Impression: Goood Frikin’ Chicken: Recommended

10 29th Street
San Francisco, CA

I really like GFC. How can you not love a sassy Mediterranean rotisserie chicken place? Last night I stopped in to pick up a chicken meal ($15.75). I got the rotisserie chicken, but they also have chicken cooked over an open flame and a variety of other shawerma, kabab, and falafel options. The meal comes with olive oil pita, salad, and a side; I chose the macaroni and cheese.

The chicken is indeed pretty frikin’ goood. The meat is tender and easily stripped from the bones, and the seasoning is great — a little spicy, with a fantastic depth of flavor. Apparently a garlic lemon marinade is responsible. The whole chicken fed my wife and I for two meals; you can also get a half if you want.

The olive oil pita is also really tasty, though I wouldn’t have called it a pita if you had asked me. Jen kept calling it naan. The salad was fine — not ragingly delicious, but the lettuce was fresh and the tart, bright dressing was a good counterpoint to rich chicken. The mac and cheese was disappointing, though. If you just wanted a scoop of starch by the side of your plate, it would be fine, but it was bland. Like bad Salvadorean food, life is too short to eat bad macaroni and cheese.

That one blemish aside, however, it was a terrific meal. I will definitely be returning to try the open flame chicken or some kabab. And that time, maybe the pilaf.

Impression: Los Panchos: OK

Mission past Valencia, San Francisco, CA

I waited for my food with considerable trepidation at Los Panchos. I had set out to get a burrito or something similar, but decided on the spur of the moment to go into the first place I passed, because I need to get to know the neighborhood. The Burger King doesn’t count, so it was the Mexican/Salvadorean place. The omens, however, were not encouraging. It’s not really clear when you walk in whether you order at the counter or sit down until the staff instruct you to sit anywhere. The service is friendly, but really slow; I think they have one waitress and one cook back there. I ordered the pollo encebollado ($7.95), which I’d never heard of, but assumed that chicken and onions would be involved.

During the long wait, I ate my chips. The chips were a bit oily and bland, and the salsa hot while uninteresting, but I was really hungry, so I ate them anyway. My neighbors’ plates looked sort of grim, and as I waited I worried. Life is too short to eat bad Salvadorean food.

When my plate arrived, it seemed that my fears had been realized. My pollo encebollado was a bone-in chicken breast covered in sauteed onions, meat-down in a mess of pale rice and refried beans, with a side of iceberg pieces in generic pink dressing and an order of thoroughly institutional-looking tortillas. I typically don’t care for bone-in chicken (I know the arguments, I just don’t like fiddling with bone and ligament), and I really don’t like refried beans.

I’m pleased to report, however, that appearances were deceiving. Although some fiddling with bones was indeed required, the chicken was really tasty, and the onions were delicious. I don’t know what they did with the onions, but they were the best sauteed onions I’ve had in a while. The tortillas were also really good, and even the beans won me over for the first half of the meal. Everything got a bit less delicious as it cooled off.

In a vacuum, the pollo encebollado would probably earn a Recommended. The service, the chips, and a certain amount of caution make me hold that back to an OK, though. I will probably go back, maybe to try the asado encebollado (or maybe I’ll finally get around to eating a pupusa). Perhaps an upgrade will be in order at that time.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: La Burrita: Not Recommended

2530 Durant Avenue

La Burrita has two locations, one on either side of the Berkeley campus. I’ve seen it for years, and yet never went in. This, it turns out, may have been for the best.

I got a large burrito with grilled chicken on a wheat tortilla ($4.59), and a large soda ($1.25). I had some chips and salsa beforehand. The chips are pretty good — light and crispy — and the salsa is tasty if unchallenging. The burrito, however, was disappointing. For one thing, large is really not that large at all; I don’t expect wonders for $4.59, but most places I like call a burrito that size regular. I give them some points for having a wheat tortilla, but the fillings were lousy. The rice was mealy, the beans lifeless, the grilled chicken bland, and the salsa was cloying and overcooked-tasting. There was some cheese in there too, I think, but it made no impression at all. The salsa really was distressing; it was the flavor of microwave burritos worked up into a restaurant salsa.

I might go back for a bowl of chips, and I might be persuaded to try the nachos, but I think I’ve had my last burrito at La Burrita.

Impression: Henry’s: Recommended

2600 Durant Avenue

So the focus of this blog is going to be shifting again, because I am no longer going to school in the Tenderloin and living in Redwood City. Now I’m going to school in Berkeley and living in the Mission. Thus, I’ll now be writing about cheap food in the Mission and Telegraph areas. This completely destroys the cleverness of the blog title, but such is life.

I had an interview at the Hotel Durant today right before lunchtime, so I decided to try the hotel restaurant, a pubby sort of place. I had a turkey, avocado, and bacon sandwich ($8.95); it came with salad or fries, and I chose salad. I also had a soda ($2.00), which is ludicrously expensive but comes with refills. In general, the prices may keep me away. Twelve dollars for lunch isn’t unreasonable in a nice place with table service, but there are so many cheaper options around here.

