flock from all angles to get some chicken George in their life. It's basically fresh battered chicken tenders served with a special dipping sauce. I stopped in one day to finally try them. They weren't quite fried fresh because she told us they'd be out in a minute when I asked for them to-go. They make them in large batches as I saw in a video looking up the address, this caused a few to stick but nonetheless they were pretty dang enjoyable for chicken strips. We both agreed they were like a dish you may find at an American-Chinese restaurant which sometimes you just need. The sauce reminded me of the house sauce at southern chicken finger chains like Zaxby's. Kids will love them.

Chicken George with Jan's Special Sauce
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Dog 'n Suds

Grayslake, IL

Way up north near where Illinois meets Wisconsin is one of the last of a dying breed. There was a time when Dog n Suds were found all over but the few that remain are independently owned. One of them up in Grayslake is still going strong over the summer season.

Drive-In Hot Dogs

This stop was made a few years ago but I doubt much has changed. They had both classic Chicago style hot dogs (minus poppy seed bun) as well as Coney dogs. I tried one of each and was happy with the product. Neither was the best example of their respective styles but both were satisfying. Even better was the fresh brewed root beer served alongside them.

Coney Dog (L) Chicago style (R)
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Da Rajun Cajun

McNabb, IL

Down in the Illinois River Region there's another Cajun joint opened by a former Louisiana resident. Da Rajun Cajun calls itself a southern style restaurant and bar and features live music on the weekends. We sat at the bar for a beer one night while riding home and watched the locals have a good time with the female owner. Her house gumbo was very interesting. It was different but all gumbos are. This one had some redness to it from tomatoes as well as smoked chicken and sausage. The rice was about as fluffy a scoop as I've ever had. Wonder if it was Carolina gold. Good stuff.

House Gumbo
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La Gondola Spaghetti House

Bloomington, IL

While down in the land of the Redbirds I spied this building up above and it looked cool, in the old school sort of way so I pulled inside the lot to see what was up. Turns out this is a locals favorite sandwich shop that also serves spaghetti. The Website says they've been around since 1982 and the pizza bread sandwich is a common mention in reviews. So I tried one. Gross. The red sauce was way too sweet for me. I think the only way to like this sandwich is to have grown up on it.

Pizza Bread Sandwich
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Shooters Bar & BBQ

O'Fallon, IL

I was down in St. Louis this past Spring visiting my friend and we did some good eating as always. He took me to a spot he likes over on the Illinois side of town. I told him to order what was good and we ended up with some amazing wings and a somewhat gimmicky rack of ribs. The wings were stuffed with jambalaya and smoked. Dope. They reminded me of the stuffed wings at the Hmong Market in Milwaukee except better. The skin was perfectly crunchy and the meat was still pretty moist when bitten into. The rice inside was like reaching the center of a blow pop.

Jambalaya Stuffed Smoked Chicken Wings

The insides

The ribs we ordered were of the deep fried variety. They're smoked first and then dropped in the fryer with a bunch of dry rub sticking to them. Not awful by any means but not something you wanted to eat an entire rack of. It was almost like candy.

Deep Fried Ribs
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Candlelight Inn
2907 N Locust St
Sterling, IL 61081
(815) 625-2600

Dog 'n Suds
454 Center St
Grayslake, IL 60030
(847) 223-4601

Da Rajun Cajun
3289 Rt 89
McNabb, IL 61335
(815) 882-2323

La Gondola Spaghetti House
509 S Main St
Bloomington, IL 61701
(309) 828-4141

Shooters Bar & BBQ
113 E 1st St
O'Fallon, IL 62269
(618) 622-2227

Friday, August 21, 2015

Mindy's Hot Chocolate

-Weekend Brunchin'

I think you could consider Hot Chocolate one of the pioneers of the Damen avenue stretch of Bucktown which is crammed with bars restaurants and boutiques. They've been on the block for over a decade and in that time has become many neighborhood residents favorite spot to brunch.

