‘I’m just doing my job, ma’am’



Almost every San Francisco car owner has had this experience at least once: you parked at a metered or timed spot, and now you’re running late. You rush back to your vehicle only to find a uniformed official already filling out your parking ticket. Now you’re pissed — at yourself, your car, the city’s rules, and the person holding the notepad. On some level you know the parking official is simply doing her job — it’s nothing personal. But on a more visceral level, you’re seething with resentment, and it’s directed squarely at her. Glancing at the ticket that’ll cost you more than this week’s groceries, you want to ask, "How can you sleep at night?"

I recently went through this experience twice in one week. And once I got past the automatic hatred of all uniforms, three-wheeled vehicles, and notepads with carbon copies, I began to wonder what it would be like to have a job most people don’t want you to do.

I got to thinking: not everyone can be an urban hero — those professionals who, because of the nature of their jobs, are considered benevolent and necessary. They put out our fires, save our lives, and teach our children how to read. No, some people are urban antagonists. They call during dinner time. They interrupt your picnic at the park. They write parking tickets.

I wanted to talk to some of these people, to find out not only just how badly they’re treated, but also why they continue to show up for work, day after day. It turned out it can be so hard to have these kinds of jobs that most parking control officers wouldn’t even talk to me. And none I interviewed would give me a real name.

But they did give me some insight.


With their uniforms, handheld ticket-gadgets, and ubiquitous three-wheeled vehicles, there are few professionals more recognizable on San Francisco streets than the Parking Control officers. And with 44 recorded incidents involving angry motorists threatening or assaulting officers in the course of performing their duties over the past two years, few professionals are subject to such acute on-the-job stress.

"It’s tough sometimes," acknowledged B., a PCO writing tickets near the intersection of Valencia and César Chávez streets, "because you’re doing your job and a lot of the time people see you as the opposition — like an enemy, not as someone who is doing a service to the city." People forget that by writing tickets, PCOs crack down on double-parkers who block traffic, space-hoggers who stay in one spot all day, and sidewalk-parkers who obstruct walkways for pedestrians such as mothers with strollers, B. said.

But not all PCOs take comfort in that rationalization. K., another anonymous PCO, said, "You just need to find your niche. I respond to complaints — blocked driveways, construction zones, fire hydrant obstructions — I’m happy. It’s cool."

"It’s not for everybody, but I would say it’s a fine job," he continued. "It pays well. It’s secure. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I’ve never had a problem. If you’re cool about it, if you’ve got the right demeanor, then the saying is true: you get what you give."

Judson True, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, added that PCOs conduct traffic during special events and congested hours, help motorists around accident sites, and even conduct undercover stings to prevent the abuse of disabled parking placards. Most of all, though, PCOs — like others with less-than-lovable jobs — are still people.

"No one likes to get parking tickets. That’s an obvious reality," True said. "But people need to remember that the parking control officers are their neighbors, their friends, their family — people who are doing an important job for the whole city."


Yes, those clipboard jockeys scanning for eye-contact outside Whole Foods or approaching you at Dolores Park have a name. They’re called canvassers, and their job is to solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, or something similar — and often they’re paid by the signature. These days canvassers are talking about everything from orphans to Obama, gun control to global warming. But most people aren’t interested in what they’re called or what issue they’re representing.

"I’ve been called pariah, douchebag, whore, woman of the night," said Valerie, who recently canvassed at Market and Powell streets for an international charity. "I’ve had coffee poured on me. I’ve had people scream ‘Get the fuck out of my face!’ and yell ‘It’s a scam! It’s a scam!’ while I talk with other people."

Dave, a canvasser for Progressive Political Solutions who worked further down Market, agreed the job can be challenging — but worth it.

"There are going to be days that people are totally against everything you do," Dave said. "But then there’s someone — one person — who makes the day worthwhile, someone who I would have never been able to talk to in an office."

Dave was enthusiastic about the skills he has developed working the streets. He not only credited canvassing for PPS with enhancing his verbal and interpersonal skills, but also with learning industry-specific skills like how to do press calls and conferences, and understanding the political process. Within months of taking the job, he said, he had risen to staff supervisor, helping to advise and manage new hires.

"I like this job in the sense of the big picture," Dave said, before heading into a crowded UN Plaza, clipboard in hand.

Valerie confirmed that for canvassers, the big picture is what it’s all about. Valerie, no less positive for being verbally assaulted and doused with coffee, added, "At the end of the day — no matter how many times someone calls me a douchebag or a bitch — I am making someone’s life better. That’s what really matters to me."


Kurt Stenzel, vice president of sales at Tactical TeleSolutions, was one of the few people I interviewed who gave me a full name. Then again, he swears his salespeople aren’t the same ones interrupting your primetime TV hour — and he credits telemarketing for his meteoric rise to success.

"I took the Greyhound bus from New York City with $200, got a telemarketing job, and one thing led to another and now I’m selling to big tech guys [Apple, IBM, Sprint] every day," said Stenzel, who runs the call station downtown.

Though TTS mainly does business-to-business work, Stenzel explained, most telemarketers do make cold calls to homes at some point. His was in New York, where he worked in a windowless room calling people who didn’t want to hear from him.

Their attitude, he says, was, "You’re trying to rip me off — now prove otherwise."

"It’s a tough go," he admitted. "People will curse you out or be crazy."

So what’s good about this job? According to Stenzel, it’s how egalitarian the hiring process is. Call stations aren’t interested in padded resumes and flashy degrees. They want people who know how to talk, plain and simple.

"If they’re articulate, it doesn’t matter so much if they’ve got the right degree," he said. "In that sense, call center work is one of those genuine equal opportunity situations. If people have dropped out of school or come on a tough time, people can come here, build up some skills, and really build their way up."

Though these interviews were enlightening, I can’t say I want to do any of these jobs any more than I did before. And I can’t promise to be less annoyed the next time a canvasser butts into my private conversation or a PCO ruins my morning. But I do hope I’m at least a little more compassionate.

Of course, compassion would be so much easier, officer, if you just let me go. Just this once.

Cyclonudistas unite! World Naked Bike Ride hits SF


Yes, but who’s riding the testicycle?

Put your balls to the Brooks and your petals to the metal, shrinking violets — raucous global event the World Naked Bike Ride hits SF this Saturday at noon (as posted on “” — how, oh how, has this wiki escaped me???).

I think my gearshaft just shifted

“We face automobile traffic with our naked bodies as the best way to defend our dignity and exposing the unique dangers faced by cyclists and pedestrians as well as the negative consequences we all face due to dependence on oil and other forms of non-renewable energy,” say organizers, who seem to be as comfortable with run-on sentences as baring all on the mean streets of the naked city.


But who are we to argue — the pics make the participants look a lot hotter than those way-too-smiley Bay to Breakers nudists. Roll on, 10-speed tatas and phallic fixies.

Coming soon: A movie!