The sandwich was good. Avocado can be a problem in a sandwich; it can squirt out of the sandwich or squish all over everything. The avocado here, however, was just the right amount of ripe. It stayed put, but still had some body. Also, the cook recognized that the richness of avocado calls for discretion with the mayonnaise. The bacon was also good. I don’t like bacon that’s been cooked to crunchiness; I think it tastes burnt. This bacon was crisp but still chewy, and went well with the smoothness of avocado. The turkey wound up being something of a bit player, but that was fine.

The salad was fine. A nice assortment of greens with some shredded carrot, and some honey mustard dressing. I could have done without the red onion, though. I think red onion in a salad is like a tuba in a band; if you have enough else going on, it works, but you wouldn’t want an ensemble to consist of, say, a snare drum and a tuba.

Impression: Dog House: Not Recommended

80 S. 1st Street, San Jose

At this point, the Tenderloin focus is blown all to hell, so whatever — food reviews. The Dog House is a small joint in downtown San Jose devoted, as the name suggests, to hot dogs. They have a whole array of dogs, as well as some sides and salads. I had a Classic Dog ($2.95), an order of seasoned curly fries ($2.95), and a soda ($1.75). I was disappointed.

I chose the Classic Dog because it was inexpensive — the higher-end dogs run as much as $5.95 — and because, as with Burger Joint, I think the true quality of a dish like a burger or hot dog is best displayed when you go simple. The Classic Dog, unfortunately, was bland and a little small. I suspect it’s the kind of dog best consumed in bulk, like a White Castle hamburger. I felt, after eating it, like I’d eaten nothing at all. Similarly, the curly fries were underdone and barely seasoned. A coworker got the shoestring onion rings, and they were similarly terrible — cold, and with that off flavor of cooking oil that needs changing.

Now, another coworker opted for the Boss Hog, a bacon-wrapped bratwurst with cheese, BBQ sauce, and the aforementioned onion rings, and pronounced it good. I suspect that the higher-end dogs, which feature more exotic sausages and toppings, may be generally better. Bacon-wrapping alone improves many a sausage. Still, I doubt I will return.

Impression: Pho Happy Day: Recommended

756 Woodside Road
Redwood City

OK, this isn’t in the Tenderloin either. So what.

Pho Happy Day replaced Happy Day Speedy Chicken, which was a disappointing Chinese joint near my house. I’m not sure if it’s new management or what, but it’s now a Chinese and Vietnamese place, rather than a Chinese and fried chicken place. And it’s now much less disappointing.

I judge Chinese places by their pork fried rice. I will eternally mourn the demise of New Haven’s Main Garden, whose pork fried rice fed me at least twice a week in that period of wasted youth immediately following college. I’ll give a place a second chance if its lemon chicken is disappointing, or if its chow mein is greasy. Bad pork fried rice is the unforgivable sin.

Pho Happy Day is my new favorite pork fried rice. $6.25 gets you an enormous box of fried rice, full of flavor without being greasy, with hefty cubes of barbecued pork throughout. It’s a fairly dark fried rice, with the almost smoky flavor that comes with it. It’s damn good.

I also got an order of lemon chicken. It was $5.75, and I think it was pretty good — but frankly, I didn’t pay that much attention.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: Burger Joint: Strongly Recommended

807 Valencia
San Francisco, CA

Yes, Burger Joint is a bit outside Tournedos’ usual stomping grounds, but sometimes you can’t tie down a blog’s gastronomic ambitions like that. I’ve been meaning to stop by since I saw Burger Joint on a list of America’s best burgers, and this week I was hungry and in the Mission. It was clearly fate.

I had a cheeseburger and fries ($7.95), and a soda ($1.75). And I have to say, Burger Joint makes a damn tasty burger. The mark of a really good hamburger, I think, is that afterwards you sort of regret some of the toppings. Where condiments and other additions support and complement a merely adequate burger, they just distract from a really good one. In retrospect, the cheese was entirely unnecessary; the ketchup was probably dispensable. I think Burger Joint hits the mark with their use of mayonnaise, though — just enough to form a bulwark against soggy bun. They use good lettuce and tomato, but they aren’t necessary. I think I’d keep the red onion, though; it adds some crunch and some zing. But of course, the point of the hamburger is the meat. Burger Joint uses Niman Ranch beef, that talismanic meat, and they have a good touch with the grill. The burger is juicy without being oozy, and full of that elemental heft that is the hallmark of good beef, coppery and savory. (I’m tempted to say umami, but that’s a little overplayed, I think.) The patty was loose enough to avoid the dense rubbery quality of some oversquashed burgers, but held together throughout the whole meal. As I say, a damn tasty burger.

Their fries are pretty good, too — thick, square, crispy, and so fresh that the first few were really a bit too hot to eat. Not worth a separate trip, I think, but they come with the burger, so hey. My only complaint is that $1.75 for a soda is a bit on the excessive side. And, based on my recollection of a previous trip, I can’t really recommend the milkshakes.