Locals favorite in Bucktown

I'm not a big breakfast guy and don't need brunch like some so my review is more because of my feelings for the brunch. Granted this visit was 4/5 months ago I still remember what I liked about it, and some things I didn't. The donuts were pretty good but served lukewarm which to me kills the whole point of ordering them in a restaurant. If they're not fried to order they're like most others.

Cinnamon Spiced Donuts 

Looks like their menu has changed for the season but on the last one they had a pretty good example of shrimp and grits but it seemed to be missing that oomph that other versions tried. Maybe the grits needed some shrimp stock or if they already had some maybe more was needed.

Shrimp and Grits with Diced Bacon + Poached Egg

One of the most popular menu items at Hot Chocolate is the burger. It's been listed in a few 'best of' lists and many people around town claim it as their favorite. During the Brunch hour they simply add an egg. I', starting to become more of a no egg on my burger guy because I think it takes something away from the beef which in this case was a really nice blend from Slagel Farms. It was however served medium when asked for medium rare so that kind of annoyed me. I should be mandatory that all beef from farms such as Slagel be served medium rare or rare. The bacon took more flavor from the beef though it was bacon so. I liked that the accompaniments to the burger came as build your own but really disliked the bun which was way to dense. I like them fluffy. I hate pretzel buns. All in all this was a good burger just not one I would call my favorite. See ya next time.

Brunch Burger - slagel Farms beef, organic bacon, Carr Valley aged cheddar, pickle, sesame bun, house made chips

Mindy's Hot Chocolate
1747 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-1747
Website

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fogo's Peri Peri

-KingT's Wing Fling

Chicago's Peri-Peri craze is in full effect with the recent openings of Nando's with more to come. Out in the sleepy suburb of Skokie they've been noshing on the popular South African/Portuguese hot sauce slathered grilled chicken at a place called Fogo's.

Peri Peri in Skokie

Fogo's was the first arrival of the handful of spots serving and or specializing in peri-peri chicken. They've been around for a little less than a year and in that time they seem to have established a nice clientele base proving that people in Skokie can indeed enjoy something different. Upon walking in to Fogo's it has the feel of a casual fast food restaurant. Your options are traditional grilled chicken, grilled wings, and tenders which are also used to make wraps and sandwiches. There's also vegetarian options and a handful of sides including Cassava Fries made with sliced fresh manioc root.

Fogo's Story

I opted to try the wings a while back shortly after trying Nando's. I ordered them hot and chose a side of their signature rice which is described as lightly spiced. The wings came extra tender with a nice char. They use the twice cooked method which worked well for these because it was all about the sauce. It brought some real heat that was a great change of pace from Buffalo style wings. The rice also brought fire and I enjoyed it about as much one can a side of rice. The meal was a pleasant surprise as other reviews I read were mixed. But I think if I stick to this order I'll be happy.

Peri Peri Wings and Spicy Rice from Fogo's

Fogo's Peri Peri
4915 Oakton Street
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 675-5000
Website

Monday, August 17, 2015

La Chaparrita

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

When I started the Chicago Taco Tour some 2.5 years ago I was on a mission not just to eat and then document each and every taqueria in Chicagoland but also to find a spot that was near the level of La Chaparrita. While it's far from over it's a mission I am still on. Having tried 200+ taquerias and or other spots with tacos on their menu I am still searching for a place as perfect as La Chaparrita.

a locals favorite in Little Village 

Tucked away on a corner one block off the always busy 26th street sits this family grocery that also happens to have the best taco options top to bottom. The fact I have yet to find a place as good as La Chaparrita is no indictment on Chicago's taco scene. I have heavy confidence in saying this place would be one of if not the best taquerias in every city from New York to Los Angeles including all zipcodes in Texas. It more represents a stamp being cemented when it comes to the legitimacy of Chicago's Mexican food scene. It's no doubt near the very top and Chaparrita is proof.