Date: Saturday June 7, 2008
Time: 12 noon
Location: Meet at the Justin Herman Plaza

The Bike Issue: Don’t stop


In the two miles between my home and office in downtown Boise, there are five stop signs and 10 traffic lights. On a good day, I can make the journey without coming to a complete stop.

That doesn’t happen in my car because, of course, I’m a law-abiding driver. Yet on my bicycle, it’s possible for me to cruise through all five stop signs and effortlessly cruise right on through the downtown corridor without once touching my feet to the pavement.

And in Idaho, it’s completely legal.

Although cycling commuters here often bemoan the city’s ineffective bike lane system and criticize the lack of public bicycle parking, nary a word is spoken about the state’s progressive bicycle traffic laws. Thanks to some forward-thinking state legislators a couple of decades ago, Idaho’s bike laws are the envy of cyclists throughout the country.

The concept is a simple one that allows bicyclists to keep their momentum without ever taking the right-of-way from motorists: basically, stop signs are treated a yield signs, and stop lights as stop signs. Bicycles can legally blow through stop signs as long as it isn’t another driver’s turn. And at red lights, bicycles must stop, but can proceed if the intersection is clear

"There are lots of good reasons for it," said attorney Kurt Holzer, who specializes in bicycle accidents. Aside from the fact that a waiting cyclist won’t trip a traffic light changing mechanism, Holzer said the laws are in place for safety reasons. "If you have a bike on the right side and a car wants to turn right, the law allows the bike through the intersection, through the area of conflict, so the biker can get out of the way."

Newcomers to Boise often muse that people are less defined by what they drive than what’s hanging from their bike racks. Boise’s mayor endorses the bicycle and is a regular bike commuter. Mayor Dave Bieter is often seen pedaling to City Hall on his red 1969 Schwinn Typhoon — the bike he got for his 10th birthday.

Rather than each faction exerting ownership over the pavement, cyclists should know and follow all the laws, while drivers should concede that bicycles are different from cars and should therefore be subject to different laws. Stopping at empty intersections is cumbersome for drivers and cyclists alike — but cyclists aren’t likely to kill pedestrians with their carelessness.

By drawing a legal line in the sand between cars and bikes, allowing them different rules in the same environment, Idaho’s bike laws ultimately foster a mutual respect between drivers and cyclists. In Boise it’s common to see road signs instructing drivers and cyclists to "share the road." It may be common sense advice for cyclists, but to motorists, it’s a subtle reminder that bigger shouldn’t mean better.

Rachael Daigle is a staff writer for Boise Weekly.

Finally a fix for Fell-Masonic


Image from

I and other bicyclists and pedestrians have long been urging the city to do something about the dangerous intersection of Fell and Masonic, and that pressure yesterday yielded a small but significant victory.
City attorneys persuaded Judge Peter Busch to make an exception in his injunction against bicycle projects so that the city can create a dedicated left turn lane and traffic signal phase for cars, which now cut across the pedestrians and bicyclists in a way that often leads to life-threatening collisions.
Kudos to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and City Attorney’s Office for taking this seriously enough to head back to court over it, and another big raspberry to anti-bike blogger Rob Anderson (the guy responsible for the injunction) for forcing the city to jump through so many legal hoops just to make some common sense improvements to promote safe bicycling.
The project must still go through the city approval process — where Anderson will likely to be speaking against it and threatening to sue again — but it appears to be a done deal that will be built by early summer.

Adam Werbach makes me puke



I heard Adam Werbach, the onetime boy wonder of the Sierra Club, on Forum this morning, talking about how wonderful it is that Wal-Mart is starting to use special trucks that rely on batteries when they idle to save diesel fuel.

And I have to say: He made me want to puke. I wanted to jump into the radio and slap some sense into him and say:

Adam, Adam: Wal-Mart is the very definition of an unsustainable business. This is company that imports cheap shit made with near-slave labor in countries where there are no laws against putting 12-year-olds in factories, ships it to a few distribution points in the U.S. and then trucks it all over to shopping malls with giant parking lots where everyone drives. Wal-Mart cuts costs so aggressively that its employees go on public assistance, and in the process drives locally owned, independent businesses into bankruptcy.

Wal-Mart represents a fundamentally flawed economic model that is as much to blame for the problems in the American economy as the subprime mortgage meltdown. Money is sucked out of communities to profit one of the richest families in the world as main-street businesses, which might actually serve pedestrians and shoppers who take transit, businesses that keep money in the community and create and preserve decent jobs and wealth for middle-class people, are killed off.

I know Werbach thinks that moving the world’s largest retailer toward better practices is worth the effort.

But you can’t make Wal-Mart anything but an environmental train wreck and an economic disaster, and to even try gives credibility to a truly awful corporation with a horrible business model.

But I guess that’s what happens when you sell your sustainability consulting company to an ad agency.

Newsom needs to return the MTA’s money


What is Gavin looking for? A way off the train? Or a way to spend MTA money on hiring himself a climate change director?

“Crashes involving MUNI and pedestrians have nearly doubled in the past two years: in 2005, there were 34 crashes involving a MUNI vehicle and a pedestrian; while 2007 saw 62. These numbers include 3 fatalities in 2005 and 7 fatalities in 2007. This is a disturbing statistic.”

Manish Champsee of Walk For San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group, included this stat in an email to Mayor Newsom, by way of explaining his group’s concerns with the Mayor using MTA safety money to hire a climate change director.

Champsee’s email (included below) is worth reading for the way he avoids denigrating anyone working in the Mayor’s Office. Yes, those folks are doubtless trying to do great and wonderful things for the planet, but could they please do that with money from the Mayor’s budget, not from overloaded public transportation agencies?

Subject: Restore Funding for a Safety and Training Manager
Cc:, Nathaniel Ford

Dear Mayor Newsom:

This letter is to voice our concern regarding reports that staff in your office are being paid for by MTA funds meant for the hiring of a Safety and Training Manager for the SFMTA.

With a downward safety record at the MTA regarding collisions with pedestrians, we advocate that this MTA funding in particular be applied to Safety and Training Management. As advocates for a walkable, more livable city,
we strongly support the role of a Greening Director.

We welcome an opportunity to speak with you regarding the current spike in injuries to pedestrians.


Manish Champsee
Walk San Francisco President

Don’t accept Bike Plan delays


EDITORIAL The way city officials are describing the situation, it’s going to be another 18 months at least before San Francisco can add even a single bicycle lane or road stripe or put in a single new bike rack. That’s because a lone nut who thinks bicycles shouldn’t be on the city streets sued San Francisco and forced it to do an environmental impact report on its Bike Plan. And that report has been delayed and delayed again as city planners have been unable to complete it.

That’s infuriated some advocates, including Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Tom Ammiano — and for good reason. The San Francisco Planning Department seemed to have no problem whatsoever forcing an EIR on the 55 Laguna Street development project onto the fast track, but the Bike Plan … that’s just creeping along.