Review: Taqueria el Castillito: Recommended

370 Golden Gate Avenue (between Hyde and Larkin)

Taqueria el Castillito has been my default taqueria for the past few months, and I think I now have enough information to write a proper review.

I stand by what I said before about their burritos — good and solid, with a tasty salsa (though the price seems to have gone up to $4.65). I want to elaborate a bit on my ideas on burritos while I’m on the topic. Burritos come in various levels of moistness; I prefer mine on the dry side. A messy, dripping burrito is not my idea of a good lunch. This is why I like rice in burritos, and why I get pinto beans instead of refried. They provide solidity. This is also why I like a chunky salsa that’s more a pico de gallo than a sauce per se.

Taqueria el Castillito also makes a pretty good torta ($4.64) — Mexican sandwich, for those of you who don’t know them. To me, the main thing that distinguishes a torta is the grilled bun it goes on. After that, it depends on the restaurant. Some just slap on a portion of meat and have done; others add all the toppings they would put on a burrito and then some. Taqueria el Castillito adds cheese, avocado, sour cream, tomatoes, and lettuce; I had grilled chicken on mine. It’s a tasty, if fat-filled, sandwich. They avoid the trap of over-creaming a torta; I’ve had many a torta that sort of oozed out of its soggy bun. For this reason, I tend not to order them in restaurants I haven’t come to trust.

I’ve had a few more of their meats, too. The carnitas is good; the carne asada is okay. I haven’t tried the pastor or the chorizo yet. I’m a little scared of the lengua.

Finally, I tried the alambres plate ($7.58), or as I think of it, the heart attack platter. Alambres means “wires” in Spanish. It’s a mess of beef, bacon, bell pepper, and onions all fried up together — basically a Philly cheese steak with bacon. It comes with rice, beans, salsa, salad, and tortillas. It’s really good, but it’s hard not to feel you’re shaving years off your life.

I also want to note that I now recommend against the location on McAllister. The food is more or less the same, but the folks at the McAllister location have, on multiple occasions, “accidentally” upgraded me to a super burrito and then tried to charge me for it. That’s either dishonesty or ineptitude, and I’m not OK with it. Better to walk the extra two blocks.

Impression: Le Petitt’s Kitchen: Recommended

265 Golden Gate (between Hyde and Leavenworth)

Le Petitt wins points for convenience, though I can’t say I’m crazy about running the gauntlet of random guys with shopping carts. I went for a slightly late lunch on a Friday, having passed a few other times on grounds of crowdedness. They don’t have a lot of space, and the line gets long around noon. I had a roast beef sandwich ($5.75) and macaroni salad ($.95).

The sandwich fillings were your standard sandwich shop fare: lettuce, tomato, red onion, cheese, mayo, mustard. They say they roast their own beef, and I believe it. The fillings, however, are not the noteworthy part of this sandwich. The reason to go to Le Petitt is the bread.

They bake their own sourdough rolls, and these are some damn good sandwich rolls. The crust is crunchy and chewy enough to give some heft to the roll, without being so tough that you squirt your sandwich’s innards out the back with every bite. It’s a mild sourdough, lending a nice twang to the sandwich while letting the other ingredients have their moment in the spotlight too. (Yeah, I like bread. You got a problem with that?) Some of you out there who may be fond of whole grains might be tempted to order your sandwich on wheat; don’t. You’ll get two slices of supermarket-grade whole wheat sandwich loaf, and miss out on a lot of what Le Petitt has to offer. The macaroni salad, meanwhile, was fine. If you like something like that to add some variety to your meal, go for it; I’m not sure I’ll bother next time.

They also give you a chocolate-covered mint with your order, which is a nice touch.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: Amy’s Cafe #2: Not Recommended

Golden Gate between Hyde and Leavenworth, next to GAAP
San Francisco

I’ve mentioned my soft spot for small chaotic restaurants, and Amy’s Cafe definitely fit the bill. When I went in for lunch today, there were hand-written menus on every wall (making one wonder if they have an absurdly large menu, or just a large menu repeated in several places), a couple of cabinets strategically placed to block off part of the space they’re not using, and eight bars of Asian pop skipping on a CD player. My kind of place.

As I said, they have an extensive menu — mostly Chinese food, with a section for breakfast and American food selections. I ordered the broccoli beef rice plate ($4.25), which tends to be a pretty safe bet. Sadly, Amy’s Cafe let me down pretty comprehensively. The broccoli beef cowered by the side of a massive expanse of rice — more than I could finish, and I can eat a lot of rice. The sauce was bland and watery, and the beef was rubbery. The broccoli was fine, but a plate of steamed broccoli and rice is not a meal, but a joke about 70s macrobiotic cuisine. The hot and sour soup that came with it I didn’t even finish.

I feel like I should give the place another try some time — the American dishes looked better, and I tend to reserve judgment on a Chinese place until I try their fried rice. Still, at this moment, I can’t recommend Amy’s Cafe.