César at Work over the Charola

This is one of my Top 5 places to take out of town guests and also friends and family who ask me to take them to one of my favorite spots and answer "yes" when I ask "anywhere?" I never posted about it back when because they were getting tons of well deserved press. Hell even the food writer from the Washington Post stopped in when he did a survey of Chicago to be featured in a series on America's best food cities. César and his family come to Chicago from Mexico City and he brings with him a taste of home in his tacos most all of which are cooked in a round metal cooking device with a fryer in the middle. These are used all over Mexico and specifically DF. The tacos here will set you back $2 and even though they're on the slightly small side it's a great thing to be able to try a few at a time. Trust me when I say all the options are good. 

Top to Bottom: Loganiza, Crispy Tripas, Campechano

While all of the tortilla fillings at La Chaparrita are stellar, my absolute favorite taco of César's is the tripas ordered crispy. If you're unfamiliar tripas are the intestines of the pig. When properly washed they're very clean tasting and when fried crispy they basically give off a much more intense taste of bacon. I fell in love with top notch tripas as soon as I first tried them on the streets of Aguascalientes. Eat the tripas tacos in the store and you will be in for one of the crispiest treats around. César puts great care into the entire product which results in always fresh onions and cilantro and some outstanding house salsas including a wonderful avocado based version. The fact they use tortillas made not but a few miles away proves you don't have to have homemade tortillas to have top notch tacos. Try a loganiza, a loose sausage made in house similar in consistency to chorizo but different in spice. Seriously these tacos cant get any better. One of my most frequented stops in Chicago.

Trio of Tacos from La Chaparrita

La Chaparrita
2500 S Whipple St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 254-0975

Click to add a blog post for La Chaparrita Grocery on Zomato

Monday, August 10, 2015

Eating BIG in San Francisco

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- The Food of Frisco

It took me over 30 years to get back to San Fransisco. It's one of the first cities I visited as a human taking a trip with my parents before I could talk. With no recollection of that trip whatsoever I was excited to finally put some memories of San Fran into my head. For the most part the San Francisco that I knew befoe this visit came from 'The Rock' with Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. Hey, it's one of my childhood favorites. I knew it was a vibrant city I didn't realize just how small it is. Basically seven by seven miles. Which actually works in favor of the tourist without a car. I'd advise against renting one for the entire trip unless you have a place to park it. A small city with an influx of people means very little parking spaces that don't cost an arm and a leg. Uber has a thing there called UberShare which is a ride that might be a possible car pool but will only cost you $7. More times than not the ride was not a carpool and the couple times it was the people were within a few miles and going to a pot within a few miles of your drop off. Its great for transportation to the airport.

Back to Cali

We visited most of the touristy spots and found them similar to Chicago in that you really only need to see them once. Foodwise it's one of the best cities in America to eat, you just need to know that the two things the common tourist would assume they do really well, Chinese and Mexican, are actually what I would describe as above average at best. Nothing you would call the best. That said there's so many great options it's not fair for someone who was there for a few days to rush to judgement. But I can only base it off what I experienced and I felt the upscale modern spots, the type of places you'll read about on Eater, are the city's strong point. You can pretty much bet that rent has something to do with this. I've been dragging on getting this post up due to the fact we went to so many spots. This was on top of a trip to Sonoma County which you can see HERE. Enjoy the ride.

Walking around
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Perbacco

This was our first stop on the trip. I knew there was some good Italian to be had and the menu from Perbacco spoke to me the most. Located in the Financial District this seems to be a popular spot for meetings with clients. The interior is charming and the service was stellar. We started out with a gratis plate of fresh baked still warm breadsticks with a fresh pesto dip. She had a pork meatball dish served with sauteed apples, gravy, and nuts over a potato puree. 

Breadsticks and Pork Meatballs

All the pastas are made fresh on-site and as soon as I saw they featured my favorite pasta dish I knew what I was eating for lunch. Agnolotti Dal Plin is a popular pasta in the Piedmont region of Italy and it's basically a mini ravioli. Perbacco stuffed theirs with roasted meats and cabbage, tossing it in a very rich tomato sauce with a medium thickness to it. I was in heaven and almost went back on the final day to take an order to go home with on the plane. One of if not the best thing I ate on a trip that had lots of food that can cause major craves. I've wanted more since the last bite.