And in the meantime, bicyclists and pedestrians continue to be run down at some of the most hazardous intersections in town, particularly Fell and Masonic streets and Octavia Boulevard and Market Street. City figures show that Fell and Masonic is one of the most dangerous places in town for pedestrians and bikers; the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reports that at least eight collisions between cars and bike — all of them causing injury to the rider — have occurred at the intersection since April. It’s not an acceptable situation, and with a little creativity, the city ought to be able to do something about it.

The lawsuit, brought by blogger Rob Anderson, claims the city failed to do a complete EIR before approving its Bike Plan. That’s put everything — even the restriping of pavements for safer bike lanes — completely on hold.

In a sense, it’s absurd to have an environmentally positive change — a city policy promoting bicycling — held up by environmental law. But the California Environmental Quality Act and the way the city is interpreting it still have roots in the era when automobile traffic was considered the most important form of urban transportation.

For example, CEQA requires cities to evaluate how projects would impact traffic — and San Francisco has always used a yardstick called "level of service," or LOS, which refers to the number of cars using a particular intersection and the speed at which those cars can proceed. If a project slows down car traffic beyond an acceptable level, there’s an environmental impact that has to be addressed.

But that’s a backward analysis; the city’s job shouldn’t be to find ways to facilitate more cars on busy streets. And it allows bizarre interpretations: if, for example, the addition of a bike lane on a street reduces the available space for cars, that ought to be looked at as a positive environmental step; the city interprets it as a negative impact.

State senator Carole Migden has discussed legislation that could exempt bike plans from CEQA, and while we’re nervous about any exemptions to the state’s premier environmental law, that might make some sense. But it might not even be necessary.

San Francisco’s city planners are still looking for ways to accommodate cars — all of the city’s development policies are based on the assumption that the number of private vehicles in San Francisco will increase over the next 10 years. An assumption like that leads to mandates for more parking, wider roads, and (maybe) fewer bike lanes.

But there’s nothing in the law requiring the pro-car approach. The Planning Commission could simply adopt new rules that define the level of service on streets differently. Instead of tracking how many cars go through an intersection, the city could track the number of people — including people on foot, people on bikes, and people in buses — and made a determination that pedestrian and bike safety and the quality of the travel experience for non–car users is as important as the degree of auto traffic.

That simple change would render much of the Anderson suit moot: new bike lanes, for example, would no longer be a potentially adverse impact. The city could move forward with much of its bike plan, now.

CEQA doesn’t require cities to accept public safety hazards — and the law clearly creates exemptions for situations in which lives are at risk. Mirkarimi has proposed legislation to change the LOS system, but it has languished; the supervisors need to move on it if the city planners won’t. You don’t need an EIR to tear down a freeway that’s about to collapse — and you shouldn’t need an environmental review to fix the most dangerous intersections in the city, including Fell and Masonic. City planners should simply define those hazardous sites as imminent dangers to public safety and immediately start changing the traffic lights, rerouting cars, and redefining bike lanes to put an end to the carnage, now.

Le P’tit Laurent



Although for years I have believed and maintained that you could never get good cassoulet in a restaurant, I find that I must now recant. You can get good cassoulet in at least one restaurant in this town, and that restaurant is Le P’tit Laurent, which opened a few months ago at the corner of Chenery and Diamond, in the heart of Glen Park’s utterly transformed commercial village.

The restaurant bears the name of its owner, Laurent Legendre, who was one of the partners in Clémentine, a late-’90s presence in the Inner Richmond. I never quite warmed to Clémentine, whose rather formal and correct French cooking seemed a little crimped after the exuberant whimsy of Alain Rondelli, previous holder of the Clement Street space. But no such ghost haunts Le P’tit Laurent, whose predecessor was a blues club named Red Rock. The new bistro already feels as if it’s been there since time out of mind; it has that nicely worn-in Parisian look, from the clutter of liquor bottles (and a miniature Eiffel Tower) behind the mirrored bar to the little, distinctively French signs posted all over the place, including one for cave at the mouth of the wine closet. There is also a pressed-tin ceiling and a service ethic that is French in the best sense: friendly, yes, but knowledgeable and crisp first.

Best of all is the street scene that continuously unfolds beyond the many windows. One of the drawbacks of the French bistro in America is that America isn’t France, and our street scenes don’t look French. Glen Park would never be mistaken for the Marais, even at night, but one evening, amid early darkness and the descending scent of winter, I thought I caught a whiff of the 11th arrondissement: blurred streetlamps, a metro station at the corner, pedestrians hurrying home from work up quiet side streets, though not carrying baguettes under their arms.

Of course, I was eating an excellent cassoulet at the time, and this might have affected my perception. The only flaw in Le P’tit Laurent’s cassoulet ($19) is that it can’t be ordered as part of the three-course, $19.95 prix fixe menu (available Monday to Thursday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.). Otherwise, the dish is flawless: an earthenware crock of white beans in a sauce thickened by a long, slow simmer with duck-leg confit, chunks of pork, and oblong coins of Toulouse sausage.

The cassoulet is a meal in itself and then some, so our first course — steamed mussels in a creamy white-wine sauce ($9), with pale gold frites ($2.50 extra) — was overkill in the form of an overture. (Prekill?) The broth was excellent if conventional, and it seemed to gather a bit of extra magic when sopped up with the fries or (when they ran out, because of course they did) chunks of baguette. And it probably made more sense as a prelude to a lighter main course, such as sautéed sea bass ($16) in a Grenobloise sauce — a rather forceful concoction of melted butter spiked with herbs and capers (and possibly a dab of mustard, I thought).

One of the kitchen’s themes, in fact, seems to involve giving hearty treatments to seafood. On an earlier visit we found several chunks of monkfish ($17.95) sprawled on a bed of shredded cabbage and bacon (a combination reminiscent of the Alsatian dish choucroute). On that same visit we liked suprême de poulet ($14.95), a roasted leg and thigh of chicken on a bed of couscous and garlic confit, with a cheery sauce of citrus reduction and ginger, but were less enthusiastic about the vegetarian plate ($14.95), a pair of large, free-form ravioli stuffed with red beet slices and bathed in too much of a decent but unremarkable mushroom sauce. If you needed proof that the traditional French gastronomic ethic is unenthusiastic about vegetarianism, I give you exhibit A.

If we felt we’d drifted into an unstated conflict, we were soon mollified by dessert: to wit, profiteroles ($5.95), in fact the best profiteroles in recent memory. There was nothing too out of the ordinary about the flavors; the pastry balls were stuffed with vanilla ice cream and sauced with chocolate and caramel. But the pastry! Sublimely flaky. Profiteroles are too often tough and rubbery, like old racquetballs, but Le P’tit Laurent’s were yieldingly delicate, bits of buttery finery that surrendered themselves and were soon gone but not forgotten. They were so not forgotten, in fact, that we ordered them a second time a few evenings later, and while I was tempted to cap things off with a snifter of Armagnac, I felt no need in the end. (To paraphrase the endlessly paraphrasable Homer Simpson: my gastronomic rapacity did know satiety.)

