French and Italian cuisines always get the raves; German food tends to get short shrift. It’s usually called heavy, not comfort food, and beets, pickles, and sauerkraut aren’t on the instant craving gratification list for most Americans. But they are for me. And while I’ve yet to sample a schnitzel as heavenly as I did last year in Leipzig, local interpretations of German cuisine are worthy competitors. As summer comes to a close (or to Burning Man) and my thoughts may turn to Oktoberfest (which, you should know, happens in September in Germany), I find myself wanting to eat German food over everything else … essen über alles, if you will. Without belaboring the obvious like how good-looking Teutonic folk are, and how the massive lists of German beer can be poured out in half liters, liters, or glass boots to suit your drink kink here are a handful of very spaetzle spots.
The cool, understated interior design that pairs monastery style with a beer-hall aesthetic two German traditions reveals owner-chef Fabrizio Wiest’s former life as a graphic designer. He also makes special T-shirts for events like Oktoberfest and, last year, Germany’s hosting of the World Cup. Suppenküche has been the kaiser of SF German restaurants since opening in 1993; its food, vibe, and crowd are among the most engaging of any such place in this city. The venison medallions in red wine plum sauce are my personal favorite, but just about every dish here is outstanding washed down, of course, with a choice from a deluge of amazing brews.
525 Laguna, SF. (415) 252-9289, www.suppenkuche.com
Part the thick, pinckel-yellow plastic curtain and enter the mesmerizing, anachronistic world of Walzwerk, San Francisco’s East German restaurant. Relish the redness of your beet soup below giant portraits of Engels, Marx, and Lenin, or devour hearty garlic roast pork or jaegerschnitzel with your comrades under a Young Pioneers camping poster. Walzwerk feels entirely foreign and imaginary, like someone’s grandmother’s East Berlin basement circa 1975. One of the city’s best culinary hideouts with a museumlike bathroom, Walzwerk probably won’t stay secret much longer as it increasingly enters the lives of others.
381 S. Van Ness, SF. (415) 551-7181, www.walzwerk.com
Wooden planks all rise to the same ceiling point with Austro-Germanic symmetry at SoMa’s cozy, Alpine-style hideaway. Go early on weekend nights for schweinehaxen, a pork leg dish (it runs out quickly), and pick the exceptional potato soup over salad. There are five sausage plates (but sadly not a combo sausage plate), lots of sauce-topped schnitzel variations (cream, pepper, lemon, anchovy), and other solid dishes like deer ragout and stellar sauerkraut. Despite occasional food downers (cold spaetzle), Schnitzelhaus is still a great little place.
294 Ninth St., SF. (415) 864-4038, www.schnitzel-haus.net
Gather your mates at Schroeder’s on Fridays for after-work beers and maybe a sausage appetizer plate. Enjoy the ladies’ beer-chugging contest. Drink more beer. Hop around clumsily with a buxom waitress in Bavarian costume to the sound of the polka band. Drink more beer. Watch as the fantastic murals become creepier and the deer heads continue staring at you your clue to call a cab, right after you yell, "Endlich Freitag!" to the wall, or to the guys in lederhosen, and everyone laughs and hoists their mugs in a TGIF salute. Despite Schroeder’s status as the West Coast’s oldest German restaurant (it opened in 1893), the tour-bus quality deserves an upgrade. But it’s one of the best places to drink yourself silly, and I love it for that.
240 Front, SF. (415) 421-4778, www.schroederssf.com
ROSAMUNDE SAUSAGE GRILL/TORONADO
You don’t always want to sit down and pay for a big meal. Sometimes you just need something salty, meaty, and cheap … but a changeup from tacos. Hit the Lower Haight, mein Freund, for one wicked tandem. Get the meat fix (say, wild boar and apple sausage) at Rosamunde Sausage Grill, and bring it next door to Toronado for a German (and many, many other kinds) of beer.
545 Haight, SF. (415) 437-6851; 547 Haight, SF. (415) 863-2776, www.toronado.com
LEHR’S GERMAN SPECIALITIES
If your enthusiasm for German food has you craving special pickles, mustard, wursts, or spaetzle mix, visit Lehr’s in Noe Valley. Go anyway, actually, sample some of the chocolates and candy, and enjoy a spectacular throwback to family-run, neighborhood grocery stores. Let’s do the time warp again.
1581 Church, SF. (415) 282-6803*