Agnolotti Dal Plin at Perbacco
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Happy Hour 

Always on the prowl for a good happy hour I read about a couple good ones over on Divisadero so we went  that way for some food and drink. The first one is a little heated outdoor patio with tacos and drinks on special called El Mercado Urbano. It's connected to a sitdown spot called El Mercado. The tacos were pretty good but nothing to get to excited over.

Happy Hour Tacos at El Mercado Urbano

Bar Crudo around the corner had a line forming before their doors opened as we arrived about 5 minutes before opening. Luckily it wasn't that long so we were able to sit at the bar and slurp down $1 oysters and a surprisingly good cup of baked clams with bacon. I guess there's a reason its a popular spot in San Fran when it comes to the Happy Hour. 

Happy Hour Oysters and Clams at Bar Crudo
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Views from around town
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Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center

While doing some research on where to eat in the area I came across an account on Instagram called @otgsf which is the official account for a rotating food truck party. Basically Off the Grid hosts these food truck gatherings at different spots throughout the city including Friday nights at Fort Mason, a former army base located on the water in the city's Marina District. Bring a coat, it can get cold.

Food stands circle a empty parking

While there were tons of options at OTG not many of them were screaming "ORDER ME" however there were some good eats to be had. I enjoyed an order of turkey momo, Nepalese dumplings, that definitely hit the spot though I tend to love all dumplings. Despite it being cold out I also had to have an ice cream taco from Rocko's. While I passed on fantastic looking lechon from a Filipino stand and tacos dorados from a San Diego style Mexican food stand, it was only because I was trying not to be a glutton. Which probably sounds like BS as you go go thru this mammoth report.

Himalayan Dumplings (Momo) from Bini's Kitchen
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Liholiho Yacht Club

Because this was a spur of the moment trip I really didn't bother seeking reservations anywhere as I knew all the hot spots would be booked. That said a couple of them take walk-in's throughout the night. We did go on the earlier side to ensure we'd get to try a place that really caught my eye. I loved what I had heard about Liholiho Yacht Club and then I loved what I saw so it was the one spot I really wanted to try. The dishes are Hawaiian driven but there is no boundaries as far as flavors. The menu spoke to me, both the food and drinks, and usually when that happens I know I'm in store for something I'm going to enjoy and that's exactly what would happen here.

a peek inside

Starting off with cocktails while I cant remember the names of the drinks thats ok because the menu has probably switched. That said they were wonderful and I loved the fact they were utilizing ingredients not commonly found in drink recipes. Onto the food. I'm an addict for raw tuna and the tuna poke on a crispy cracker was a hell of a high. What I'm guessing was a Thai inspired salad featured a medley of marinated squid, crispy tripe, cabbage, peanuts and mint was outstanding. I haven't had tripe that crispy since I stopped by a taco booth specializing in Tripas tacos on the streets of Aguascalientes. Ending with a perfectly cooked Country Pork Steak topped with a honey miso mustard and charred cabbage was a decision I did not regret. In summary, love is endless.

tuna poke, sesame oil, radish, nori cracker

marinated squid, crispy tripe, cabbage, peanuts, fried shallots, mint

country pork steak, charred cabbage, miso honey mustard, tokyo turnips
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Chinatown

Mural

I got to stroll thru the famous Chinatown neighborhood on a couple occasions and really enjoyed doing so. The atmosphere is different and I like that. One day we weren't far away from a place that had some good words spoken on their xiao long bao. A trip in for an order would be the start of a pretty middle of the road experience as far as the food in the area goes. Part of that reason I guess is the product from here. I ate one and left the rest for the dumpster divers found throughout the town.