As for Glen Park — well, these days I hardly know ye. When Chenery Park opened just a few doors up in 2000, it was a lonely outpost of upscaleness in a Sleepy Hollow sort of urban enclave that seemed little changed since the 1950s. But these first years of the new millennium have brought all sorts of newness, from the cool pizza place across the street (Gialina) to the gorgeous Canyon Market (viewable through Le P’tit Laurent’s windows as part of the faux–11th arrondissement display) to, finally, a retro-chic Parisian bistro that serves quite good food at reasonable prices and is, accordingly, packing them in. The case for cassoulet has been made.


Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner: daily, 5:30–10:30 p.m.

699 Chenery, SF

(415) 334-3235

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible

Endorsements: Local ballot measures


Proposition A (transit reform)


This omnibus measure would finally put San Francisco in a position to create the world-class transportation system that the city needs to handle a growing population and to address environmental problems ranging from climate change to air pollution. And in the short term it would help end the Muni meltdown by giving the system a much-needed infusion of cash, about $26 million per year, and more authority to manage its myriad problems.

The measure isn’t perfect. It would give a tremendous amount of power to the unelected Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a semiautonomous agency created in 1999 to reform Muni. But we also understand the arguments of Sup. Aaron Peskin — who wrote the measure in collaboration with labor and other groups — that the MTA is free to make tough decisions that someone facing reelection might avoid. And the measure still would give the Board of Supervisors authority to block the MTA’s budget, fare increases, and route changes with seven votes.

We’re also a little worried about provisions that could place the Taxicab Commission under the MTA’s purview and allow the agency to tinker with the medallion system and undermine Proposition K, the 1978 law that gives operating permits to working drivers, not corporations. Peskin promised us, on tape, that he will ensure, with legislation if necessary, that no such thing happens, and we’ll hold him to it.

Ultimately, the benefits of this measure outweigh our concerns. The fact that the labor movement has signed off on expanded management powers for the MTA shows how important this compromise is. The MTA would have the power to fully implement the impending recommendations in the city’s Transit Improvement Project study and would be held accountable for improvements to Muni’s on-time performance. New bonding authority under the measure would also give the MTA the ability to quickly pursue capital projects that would allow more people to comfortably use public transit.

The measure would also create an integrated transportation system combining everything from parking to cabs to bike lanes under one agency, which would then be mandated to find ways to roll back greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2012. And to do that, the agency would get to keep all of the revenue generated by its new programs. As a side benefit — and another important reason to vote for Prop. A — approval of this measure would nullify the disastrous Proposition H on the same ballot.

San Francisco faces lots of tough choices if we’re going to minimize climate change and maximize the free flow of people through our landlocked city. Measure A is an important start. Vote yes.

Proposition B (commission holdovers)


Proposition B is a simple good-government measure that ends a practice then-mayor Willie Brown developed into a science — allowing commissioners to continue serving after their terms expire, turning them into at-will appointments and assuring their loyalty.

Members of some of the most powerful commissions in town serve set four-year terms. The idea is to give the members, many appointed by the mayor, some degree of independence: they can’t be fired summarily for voting against the interests (or demands) of the chief executive.

But once their terms expire, the mayor can simply choose not to reappoint or replace them, leaving them in limbo for months, even years — and while they still sit on the commissions and vote, these holdover commissioners can be fired at any time. So their jobs depend, day by day, on the whims of the mayor.

Prop. B, sponsored by the progressives on the Board of Supervisors, simply would limit to 60 days the amount of time a commissioner can serve as a holdover. After that period, the person’s term would end, and he or she would have to step down. That would force the mayor to either reappoint or replace commissioners in a timely manner — and help give these powerful posts at least a chance at independence. Vote yes.

Proposition C (public hearings on proposed measures)


Proposition C sure sounds good: it would mandate that the supervisors hold a hearing 45 days in advance before putting any measure on the ballot. The mayor would have to submit proposed ballot measures for hearings too. That would end the practice of last-minute legislation; since four supervisors can place any ordinance on the ballot (and the mayor can do the same), proposals that have never been vetted by the public and never subjected to any prior discussion often wind up before the voters. Sometimes that means the measures are poorly written and have unintended consequences.

But this really isn’t a good-government measure; it’s a move by the Chamber of Commerce and downtown to reduce the power of the district-elected supervisors.

The 1932 City Charter gave the supervisors the power to place items before the voters as a check on corruption. In San Francisco it’s been used as a check on downtown power. In 1986, for example, activists gathered enough voter signatures to place Proposition M, a landmark measure controlling downtown development, on the ballot. But then–city attorney Louise Renne, acting on behalf of downtown developers, used a ridiculous technicality to invalidate it. At the last minute, the activists were able to get four supervisors to sign on — and Prop. M, one of the most important pieces of progressive planning legislation in the history of San Francisco, ultimately won voter approval. Under Prop. C, that couldn’t have happened.

In theory, most of the time, anything that goes on the ballot should be subject to public hearings. Sometimes, as in the case of Prop. M, that’s not possible.

We recognize the frustration some groups (particularly small businesses) feel when legislation gets passed without any meaningful input from the people directly affected. But it doesn’t require a strict ballot measure like Prop. C to solve the problem. The supervisors should adopt rules mandating public hearings on propositions, but with a more flexible deadline and exemptions for emergencies. Meanwhile, vote no on Prop. C.

Proposition D (library preservation fund)


In the 1980s and early 1990s, San Francisco mayors loved to cut the budget of the public library. Every time money was short — and money was chronically short — the library took a hit. It was an easy target. If you cut other departments (say, police or fire or Muni or public health), people would howl and say lives were in danger. Reducing the hours at a few neighborhood branch libraries didn’t seem nearly as dire.

So activists who argued that libraries were an essential public service put a measure on the ballot in 1994 that guaranteed at least a modest level of library funding. The improvements have been dramatic: branch library hours have increased more than 50 percent, library use is way up, there are more librarians around in the afternoons to help kids with their homework…. In that sense, the Library Preservation Fund has been a great success. The program is scheduled to sunset next year; Proposition D would extend it another 15 years.

If the current management of the public library system were a bit more trustworthy, this would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the library commission and staff have been resisting accountability; ironically, the library — a font of public information — makes it difficult to get basic records about library operations. The library is terrible about sunshine; in fact, activists have had to sue this year to get the library to respond to a simple public-records request (for nonconfidential information on repetitive stress injuries among library staff). And we’re not thrilled that a significant part of the library’s operating budget is raised (and controlled) by a private group, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, which decides, with no oversight by an elected official, how as much as 10 percent of library money is spent.

But libraries are too valuable and too easy a budget target to allow the Library Preservation Fund to expire. And the way to fend off creeping privatization is hardly by starving a public institution for funds. So we’ll support Prop. D.

