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Cheap Eats

Nailed it



CHEAP EATS Hedgehog got me this Groupon for a fancy pantsy mani-pedi at a place in San Mateo puts flower petals and orange slices in your feet water! It’s hard for me to hold a grudge, however, because at the time-of-purchase we were living in New Orleans. For all she knew, San Mateo was a suburb of San Fran, like the Sunset or the Richmond.

Nope. You have to drive.

So I was driving back, all relaxed and pretty and shit, and there was Candlestick … and it was very nearly (at the time) football season … and the only thing I don’t like about getting my nails done is the way you smell for the rest of that day. I mean, I am, at heart, a chicken farmer. Lookswise, I can handle being beautiful, but it’s my nature to smell like hay. Not mimosas.

It takes about 30 minutes to drive from San Mateo to the Mission.

Around about Candlestick, I’m saying, enough became enough. Deciding finally to change the smell of my fingernails, I swerved off the freeway in search of barbecue. In search, specifically, of Franks, where I had eaten once recently on account of another goddamn groupon, this one courtesy of Earl Butter. Who, to his credit, did apologize for eating all the brisket off our three-way-combo before Hedgehog and me ever even knew what hit us.

Turns out the brisket is Frank’s best meat! It’s tender, smoky, and doused in a really good, hot (if you ask for it) basic barbecue sauce, I now know. I got it to go, and they gave me a fork.

But I used my fingers….


by Hedgehog

Sunday’s baseball was Mission vs. Mission at Balboa. In my copious notes I dubbed the home team the Good Guys and the away team the Better Guys. Chicken Farmer and our friend Long Tall Phil were playing for the Better Guys, hence that side’s upgrade.

Unfortunately, I don’t know many of the other players’ names and resorted to nicknaming them mostly based on what they were wearing, who they reminded me of, and the few scattered facts I remembered about them from previous games. For example, there was Big Blue, Hairdo, Walnut Creek, Old Timey, Lost Horizons, and In’N’Out. After a while, my play-by-play reads more like I’m calling a horse race.

Anyway, I don’t know how many folks are interested in rec league games, but I think more are probably into Fantasy Baseball. Then again, I don’t know which side of the fence the readership of Cheap Eats falls into demographically so I’ll cover both bases with one bird and say that in my opinion, Fantasy Baseball should allow for at least one Rec League player per team. My reasoning is as follows:

1) Rec Leaguers steal a ton of bases. I am in a Stolen Bases race in my Fantasy League right now and if I had In’N’Out or Gray Shirt Tony, or even Chicken Farmer herself, I wouldn’t need to put all this imaginary pressure on Michael Bourn to do what I’m pretend-paying him for.

2) Rec Leaguers are almost all multi-positional and thus, very useful when setting your lineup. I mean someone who plays left field, short, third, second, catcher and pitcher? And steals three bases in one game?! I mean come on…

3) Major league starting pitchers don’t hold a candle to Rec League pitchers. Unless you count speed, accuracy, or variety of pitches. But the Good Guys starter pitched a complete game! And the Better Guys pitcher went seven innings. Colorado Rockies: take note.

Better Guys, 4. Good Guys, 7.

After the game we went to my new favorite barbecue, which isn’t Franks, but only because you can’t walk to it from our house. You can walk to Southpaw. What my beloved and bristly sportswriter couldn’t have known from the press box was that the whole game in the dugout we were talking about barbecue.

The box score for the Mission’s new smoke house reads: weak, weak ‘cue. At least the ribs and brisket. Go for the sides, which are awesome. Pulled pork with beans and (get this) bechemel over warm potato chips, brussels sprouts with bacon, and my favorite: smoked goat served with fry bread. For that, I will be back.


Mon, Wed-Fri 5-11:30pm; Sat 3-11:30pm; Sun 11:30am-11:30pm

2170 Mission, SF

(415) 934-9300


Full bar

Koi hooey



CHEAP EATS Coach’s dad said it was the best Chinese restaurant in the world. The world being a pretty big place, and one which includes all of China, we went. Him, her, me, Hedgehog, Indiana Jake, and a Random Texan.

Daly City. Koi Palace. Pffft.

I’d retract that last little almost involuntary and entirely uncomplex sentence in deference to Mr. Coach, him being a respected figure among us, but come to find (over appetizers) that he didn’t say it was the best Chinese restaurant in the world; some guy did.

Some guy in an interview on NPR, turns out. He had eaten at 5,000 Chinese Restaurants (which is a lot, by even my standards) and Koi Palace in Daly City was his favorite.

OK. If that guy wants to take me there and order what he ordered, I’ll go back. But I happen to consider myself the High Halushki of Hyperbole, and I’m here to tell you that, no matter what Coach’s dad told Coach he heard some guy tell some interviewer, Koi Palace isn’t even the best Chinese restaurant in Daly Goddamn City, let alone the Bay Area, let alone the big fat world.

Why, it’s not even cheap! The kind of portions and quality you pay $8-10 for at the best Chinese restaurants in my world, you can expect to pay $16-18 for at Koi Palace.

And that, in a nutcase, is why I don’t listen to the radio.

Come to think of it, though, the pork and oysters clay pot…

(continued later this page, after sports section)


by Hedgehog

Next week I’ll have an actual pickup baseball game to write up. This week, though, I attended my first ever flag football practice. While it’s true that I already broke my arm at a flag football game, I had never actually practiced before. Which evens out since the practice I attended this week was for a team I don’t play on. I don’t play flag football anymore. Or ever. Since I broke my arm just thinking about playing once. Did I mention my arm is broke? Well it is.

Turns out, once you have a broken arm, there isn’t much you can do at a flag football practice. In the beginning, I tried kicking a soccer ball around, and the team initially joined me but finally got wise to my distractions and pulled out the pigskin.

So then I snapped the ball to Stringbean while the rest of the team ran passing routes. And then the Chicken Farmer and I played defense while the offense ran plays. Every play, one of us would blitz Stringbean and the other would drop into pass coverage. But whichever job I had, I kept putting my broken hand up to block the ball, so I decided it was safer to pull that arm into my shirt and run one-armed.

But when I blitzed Stringbean like that she just stopped and laughed and said I was the most “unintimidating” thing she’d ever seen.

She’ll rue the day.

(continued from before the sports section)

…was pretty good. And the seafood noodles, I thought, were great. But the country vegetables and the eggplant dishes were boring, the pork cheeks were at least as weak, and the spicy chicken wasn’t spicy. At all.

But mostly how I can tell when I really don’t like a restaurant is I wake up in the middle of the night that night, not feeling sick so much as cheated. Or maybe disturbed would be a better way to put it.

I have nightmares.

My mouth gets awful.

I mean no disrespect to Coach’s dad, who I kind of idolize because his whole family pretty much breathes football — with the possible exception of Coach herself, who is in it for the babes — but I’ve been so thrown by Koi Palace that I might need to go find some dollar-fifty steam-table fried rice for lunch. By way of a reset.


Lunch: Mon-Fri 11am-2:30pm; Sat 10am-3pm; Sun 9am-3pm; Dinner: Sun-Thu 5-9:30pm; Fri-Sat 5-10pm

365 Gellert Blvd., Daly City

(650) 992-9000


Full bar


Finger waves



CHEAP EATS Oh, I have so many sporty things to tell you about! To my surprise I am playing baseball again, football season starts (for girls) on the same day it starts for the 49ers: next weekend! Meanwhile, the Giants and A’s are both very much “in it,” entering September. Steroid busts . . .

Next week I am going to hire a dedicated sports writer for Cheap Eats. Mine will be the very first cheap eats newspaper column with a sports section in it.

This makes sense, trust me, food and sports being intrinsically intertwined. As any old dog will tell you, chasing a ball makes you hungry. And as any old Hedgehog will tell you, watching people chase a ball makes you hungry too.

For hot dogs! For chicken wings! Pizza . . . What does intrinsically mean?

Well, whatever, this week is this special food issue thing, so I thought I would clue you into this great new brick oven pizza place where I ate with my pal Earl Butter one day while Hedgehog was out in the world. She’s been brought in to try and rescue a horrible horror movie, you see.

Popcorn . . .

Yes, in honor of the occasion, I will devote the rest of this column very very exclusively to this new, cool, quiet pizza place. Except, as I am also (as of this moment) going on my own private writer’s strike, you’re going to have to do most of the work.

Here’s how:

Stand in front of a mirror, please, and make a fist with your right hand, except for the pinky. Now, go on ahead and poke that there teacup-tipping pinky of yours into the palm of your other hand.

Got it? Did you do that? Do you feel kind of goofy? Do you know where I’m going with this?

Sorry: where you’re going.

I’m on strike.

You, my friend, are going to punch yourself in the throat, sort of. Not hard. Just touch that same teacup-pinkied fist to your neck, sidewise, so that your thumb and index finger encircle your Adam’s apple even as the side of your little finger touches your soul patch.

