I love that we live in a time where the modest and familiar burger is treated with the same skill and care as a seared duck breast or other fancy-sounding entrée. These impressive creations are no longer haphazardly assembled by slapping together unwanted scraps and trimmings and are no longer regarded just as greasy pub food. These burgers come a pedigree. Brilliant chefs now utilize custom butcher blends of meat and have truly mastered the art of balancing and enhancing those bold, rich, cheesy flavors while still retaining the burger's undeniably attractive gutbomb essence. These cherished burgers have now become a highlighted menu staple at most high-end restaurants and while many claim to serve the best in San Francisco, I think the title belongs safely to the one I've had at Stones Throw.
Is it wrong that I want to eat Indian food surrounded by Indians? I don't want this to come off sounding bad, but there's something that just feels right about eating in an ethnic restaurant that's actually filled with people of that ethnicity. I view it as a sort of tip of the hat to the place's street cred and I've often found that it's a pretty consistent indicator to determine if the place is going to be authentic and good. Just think about it, if Indians don't want to eat this food when they're dining out, why would I?
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.
I can say with absolute certainty that Napa is not an easy place to find a delicious and reasonably priced meal. It's filled to the brim with fancy schmancy high end spots ready to consume your entire pay check in a single fell swoop. Sure, some of those places are great or even incredible, but I wouldn't suppose that a meal at that price point is always in the cards. When I find myself in Napa, there is one place that has a number of great, reasonably priced options that I find myself returning to time and time again – The Oxbow Market.
Here's the thing about Napa. It's pretty freaking expensive everywhere. Between the wineries and their extra pricey tastings and the extremely high-end eateries, it's pretty easy to burn through a lot of cash quickly in Napa. Even if you actually want a meal on the cheaper side, it's not so easy to find anything that's actually good so it takes a bit more digging and information than most places and you're still likely to end up disappointed. But, I do actually know of some great meals that can be had in Napa for less than an arm and a leg and I'm happy to share this info with you.
Mikkeller is not your average beer bar. Despite its questionable neighborhood surroundings on the cusp of the bad part of the Tenderloin (we actually watched cops draw guns on a crackhead in the street a block from the place on our way over), it's actually a very large, spacious, clean, polished space with a comfortable and appropriately adult, European vibe.
I always get really excited when new restaurants open, especially when they are close to enough to my home that they can easily become part of my regular dinner rotation. This particular new opening in the Tenderloin was only under a week old, but I couldn't help but find myself drawn to it. Rusty's Southern may be in a dicey part of town, but this spacious spot is serving up affordable, California-inspired takes on North and South Carolinan Southern classics. In a town desperately in need of more Southern food, what more could you ask for?
I'd argue that beer is almost always better when consumed along with food. It just pairs so well with anything and everything... but especially toasty, crispy things. One late evening while I was drinking with a few friends on Polk Street, we stopped in to a nearly unmarked bar called Woods Polk Station that I had heard good things about so that we could fill our bellies full of bubbly beer goodness and some tasty late-night munchies. The place was quite small and had a ski resort mountain lodge vibe with its fake flickering fireplace displayed on the TV overhead, quiet, laid-back vibe, and simple wooden bar slanging gorgeous goblets of craft draft beer. It's cozy and quiet and I think it's quite a nice option when you're looking to escape the general craziness of Polk Street with a few glasses of beer.
*Editor's Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit. Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration. I've experienced a variety of Austin's lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin's more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.