Proposition E (mayoral attendance at Board of Supervisors meetings)


If it feels as though you’ve already voted on this, you have: last November, by a strong majority, San Franciscans approved a policy statement calling on the mayor to attend at least one Board of Supervisors meeting each month to answer questions and discuss policy. It’s a great idea, modeled on the very successful Question Time in the United Kingdom, under which the British prime minister appears before Parliament regularly and submits to questions from all political parties. Proposition E would force the mayor to comply. Newsom, despite his constant statements about respecting the will of the voters, has never once complied with the existing policy statement. Instead, he’s set up a series of phony neighborhood meetings at which he controls the agenda and personally selects which questions he’s going to answer.

We recognize that some supervisors would use the occasion of the mayor’s appearance to grandstand — but the mayor does that almost every day. Appearing before the board once a month isn’t an undue burden; in fact, it would probably help Newsom in the long run. If he’s going to seek higher office, he’s going to have to get used to tough questioning and learn to deal with critics in a forum he doesn’t control.

Beyond all the politics, this idea is good for the city. The mayor claims he already meets regularly with members of the board, but those meetings are private, behind closed doors. Hearing the mayor and the board argue about policy in public would be informative and educational and help frame serious policy debates. Besides, as Sup. Chris Daly says, with Newsom a lock for reelection, this is the only thing on the ballot that would help hold him accountable. Vote yes on Prop. E.

Proposition F (police pensions)


We really didn’t want to endorse this measure. We’re sick and tired of the San Francisco Police Officers Association — which opposed violence-prevention funding, opposed foot patrols, opposes every new revenue measure, and bitterly, often viciously, opposes police accountability — coming around, tin cup in hand, every single election and asking progressives to vote to give the cops more money. San Francisco police officers deserve decent pay — it’s a tough, dangerous job — but the starting salary for a rookie cop in this town exceeds $60,000, the benefits are extraordinarily generous, and the San Francisco Police Department is well on its way to setting a record as the highest-paid police force in the country.

Now it wants more.

But in fact, Proposition F is pretty minor — it would affect only about 60 officers who were airport cops before the airport police were merged into the SFPD in 1997. Those cops have a different retirement system, which isn’t quite as good as what they would get with full SFPD benefits. We’re talking about $30,000 a year; in the end, it’s a simple labor issue, and we hate to blame a small group of officers in one division for the serious sins of their union and its leadership. So we’ll endorse Prop. F. But we have a message for the SFPOA’s president: if you want to beat up the progressives, reject new tax plans, promote secrecy, and fight accountability, don’t come down here again asking for big, expensive benefit improvements.

Proposition G (Golden Gate Park stables)


This is an odd one: Proposition G, sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, would create a special fund for the renovation of the historic (and dilapidated) horse stables in Golden Gate Park. The city would match every $3 in private donations with $1 in public money, up to a total of $750,000. The city would leverage that money with $1.2 million in state funds available for the project and fix up the stables.

Supporters, including most of the progressive supervisors, say that the stables are a historic gem and that horseback riding in the park would provide "after-school, summer and weekend activities for families and youth." That might be a bit of a stretch — keeping horses is expensive, and riding almost certainly won’t be a free activity for anyone. But the stables have been the target of privatization efforts in the past and, under Newsom, almost certainly would be again in the future; this is exactly the sort of operation that the mayor would like to turn over to a private contractor. So for a modest $750,000, Prop. G would keep the stables in public hands. Sounds like a good deal to us. Vote yes.

Proposition H (reguutf8g parking spaces)


It’s hard to overstate just how bad this measure is or to condemn strongly enough the sleazy and deceptive tactics that led Don Fisher, Webcor, and other downtown power brokers to buy the signatures that placed what they call "Parking for the Neighborhoods" on the ballot. That’s why Proposition H has been almost universally condemned, even by downtown’s allies in City Hall, and why Proposition A includes a provision that would negate Proposition H if both are approved.

Basically, this measure would wipe out three decades’ worth of environmentally sound planning policies in favor of giving every developer and homeowner the absolute right to build a parking space for every housing unit (or two spaces for every three units in the downtown core). While that basic idea might have some appeal to drivers with parking frustrations, even they should consider the disastrous implications of this greedy and shortsighted power grab.

The city has very little leverage to force developers to offer community benefits like open space or more affordable housing, or to design buildings that are attractive and environmentally friendly. But parking spots make housing more valuable (and expensive), so developers will help the city meet its needs in order to get them. That would end with this measure, just as the absolute right to parking would eliminate things like Muni stops and street trees while creating more driveways, which are dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians. It would flip the equation to place developers’ desires over the public interest.

Worst of all, it would reverse the city’s transit-first policies in a way that ultimately would hurt drivers and property owners, the very people it is appealing to. If we don’t limit the number of parking spots that can be built with the 10,000 housing units slated for the downtown core, it will result in traffic gridlock that will lower property values and kill any chance of creating a world-class transit system.

But by then, the developers will be off counting our money, leaving us to clean up their mess. Don’t be fooled. Vote no.

Proposition I (Office of Small Business)


Proposition I got on the ballot after small-business leaders tried unsuccessfully to get the supervisors to fund a modest program to create staff for the Small Business Commission and create a one-stop shop for small-business assistance and permitting. We don’t typically support this sort of after-the-fact ballot-box budgeting request, but we’re making an exception here.

San Francisco demands a lot from small businesses. It’s an expensive place to set up shop, and city taxes discriminate against them. We supported the new rules mandating that even small operations give paid days off and in many cases pay for health insurance, but we recognize that they put a burden on small businesses. And in the end, the little operators don’t get a whole lot back from City Hall.

This is a pretty minor request: it would allocate $750,000 to set up an Office of Small Business under the Small Business Commission. The funding would be for the first year only; after that the advocates would have to convince the supervisors that it was worth continuing. Small businesses are the economic and job-generation engines of San Francisco, and this one-time request for money that amounts to less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the city budget is worthy of support. Vote yes on Prop. I.

Proposition J (wireless Internet network)


It’s going to be hard to convince people to vote against this measure; as one blogger put it, the mayor of San Francisco is offering free ice cream. Anyone want to decline?

Well, yes — decline is exactly what the voters should do. Because Proposition J’s promise of free and universal wireless Internet service is simply a fraud. And the way it’s worded would ensure that our local Internet infrastructure is handed over to a private company — a terrible idea.

For starters, San Francisco has already been down this road. Newsom worked out a deal a year ago with EarthLink and Google to provide free wi-fi. But the contract had all sorts of problems: the free access would have been too slow for a lot of uses, faster access wouldn’t have been free, there weren’t good privacy protections, and the network wouldn’t have been anything close to universal. Wi-fi signals don’t penetrate walls very well, and the signals in this plan wouldn’t have reached much above the second floor of a building — so anyone who lived in an interior space above the second floor (and that’s a lot of people) wouldn’t have gotten access at all.