Way Below Average Xiao Long Bao at Bund Shanghai

Another night I took a stroll thru the city around 11p and while most of the restaurants and stores were closed it was still pretty vibrant. I purchased some extra loud snapping pops from a store as well as some souvenirs before wandering down into one of a couple handful of open spots for some food. At this hour I was the only non-Chinese person there. I sat at the counter and watched some pro ping pong on the TV while waiting for an order of Chopped Beef over Rice with egg yolk on top. It might not look pleasant but it was certainly comforting. Gravy and rice are two favorites of mine.

Chopped Beef with Rice from New Woey Loey Goey Restaurant

After that it was over to the famous Chinatown bar the Li Po Cocktail Lounge. I saw this place on one of Anthony Bourdain's shows and it seemed like my type of spot so I wanted to make sure I stopped in. It's considered Chinatown's original dive having been open since 1937. While it is a dive it's also a hot hangout and there can be lines of people many of them waiting to sip on the bars famous Chinese Mai Tai. It's made with dark rum, light rum, Bacardi 151, Chinese Liqueur, and Pineapple Juice and it really does pack a punch even though theres little alcohol flavor.

The Famous Chinese Mai Thai at Li Po Lounge
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Ferry Building Marketplace

Standing Outside Ferry Building Plaza

We visited the popular Ferry Building Marketplace on a Saturday and the place was packed, like jam packed to the point where every damn tenant had a line at least 15 deep. If you're unfamiliar with the Plaza it's a popular marketplace that sits on the water and hosts an outdoors Farmers Market and food vendors most Saturdays. The lines being so deep inside prevented me from trying much but the Baja fish taco I got from a modern Mexican restaurant called Mijita was money. It had an extra crunchy piece of battered rock cod sitting over a tortilla spread with cabbage and avocado-cilantro cream.

Taco de Pescado from Mijita

I had a list of so many food stops that caught my eye I ended up trying one unknowingly. I have no idea why but the famous Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie out of Oakland had what might've been the shortest line of all the mobile restaurants vending outside on this Farmers Market Saturday. The stuff I read online was saying this is one of the best sandwiches period and I was ready to see how it stacked against what I still consider to be the best porchetta sandwich I've ever had.

Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie

So far so good upon getting a glimpse of their rotisserie on wheels. Just look at those big hunks of pretty pork rotating while dripping it's sweet nectar onto the potatoes piled on the bottom. Brilliant. The sandwich itself was the same. Maybe not quite as much as the one in Toronto but good enough to be remembered and placed somewhere in the top handful of bites eaten on this trip. The pork was highly seasoned and the fat was rendered down right. The potatoes were a worthy sidekick.

Porchetta Sandwich from Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie

What has to be the best Farmers Market view in the States

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$1 Oysters daily at Waterbar. Not a bad stop if walking by or attending a Giants game. 
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Mission District 

Bus Stop

The Mission District is a neighborhood that has seen much change of late. I was surprised to learn just how small San Francisco is from one of the Uber drivers so it's no surprise to see whats going on as old buildings with longtime residents get torn down making room for new buildings and newly located residents. It's a sticky situation and one I'm not all that familiar with to speak on. But anyways the neighborhood is now an eclectic mix of people ranging from second 1st and 2nd generation Latino-American families to hipsters and drifters. It's evident in the bars and restaurants.

Signature Pastry from Craftsman and Wolves

One of the spots I had on my radar was what Nate Silver and Team 538 called the best burrito in America. San Francisco and the Mission District in particular have an undying love for the burrito and a style all their own for them. They're called Mission Burritos and according to the not always reliable Wikipedia they became big in the 60's. What makes these different is basically the size and the addition of rice inside, though longtime neighborhood staple La Taqueria makes theirs rice free.