Nicely done, you hipster you!

Next we are going to . . . Next you are going to lose the fist and bring the palm of your hand to your heart, you pledge allegiance to the flag, and so forth. Don’t be afraid to love your country. This is important. We don’t have the best healthcare situation in the world, but we do have Bruce Willis.

So bend your left arm at the elbow and hold it to your stomach, palm up, if you will, as if cradling a baby. Or a watermelon or something. Now scoop your right hand, palm up, over your left hand and on up toward the opposite collarbone.

Do you ever wonder what is wrong with you? Well, start! I don’t recommend all-out hypochondria; just a healthy sense of wonder. Why, for example, are you a scab?

Don’t give me the finger! Give me the opposite of the finger. That is, bend your middle finger down and — all those other ones, even the thumb — give me those. Give me everything but the finger. OK?

Now tap that middle knuckle against your chin. That’s all I’m asking. Is that so much to ask?

And there is yet one more thing you can do for me, Ms. Picket Line Crosser. Cross your fingers for luck. Lord knows we can use it. There are elections coming up later this fall, as well as football seasons.

There are everyday dangers to be avoided, like crossing the street and riding your bike to work.

I’m saying, cross your fingers on your right hand and draw yourself a little Fu Manchu mustache, just the sides of it . . . Yeah, leave the upper lip alone. Just two straight lines, first down the right side of your jaw, then the left, with your fingers crossed. For luck.

Yeah. Like that. Okay.

Now. You know what you need to know.


Tue-Thu 5:30-10pm; Fri 5:30-11pm; Sat noon-11pm; Sun noon-10pm

3228 16th St., SF



Beer & wine


Dishing the dirt



CHEAP EATS I didn’t do justice to Curry Boyzz, my new favorite restaurant, in last week’s review; I realize that. I completely and utterly neglected to mention who I ate there with!

Well, Hedgehog.

Moving right along …

Wait, there was someone else at our table, I feel certain. But Hedgehog, who is the half of our family that remembers things, is at work. She is also the half of our family that works.

With headphones on! So I am going to have to figure this out for myself, think think think … It was somebody skinny, I’m thinking, and so probably a vegetarian. Super skinny. With dreadlocks, and wearing a kind of cardboard hat or scarf, or something. With a price tag on it.

Doh! It wasn’t a vegetarian so much as a mop. Our spanking new, microfiber, swivel-headed dust mop that we’d just picked up at Cliff’s Hardware. I remember now: we wedged the handle through a chair back and its green dreadlocked head kind of watched over our meal, kind of hungrily. In fact, while Hedgehog used the bathroom, it spoke to me.

“That Tikka Masala looked pretty good,” it said.

“Yeah, well,” I said.

And in other news, I did a thing I haven’t done since the ’90s: I ate three Mission burritos in a week, and — funny thing — this was the week we were chicken-sitting in Alameda. When we are stationed in the Mission, Hedgehog and me, and our mop, we don’t eat burritos.

But we were going to watch that movie in Dolores Park with some buds, so we went to Cancun first. And we were going to a baseball game in Oakland, but I was in SF for some reason, and stopped at El Toro on my way to BART.

And Papalote, on a different day, but now I’m mad at them. Hardly any meat on my carne asada burrito: for shame, considering its relative expensiveness! And it was rolled all wrong, so that, cross-sectionally, one side of the burrito was just pretty much rice, and the other side had a few fairly tasteless beans and occasional chunks of meat. Pfft.

Lucky for them, they’re still my favorite taqueria, the orange salsa’s so goddamn good. I’ll just never eat there again, is all.

Hedgehog’s idea is to buy jars of Papalote’s overpriced orange salsa to take home and put on Cancun burritos.

So you see? You see why I love that lesbian? Even though she’s gluten free and dairy free, and made me eat at Radish for lunch today just because they had gluten free po-boys.

But at least she eats meat. Unlike some mops that I know.

So it shouldn’t surprise longtime readers of this column that her new favorite restaurant, like mine (after all these years), is Cancun. Specifically, the one on Mission and 19th, where I gained 20-some pounds in my thirties.

But it’s a 20-year tradition of mine not to review Cancun. To dwell on it, but never to actually review it. Therefore, I give you my other new favorite restaurant, Radish, the thing that finally happened across the street from the Lexington Club. Where I don’t drink, ’cause I’m too old.

But on our way to Cancun, we have to walk past one or the other, and lately it’s been Radish, so’s Hedgehog can look at their menu. We tried to eat there on a weekend but the line was too long.

Today (a weekday), I got the fried oyster po-boy, and it reminded me of Papalote’s carne asada burrito in that there were only about four or five oysters in it. And they weren’t very well battered. They just kind of crumbled.

But the bread was good! It was slathered with what they call “Cajun dirt.” I’d hoped that this would be the same thing Cajuns call “dirty rice,” which is chopped up giblets and liver and stuff, but no. It was reminiscent of muffuletta spread, which is more Italian than Cajun: chopped olives, onions, and lemon.

Good. But the best thing about Radish, as far as we could make out, was the homemade root chips: potato, taro, and yuca — yum!


Mon-Tue 5-10pm; Wed-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri 10am-11pm; Sat 9am-11pm; Sun 9am-5pm

3465 19th St., SF.

(415) 834-5441



Beer & wine


Friends, love, leftovers



CHEAP EATS Georgie Bundle is my new favorite person. My ever-loving bassist and keeper of my records, he has at various times during our many years of friendship impressed me with his barbecued things and bass lines. His harmonies, his goosey Christmases… He once accepted custody of some hand-me-down chickens of mine and built a coop for them on his lunch break. It was next to the steps, under the avocado tree, as if my old ex-chickens’ existence wasn’t cartoonish enough.

Well, yesterday evening we stood on those steps in North Oakland, after work, and reminisced. We have such a rich and rhythmic history, but the subject of our nostalgic reverie was a fried chicken dinner he’d cooked up two nights before.

I was there! I love it when people make fried chicken, because it’s something I have never myself been able to do. In fact I only know, personally, a handful of people who have managed to fry the chickens in the comfort and coze of their own little kitchens: Kentucky Fried Woman (obviously), Ruberoy “Shortribs” Perrotta, Wayway…

And now this. Now Georgie Bundle. Dude bought $70 worth — in fact, “bought” might not suffice — dude fucking purchased $70 worth of healthy, grass-fed Sonoma County chickens, brined them overnight, dredged them through some kind of fancy-pants specialty gluten-free flour, bathed them in buttermilk, and then flour again before they hit the hot oil.

When we joined his Southern-themed dinner party, with our Hedgehog-made cornbread and my me-made okra and tomatoes, Bundle was three paper towels to the wind, pinballing between the counter, the stove, and the sink, high on peanut oil fumes. He had a thermometer in the oil, and did the breasts all together at one temperature, and then the wings, legs and thighs at an altogether different temperature.

I don’t know if I ever hugged a host or hostess harder.

Long story short, the chicken was the best chicken ever, but this weird anti-Jesus thing happened where, after everyone had cleaned their plates and licked their fingers and (if they were me) their wrists and forearms, there weren’t any seconds.

Hedgehog is a lot of wonderful things, but “the most gracious guest in the world” isn’t one of them. When she came back outside with a second helping of Everything But, her disappointment was palpable.

Sadness, she calls it now. “Mostly I was just sad. I went up there with hope in my heart,” she said, when I interviewed her for this story. Just now, in the kitchen.

Mr. Bundle and our very dear Yoyo were sad too, and confused.

“I don’t know what happened,” Bundle said. “It seemed like so much chicken while I was cooking it.”

“It was the best fried chicken ever in the history of the world,” I said. “That’s what happened. We disappeared it. Everybody got some.”

There were so many great sides, like roasted carrots and greens and mac and cheese, that nobody stayed sad for long and everyone went home happy.

Short story long: Next day I get an email from Georgie Bundle titled, “there was MORE chicken!” He had put a whole tray of it in the oven to keep warm, and then forgot about it. And here’s where the superhero comes out in him. He offered to deliver more chicken to anyone who wanted it. “Even if you don’t email me I might just show up with some chicken,” he said. “You’ve been warned.”

I did email him, of course. I’m not proud. And it really was awesome, awesome fried chicken. But we had been chicken-sitting in Alameda when the dinner happened, or we probably wouldn’t have been invited. In fact, I’m not sure we were, technically, invited. The point is, it was an East Bay thing. And by the next day we were back home in the Mission, so I was sure there was no chance of a Late Night Trans-Bay Leftover Fried Chicken Delivery.

I took a bath.

I fell asleep, as usual, in the bathtub. And when I came back upstairs to get into bed with Hedgehog, my phone was blinking. Georgie Bundle. Are you still up, can I bring chicken? I’m in SF.