So the supervisors asked a few questions and slowed things down — and it’s good they did, because EarthLink suddenly had a change in its business strategy and pulled out of citywide wi-fi altogether. That’s one of the problems with using a private partner for this sort of project: the city is subject to the marketing whims of tech companies that are constantly changing their strategies as the economic and technical issues of wi-fi evolve.

San Francisco needs a municipal Internet system; it ought to be part of the city’s public infrastructure, just like the streets, the buses, and the water and sewer lines. It shouldn’t rely just on a fickle technology like wi-fi either; it should be based on fiber-optic cables. Creating that network wouldn’t be all that expensive; EarthLink was going to do it for $10 million.

Prop. J is just a policy statement and would have no immediate impact. Still, it’s annoying and wrongheaded for the mayor to try to get San Franciscans to give a vote of confidence to a project that has already crashed and burned, and Sup. Aaron Peskin, the cosponsor, should never have put his name on it. Vote no.

Proposition K (ads on street furniture)


San Francisco is awash in commercialism. With all of the billboards and ads, the city is starting to feel like a giant NASCAR racer. And a lot of them come from Clear Channel Communications, the giant, monopolistic broadcast outfit that controls radio stations, billboards, and now the contract to build new bus shelters in the city with even more ads on them.

Proposition K is a policy statement, sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, that seeks to bar any further expansion of street-furniture advertising in the city. That would mean no more deals with the likes of Clear Channel to allow more lighted kiosks with ads on them — and no more new bus shelter ads. That’s got Clear Channel agitated — the company just won the 15-year bid to rebuild the city’s existing 1,200 Muni shelters, and now it wants to add 380 more. Clear Channel argues that the city would get badly needed revenue for Muni from the expanded shelters; actually, the contract already guarantees Muni a large chunk of additional funding. And nothing in Prop. K would block Clear Channel from upgrading the existing shelters and plastering ads all over them.

On a basic philosophical level, we don’t support the idea of funding Muni by selling ads on the street, any more than we would support the idea of funding the Recreation and Park Department by selling the naming rights to the Hall of Flowers or the Japanese Tea Garden or the golf courses. On a practical level, the Clear Channel deal is dubious anyway: the company, which runs 10 mostly lousy radio stations in town and gives almost nothing of value to the community, refuses to provide the public with any information on its projected profits and losses, so there’s no way to tell if the income the city would get from the expanded shelters would be a fair share of the overall revenue.

Vote yes on K.

Green City: People versus death monsters



GREEN CITY Pedaling or walking along a Panhandle pathway is the essence of green, a simple act of sustainable living and connection to a natural area within an urban core. It’s a calming, transformative activity — at least until you get to Masonic Avenue and the telling words painted on the path: "Death Monsters Ahead."

The death monsters, a.k.a. automobiles, that bisect this three-quarter-mile-long green runway into Golden Gate Park would be jarring even if traffic engineers had made that intersection the best it could be. Instead, it’s closer to the opposite — dangerous, illogical, and frustrating for all who must navigate it, a testament to what happens when the primary intersection-design criterion is moving cars rapidly.

After getting word of a rash of bicycle- and pedestrian-versus-car accidents at the Masonic-Fell intersection in recent months, Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reinitiated (two years ago, it was the same story) a voluntary crossing-guard program on Saturdays and weekday evenings and lobbied City Hall to finally do something.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi took up the cause, announcing at the June 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, "I find it simply unacceptable that the city has ignored the problem to the point where a volunteer program has become imperative. Traffic safety is a baseline city responsibility."

Mirkarimi is asking the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has responded to years of complaints about this dangerous intersection with only minor and ineffective tinkering, to finally make a substantial change. He and the activists want a dedicated signal phase for pedestrians and bikes and a dedicated left-turn lane for cars coming off Fell.

It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to see what’s wrong with this intersection. Cars trying to turn left onto Fell from busy Masonic regularly get stranded by a red light and are stuck blocking the crosswalk. Even more dangerous is when bikers and walkers cross on their green light only to find cars — which also have a green light — turning left from Fell Street, cutting across their path.

The problem is vividly illustrated with too much regularity. I can still picture the female bicyclist who flipped through the air and crumpled to the ground a few feet from me after getting hit hard by a motorist. It was almost three years ago, but it remains a vivid, cautionary memory.

I was riding my bicycle west on the Panhandle trail, even with the motorist. Our eyes locked, his anxious and darting, and I knew he might try to cut me off, so I slowed. Sure enough, the driver made a quick left in front of me and hit the bicyclist coming from the opposite direction, who assumed that the green light and legal right-of-way meant she could continue to pedal from one section of parkland to the next. Instead, she joined a long list of Fell-Masonic casualties, to which attorney Peter Borkon was added May 19, a few days shy of his 36th birthday.

Borkon was on his road bike, training for the AIDS Life Cycle ride, when he cautiously approached the intersection, slowed, and unclipped from his pedals. When the light turned green, he clipped in, crossed into the intersection, and then, he says, "I was run over by a Chevy Suburban."

He was hit so hard that he broke his nose and gashed his face on the car, an injury that resulted in 15 stitches, and was thrown 10 feet. The fact that he was wearing a helmet might have saved his life, but he nevertheless went into shock, spent a day in the hospital, and is still waiting for the neurological damage to his face to heal.

How dangerous in that intersection? When I asked the MTA for accident statistics, a response to the criticisms, and a plan of action, public information officers Maggie Lynch and Kristen Holland first stonewalled me for two days and then said it would take two weeks to provide an answer.

Maybe Mirkarimi will spark a change, or maybe the MTA will just keep doing what it’s always done: plod along at a bureaucratic pace with tools ill suited to an evolving world that must do more to facilitate walking and bicycling as safe, attractive transportation options, even if that means delaying the death monsters.*

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to

Downtown’s sneaky parking plan


OPINION Two years ago this week, the mayors of many of the world’s largest cities gathered in San Francisco for World Environment Day and pledged to make their cities more livable and sustainable places.

San Francisco justly prides itself on being an environment-minded city made of diverse and livable neighborhoods. Thanks in large part to the city’s historic neighborhoods, designed around walking and public transit, San Franciscans generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions per capita than residents of any city in the country except New York.

Unfortunately, one of the most environmentally unfriendly measures to come along in a decade may be headed to the ballot. A shadowy coalition of downtown interests is gathering signatures for a measure, the brainchild of Republican financier Don Fisher, that would impose a one-size-fits-all parking "solution" on San Francisco’s distinct neighborhoods while removing protections for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit from the city’s Planning Code.

This measure, blandly titled the Parking for Neighborhoods Initiative, threatens to reverse decades of progress toward a sustainable and livable San Francisco.

If this measure becomes law, it will negate the ability of neighborhoods to plan their own future, to provide affordable housing options, and to make their streets safe and livable. It will, in a stroke, overturn many years’ worth of neighborhood-based planning efforts, from downtown and South of Market through Hayes Valley and the Mission to Balboa Park.

