Nestled amongst the many Fauxtalian sidewalk cafes clustered in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, I have managed to find one authentic, non-touristy spot that's actually worthy of your time and money – Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe. Despite the shop's name, it actually doesn't have anything to do with cigars. They say it's just more of a nod to a time when food was prepared fresh every day, the kind of simple, old fashioned Italian food you can still experience at Mario's.
“Hey guys, want to go for vegan sushi in the Mission?” – a phrase I never thought I'd hear myself say. I was with a couple friends and we had just spent the previous 24 hours gluttonously eating an drinking more than any humans should. We all felt like we needed to eat something a little lighter and healthier to heal to wounds of the binge. And given that one member of the group was a vegetarian and another vegan, Shizen, a trendy, new Mission Japanese hotspot with a completely vegan menu seemed like the perfect place for the job.
If you've got a car and are willing to drive to strange strip malls in Silicon Valley, there are plenty of interesting Asian foods to find. It's always hard to know if a dingy shop is one of the good ones or the bad ones until you try it for yourself, so as I approached Shanghai Flavor Shop in Sunnyvale, I prepared myself for the whichever side of the coin it was going to land.
The Japan Center Mall is a mysterious maze-like shopping center full of stalls selling Asian miscellany and a wide variety of authentic Asian eats. There are many places you could choose to eat at – with specialists for just about every Japanese food type you could think of. There are in fact a number of sushi options, but there is only one sushi purveyor inside of this massive mall that I find myself consistently returning to. It's called Isobune and its a truly special place.
San Francisco's Financial District is not exactly a neighborhood teeming with destination restaurants. But, if you know where to look, it is possible to find some solid places suitable for a date night. One place in particular called Per Diem is just oozing with that sexy, cozy date night vibe due to its lofty two-story space decorated with many unusual design touches reminiscent of the 1849 Gold Rush Era. This conglomerate of coiled copper piping, stitched canvas, dark wood, and raw stone lends itself to an almost steampunk aesthetic reminiscent of Will Smith's Wild Wild West. I honestly don't think that's what they were aiming for, but I couldn't help how I felt – it just did.
*Editor's Note 1/6/16: This J-Town location of Ramen Underground has unfortunately shuttered, but their Financial District location still remains open. I, like most food lovers over the past five years, have become obsessed with big, authentic bowls of ramen noodle soup. In my nationwide explorations, I've come across an extremely wide variety in terms of style and quality, but for some reason I have been struggling to find a great, comforting bowl in San Francisco. I've had a number of satisfactory bowls, but I was convinced that if I looked hard enough, I was going to find an outstanding version. For a city so close to Japan and the rest of Asian, I was finding it hard to believe that it would be so difficult to find – especially because I had already found perfection in Silicon Valley of all places.
I didn't set out on this venture necessarily looking to have a full, sit-down brunch. In fact, it was coffee that drew us to this place called Dolce Amore on the cusp of Lower Pac Heights and Lower Nob Hill on this particular morning. We had pulled up Foursquare in search of a new or interesting place to get a quality cup and this cute cafe serving Illy was calling our name.
When I was living in New York, I used to eat falafel sandwiches, hummus, and other Middle Eastern specialties A LOT. It was one of those cheap things that I could grab on nearly every corner and still manage to convince myself that I was actually eating healthy. This thought was probably completely false since falafel balls are deep fried and pita bread is super-carb heavy, but it still had to be better than the fast-cheap alternative. Looking back, I realize that I must have been pretty naïve thinking that great, cheap falafel shops could be found every, even outside of New York. But, upon moving out west, I had to face the harsh realization that in California I no longer had easy access to great Middle Eastern food. I am happy to announce, however, that I have actually found a place in the Bay Area that up to my high standards and has proven itself as a more than suitable place to get my fix – Oren's Hummus Shop.
Let me say this up front – I truly do LOVE garlic. But, I still wasn't really sure what to expect from a place that prides itself on being a "garlic restaurant". The Stinking Rose and their garlic-focused menu are very famous – famous enough that I had heard about them long before moving to San Francisco. I knew that pretty much every item on the menu was going to involve garlic, I was just hoping they'd be able to transform and highlight the featured ingredient in interesting and delicious ways. I really wasn't sure if this place was actually going to be good or if the garlic thing was all gimmick and schtick. All I knew for sure was that I had to check it out for myself.
Let's face it. If you're in New Orleans, you're gonna end up in the French Quarter. Where you're there to take in the history or to check out the Bourbon Street madness – to drink a hurricane at Pat O'Briens or any of the other drunk-magnet bars – you're bound to end up there. Since you're definitely going to be there, you're gonna need to know of a few great places to eat. Despite it being a very touristy area, there are still many actually great places to eat. There are famed oyster halls like Acme, cheap eats classics like Central Grocery and Cafe Du Monde, and the many famous, super old-school, French dining parlors. But, you can still definitely choose wrong and end up with a really bad meal. If you want something new, exciting, and different, I've got just the place. This restaurant, Sylvain, is a hot addition to the French Quarter dining scene that's perfect for a civilized, sexy, date night full of great Southern food and cocktails.