So you see what I mean about superhero? Georgie Bundle is my new favorite person.

New favorite restaurant?

Curry Boyzz

Sun.-Thu. noon-11pm; Fri.-Sat. noon-2 am

4238 18th St., SF

(415) 255-6565



Beer and wine


Liver or leave ‘er



CHEAP EATS Kayday came back down to town and for letting her stay in our bottom apartment, she treated Hedgehog and me to Chinese food, and just me to Japanese. The Japanese was at Izakaya Yuzuki, which I can see out my window right now cause it’s just across the street, kitty-corner-wise.

Small plates. Big bucks. Not the kind of place I would ever dare to go to if there weren’t at least a 67 percent chance of someone else picking up the check. In this case there was a 100 percent chance.

I’m not saying that this is a review of Izakaya Yuzuki, but this one dish . . . I never got its name, but it was squid marinated in its own liver and something really very salty.

I love liver, and that includes every kind of liver I have ever had, including squid liver, but the really remarkable thing about this dish was that the squid didn’t go away when you chewed it. It didn’t grind, crush, tear, or otherwise respond to mastication in any of the usual ways. You couldn’t even call it chewy. It just kind of immediately . . . shrunk. It retreated into itself and became a small, condensed blip in my mouth.

My first thought was, it’s alive.

But it wasn’t, of course.

This is a review of Salumeria, where once I shared a prosciutto-on-pretzel sandwich with Stringbean the Person, my beloved quarterback, because really if there’s one person in life a wide receiver needs to eat with, it’s her quarterback. Nothing says “throw me the ball” more than sharing a sandwich and pickle board at an outside table on a sunny Mission day.

She insisted on paying for her sandwich though, dadburn it.

“Throw me the ball,” I said, thrusting her wadded up ten back at her. She wouldn’t take it — maybe because of some quarterbacky code I don’t know about.

But, anyway … yeah: pickles. As in pickled things — maybe some of the same ones that were conspicuously missing from my beans a couple weeks ago in this column. Salumeria delivers. Salumeria comes through, on the pickle front. Okra. Green tomatoes. Beets …. Pickles!

And the sandwich came through too. It was prosciutto on pretzel, and it was dee-fucking-both-licious-and-lightful. I’d never had pretzel bread before. And I’m not sure I ever had that much prosciutto, either, on a sandwich. Fantastic!

The Person had to go to Rainbow Grocery after lunch, she said, to return things. “What are you returning?” I said. She told me she’d accidentally bought an overpriced foodie magazine for $11, and something else overpriced for $11 — I think she said vitamins. “I’m going to return them,” she said, “and buy $22 worth of sausage.”

Seldom in my life have I heard such sound economic theory laid out before me, like pickles on a board. I was touched.

I was moved.

I loved my quarterback right then, and felt proud to be one of only a handful of people in life who gets to catch her balls. I mean, 11 + 11 = 22, forever and always, but when you express this mathematical truth in terms of sausage attainment, it kind of sizzles and pops. Like poetry.

And when I first met Stringbean, bear in mind, she was a skinny vegetarian! Speaking of which, I did feel a little badly for my many skinny vegetarian friends down at Rainbow, because of course they don’t sell sausages. Which gave me an idea.

“Bean, wait right here,” I said, and I ran back into Salumeria to buy her a homemade salami. For (what? whoa!) 10 bucks. Ack! I couldn’t pull the trigger, even though I had a 10-dollar bill I didn’t really want. Which gave me an even better idea.

I ran back outside and handed the 10 to Stringbean. “I bought an overpriced salami for you,” I explained. “But then I returned it for cash to add to your sausage fund. Here.”

She looked at me like I was crazy and would not take the ten.

“Throw me the ball,” I said.


Daily 9am-7pm

3000 20th St., SF

(415) 471-2998

AE, D, MC, V

Beer and wine



Eat these words



CHEAP EATS One by one I am finding my old friends and hugging them. Last night at the Giants game, for example, I found El Centro, who — by the time you read this — will have sailed to Alcatraz and swum back to San Francisco. I’m so proud and impressed, and excited because, assuming she doesn’t drown and/or get eaten by sharks on her way home, there’s going to be a barbecue after at her house.

El Centro will be my second friend to have attempted this feat; not the barbecue, the swim.

How cool is that? To swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco — are you kidding me? It’s so cool, I’d need to wear a wet suit just to write one more sentence about it.

My own adventures have been more pedestrian, of late.

Hedgehog and me needed to get a neighborhood sticker for Angelo Joe, our gigantic and hard-to-park Honda Fit cargo van, and this required a long walk down to Market and South Van Ness. Along the way, we held hands and argued about geometry.

Hedgehog thinks that just because she remembers more words (in particular: hypotenuse) than I do, she is always right about math. I argue that, vocabulary-be-damned, the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line and never turning right on 14th St. and then left on Mission. (Except maybe in rare instances like Market St. has a parade or protest on it.)

BTW, I won that argument — as anyone save the staunchest surrealist and possibly airline pilots will plainly see. Even so, we were late for breakfast.

You know me. I can’t stand in line on an empty stomach, so I had asked Hedgehog to find us something good down there to bite into. She did that magic little thing she does with her thumbs and a cell phone and came back with my new favorite restaurant.

Little Griddle, of course. It’s just one block away from MTA, and they have those donut burgers like at Straw, with bacon and everything. Only their donuts are square. The Lucifer, they call it. They also have a giant double-pattied burger (the Evil Knievel), and one called the Hot Mess, featuring pepper jack cheese and jalapenos, and chipotle sauce. Plus cilantro and onions.

Thankfully it was a very breakfasty hour, or I would have been tempted. Instead, it was the Morning Star omelet that caught my eye — in particular the words “maple smoked bacon chicken sausage,” every single one of which is in my vocabulary.

This omelet comes with green pepper, yellow onion, tomato, and substitute spinach for mushrooms if you’re me. (Pssst. You’re not!) All that, plus cheese, and maple smoked bacon chicken sausage. Which is just one thing, mind you. With five words. Working backwards, it’s a kind of sausage, a chicken sausage. With bacon in it. Maple smoked bacon, to be precise.

Now is a very good time to be alive.

I’m serious. When a kind of sausage can have five words in the name of it, and every single one of those words is your all-time favorite word …

Those are the days. These.

I mean, it wasn’t as good as it sounds; but how could it possibly be?

Hedgehog ordered the Bits & Pieces scramble, which is basically the same ingredients minus cheese, scrambled. And you can get salad instead of hash browns so we got one with each and shared. Very good. Good, crispy hash browns. Good, crispy salad.

The coffee was good.

Coach came down on her bike and met us there, for support, and brought me a box of my favorite welcome home maple cream sandwich cookies from Trader Joe’s, and a black Champion skirt to play football in this season. She takes care of her players like that. Speaking of which …

Giants 3, Padres 2 — but I gotta tell you, even though the Giants are in first place and yeah yeah yeah, something even more exciting, baseballwise, is happening in Oakland these days. And it’s still easier to get to the Coliseum. And cheaper. Just saying.


Sat-Mon: 7:30am-3pm; Tue-Fri: 7:30am-5pm

1400 Market St., SF.

(415) 864-4292


No alcohol




CHEAP EATS I can’t tell you how beside myself I am to be back in San Francisco. I can tell you, but it will sound like it’s coming from over there. It’s not! I’m right here where I belong, typing at you from the warmth of my very own(ish) clawfoot tub in the bowels of my old dungeon-y hovel at 18th and Guerrero.

Upstairs, in the relative sunshine of our other, airier studio apartment, Hedgehog is pacing back and forth and saying to herself: We live in San Francisco. We live in San Francisco. Until finally she can’t take it anymore and shaves off her eyebrows.

You too, dear reader, must be pretty somewhat goddamn happy to hear this. It means instead of me writing about restaurants in Oakland and Berkeley all the time, not to mention points even farther east, I will likely go right back to hardly ever leaving the Mission.

Just last night for example, because neither of our two refrigerators had any food in it yet, we were stuck in one of those where-to-eat thingies, wherein I kept saying: Sichuan Home! And I kept saying: Halu! No, Sichuan Home. No, Halu. And Hedgehog kept sitting on our pretty red couch, looking daggers at me and altogether having eyebrows.

Then she said, “Let’s just go outside and walk around the neighborhood and find something. You haven’t lived here in almost a year. There will be new things.”

“Yeah sure,” I said.

We grabbed our jackets and stepped out into the hallway of our apartment building just as Scotty the House was walking by with a bass. “What?” we all said.

“We’re back!” I said.

He was going upstairs to get Earl Butter to practice for their cute little bandy. But first he wanted to tell us about where he’d just had dinner, and how awesome it was. New place. Small plates. Outside tables. Tacolicious.

Can there be a dumber name for a restaurant?