Reduced-parking requirements, limitations on creating new parking spaces, have become a useful tool for decreasing traffic congestion, encouraging walking, cycling, and public transit use, and making housing more affordable in the city’s most dense and transit-rich neighborhoods. The city’s Downtown Plan, adopted in the 1980s, encouraged the area to grow as a diverse commercial, industrial, and residential district, oriented to transit rather than the automobile.

Many neighborhoods may not choose reduced-parking requirements, but where they fit, residents have embraced them as a way to preserve their neighborhoods’ livability, character, and affordability. Nearly a third of San Francisco households live without a car. A UC Berkeley study showed that units without parking spaces are affordable to twice as many households as units with them.

The measure would also prohibit programs to make San Francisco’s mean streets safer places for all of us, particularly children, elders, and the disabled. It arrogantly asserts the right of developers to cut new driveways and garage entrances wherever they want, regardless of the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and Muni riders who would be inconvenienced or even endangered.

Proponents of the measure are trying to give it a green gloss, invoking provisions about car sharing and low-emission vehicles. Don’t be fooled — this ill-conceived measure will make our city less sustainable, less livable, less affordable, and less safe. Don’t sign the petition! *

Tom Radulovich is executive director of Livable City (

Stationary biking



This year’s Bike to Work Day, set for May 17, comes as San Francisco’s cycling network lies dormant in a court-imposed coma. The city isn’t allowed to make any physical improvements to promote safe bicycling until late next year at the earliest, more than two years after the injunction began. Yet that setback could be followed by the most rapid expansion of bike lanes in the city’s history.

At issue is the San Francisco Bicycle Plan and its stated goal of making "bicycling an integral part of daily life in San Francisco." City resident Rob Anderson and attorney Mary Miles don’t share that goal — particularly when it translates to taking lanes and parking spaces from cars — and they challenged the plan in court last year after it won unanimous approval from the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Ironically, this environmentally benign mode of transportation was attacked under the state’s landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires detailed studies of projects that might have impacts on the environment and measures that can be taken to offset those impacts.

City officials and bike advocates were shocked last June when Judge James Warren — in his final ruling before his retirement — issued a sweeping injunction against bike projects in the city, which was upheld and reinforced when Judge Peter Busch heard the case in September.

The judges found that city officials had taken an impermissible shortcut around CEQA by claiming the bike plan was exempt from its strictures. As the plan was being developed, some bike advocates and city officials had called for more resources to be put into doing the detailed studies CEQA calls for, and that’s what now appears to be happening.

"The good thing about the lawsuit is it is forcing the city to do the traffic analysis that it should have done with the bike plan and it reveals the absurdity of our interpretation of environmental laws," Dave Snyder, the former executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), who is now a planner with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, told the Guardian.

Now city planners and consultants are preparing environmental impact reports (EIRs) on up to 60 proposed bike projects in the city, which will be queued up and ready to begin once the bike plan is approved. "The projects can be approved all at once," Snyder said.

At least, that’s what could happen if the city’s political leaders don’t lose their will to create a more bicycle-friendly city.

Oddly enough, it was the vague, feel-good nature of the plan that created all the problems.

Cities are required to have a bike plan, updated every five years, to qualify for certain state funding. San Francisco did its first plan in 1997, and in 2001 transportation officials and bike advocates set out to develop an updated version.

From the beginning, there were divisions between those who wanted to focus on completing the bike network with ready-to-go projects and those who wanted a more comprehensive and innovative plan laying out policies for education, enforcement, safety, new traffic models, integration with public transit, and everything else associated with cycling.

Responsibility for developing the plan was shared by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the San Francisco Planning Department, and the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, with significant input from the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the SFBC, and other groups. For reasons of expediency, the decision was made to focus on a relatively vague plan, one that made all sorts of high-minded statements and offered lofty goals.

The plan was presented as an effort to radically transform the roadways to make bicycling a more attractive option, but it didn’t include the detailed transportation analysis needed to support that effort — nor did it draw any conclusions about which car spaces to give over to bikes.

"The plan makes no decisions…. The plan has no measurable objectives anywhere in it," Snyder said, noting that the vague nature of the final product was the reason it was so uncontroversial. "Anytime anything passes unanimously, you know you didn’t ask for enough."

Andy Thornley was chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee when work on the plan got under way and now serves as program director for the SFBC, which was heavily involved on outreach for the plan. SFBC officials were shocked by the injunction but said the city should have devoted more resources to the project.

"It was a logical outcome to the city’s undercommitment to the bike plan," Thornley said of the lawsuit. "There wasn’t the commitment from the mayor on down to doing this right."

"We had discussions about what it means that the plan doesn’t have any benchmarks," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SFBC and a member of the MTA board. Sure, it had the goal of having 10 percent of all vehicle trips be by bicycle by the year 2010. "Only later did we realize that the 100 pages behind it didn’t support that goal."

MTA public affairs managers wouldn’t allow the Guardian to speak directly to Oliver Gajda, the main staffer on the bike plan then and now. They required questions in writing and answered the one about lack of city support for the initial plan by writing that "the court’s decision was not based on resource issues."

Newsom’s press secretary, Nathan Ballard, also resisted admitting that the city did anything wrong, responding in writing to a written question by saying, "Actually, the City moved forward drafting and implementing this bike plan quite ambitiously, even though there was a risk it would be challenged in court."

Yet it was clear to all involved that doing the traffic analysis and other work would have headed off the injunction.

"Dave Snyder was always an advocate that the bike plan should be a bike plan and lay out what we’ll see for bicyclists," Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, told the Guardian. "But the decision was made to do a bike plan in the abstract, not laying out specific routes."

Nonetheless, bike advocates say they’re happy with the commitment that city officials are now showing. "Now we’re clearly and unequivocally doing a bike plan," Radulovich said. "To some degree, the city has had to commit itself."

Bevan Dufty, chair of the Transportation Authority’s Plans and Programs Committee, has been demanding that bureaucrats report to him regularly to show progress on the plan.

"I think the fact that we’re seeing them regularly trotted out before the committee is a good thing, because it makes them hit their benchmarks," he told us.

Dufty also overcame the MTA’s restrictive approach to public relations and facilitated our interview with Peter Albert, who took on the job of deputy director of planning for the MTA 10 months ago.

"Right now we’re just looking to do the environmental review to clear the bike plan," Albert told us.

He said that staff and consultants are now going through 60 proposed projects to determine what their environmental studies will entail. Later this month that work will be presented during a scoping meeting, at which planners and advocates will decide whether some of the more complex projects will be eliminated from the plan.

"Our goal is to make sure this is as solid an environmental review as possible. We don’t want to deal with any more legal issues," Albert said. "I feel right now there is a huge will to have this done correctly."

