maria in san francisco…

IMG_3154One of my best friends since childhood abandoned her husband and first-born in Chicago to spend some time with me in foggy San Francisco. We would not be best friends if she was not similarly obsessed with food. Maria’s preferred foods are like her: intensely flavorful, comforting, and unpretentious. They are also usually high in fat and calories, which she is not. I took her to some of my favorite spots, and we got to explore new places together.

Our first meal was Hawaiian brunch at Grindz. Like Hawaii, Maria loves Spam. Our meal: Chicken and Waffles – chicken tonkatsu with spam+cheese buttermilk waffles. Spam musubi. Loco moco. 

After exploring Bernal Heights, the Mission, and Lands End, we ended our day with some casual fish and carnitas tacos Nick’s way (using one hard shell and one soft shell in their tacos is genius) and elote con queso at the Taco Shop at Underdog’s. I’ve tried to recreate their elote without success. Like everywhere in the Bay Area, the guacamole is killer.

IMG_3128The breathtaking view from Bernal Heights Park. IMG_3129Mission Delores Park is a popular spot for a reason. IMG_3167I’ve been to Tartine Bakery at least 5-6 times since my move to San Francisco. Each time, I discover something new and amazing. This here is a coconut cream tart, which we got by default because the banana cream tart was sold out. I thank God for this divine encounter. We enjoyed it with Sightglass coffee at the modern bakery/coffee shop Craftsman & WolvesIMG_3130And, we were fortunate to have some sun on my side of town for the evening and experienced the spectacular sunset in Lands End. The next day: Napa Valley.

IMG_3131On our way to Napa Valley we stopped by Kirby Cove for the breathtaking view of Big Red.IMG_3132Maria has a real, actual bucket list – small and big feats she wants to experience in her lifetime. One is making a 3-point shot and another is drinking wine in Napa Valley. We found a winery, Clos Du Val, that allowed picnics and brought our own bread, salami, cheeses, olives, blueberry jam, olive oil, fruit and chips+guacamole which we purchased the day prior at Bi-Rite Market. IMG_3133 IMG_3136DSC03880IMG_3138Clos Du Val was the perfect first Napa Valley experience – quaint, quiet and gorgeous grounds nestled in rolling hills. Clear blue skies and a cool breeze didn’t hurt either. Next stop – Yountville for dinner. IMG_3141 IMG_3142 IMG_3143IMG_3159IMG_3155 That evening, Thomas Keller’s ad hoc was not serving their famous fried chicken, so we decided on Bouchon for some relaxed french bistro fare. The flatbread, lamb with au jus, trout, and steak all included decadent doses of butter. IMG_3146IMG_3148IMG_3149IMG_3151The evening drive home was something to behold. Pastel skies to bright city lights. IMG_3156The next day was filled with comfort Asian food: Porkbelly and Coca-Cola braised pork buns at Chairman food truck (along with other Off The Grid food trucks), spam katsu sliders at Volcano Curry, and dumplings from Shanghai Dumpling King. IMG_3158 IMG_3160Maria and I love chocolate. And the best chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted is the Tcho 60.5% chocolate ice cream at Smitten Ice Cream. Smitten ice cream makes made-to-order ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen makes the ice crystals in the ice cream smaller than regular freezing which creates the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted. IMG_3153On the last night of Maria’s visit, the fog thwarted my plans to see the sunset from Twin Peaks. However, per usual, near the Bay, there were clear skies and a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge lights. Goodnight San Francisco! DSC04109DSC04113DSC04115DSC04117On our last day together, we had a casual lunch at Cafe Bunn Mi for some banh mi sandwiches. This turned out to be Maria’s favorite meal of the trip! So much so, it basically ruined her ability to have other banh mi sandwiches elsewhere ever again.

Cafe Bunn Mi’s sandwiches aren’t your traditional banh mi – they include crispy duck, pork belly, and lots of extras including hard boiled eggs. They bake their own french rolls, and their fried imperial rolls are spectacular. Maria’s not a fruit gal, but she loves watermelon. So, of course, we got the watermelon slush, which really tastes exactly like sweet watermelon in a cup. I wasn’t sure if this place was “special” enough to include in our escapades, but I had a feeling this was just the right balance of Asian-casual-unique-fatty-fresh-fried-spicy to cater to Maria’s palette.

Maria’s visit reminded me again that a good meal tastes infinitely better with good company.

when in rome…


When visiting California, an in-n-out stop is obligatory. Six cheeseburgers animal style with fries animal style was our second lunch after clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf.

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Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf was our first stop on our hop-on hop-off tour bus.

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Of course, the tour included a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in both sunny and foggy wonder.

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addendum: Recently, I discovered there is much much more to the secret menu at in-n-out than “animal style” and it changed my life. My new regular from hereonin: double double, medium rare, mustard fried, chopped chilis, with whole grilled onions. Oh, and fries WELL DONE.


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For dinner we had nine fancy tacos in the Mission at Tacolicious – a terribly yet accurately named establishment without a sign and with delicious, delicious tacos.  Photographed above: beer braised chicken, guajillo braised beef short rib, house-made chorizo and potatoes, and fried local cod with 3 types of salsa.


The first time I enjoyed flan was here. Apparently, according to my sister, this is not because tacolicious’ flan was the best flan in the world (it was very good flan, though), but because all other flan (flans?) I’ve had were terrible. Flan is both light and rich – like cheesecake and creme brulee combined.

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After tacos, during blue hour, and under a full moon, we took in SF atop Mount Davidson.

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Goodnight, San Francisco.

dim sum at hong kong lounge.


When in the Richmond district, you must have dim sum. And, though I’ve been told Hong Kong Lounge is not the best dim sum in the Richmond, it is still some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had. A dish I’ve had for the first time at HKL, deep fried taro dumpling.


shrimp noodle roll with whole plump shrimp.


coffee pork ribs with whipped cream. My sister described it as candy bars, but pork. And, this was a good thing.


bbq pork noodles with cilantro.


garlic pea sprouts – a favorite of mine I’ve eaten countless times at Chinese restaurants throughout SF’s Chinatown II.


turnip cake.


pan fried chive dumpling – we ate a couple before I remembered to take a photo.


my favorite dim sum dessert – fried sesame balls!

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And, if you’re in the Inner Richmond, de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

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One of my favorite vantage points in SF (of which there are many) is de Young’s observation tower.

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Being on the west side of the city means easy access to the ocean and Lands End. Mile Rock Beach in Lands End is a little gem of an escape from the city.

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However, Lands End does not let you forget you are indeed in San Francisco.