Please don’t be in the Mission. Please don’t be in the Mission, I repeated to myself.

Scotty the House is a vegetarian.

“Where is it?” Hedgehog asked.

Scotty the House lives in Oakland. “In the Mission!” he said.

It was just around the corner, on Valencia, he said, between 18th and 19th. So OK so that was where we eventually walked to.

We were not the discoverers of Tacolicious. In fact, there was only one table left, and it was outside.

“The heaters are on,” our hostessperson assured us, and we were sold so she led the way.

Outside is a nice little alleyway between buildings, with a big black-and-white mural of the city along one wall. There are words on the mural, too. And the heat was on and the chips were fresh-made and immediate, the salsa spicy and delicious.

Uh-oh. If I’m not careful, I’m going to like this restaurant, I thought.

I wasn’t careful. At $3.95 a pop, 4 for $13, we ordered one of everything, tacowise, give or take the vegetarian one. Give, to be precise. But to make up for it, we tacked on a taco of the week, which was achiote chicken, and a side of drunken beans that promised us both bacon and “pickled things.” Their words, not mine.

Problem being, we couldn’t find anything at all pickled in those beans. It was either an oversight, or a very subtle drunk.

Neverminding that, though, the tacos were, generally speaking, pretty great. Except I don’t much like mole so I let Hedgehog have almost all of that one. And the shot-and-a-beer braised chicken and chorizo-and-potato ones were also not my favorites.

I loved the carnitas, the cochinita pibil and the braised beef short rib tacos. The fried rock cod one was also especially wonderful: one nice-size lump of white fish delicately breaded and bursting with juiciness. Honestly, at first bite I wondered if they had injected the fish with melted butter or something. It was heavenly.

Oh yeah: bistec adobado, with big chunks of actually rare steak and pickled onions. You have to add a buck, it’s so good. Not cheap. But close enough.


Daily: 11:30 a.m.-midnight
741 Valencia St., S.F.
(415) 626-1344
Full bar


Batter up



CHEAP EATS Hedgehog and me are on the road again. Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, and the Mission lie ahead — by mere days! — and shrinking in the rearview mirror are both our families, several old priced-out-of-SF pals, 10 big states, four or five completely different kinds of barbecue, and many, many baseball games. Including big league ones, a minor league one, a semi-pro one, and a little league all-star game.

The American pastime, you will be happy to know, is alive and well on the other side of the bay. At PNC Park in Pittsburgh, for example, there are Polish Hill dogs, which are hot dogs with pierogi on them.

Earlier today, in a desperate attempt to be healthy, we both ordered grilled tilapia at a little family restaurant in Chenoa, Illinois. Make note, in case you are ever out Chenoa-way: “grilled,” in Chenoese, means breaded and fried.

You know me: I love these kinds of curveballs. But Hedgehog, who is still smoldering from the ears over a grilled pork chop disguised as a fried ham steak that occurred to her in Georgia three years ago, was less amused.

She has antiquated notions about the things she eats. She wants them to be what they are. That’s why I was surprised a couple nights ago in Youngstown, Ohio, my hometown, when she wanted to go to C. Staples barbecue.

The last time we were in Youngstown, a year ago or so, I took Hedgehog to C. Staples so she could experience the barbecue I lost my barbecue virginity to, which (and I warned her) isn’t barbecue so much as fried chicken slathered in a tangy, gritty sauce and served on white bread.

As I recall, she wasn’t amused.

So why did she insist on a do-over this year, on our way to the ballpark (Connecticut Tigers 5, Mahoning Valley Scrappers 4)? And why was C. Staples’ unbarbecued barbecue so freaking delicious this go-round?

I don’t have an answer.

And Youngstown was not the biggest barbecued revelation of our last thousand miles. That would be Pittsburgh, where, before the game, Moonpie and her man took us to Union Pig and Chicken. There, the truly smoked chickens and ribs and ohmigod the pork shoulder rocked my little world harder than it’s been rocked in a long time — by barbecue anyway. The brisket was only so-so, but that’s OK, cow being merely a special guest at Pig and Chicken.

San Francisco Giants 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 5.

We tend to root root root for the home team, so that game was kind of confusing for us. Not so Cleveland, where the Indians spanked the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 7-3. We met Kiz and her man beforehand at Hodge’s — a place fancy enough to bring out amuse bouches and unfancy enough for the amuse bouches to be tater tots. Crème fraiche for dipping.

There were lobster corn dogs with banana ketchup too, but that’s neither here nor there. Well, it’s there.

Here, we have the wonderfully fluorescent and blue collar Vientiane Cafe, on Allendale in East Oakland — which may as well be Des Moines to most City dwellers, I realize. But that’s OK. Go stand in line at San Tung.

We first discovered Vientiane last fall during our desperate search for a replacement for San Tung’s dry fried chicken wings. Angel wings, Vientiane calls them, and they come crispy and piled up on the plate, all second joints — which, as it happens, is both of our favorite joints, mini-drumstick be damned. Speaking for myself, I just like sticking my tongue between those two little bones, and getting the goods.

That joint reminds me of eating crawfish and crabs, and some other things. Vientiane’s dark, sticky sauce, according to Hedgehog, tasted like it belonged on Cracker Jacks.

Berwick 8, Danville 7.

Besides these angelic cracker jack wings, I love the papaya salad, which is almost too spicy and fish saucy, even for me. The menu has probably a hundred Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes, and I hope to eventually try all of them. New favorite restaurant!


Daily 11am-9pm

3801 Allendale Ave., Oakl.

(510) 535-2218


No alcohol


Mega Millions



CHEAP EATS I still have some Berkeley wonders to tell you about. In fact, I’ve been saving the best for last: fried chicken and donuts at Rainbow Donut, which is my new favorite restaurant — and just down San Pablo from there, my new favorite restaurant: Smoke Berkeley.

Smoke Berkeley, or Berkeley Smoke as I call it for fun, is wedged between a car wash and a piano store. The advantage to which is that one can play a little Brahms while waiting for the line to die down, and, on the other hand, if you eat outside, you might get somewhat misted.

Most times, I know, being sprayed by a car wash during lunch will not seem like an advantage, especially in the Bay Area; but I’ve spent the last couple days driving through a southern-style heatwave and, believe me, I have missed being misted by car washes, even over barbecue.

Especially over barbecue.

So, yes, in Mississippi, Tennessee, and even Virginia, I did: I missed Berkeley Smoke. Strange as that may sound.

The restaurant doesn’t open until noon, and we got there at ten till, the li’l chunks de la Cooter going absolutely batty with excitement and hunger. And they weren’t the only ones.

The place has a following. It’s only about half a year old, but people are onto it. Crawdad and the chunks held down an outdoor table while I stood peering through the door at the menu, committing our order to memory. A line formed behind me. When it finally opened, I was at the front of that line, my nose pressed into the iron-grated screen door, very much enjoying the smell of the place.

Unfortunately, the door that was opened, upon opening, was not the one that I had applied myself to. Fortunately, Mr. Crawdad de la Cooter was waiting first-in-line at the right door. (I had wondered where he’d gotten to.)

Anyway: pulled pork and beef brisket. Normally there are ribs, but the ribs weren’t ready yet. We got pulled pork sliders for the kids. Those were actually pretty good.

The brisket plate was not — surprisingly, given the chef’s Texas connection. Maybe an off day. Maybe the wrong part of Texas. But the meat was dry. It had a nice flavor, the right amount of smoke, and the hot barbecue sauce helped, but — honestly — not oversmoking it would have helped even more.

Unanimously, we preferred the North Carolina pork.

Loved the Cole slaw. The jalapeno cornbread was moist and good, and the jalapeno mac and cheese was great. The mayo eaters loved the potato salad, and the chocolate eaters loved the chocolate pecan pie, but I don’t fall in either of those camps, so . . . can’t say.

As for Rainbow Donuts: new favorite restaurant. Technically, it’s a fried chicken, fried fish, donut, and lottery shop, with an emphasis on the lottery. They have a couple of scratcher machines, a rack of scratchers behind the counter, and stations for Daily 4, Daily Derby, Mega Millions, and Hot Spot.

Fluorescent lights and ceiling fans, dirty red fast food tables . . . Like most donut shops, Rainbow has that down-and-out feel that I so love. There was a table of people sipping Cokes in utter silence and scratching scratchers kind of almost maniacally. And you know me — I eat that shit up!

But speaking of eating stuff up:

The fried chicken was awesome. A crispy, peppery breading with a perfectly succulent inner goodness. You have to specify you want it fried to order, though, or they’ll give you the crusty crap that’s been sitting in the display case.

They were out of biscuits, so she gave me an extra side. I didn’t want fries with my fish (also awesome), so she gave me an extra piece of chicken. And she gave me an extra donut for the hell of it.

You see? You see why I love this place?