La Taqueria

As regular readers know, I don't do burritos, I'm a taco guy. On top of this I wasn't in the mood for a huge meal as we were headed elsewhere and this was just a detour. Ever since the big win the lines have been longer. They were out the restaurant on this day and it ended up taking about 15 minutes to order. They ran a well oiled machine churning out orders, most of them "with this" or "without that" at what was a rapid pace. There's a secret menu here in the same style of In n' Out and one of the popular things on it is the carnitas dorado taco dorado. It takes the fan favorite carnitas and gives them a little bit of extra time on the flattop to crisp up. Then they take a tortilla layered with cheese and allow it to crisp up. The crispy carnitas go onto the crisp tortilla and it goes into a soft tortilla. The entire thing comes with pico, sour cream and salsa and it was the size of a small burrito. While it was messy it was also delicious and very much enjoyed by the two of us. I loved the crunch.

Carnitas Dorado Taco Dorado from La Taqueria

If the line at La Taqueria is long, stop next door at Dianda's for some excellent cookies to hold you over.

Random Pics from the Mission District (Click Picture to Enhance)

While cruising by foot to a cocktail bar I spied something I thought was a dispensary as there was a small line out the door to get inside. I walked over and instead found a cute little Burmese diner hidden amongst the other shops on the block. There were four older Burmese ladies behind the counter and maybe 10 seats total to sit at.

Yamo

I couldn't wait so I had to take an order to-go and a $5 bowl of garlic noodles with pork both sounded and also smelled phenomenal. I watched as one of the ladies got to work dropping the noodles into the pot and the pork and garlic into the wok. What looked like something very simple as far as prep tasted like something you can only get from a spot like Yamo. A seriously pungent bowl made for a great post-drinks snack during some downtime at the hotel. In a city where the hot dogs from a street cart cost $8 this was a seriously cheap treat. I'd be a regular if they were my neighbor. 

Garlic Noodles with Pork from Yamo

Trick Dog

When out on vacation we like to try all the hot cocktail spots of the town were visiting and San Fran was no different. In fact we're usually underwhelmed by other cities offerings but I found the drinks in town to be as good as anywhere that's not Chicago. Trick Dog is in the Mission and it's one of San Frans most celebrated bars. We had an afternoon drink at this Far East inspired cocktail lounge where I ended up ordering something that literally tasted like liquid Tootsie Roll. Surprisingly good.

Inside Trick Dog

Super Steak Taco from Taqueria Cancun which is the late night taqueria of choice
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Late Night Drinks / Eats

Tiki Drinks at Smugglers Cove

My favorite drinking establishment of the trip was the amazing Smuggler's Cove Tiki Bar. These guys are one of the many pioneers who have made tiki cool again. The menu is insane with over 70 tiki style options that are broken down by the recipes country of origin. I had a banana daiquiri that was legendary. Wish I snapped a shot of how it was made. Her favorite spot was Tosca Cafe in the city's North End. Originally a grungy bar boasting the same name some restauranteurs from NYC turned it into a Modern Italian restaurant with a kick ass cocktail menu. Even better is they left the inside looking like it looked back when it was roaring in the 50's. She claimed the bucatini with pancetta and red sauce the best version she ever had. Drinks were money and they serve both late.

Tosca Cafe
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Full House

Before taking off for Sonoma County (report HERE) we had to stop at the former residence of Danny, Jesse, Joey, DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle. It's mandatory for tourists who used to watch the TGIF lineup Friday nights on ABC and that would be me. After a couple minute we were off to the pastry shop.  b. Patisserie was a revelation for me. I don't really eat pastries all that often but will stop into a place getting rave reviews which was the case here. While the croissant wasn't my favorite style the kouign amann was the best baked good I think I've ever ate. I'm lucky I don't live near.

Pastries from b. Patisserie

On the last day I packed up and decided to take a walk, which turned into an UberShare ride over to a place commonly mentioned when best tacos in San Francisco is discussed. Nick's Crispy Tacos has a somewhat misleading name and if you were just walking by you'd wonder what was up as it sits inside a bar. The crispy is in reference to a shell that gets a little bit of a bath in oil. What they're known for here are the fish tacos and everyone says you need to get them Nick's way. That would be a crispy piece of well fried fish topped with pico, cabbage and guacamole. It goes inside the aforementioned somewhat crispy shell. At close to $8 this isn't a cheap taco but it's a meal in of itself. All in all it was a very decadent delight however it started falling apart near the end bites.

