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Best Bites of 2011

By   /   December 8, 2011  /   No Comments

Diversity peppers this year’s best bites. The range seems particularly wide, though as usual, I had a terrible time narrowing the list to just ten. Not included but should be: ramen at Izakaya Sozai; shrimp and grits at Criolla Kitchen; the moto pizza at Ragazza;  kakiage–deep fried vegetable fritters–at Chotto; the sloppy bun at Bun Mee on Fillmore; quail with mushrooms at Txoko; fried chicken at Beast and the Hare…stop me.

This was the year of the food truck explosion, with almost daily encampments around the city, and the biggest on Friday nights at Ft. Mason–30 plus trucks and tents.  A mini-vendor scene also popped up at Terminal 2 at the San Francisco airport. Unfortunately, you can only get a Cowgirl Creamery sandwich by flying American or Virgin America. If there were ever a time for connector tunnels between the terminals beyond security, this is it.

Spice Kit, 405 Howard Street (at First Street), San Francisco 415 882-4581The magical texture of the steamed pork buns (2 for $5) at this high minded Asian street food shop, comes from advanced cooking techniques and quality ingredients.  Fluffy white buns, swiped with sweet hoisin sauce, are stuffed with thick slices of melting kurobuta pork belly with crisp edges, pickled cucumber and threads of scallion. Don’t miss the beef short rib ssam ($7.95),  an Asian burrito wrapped in rice paper, or taro chips ($1.50), either.

Deli-Board, 1058 Folsom Street (between 6th and 7th streets), San Francisco 415 552-7687
I can’t get the Gold-N-Berg-N-Stein ($10) at this new sandwich shop out of my mind: corned beef, pastrami, Kosher salami, Muenster cheese, house slaw and house Thousand Island on a warm, sweet French roll. Soft, salty, buttery, piquant and creamy, this thick sandwich transcends all its layered components.  If you can get beyond this one, try the mind expanding lrb ($10) chicken salad, Kosher salami, Muenster, house cherry peppers, pickled onions and special sauce.

Sichuan Home, 5037 Geary Blvd.(between 14th and 15th Avenues) San Francisco 415 221-3288
I will cross town for a bowl of Red Chili Oil Won Tons (#84, $6.95), thin dumplings filled with juicy hand chopped pork, that stand up to an exciting if modulated chili-spiked broth. I even will have them before a lunch of thick, chewy, curly edged dao chow noodles (#91, $5.95) with star anise-braised beef stew in a red chile broth.  Consider a haystack of julienned lotus root, deep fried taro sticks and Chinese chives fragrant with toasted pine nuts (#32, $7.95) at this treasure trove of best bites,

Beachside Coffee Bar and Kitchen, 4300 Judah (at 48th Avenue) San Francisco 415 682-4961
The Irish breakfast sandwich ($6.95) at this cheery new cafe by the ocean, is a triumph: a soft, flour-dusted bun called a bap filled with black and white puddings (uncased sausage), ham-like Irish bacon, and grilled pork links, grilled tomato and a fried egg, whose runny yolk moistens the sandwich.  Owner Buffy Maguire knows to serve it all day, as she does all breakfast items, such as the country sausage sandwich ($7), a big, moist patty of house made pork sausage slathered with sauteed peppers and onions deglazed with a whisper of vinegar in a bap liberally spread with mustardy mayonnaise.

Craw Station, 1336 Ninth Avenue (between Irving and Judah) San Francisco 415 682-9980
Accept the drippy, messy, finger-burning challenge of extracting the succulent tail meat from a pound of crawfish ($11.95) cooked in a spicy Cajun boil, and then mopping up with toasted french bread ($1.50).  Start easy with clean-flavored, deep fried catfish fingers ($9.99) in crunchy, spicy batter or impeccably fried oysters ( $8.99/six), their lethally hot brine captured inside the craggy, nubbly coating. For dessert, walk toward Golden Gate Park to Park Chow for a slice of coconut cream pie.

Tuba, 1007 Guerrero Street (at 22nd Street) San Francisco 415 826-8822
The lush beyti adana ($16) at this pretty new Turkish restaurant, starts with a long flat, grilled kebab of ground lamb and beef, juicy and lubricious, that is  wrapped in thin, soft flat bread. This cylinder is sliced crosswise into fat pinwheels, which are set on end, and topped with spicy tomato sauce, and a dollop of yogurt. Some think that this dish is meant to be shared.

The Broken Record, 1166 Geneva Avenue, San Francisco 415 963-1713
The food that comes out of this kitchen located at the back of an Excelsior dive bar, is astonishing: Texas toast ($6), two thick slices of puffy white bread, toasted on the griddle, cut into triangles and smothered with cream gravy, big shreds of moist chicken and crumbled house made sausage. The textures stay discrete; the flavors are deep and balanced; the affect, light. It somehow tastes like the best hot turkey sandwich you could ever imagine.  And then there are the pork fries ($8).

Mr. Pollo, 2823 Mission Street (between 24th and 25th streets), San Francisco 415 374-5546
You really have to search for this hole in the wall where mad genius Manny Torres Gimenez makes a transcendent arepa ($6.50), a Venezuelan-Columbian street dish.  He splits a steaming, griddled masa cake horizontally and fills it with moist chicken (my favorite), peppers, onions, avocado, white cheese and a vinegary cilantro-chile salsa. Chewy and crisp at the same time, contrasted by the herby, succulent filling, his arepa enthralls to the last messy crumb. If you have the time, also try his three course $15 prix fixe.

Cinderella Russian Bakery and Cafe, 436 Balboa Street (at 6th Avenue), San Francisco 415 751-9690
Order either  pelmeni ($7.95), plump dumplings with hand-made noodle wrappers filled with onion-scented ground beef, in rich chicken broth; or vareniki ($6.99), half moon shaped boiled dumplings stuffed with mashed potatoes, topped with fried onions. Both come with sour cream, of course. Made of humble ingredients, these soulful Russian dumplings are the ultimate comfort food.

Locavore, 3215 Mission Street (near Valencia), San Francisco. 415 821-1918
In a town full of handcrafted burgers, I have yet to find one that lives up to Locavore’s  cheeseburger ($15), dripping, dressed with sweet, smoky, house-cured bacon, grilled onions and aioli, accompanied with thick golden french fries with velvety interiors and crunchy surfaces. You taste the goodness of the ingredients. The kitchen, headed by exacting Jonathan Merritt, is inspired by local products.

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