And the mac and cheese was decent, the greens were alright, and the shrimp gumbo was good. It wasn’t particularly gumbolike, but I liked it. Probably, if I had that four-block stretch of San Pablo to do over again, I’d get my sides from Smoke, and my meat from Rainbow.

Not to compare fried and barbecue, but . . .


Tue-Sat noon-7pm

2434 San Pablo Ave., Berk.

(510) 548-8801


No alcohol


Mon-Sat 5am-8pm; Sun 6am-8pm

2025 San Pablo Ave., Berk.

(510) 644-2029

Cash only

No alcohol


Hot catch



CHEAP EATS Yeah, and part of the idea of going to New York City was to escape New Orleans’s heat, which would best be described (for those who haven’t been) as hot.

Hot hot hot hot hot.

As luck would have it, best laid plans and all, it was even hotter than that in New York while we were there, squeak squeak, fuckity fuck. It was hot hot hot hot hot hot hot. So as soon as we got back home to hot hot hot hot hot, we went camping.

In an air-conditioned camper. With our landlordladypersons, an adorable couple name a Pam and Cindy. Now Cindy, being a tried and true in the wool Cajun, has a brother name a Blaine only everybody calls him Bruno. And this Blaine (only everybody calls him Bruno) is my new favorite person because even though he knew we were crazy for camping on the edge of a swamp during mosquito season, he not only loaned us his trailer but drove it there. And parked it. He’s a truck driver.

Our campsite had been under water the previous weekend, and therefore vacant, so the mosquitos were happy to see us.

We heated our dinner in microwaves that first night. S’mores were not discussed. Next day, though, there was a breeze and we were able to sit outside all day and watch a hawk wrestle with a giant catfish that had been trapped in a puddle.

Hawk won.

Hedgehog took pictures, if anyone wants to see them. She also shot some alligators, and a sweet, tiny red parrot that had fallen in love with our friend Cherry’s roof rack.

I went around pulling dead sticks out of trees, and that night’s dinner happened over a fire. Here’s what I grilled: salmon, swordfish, boudin, turnips, tomatoes, peppers, pineapple, peaches, and garlic. The corn I soaked in its husks and threw on the coals.

On Sunday Blaine Only Bruno (or Bob, as I call him for short) came back and took me, Hedgehog, and Cindy to his crawfish pond. So, yeah, so that was how I spent the last part of my last weekend in Louisiana: having a complete pond-to-table crawfish experience.

We piled into this patchy li’l boat and sat on upside-down buckets. The traps are baited with sweet potatoes! Bob putt-putted us around the pond, pulling them up and dumping the crawfish onto a stainless steel sorting table, where we took turns wiping the angry ones through the square hole into net bags, and tossing the half-eaten or otherwise at-peace ones back into the water.

After, driving along the levee in his pickup truck with probably 50 pounds of crawfish for our dinner and then some, Bob told us about his friend’s crawfishing brother who looks like Z.Z. Top and had recently “caught a heart attack.”

Moments later, we ran into him, sitting in a pick-up truck of his own, eating a bag of potato chips and looking indeed like Z.Z. Top — the whole band. Pleasantries were exchanged. Potato chips were not.

Nevertheless, when we got to Bob and Cindy’s mama’s house, where the crawfish were to be boiled, I caught a stomachache — which is a horrible thing to have when you are about to eat 50 pounds of crawfish.

In a desperate attempt to get good again, I guzzled ginger ale. I ate a piece of dry toast. I sat in a recliner and closed my eyes, and missed the part where we boiled them to death.

Hedgehog was there. She said the secret was to not only add the seasoning to the pot, but to plaster them with it afterwards.

Well, they were spicy, and the best crawfish ever. Once I started eating them, I couldn’t stop. In fact, I’m still eating them. Packing up for the long road ahead: New Orleans to Frisco, by way of Pennsylvania and Ohio, or home to home, via home and home.

When I was there — home home — last time, Crawdad de la Cooter kept wanting to go to all these new Cajun restaurants popping up all over the Bay Area, even in Fairfax. I suppose after I’ve been back for a few months I will need these places, but for now I’d rather be eating pho and watching soccer at my new favorite Vietnamese restaurant and sports bar:


Lunch: Mon-Sat 11am-2pm; Dinner: Mon-Sun 5-10:30pm

2067 University Ave., Berk.

(510) 981-1789


Full bar


Besting a star



CHEAP EATS Hedgehog goes and goes and goes to New York. For work — so they fly her and put her up in a nice hotel. This is what’s called (I believe) a business trip. But there’s more than that, of course, to it.

Examples include eating at WD-50 on my birthday (without me), and being at that Mets game (without me) when Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in team history, lucky duck. By which I mean Hedgehog. Santana’s a pretty good pitcher.

Me, I’m not a Mets fan or a foofy restaurant fan but, in a word, still… I like baseball. I like food. These are documented facts. Well, I must have whined and complained enough, because this time she said, “Wanna come with me?”

“No thanks,” I said. “I’d rather whine and complain.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, adding that there was a fitness center in the hotel, that she would take me to WD50 after work, and a Mets game the next night. Romanticness was insinuated. That, and hot dogs.

I thought and thought. And thought and thought. There was no guarantee that my new friend Shaya (from last week’s review) would be on this flight too. But Hedgehog would hold my hand real hard during takeoff and landing, she said, and sing my favorite songs into my ear.

I thought about how hot it was in New Orleans in June, how lonely it was in the air-conditioning without her, and I decided to go to New York.

She bought all the necessary tickets, made the necessary reservations, drove us to the necessary airport, and when I emerged from my necessary Valium haze I found myself in a nice, cozy room on Times Square, staring out the window at those scoreboardy ticker tape thingies with all the stupid stock statistics flying by. One of the most dizzyingly annoying events I have ever found outside of any window, anywhere…

Until early next morning, this morning, when I awoke abruptly to “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes over a PA system in the street below. That’s a great song, but at 6:30am in the morning I think I might rather sleep, thank you.

At 7:30am in the morning it was yoga — loud, microphone yoga. This was the annual Mind over Madness yoga event, Solstice on Times Square, idea being “to find tranquility and transcendence in the midst of the world’s most commercial and frenetic place.” At an hour when sane, peaceful people are trying to sleep.

At least all the colorful mats and yogawear made a pretty picture when I finally got out of bed and opened the curtains to see what the flying fuck all the noise was about.

I need a nap.

Tonight, if all goes as planned, the normally entirely hittable Dillon Gee is going to pitch a no-hitter for the Mets! And I’ll be there, with Hedgehog and hot dogs.

Last night was more of a lobster roe duck egg chicken confit veal brisket crab toast lamb sweetbreads kind of a night, but even I know not to compare a Michelin-starred restaurant to stadium hot dogs. No. I’m going to compare it to a tiny takeout sushi place on Solano Avenue in Berkeley, where once I went with a Chunk de la Cooter and her dad to bring home the hamachi, as the saying goes, for the whole wide family.

Except there wasn’t much hamachi, as I recall. A lot of cucumber and avocado rolls, that sort of thing…

Mostly people get prepackaged sushi from the display case, which might explain the de la Cooter family’s preference for sushi-less sushi, but you can also order made-to-order items, and I got a lot of those.

All of them were awesome! I especially liked the unagi bowl and the nigiri saba.

Saba is my favorite sushi. Thus was I delighted to see something very much like it leading off the 13-thing tasting menu at WD-50 last night: nigiri’d mackerel on salsify, instead of rice, with seaweed and sesame. Many of the later dishes, especially the yuzu milk ice dessert, did indeed blow my mind. But this, the nigiri, wasn’t one of them. Ha! It’s better at:


Mon-Fri 11am-7:30pm; Sat-Sun 11am-6:30pm

1599 Solano Ave., Berk.

(510) 527-3288

Cash only

No alcohol


Are we real?



CHEAP EATS I took a cab from the airport to the football game and changed in the back seat without (I don’t think) leaving anything behind, not even the big bag of smaller bags of airline pretzels. Which came in handy because it was a 6:30 kickoff — an awkward time, whether you’re coming from work, like my teammates, or across the country.

How I came to come by said bag of bags of airline pretzels for entirely free is a restaurant review unto itself, starring a five-year-old girl named Shaya. She got on the plane in Los Angeles with a big bald doll named Jacob, a small Dora the Explorer backpack, and a clipped-on ticket.

“Are you my babysitter?” she said to the stewardessperson, who, as it happens, was standing right next to me while I waited to use the bathroom.

Seatwise, I’d just leapfrogged to an aisle seat in the front of the plane, which you can do on Southwest when it stops to re-passenger.

While I was in the bathroom, the stewardessperson ushered little Shaya to the window seat of my row. When I came out, she apologized. As if!!! “I hope you weren’t planning on having a quiet flight,” she said.