Crispy Fish Taco done "Nick's Way" from Nick's Crispy Tacos
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Asian Eats 

Dim Sum Club 

On the last day I really wanted some dim sum and happened to pass a place that had god reviews online so I went in and order a couple plates. The Dim Sum Club seemed to be popular lunch spot for business people near it's location. I ordered my usual go-to's 

Shrimp Shu Mai

One order of shrimp shu mai and an order of xiao long bao aka soup dumplings to go with it. Both of them were stellar. I'm not a dim sum expert but the shu mai were full of shrimp flavor while the pork and crab stuffed XLB shot soup into mouth with each bite. Never met a dumpling I didn't like.

Xiao Long Bao

To get an idea of just how much Asian eats influence the city's food scene I suggest walking downtown on a workday. It's not that this part of town has the most authentic eats but it seems like every other food stop in these parts is Asian owned. Whether they be Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian etc. I nibbled on a few bites in the area while she shopped.

Japanese Style Gourmet Rice Balls from Onigilly

Japanese Style beef patty from Muracci's

Vietnamese Bowl at Asian Box inside Macy's

Shanghai Dumpling King 

When researching places to eat it seemed to me that most of the popular Chinese restaurants around town weren't located in Chinatown but rather  the Outer Richmond neighborhood. Shanghai Dumpling King seemed to be getting love so I rode over one night when I had a car from the trip to Sonoma. Potstickers and Xiao Long Bao seemed fitting though they had lots of options.

Pork Potstickers

Both plates would hit the spot but fall short of being order another round good. I always get the pork/crab XLB and the crab flavor was somewhat weak in these but they were still better than any I've had in Chicago. The pottickers were a little bit better but still missing that oomph.

Xiao Long Bao
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Montesacro 

On the last day we took a walk around the city with Montesacro being our lunch destination. Around the time of our trip in late April they were just getting going having opened a week earlier. It's located in a very old building that when gutted was revealed to formerly be a bakery back in the early 1920's. The current owners are bringing what they call the country's first pinseria which they say is a Roman style pizza parlor. Pinsa is what they call their own style of wood fire pizza in Rome. Check out the restaurants website to learn more about why it's different than pizza. For one it was much airier and shaped more like a huarache. We tried an option with prosciutto and red onion that was outstanding.

Pinsa at Montesacro
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See ya next time! 
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Perbacco
230 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 955-0663

El Mercado Urbano
661 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 440-4500

Bar Crudo
655 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 409-0679

Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center*
2 Marina Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 339-5888
*Fridays

Liholiho Yacht Club
871 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 440-5446

Bund Shanghai
640 Jackson St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 982-0618

New Woey Loey Goey Restaurant
699 Jackson St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 399-0733

Li Po Cocktail Lounge
916 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 982-0072

Ferry Building Marketplace
1 Ferry Bldg Marketplace
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 983-8030

Mijita
Inside Ferry Building Marketplace

Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie
Outside Ferry Building Marketplace

Waterbar
399 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 284-9922

Craftsman and Wolves
746 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 913-7713

La Taqueria
2889 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 285-7117

Dianda's Italian-American Pastry
883 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 647-5469

Yamo
3406 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 553-8911

Trick  Dog
3010 20th St,
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 471-2999

Taqueria Cancun
2288 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 252-9560

Smuggler's Cove
650 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 869-1900

Tosca Cafe
242 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-9651

b. Patisserie
2821 California St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 440-1700

Nick's Crispy Tacos
1500 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 409-8226

Dim Sum Club
2550 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 529-2615

Onigilly
343 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 671-4706

Muracci's
307 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 773-1101

Asian Box
170 O'Farrell St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 288-3688

Shanghai Dumpling King
696 Monterey Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94127
(415) 585-1300

Montesacro
510 Stevenson St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 795-3040

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