Upper highs, Valley loves

Pub date May 2, 2012


APPETITE I’m constantly asked what my favorite restaurant is. It’s an impossible question. Inquire about my favorite taqueria, German spot, tea house, French bistro, and I’m ready to talk. There’s a favorite for every style and mood in a metropolitan city such as ours. My current home is on the cusp of Haight-Ashbury and Cole Valley, which, like every neighborhood in our food-rich city, has its treasures. We’ll breeze past the touristy swill and explore its best here. Find more of my picks in this neighborhood, from coffee to cocktails, here.



Thank God for The Alembic. The bar has been one of SF’s best since it opened, thanks to bar manager Daniel Hyatt, whose expertise in American whiskeys equals an ahead-of-the-curve selection. Alembic claims many gifted bartenders, like Danny Louie and Janiece Gonzalez, and I’m never disappointed when asking for an off-menu cocktail creation. The food is destination-worthy in its own right — maybe the best in the Haight. Whether at the bar with jerk-spiced duck hearts and a bowl of shishito peppers, or dining on caramelized scallops and sweetbreads over kabocha squash spaetzle, I continue to be satisfied.

1725 Haight, SF. (415) 666-0822, www.alembicbar.com



Owner and brewmaster Dave McLean opened Magnolia Brewery more than 14 years ago, brewing the best beers in SF (in my humble opinion). Magnolia’s space has Old World, gastropub charm in black leather and wood booths and antique floor tiles. It serves the best brunch in the area — sorry, Zazie and Pork Store — which includes BBQ belly over Anson Mills cheddar grits, or quinoa hash and eggs if you want to cut down the fat quotient. For lunch and dinner, house sausages delight (rabbit currywurst!) as does savory mushroom bread pudding or a near-perfect Magnolia pub burger.

1398 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7468, www.magnoliapub.com



Upper Haight’s best hidden gem is Giovanni’s, a pizza kitchen in the back of Club Deluxe (eat in the bar or take-out). Giovanni’s pies aren’t so much Neapolitan perfection as a mix between Italian and East Coast styles, with a classic margherita and spicy Diavola, laden with pepperoncini, salami, Parmigiano, and a Belizean hot sauce. Save room for a West Coast rarity: a fresh cannoli, sweet ricotta stuffing brightened with orange blossom oil. Club Deluxe’s drinks are of the mojito, greyhound kind. Not exactly a cocktailian destination. What makes Deluxe special? Nightly live jazz in a well-loved bar that thankfully hasn’t changed decor for decades, with a 1950s, cozy bar feel. Bands rotate: trios, duos, quartets, even organ acts, providing some of the best jazz in the city, usually free. If only, like New Orleans, our neighborhoods were lined with such clubs.

1511 Haight, SF. (415) 552-6948, www.sfclubdeluxe.com



I wrote much of Ice Cream Bar back in February, so I’ll send you to the review detailing my fascination with this one-of-a-kind, 1930s-era soda fountain. It’s my top pick for dessert.

815 Cole, SF. (415) 742-4932, www.theicecreambarsf.com



Parada 22 is a vibrant little space with aquamarine walls and vintage South American food products lining the shelves. The casual eatery feels vacation-like, offering Puerto Rican food. My favorite dish here is camarones a la Criolla: sauteed shrimp, tomato and onions in a dreamy-light cream sauce. Sides like plantains and red or white beans in sofrito-based sauces, are fresh and appealing. The restaurant has recently joined forces with sister restaurant Boogaloos (www.boogaloossf.com) in the Mission, serving Boogaloos’ brunch menu every weekend.

1805 Haight, SF. (415) 750-1111, www.parada22.com



Haight-Ashbury has two unexpectedly strong Thai spots serving authentic dishes. Ploy II is upstairs in an old Victorian space, with weathered carpet and decor (elephants, tapestries) straight out of Chang Mai’s Night Bazaar. It does standards well, and I crave the mango panang curry: spicy, creamy with coconut milk and peanut sauce. Siam Lotus also is reliable on Thai classics, though it’s the daily changing chef’s special board that sets it apart. Thankfully on the permanent menu, the Thai tacos are a must. Though the paper thin crepes fall apart at the touch, a filling of ground chicken, shredded coconut, mini-shrimp, and peanuts makes for one of the more fun Thai dishes anywhere.

Ploy II: 1770 Haight, SF. (415) 387-9224, www.ployii.com

Siam Lotus: 1705 Haight, SF. www.siamlotussf.com



Hama-Ko husband-and-wife owners Tetsuo and Junko Kashiyama open only when they feel ready and usually treat regulars best, service is slow, and certainly there are no California rolls. But this nearly 30-year-old classic is one of those neighborhood secrets that locals return to and sushi devotees enjoy. It’s straightforward sushi: silky scallops, bright-as-the-sea tai (red snapper), melt-in-your-mouth unagi avocado maki. You won’t find the variety of rare fish found at Zushi Puzzle (www.zushipuzzle.com), but you will find impeccable freshness — Tetsuo sources his fish from the same place The French Laundry and Chez Panisse gets theirs, he proudly tells me — from a couple who cares.

108 Carl, SF. (415) 753-6808

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