What she couldn’t have known: that I had just said goodbye to two of the many little loves of my life, age 4 and 5, and wasn’t going to see them for one more month, if ever, because — as you know — I have a horrible fear of flying. Every time I step in an airplane I have to assume I am climbing into my tomb.

What neurotic nutcases like me need most in life is a sense of purpose, and here was mine, the moment I’d been waiting for, my “is there a babysitter on board” moment.

“No worries,” I said to the stewardessperson. “I’m a pro.” And I moved my stuff from the aisle seat to the middle one, right next to the girl and her doll so that no one could possibly come between us.

“Is this his first time flying?” I asked, indicating the doll.

“This is my little brother. His name is Jacob. I didn’t have him last time, but mama got him for me. His eyes close when he lays down,” she said. “See?”

I did, and said so.

She leaned toward me conspiratorially and whispered over his head: “He’s not real.”

I whispered back: “Are we?”

She laughed and we introduced ourselves. She was on her way to her dad’s for the summer. Her dad had a new house. She was going to go swimming. I showed her pictures of the Chunks de la Cooter and told her how old they were, and she told me how old she was: Five, like I said. Almost six.

We were hitting it off. Then she got very thoughtful. “I feel awkward,” she said.


“I like you, but my mom told me not to talk to strangers.”

I got a little thoughtful myself. I thought: uh-oh. Was I encouraging unhealthy behavior in a five-going-on-six-year-old?

“Your mom is right,” I said. “You shouldn’t talk to strangers. But the person sitting next to you on an airplane, for as long as you are on that plane, is not a stranger. She is your airplane-only friend.”

This seemed to set Shaya’s mind at ease. In any case, she offered me a Chicken McNugget.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m still full from last night.” (Comal, the trendy new downtown Berkeley joint with the fancy noise-reduction sound system and way overpriced, way underimpressive food, immediately after which I needed a snack at Phil’s next door: a completely awesome bacon cheeseburger slider with homemade tater tots and my favorite cookie ever, which was essentially a homemade Oreo. Ohmigod, new favorite restaurant ever!)

“What did you eat?” my airplane-only friend Shaya asked.

“Long story,” I said.

After we landed she looked up at me and said, out of the blue: “I was brave.”

“Me too,” I said. “Thank you.”

And the stewardessperson gave me pretzels.


Sun-Wed 11am-9pm; Thu-Sat 11am-midnight

2024 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 845-5060



Beer and wine

Distant craving



CHEAP EATS After two days of eating nothing but barbecue, fried chickens, and cupcakes, we started actually craving health food. I speak for the whole de la Cooter household, of which I am a small but important satellite. When I’m there, the kids come and jump on my bed in the morning, and mom and dad get to sleep a little longer.

That’s my importance.

Oh, and I am the one who cleans the cellar — mostly so I can put things in it. But still.

It’s nice to feel like you are part of a family, maybe you’ve noticed. And I have had no shortage of family in my life, but the blood ones are mostly very far away, so I can’t very well bathe their kids and sing them to sleep, let alone play with them.

It was nice when I was a nanny and got paid for all of the above, but I think I like being “like family” even better.

For one thing, I can argue for fried chicken and barbecue, and win! That was how it went my first day back: Barbecue for lunch, fried chicken for dinner.

And the next day was K. Chunk’s birthday, so we made pancakes with almost everything in the world in them for breakfast, by request, and then had pretty much cupcakes for lunch.

Now, Crawdad de la Cooter’s mister, Mr. Crawdad de la Cooter, makes THE best cake I have ever had. That’s why I will always, no matter where in the world I am, come chugging home for his kids’s birthdays. That’s one reason.

And it’s not anything fancy, either. Chocolate cake with white frosting. But you wouldn’t believe how moist. You wouldn’t believe how perfectly iced. Your teeth crunch then cream through the sugary, buttery quarter-inch of heaven, which blends so beautifully with the cakey softness below . . . you want to cry. But you’re too busy licking your lips and angling for your next bite.

I don’t even like cake! I’m a pie girl, all the way.

But now I like cake, thanks to Mr. Crawdad.

Anyway, after the birthday party, when the dust and wrapping paper had cleared and the Chunks de la Cooter were playing with their toys and it was time to start thinking about dinner, Mr. Crawdad says what he almost always says, at such times: Nature’s Express.

And whereas normally I would counter with, “Barbecue,” or “Fried,” I was like, “Damn straight.” And he and me grabbed our jackets and headed down to Solano to pick up.

Nature’s Express is exactly like it sounds, only moreso. It’s not just health food fast food; it’s vegan. The last time I craved vegan food was in 1997. And to give you some idea how long ago that was, it was 15 years ago.

As I recall, I hated it, but that was out of sheer curmudgeonliness. Though I am not likely to crave specifically vegan fare for another 15 years, I loved Nature’s Express. Loved it.

As in: new favorite restaurant. For real, Chunks.

I mean, sure, at first when I saw the bookshelf of vegan propaganda and the coolers full of kombucha, I almost ran screaming from the bright, friendly little joint.

But I’m glad I didn’t. The avocado and quinoa wrap was delicious, especially when I got down to the pickled ginger and jalapenos. There was also hummus, lettuce, and cabbage slaw in there, and the nice thing about vegan is you don’t have to worry about mayonnaise!

I also got the 5-A-Day smoothie, with kale, cucumber, beets, and celery, plus fruit. In fact, I take back what I said about 15 years. I’m craving another one of these earthy, refreshing juices right now.

The Chunks de la Cooter split a Brazilian Super Model smoothie, which is apple, açai, mango, and flax seeds, and I tried this and liked it, but not as much as mine.

Loved the quinoa salad, the cumin-lime dressing, with corn, cilantro, peppers, and onion.

Crawdad got the “essential lentil” — lentils over greens with an avocado dressing, hot sauce, and more slaw — which I tried, and liked.

Her mister got the spicy chik-un taco, about which he was very excited, so I tried this too. It was fine. Fake meat, though.

That’s where I draw the line.


Daily 11:30am-8pm

1823 Solano, Berk.

(510) 527-5331

D, MC, V

No alcohol

So close



CHEAP EATS It’s birthday season! Me, yeah, but more importantly:

Happy birthday to C. Chunk, 5. Happy birthday to K. Chunk, 4. I took the train home for C. Chunk’s birthday, and now I’m taking it home for K. Chunk’s. That’s a lot of trains, in case you were wondering, and I’m starting to feel like I could write a Jimmie Rodgers song.

What rhymes with Amtrak?

Ah, nevermind. I think I’ll play with my laptop.

Hedgehog has one more month of work in New Orleans, and then we’ll be coming home by car, and for good. But since our new car is smaller than the one we went to New Orleans with, and that one was popping buttons as it was, I am traveling with roughly half of our crap, including an electric guitar.

Shit! It’s left-handed, and both me and Jimmie Rodgers are righty . . .

I got the wrong-hand blues

My baby’s got me all turned round

Got the wrong-hand blues

My baby’s got me all turned round

This guitar won’t listen to me

It says I’m sitting upside-down

yodel-eh-hee-oh d’eleh-hee-oh d’eleh-hee

Please forgive me. It’s the middle of the night in Texas. (And elsewhere, I imagine.)

One of the nice things about going away for months at a time is you come home and things are different. Give you an example, from my last time home: There’s barbecue in the Mission!

There’s barbecue in the Castro!

This review has nothing to do with barbecue.

Yesterday I barbecued a slab of ribs the size of a small table. We could have put our plates on top of the ribs — but then what would we have eaten?

And how would we have washed the sauce off our knees?

My barbecue sauce is blueberry-based, and stains. Bacon fat, garlic, onions, cayenne, rice vinegar, maple syrup, black pepper, celery seed . . .

But this isn’t about barbecue.

It’s about Thai. The Maze said he thought there was a new Thai restaurant on 16th and Guerrero, and I said I thought I saw one there too, let’s go.

Interestingly, he was thinking of Malai, which has been there for decades and decades. Which goes to show you how much Maze loves Pakwan. He eats there all the time, and just now notices the Thai place across the street?

But there really is a new one, too. New to me, anyway. I think it’s only been there for months and months, almost a year maybe.

And that’s what I like about coming home, I’m saying: Thai food. Which isn’t very good in New Orleans. Not to mention Texas, in the middle of the night.

So, yeah, Krua, kitty-corner from Malai, and first things first: they do have duck soup. In fact, it was one of the best I’ve had, brothwise: salty and rich. The celery was a nice touch, and the noodles were good; but the bowl could have used more ducks in it was all.

As for the gold bags . . .

Well, I don’t have anything to compare them to. I never had gold bags before. In fact, what the hell are gold bags?

All the rage, according to Maze. He keeps seeing them on menus, and now probably I will too. They are dumplingy collections of shrimps, chickens, water chestnuts, and corn, tied off at the top like . . . gold bags, apparently.

