Review: Em’s Place; Recommended

McAllister between Hyde and Leavenworth

Em’s Place is my all-purpose fall-back lunch spot. It’s extremely convenient to school, and they haven’t let me down yet. The decor may leave something to be desired, but hey, it’s the Tenderloin. And the food is good, which is what counts.

The menu includes breakfast, American food, and Chinese food. I haven’t explored their breakfast option much, but I can vouch for the #3 breakfast ($3.65) — grilled cheese sandwich, two eggs, and hashbrowns. It wasn’t a revelation in cuisine, but all three parts of the breakfast were well-made, and the hashbrowns were generously portioned.

The Chinese food is pretty good. Their great strength here is that they use good ingredients and don’t overcook them. So most of their dishes consist of good-quality meat and nicely tender vegetables, which gets you a long way in Chinese food. Their sauces tend to be a little syrupy for my tastes, alas. I recommend the black pepper chicken ($5.25), the teriyaki chicken ($4.75), or the broccoli chicken ($4.95) (I understand you can get beef or pork in any of these for 50 cents more, but I’m cheap and I like chicken). The pork fried rice ($4.95) is hit and miss; it’s been really good on some occasions, and sort of mushy on others. On the other hand, I have to respect a pork fried rice with actual slices of barbecue pork rather than rubbery cubes of extruded pork-like product. The curry chicken ($4.95) is mediocre; there are better places to go if you want curry.

The American food is also tasty. I highly recommend the grilled chicken sandwich with BBQ sauce ($4.50). The quality of their chicken helps here, and the syrupy quality of their sauces is actually a plus with BBQ. They make a perfectly serviceable burger ($3.75), a darn tasty turkey burger ($4.50), and as I mentioned, a pretty good grilled cheese sandwich ($2.95). I can’t endorse their breaded foods; the chicken club ($4.50) and chicken-fried steak ($5.50) are fine, but not great. There’s better stuff on the menu. Of the side orders, I recommend the potato salad. The fries, in my experience, are unexciting, and while the fruit cup is fresh, it’s basically a small cup of melon chunks.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: Larkin Express Deli: OK

Larkin between Golden Gate and Turk

I like this place, but I have to back off from a recommend because I think my soft spot for quirky little places with character is clouding my judgment. For me, the strategically placed sign concealing a hole in the window is cute; others might feel differently. I ordered a turkey sandwich on a sweet roll, which was $4.95. It was a good sandwich, if nothing to write home about. They use fresh roast turkey, though, which is definitely a standout; I could see getting a yen for that at some point. I must warn you, however, not to get a soda from the cooler. I think they don’t get much sell-through, and my soda tasted a bit…off. When bottled soda is past its prime, something ain’t right. On the other hand, they also have fresh cookies, which are good but a bit pricy at $1.65.

Originally published at Tournedos

Impression: Taqueria el Castillito: Recommended

370 Golden Gate Avenue (between Hyde and Larkin)

I like this place; it strikes that balance between asepticness and squalor that is the hallmark of a good Mexican joint. Their regular burrito has a nice heft to it, and they don’t put anything weird or messy in it — rice, beans, meat, and salsa. You can get cilantro and onions if you want. I had mine with grilled chicken and the spicy salsa. The grilled chicken is good, but pretty ordinary. The spicy salsa is nice; it’s got big chunks of jalapeno that put some body behind the heat. The regular burrito is also $4.40, which is pretty reasonable in my book.

UPDATE: Taqueria el Castillito has another location on McAllister between Leavenworth and Jones. It’s a little smaller; I like the Golden Gate one better. But for Tower folks, it might be more convenient.

Food Review: Biryani Chapati

Turk and Leavenworth
San Francisco, CA

A restaurant just broke my heart.

Since I started school, I’ve been on a bit of a culinary expedition to try eateries convenient for lunch between classes. The Tenderloin is full of those little hole-in-the-wall eateries that could be wonderful and could be abysmal, and there’s not really any way to tell unless you give it a try. I noticed, on one of these walkabouts, a hand-lettered awning which read “Biryani Chapati”; I thought, “Cool! Indian food!” (Now, I imagine some of the locals will be saying, “You madman, why would you eat at a dubious Tenderloin eatery when the ever-fabulous Naan N’ Curry is mere blocks away?” I’m funny like that sometimes. (On a wholly separate note, Biryani Chapati turns out to be Pakistani.))

I was briefly confused upon arriving by the big CLOSED sign at the top of the front window and the small OPEN sign at the bottom, but I figured I’d take the open door as a hint. The staff, in traditional downscale ethnic restaurant style, were all sitting around a table chatting when I came in. I wasn’t really sure what the idiom of the joint was: should I sit down? Order at the counter and take out? Order at the counter and sit down? The guy who seemed to be in charge was headed behind the counter, though, so I walked over there. He handed me a folded paper menu, and cheerily offered to explain their offerings. “We have chicken curries, lamb curries, we can put vegetable…” (I do have to hand it to them, though; it was actually a pretty clear menu. I’ve been in Indian places where the distinction between certain dishes was … subtle at best.) I ordered chicken biryani and an order of naan, and he invited me to sit.

We’ve got some fine examples of the po-ass decorating style in the Tenderloin; one of my favorite places near campus is dark, rowed with cafeteria tables, and they store random supplies in the bottom shelves of the soda fridge. Biryani Chapati, however, may be the purest example of the form yet. They barely have a counter; I think they don’t even have a cash register. Bare white walls are adorned with construction paper butterflies. My table was at a slight angle. I was a little concerned. But everything was clean, and the carafe of water was a nice touch.

When the food arrived, I was still reserving judgment. The naan looked disappointing, like a whole wheat tortilla, and the biryani, while generously portioned, was nondescript. In the eating, however, I was impressed. The biryani was spicy, but not painfully so; the naan was much better than it looked. The chicken was tender and falling off the bone (indeed, my only complaint about the food would be that I’m not a huge fan of chicken dishes with unexpected knobs of bone, authentic though they may be). About halfway through my meal, they brought out what I assume was probably raita, but serving an ordinary portion of raita in a massive soup bowl looks a bit weird. I failed you, my audience, in not trying it, but as I said, it looked weird, and I don’t like raita that much anyway. The staff was extremely attentive; the manager asked me several times if I wanted more naan, because I could have more free of charge. I suspect the red carpet treatment would be on account of my being their lunch rush; I came in at 12.30, and no one else came in while I was there.

This last bit is what makes me sad. My lunch was six bucks (they didn’t even charge me for the naan, so I overtipped), and I was the only customer for at least half an hour. Maybe they do a brisk delivery business, but I suspect they won’t make it. Nice folks, making pretty tasty food, but the skankier end of the Tenderloin just isn’t prime foodservice space.

Originally published at LiveJournal