God, I hate walking through this part of town. How the hell did I even end up in the Tenderloin? Well, it was a Saturday afternoon and I knew I was in the mood for some raw seafood. I considered getting sushi and thought about stopping into Swan Oyster Depot, but the line was already way too long. But still, I had another idea that was close by and had a raw seafood dish I had been meaning to try since I first landed in SF.
Kin Khao is a restaurant that's been on the tip of everybody's tongue from the moment it opened just over a year ago. Nearly everybody loves Thai food, but there is just something totally unique about the twists that Kin Khao interweaves to these regional classics that gets people buzzing. It's been written up in nearly every Bay Area publication – Hell, it's even been written up in the New York Times by Mark Bittman and was included as #6 on Alan Richman's 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015 in GQ. What could it be about this Thai spot that makes it so damned special? I guess it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that both the chef and owner of Kin Khao have a pretty impressive food industry pedigree. Chef Mike Gaines spent a good chunk of time working at David Kinch's famed molecular gastronomy hot spot Manresa and the owner and restauranteur behind Kin Khao is a famed Bay Area food blogger named Pim Techamuanvivit whose passion for her Thai heritage guides the restaurant's concept. She also happens to be dating famed and celebrated Chef David Kinch who I'm sure has some tangential effect on the place. Yet somehow, with all of these compelling reasons to check this place out laid out in front of me, this was still only the first time I had gotten the chance to visit.
Offal-lovers, are you listening? Boy, have I got a dish for you. If you're like me, you probably really enjoy eating freaking unusual dishes. This dish I've got is definitely going to interest you. In the The Tenderloin, only a block or two from the other outstanding Thai restaurants I've already written about like Lers Ros Thai and Sai Jai Thai, I've found another place worth venturing through this crackhead-infested neighborhood to. This place is called Zen Yai and they have an off-menu dish I had been meaning to try that drew me in for a visit one morning. You'd probably never even know to order this dish unless you had the ability read Thai or enjoy scraping the internet for food finds as much as I do. I can't read Thai, but I did get word of this crazy dish somewhere and knew I had to see what all the fuss was about. I can't even remember where I first heard about the dish, but one hungover day I was in the mood for soup and wanted to try something particularly funky and interesting. To be honest, I didn't really even know anything about what I was ordering myself except that it involved plenty of offal. I was ready for the gastronomic adventure.
Holy crap this place is in a bad neighborhood. Sai Jai Thai is situated on a really terrible block right in the heart of the crackhead-riddled Tenderloin. But, I've done crazier things than venture into a sketchy neighborhood for a good meal, so that alone certainly wasn't going to deter me from checking the place out.
What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too. Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year's, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let's begin! And if you wanna hear about the 2014's Best Cocktails, read more here.
I think it's about time I gave Aliment its much deserved due. Since that very first weekend away from New York in San Francisco over six months ago, Aliment has proven to be a reliable go-to restaurant when I'm in need of an excellent meal in the Union Square/Nob Hill area. Before this visit, I had only been to Aliment for brunch, but I was so impressed by every single dish I ate on every single visit that when I was in need of a last minute Saturday night table for four in the 'hood, I was confident that Aliment would be able to deliver. Somehow, despite how great this place has consistently proven itself to be, it continues to remain off the radar for most San Franciscans.
It's not always easy to find quality restaurants in Silicon Valley, but Mountain View has proven time and time and time again that there's some really excellent places to eat and drink on their main downtown drag. There are not many restaurants that I have loved enough to eat at multiple times out here, but Scratch has sort of become my go-to, not-sure-what-I'm-in-the-mood-for dinner and drinks spot.
I don't think I'm unearthing any secrets with this one. This famed Burmese restaurant in the Richmond has been featured on the Food Network numerous times and is reputed for having constant lines out the door. Somehow, when I showed up at 12:30 on a Sunday, a time when I assumed the restaurant would be at peak capacity, it in fact had no line. I was seated at a two-top on my own immediately. Amazing.
I might be a little sadistic when it comes to spicy foods. I love consuming them, but I also love watching my friends squirm eating them. Among the many spicy cuisines out there, I'm particularly fond of authentically hot Thai food, although my body usually disagrees with that decision within a few hours of the meal. In NYC, I've often found it hard to find Thai restaurants outside of Queens that will take a white guy seriously with regards to flavors and spice levels. I often find myself let down by the mild and watered down dishes served to me and if I really want it made right, I have to be very insistent that I know what I'm getting myself into. This is definitely not the case at the San Francisco mini-chain Lers Ros Thai. Everything on their menu is very authentically prepared, spice level included.
*Editor's Note 10/23/15: Best of Thai Noodle is under new ownership and is for some reason rebranding as Hippie Thai Street Food, presumably with a similar menu. Only time will tell if the food is the same. In the vibrant, artsy, dirty hippie-filled San Francisco neighborhood of Haight Ashbury, amongst the many clothing and bong shops, there are many dining options. Wading through the good and the bad isn't always an easy task, but I found a wholly unnoticed gem of a lunch spot called Best of Thai Noodle hidden in plain sight right on the main drag. It was a fairly small restaurant by Californian standards, but still had a tall, lofty ceiling and a big kitchen with fiery flaming woks open to the dining area. With just one glance at that wok setup and inferno, I knew this was gonna be great.