Were they good? Yeah. Sure.

I forget what else we had. Probably tofu, or else I would remember. In any case: new favorite restaurant. I just can’t get over the fact that there is duck noodle soup within two blocks of my apartment, and barbecue. Even ramen now, I’m pretty sure. Within two blocks of my apartment!

Our apartment.

All we have to do now is live in it.


Daily 11:30am-10:30pm

3214 16th St., SF

(415) 913-7886


Beer and wine


Fit as a fig



CHEAP EATS On my birthday I saw a lot of water. I took a bath. I drove over the longest continuous bridge over water in the world. It was 90 degrees on the North Shore. I drank a lot of water, used water to wash the fish sauce out of my skirt, and bought a new car.

The Honda Fit! It’s not only the best kind of car to have if you live in a city, it’s the best kind of car. Period. It’s such a good car, I have now bought one twice! And I’ve only ever bought two new cars in my life.

This time it’s a different kind of blue. Less subtle, less sexy, but intensely fun, and even more lickable — in a cotton-candy-y way — than my last Honda Fit.

I left our rental car behind and drove this very shade of blue back onto the Causeway, and back over Lake Pontchartrain. Nothing to look at. Nothing but water, and the road seems to just float on it for 25 miles. It’s like the Salt Flats: terrifyingly boring. And beautiful in its relentlessness, drive drive drive drive drive.

For my birthday, Hedgehog went to wd-50 without me. What the hell, she was in New York, spotting sessions or sessioning spots or some such, and she and her co-writer have to eat, too, don’t they? So while I was eating leftover bad North Shore Vietnamese for dinner, she was sending along pictures of plate after plate after plate of fancy high-falutin’ dishes. I never felt more like a chicken farmer than I did on my 49th birthday.

After dinner I made some popcorn and found Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich on TV. Mother fucking molecular tom-chef-ery, who needs it you got popcorn? Hot dogs …

Vietnamese leftovers.

Egg sandwich.

Oh, hey, this reminds me about Blue Fig, on Valencia Street. Well, technically it was my li’l friend Hoolibloo who reminded me. She and her even li’l’er sis are holding down our Mission digs while Hedgehog and me crash bang boom our way through the home stretch here in New Orleans.

Before I left this last time, Hooli and me dropped onto Blue Fig for lunch or some such. I don’t remember anything. I remember the coffee was good.

I remember we talked about Life, and Careers, how Hooli hoped to produce the theater one day, and I’m pretty sure I encouraged her in this. I’m pretty sure I said, Do what is in your heart, at all costs. Never mind rent.

She wasn’t asking for advice, but — for the record — people do. These days. Me being 49 and all. Maybe this is just the chicken shit talking, but I think I might even have an air of wisdom about me, when there isn’t hay in my hair.

But after the accident, all my memories got erased — except how to make frittatas, oddly enough, since I didn’t know I knew how to make them before the accident. Also worth noting: I didn’t hit my head. At all. So apparently my memories were being stored in my left arm.

Anyway, when wind got back to SF that we were hurting down here, and how, Hooli wrote and said, “Can I help?”

“You can write my review!” I said. “Remember that meal?”

“Blue Fig?” she said.

I said tell me.

“You got the egg sandwich,” she said.

She wrote: I like Blue Fig because the food is very fresh and flavorful. I’ve always been greeted by a smile, she wrote.

She wrote: they cook the food right there in the tiny kitchen behind the counter. It’s all open. It’s fun to watch them. They make the eggs for the egg sandwich on the little burner right behind the cash register.

The first time we went there, she wrote, they were sugaring the pecans for one of the salads, which made the whole restaurant smell so —

Thank you, I wrote. That’ll be enough. I have me a new favorite restaurant. *


Mon-Fri 7am-7pm; Sat-Sun 7:30am-7pm

990 Valencia St., SF

(415) 875-9622

Cash only

No alcohol


Whorls away



CHEAP EATS Way out in the water.

A severed head, a small treasure in gold, or drugs, my own death, fish, a baby in a basket, the murder weapon, the meaning of life, peace and quiet, a clue .. . A long time ago, when I was fearless, I swam toward something. That’s how curious I was. It could have been anything, but I had to know.

Now, I can float. I like to think I can float.

Then, I was a pretty good swimmer. I could swim, see me swimming?

My people on the shore, Moonpie, Baby Rae, and Moonpie’s now resting-in-peace sister, Sweetpee … they didn’t know where I was going, because the fearless don’t always say.

They watched. They worried. And they must have seen what I was seeing — this bobbing thing, way out on the horizon.

As the ocean floor sloped and sloped and sloped away from my kicking feet, they watched, helpless and wondering, and I suppose I got a rise out of this.

Good. Risings was what I needed then, maybe even more than treasure. What it was, though, that I risked my ass for all those years ago, was an Igloo cooler with a half a loaf of sliced white bread in it, an open package of lunch meat, and mustard. Or in other words: sandwiches.

I risked my life for sandwiches!

And I don’t even particularly like sandwiches, I thought, watching a matzoh ball bob in my bowl of matzoh ball soup. That is so David Copperfield.

And these were some hard-earned matzoh balls. Not only because Soup Freaks is off my beaten path (unless I happen to be BARTing to a ballgame), but also because the matzoh gods were not looking out for me, on this particular day.

“Matzoh ball soup!” I said.

And the serverwomanperson digged and dug and couldn’t find hardly no matzoh balls in that there silver thingie of soup. Just one, and some broken off pieces of a couple others.

“Hold on a second,” she said, stepping away from the counter and returning, many months later, with a bag of frozen ones. At least they looked like they were frozen.

At least it seemed like many months.

Anyway, she was fixing to pour them into the vat when, apparently, a thought occurred to her: Did I want to wait for them to warm up, or…

“I’ll just take it as is,” I said, and that was how I wound up with a bowl of matzoh ball soup without hardly any matzoh balls in it. My fault, let the record show.

Theirs: to compensate, probably, they gave me three big pieces of bread — which seemed pretty generous, but I would have rather had a bigger bowl of soup with more things in it. I mean, classically, matzoh ball soup is not the most populated bowl of soup in the world, but, really? No carrots? No celery?

What little chicken there was was really not very good. It was peppered, and dry. Very dry. And there’s nothing worse than dry chicken in soup. Well, except maybe dry chicken outside of soup.

So I’m afraid I’m going to have to break with tradition here and declare Soup Freaks “just another restaurant.”

Not my new favorite.

David Copperfield, on the other hand. On the other hand, the Pixies. I haven’t read or listened to it or them in quite a while, respectively; but at times like these, when everything starts going wrong and doesn’t seem to want to right itself, we will grab at books and songs, if not straws.

If not drinks.

If not lunch itself.

See me swimming? Between waves, a mile from shore … the skinny girl, kicking frantically, breathing hard, and holding on for dear buoyancy to flotsam, jetsam, to little coolers full of someone else’s sandwiches. That’s me.


Mon.-Fri. 7am-8pm; Sat.-Sun. 10am-6pm

667 Mission St., SF

(415) 543-7687


No alcohol


Deutch maneuver



CHEAP EATS “Berlin is awesome,” Kayday writes me, from Berlin. “We should all live here.”

Amazingly, I answer her in German. “Genau,” I write.

Berlin is awesome, true. But it’s one thing May through September, and something very much else the rest of the time. Is my opinion.

Kayday lives in Seattle, and complains about the weather there from September through July.

She doesn’t want to live in Germany, I feel certain.

When she was here, just a few weeks ago, she wanted to eat at Schmidt’s, maybe for practice. So we did. No complaints from me. Schmidt’s has the best wild boar sausage in all of San Francisco.

We also ate at my new favorite Chinese restaurant, in the Richmond, but I’m not going to tell you yet about that. Maybe next week. If you’re good.

Wild boar sausage, I’m pretty sure I already told you about. There’s Rice Broker though, in the Mission, which is another place where Kayday and me ciao’d down.

“Hi,” I said.



And she tried to answer — probably in German — but couldn’t, because something had gone down the wrong pipe. Maybe, I’m thinking, a sesame seed. Or a teeny tiny speck of almond?

Both things were in her rice bowl, which was the two skewers of lemongrass beef one, with whole orange slices, string beans, and, yeah, almonds and sesame seeds.

Now, I’ve seen people choking in restaurants before. I’ve even been the person choking in restaurants. It’s no big thing. You cough, you turn red, you hold up your finger to let your dining companions know that, no, in fact you don’t need the Heimlich. Yet. And then you drink some water, cough some more, tear up a little, feel like an idiot, and continue eating.

So happens, the wrong-pipe problem is a recurring theme for me, in life. I have lots and lots of sympathy and patience, and too am ready — if necessary — to spring into action. Ever the nanny, I am trained in CPR and so forth.

“Hello?” I said again. “Are you quite sure you don’t need the Heimlich?”

“I’m OK,” Kayday said. “I just need to go for a walk.” And she excused herself. “Be right back.” And left.

This was a first.

I digged into my own bowl, which was rice porridge with pork-and-ginger meatballs, bok choy, and cilantro. It was excellent, and went down very smoothly.

While I ate, though, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Kayday’s bowl, which was beautiful. The meat, as yet untouched, glistened on its skewers. The orange slices shone forth, like little sunsets. The beans — it was just a beautiful bowl of food. Calling to me.

Kayday is a dear and good friend. She’s an important part of my band. It occurred to me she could choke and die outside on the sidewalk. Still, I decided not to eat her food. When she came back, I would ask. And she would share.

Then, the hell with it, I reached across the table and tried a piece of meat from her skewer. Tough city, go figure!

But, like I says, mine was very good. The meatballs were almost as smooth as the porridge, and good and gingery. And I loved my edamame snack bowl, with dandelion and cane vinegar.

Come to think of it, she’d had a snack bowl appetizer too. Pickled daikon and carrots. And I can’t remember now if I even tasted it, but it sounds pretty good, no?

Of course, this isn’t Kentucky Fried Chicken. But to its credit it isn’t Spork either. And even though it choked my friend, I like that Rice Broker is there. Here in the hood.

And anyway, she survived. She came back.

“Hello,” I said.

She said, “Hi.”


Wed-Sun 6-10pm

1058 Valencia, SF.

(415) 643-5000

Cash only

Beer and wine


The Katz correlations



CHEAP EATS Bagels aren’t my favorite thing. Maybe you’ve noticed. I haven’t new-favorite-restauranted a lot of bagel places, if any, through the years. But then one day I was on my way to BART, very much in need of caffeination, and Cafe Petra was, to my surprise, all boarded up.

So the next possibility was Katz Bagels, around the corner on 16th Street. I stood outside, looking in, but had a hard time pulling the trigger. You know how it is, sometimes, when you are too uncaffeinated to make a decision — even a no-brainer, like whether or not to get a cup of coffee. Or pull the trigger.

Trouble was, I needed a bite, too, and bagels are not my thing. I mean, given butter and jam, or lox, or cheese, I like bagels fine. It’s just: If I am totally honest with myself, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive them for not being donuts.

But I was standing there trying to decide if now was the time to try, when a happyish fellow came caffeining out, noted my attitude of indecision and said, “They’re good. Good bagels.”

So, OK. Went in. And then was faced with a whole new problem: what to get.

What I really want (if I can’t have donuts), is a cinnamon-raisin bagel, or blueberry one, with butter and/or bacon all over it. But I’m too ashamed to order it because, what will the Jews think?

San Francisco is not New York. Go ahead, little hippie, and have your toasted cinnamon-raisin swirl, or your blueberry bonnet with bows of bacon, you rube.

I couldn’t. I can’t. Stop taunting me, me!

This sounded good: the number three sandwich on the menu board — egg with spinach, tomato, onion, and Swiss cheese. Yeah, I could do that, and live with myself, for breakfast. Probably.

And coffee.

“Small coffee,” I said, because it was my turn. And I still didn’t know. So I said small coffee real slow.

“And a sesame seed bagel,” I said, “with eggs,” I said, “spinach,” I said, “hmm, tomato, onion, and . . . yeah, Swiss.”

“Number 3?” the woman said.

“Yeah. A Number 3,” I said, “would be another way of looking at it.”

She laughed, hurried to get me my coffee, and from that point on whenever she looked at me she laughed again. I had made a friend behind the counter! Which helps, where bagels are concerned. Because now, I’m thinking, I can probably go in there any time and order my bagel with ham, pineapple, and sprinkles on top. It doesn’t matter. She’s going to laugh at me anyway. With me.

For coffee, they serve Rodger’s individually dripped brews. No idea who Rodger is, but I do like his work. One sip, sitting at the end of the counter there, and my head cleared all up.

But I still didn’t know why Petra was closed. Or when. I had taken it for a neighborhood mainstay. Not that I ever went there. I mean, I did, for meeting people, when I used to date, because — even though it was only a block and a bit from my place — I never saw anyone I knew in there. Unlike, say, Java Supreme.

Petra was a nice place to sit. A nice place to, you know, get to know someone, A little. Without any fear whatsoever that Earl Butter would show up with a wooden tennis racket and/or Tupperware.

Wow, maybe my dating days coming to an abrupt end, thanks to Hedgehog, contributed to the downfall of the second-closest coffeehouse to my house, I thought, while waiting for my bagel at Katz’s. And I didn’t care what he was carrying, if Earl Butter came in here, I thought, I would buy him a bagel. Now that I am “in” with the counter woman.

Then I had another sip of Rodger, bless him.

My bagel came, and required salt and pepper, but was otherwise what else the doctor ordered. Delicious. Nutritious. There . . .

My new favorite restaurant is Katz. It’s just a nice, comfy bagel bar, with good bagels. Great coffee. A fine place to stop, on your way to BART, and think stupid things.


Mon.-Fri. 6:30am-1pm; Sat.-Sun. 7am-2pm.

3147 16th St., SF.

(415) 552-9050

Cash only

No alcohol 


Playing Joe Cool



CHEAP EATS Last Straw Sullenger and me were walking. Just strolling around the corner, to Community Thrift, to see if they had some things. My list was long. But I was telling her, as we walked, about my football team — the “here” one — and how, after just three seasons, it was starting to come together for us. Two straight wins…

How a lot of our players who had never played football before are starting to really get it and kick ass, especially our quarterback.

“Great. That’s great. Great,” she was saying, and I looked up and saw Joe Montana walking toward us.

Now, I’m not one to generally even notice the presence of celebrity, let alone be moved by it; but in this case, I peed my pants.

Joe Montana, for you young, sports historyless ‘uns, is not celebrity. He’s Joe Montana. In the Mission, on the phone, jeans and a T-shirt, less balding and yes taller than I’d have figured, the oceanic eyes and that dimpled chin. In other words: swoon.

And .. . boom, he was past us, just like that, except Last Straw had to practically carry me the rest of the way to the thrift store.

Which isn’t to say I shopped.

I mean, I did. I bought a strainer. But my needs were so much more. So much more than that.

Seeing Joe Montana in the Mission is addictive, turns out. All I could think about while we were looking at desks was getting back outside and possibly — who knows — seeing him again.

We did!! Joe Montana! Again! Ten minutes later, still talking on the phone, just standing there next to a telephone poll outside the barber shop on 18th and Valencia, where Circus McGirkus used to work. Iss.

And we walked on by, trying to act casual while fainting and peeing our pants and shit. Anyway, I was. I’m not sure Last Straw is quite the historical (to say nothing of hysterical) 49ers fan that I am. I was in high school when Joe Montana started his career, changing everything. Seriously: seeing him, seeing us going from last place to first in two seasons, it changed the way I played football. And it changed the way I lived life.

As for him, he just wanted a haircut, probably. Anyway, as we were passing, he got off the phone and walked into the barber shop.

“You should get his autograph,” Last Straw said.

“On what? On my strainer?” I said.

I hate to bother people, let alone celebrities, let alone Joe Montana. But no one else was! Maybe no one else in the Mission is old enough or sporty enough to even know what Joe Montana looks like.

“Probably he’d get a kick out of it,” Last Straw said. “His age.”

I doubted this. But I said goodbye to her at her car, then ran to my apartment, changed my pants, swapped my strainer for a football and a Sharpie, and ran back out.

I had a better idea, I thought. I wouldn’t ask for his autograph. I would ask him to throw me a pass. I would tell him I play wide receiver for a women’s football team, imply that I had six months (or less) to live, and show him on my hand what I was going to do: Past the bus stop, fake left, and cut right toward the building. I’d look over my right shoulder as I made my turn, and the ball would be waiting for me.

I knew it would be there, having seen him play, many times, on TV and in person. It would be waiting for me. I would pull it in, and then, maybe, he would offer to sign it. Either way, I would live the rest of my life with a sense of having caught a pass from Joe Montana.

And, yeah, that would be enough.

Problem: He was gone. If it was a haircut he was after, his was the fastest one ever.

Ever since, I’m saying, I’ve been spending more time than usual on Valencia, with a football and a Sharpie in my bag. Did you notice that New Yorker Buffalo Wings is closed, and that signs on the windows point you toward Pizzeria, a few doors down? Earl Butter and I tried them. Meh.

But next week I’ve got a great wings place to tell you about, don’t worry.


Tue.-Thu., Sun. 3:30-10:30pm; Wed.-Thu., Sun: 11am-10pm; Fri.-Sat.: 3:30-11:30pm.

659 Valencia St., SF.

(415) 701-7492


No alcohol