Yet advocates have a slightly different view of that political will, particularly given the projection of completed EIRs by July 2008, followed by the approval process, and maybe more court fights.

"We’re not crazy about the timing, but the scope is good. We’ve moved to projects that we’re planning to do," Thornley said. "So, in a backwards way, the commitment has come to the plan from the gun of the injunction."

"But we have real concerns about the timeline and scope getting shrunk," Shahum said. "Our fear is that we’ll go from 60 projects down to 16."

That’s because the plan will now look at the physical changes to roadways that are bound to get controversial once neighborhood groups grapple with the idea of losing traffic lanes or parking spaces.

"You’ve got a lot of people who are afraid of NIMBY opposition, and that goes from the mayor and the supervisors to the bureaucrats working on the plan," Shahum said. She added that the political leadership of San Francisco is more supportive of bicycling than it’s ever been, "but you still have to work really hard for them to do the right thing in the end."

"Why did it take four years to get the Valencia Street bike lanes?" she asked, noting that the project has proved to be an unqualified success.

"They changed Valencia Street, and nothing [bad] happened, so that opened them up a little," Radulovich said of city officials. But only a little. "There is still a certain ad hoc quality to what they’re doing, rather than being standards-based in how streets are designed."

City policy regarding bike projects — which the Planning Commission will revisit this summer when it considers changes to how it interprets traffic level-of-service (LOS) impacts under CEQA — is that anything that slows car traffic is considered a significant environmental impact that requires extensive study and mitigation.

"It’s imperative for them to fix the way they do CEQA," Radulovich said. "LOS reform would help us in future projects."

Radulovich said that most California cities were built with a focus on automobiles before CEQA was even approved. Yet the law now requires expensive and time-consuming studies before those spaces can be converted to use by public transit, bicycles, or pedestrians.

"That’s why, in some ways, CEQA has become an impediment to making us environmentally sustainable," Radulovich said. "It’s turned into a tool that slows down the taking of spaces back from cars."

While the detailed EIR work is being done, Albert and others say the city is still committed to doing bicycling planning work, applying for grants, and making sure San Francisco can move forward quickly once the injunction is lifted. "We’ve been set back, but we’re not stopped," he told us.

"The current injunction is frustrating because we want to be moving forward with bike improvements each month. While we cannot make physical changes such as bike lanes and bike racks, planning and design are continuing," Ballard said, also noting that the Mayor’s Office is doing regular conference calls to ensure the bike plan moves forward quickly.

"I and the bike advocates are pushing to use this time to do the planning work so we’re ready to go once we have an approved plan," said Sup. Chris Daly, the only regular cyclist on the Board of Supervisors. Once the injunction is lifted, he said, "You will have the most rapid striping of bike lanes in the history of the city." *

The meltdown opportunity


EDITORIAL A few hours after the explosion that melted part of the East Bay approach to the Bay Bridge, Mayor Gavin Newsom was meeting with reporters at the state Democratic convention in San Diego. Yes, he told them, there would be an economic impact from the freeway meltdown. Yes, it would be a hardship for thousands of commuters. "Yes, it’s a mess," he told us. "But it’s also an opportunity."

Newsom is right – and if he and other regional and state officials are willing to take advantage of that opportunity, it could be a rare chance to shift commute patterns in the Bay Area away from the automobile.

The evidence on the first post-meltdown travel day was encouraging: Extra BART trains were running. Extra ferries were in service. The Muni lines that connect to the ferry terminal (even the star-crossed T line) were more or less on time. And huge numbers of people who normally would have driven their cars to work took mass transit.

Part of that, of course, was due to the decision by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to offer free rides on trains, buses, and ferries. But part of it was because there simply wasn’t any other choice: the only option for a lot of East Bay residents who wanted to get into San Francisco without facing a real traffic nightmare was to leave their cars at home.

The new commute won’t be a perfect convenience for everyone – but if the state and the counties keep their end of the deal, it won’t have to be that bad. In fact, in 1989, when the Loma Prieta quake brought down the Bay Bridge, San Francisco survived just fine. For those few weeks without transbay driving, downtown was remarkably pleasant – the streets weren’t clogged with cars, the noise level was down, the air was cleaner, and pedestrians and bicyclists didn’t have to fear for their lives.

Meanwhile, the business of the city went on; people adapted; and when the bridge reopened, they got right back in their cars.

That’s what has to change this time around.

For starters, Newsom and Oakland mayor Ron Dellums ought to convene a summit on reducing car traffic and set a firm goal of, say, a permanent 25 percent reduction in auto traffic on the Bay Bridge. That would involve major, lasting improvements in regional transit: The number of ferries, now at double the normal capacity, would have to remain high, and fares would have to be kept low enough to be competitive with driving. BART would also have to increase capacity, and Muni would have to run more busses to take people quickly from BART terminals to other parts of town.

That’s going to cost some money, in part because the East Bay-to-San Francisco ferries are privately owned and won’t carry passengers free or at reduced fares unless the state is going to keep ponying up money – which is a good reason for the legislature to look at creating public ferries for the long term.

But compared to the costs of continued congestion and the impact on global climate change that come from all these cars, it’s too good a deal to pass up.

San Francisco city planners tend to look at ways to accommodate more cars as the city grows. Newsom and Dellums, along with other Bay Area officials, need to derail that assumption and use this opportunity to make permanent reductions in car use. *

Tempest in an urban teapot


OPINION Our local road-culture war has erupted again, this time thanks to some unsavory gossip columnists at the monopoly paper in town. Wildly distorted accounts of two confrontations at Critical Mass in March have been presented as evidence that bicyclists are antisocial, out of control, and generally immature scofflaws. Such accounts serve to frame a narrative that is in sharp contrast with the actual experience of tens of thousands of bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists on the last Friday of every month, not just in San Francisco but in hundreds of cities worldwide where Critical Mass rides take place regularly.

Suddenly, normal life is suspended as thousands of bicyclists — talking, singing, playing instruments and boom boxes, smiling and laughing — take to the streets. Bells tinkle, people wave, traffic stops, encouragement is shouted, and uncounted conversations of unknowable depth and breadth happen by serendipity and choice. This is much more characteristic of the Critical Mass experience than the relatively rare confrontation between an overheated, impatient motorist and a self-righteous, antagonistic cyclist.

Cheap journalism of the type practiced by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Matier and Ross just obscures the truth that our transportation system is designed to promote mayhem, anger, and alienation. Every day motorists crash and die, confront one another angrily, and are left cowering in isolation. The fact that such events can also happen during Critical Mass should come as no surprise.

The sheer exuberant pleasure of a rolling mass occupation of city streets month after month is hard to understand unless you’ve been a part of it. For the dozens of online flamers who have ferociously denounced Critical Mass, it’s inconceivable that an event that doesn’t behave according to the staid norms of a placid democratic society can have any justification: "Critical Mass doesn’t make demands! No one is in charge! The participants don’t all behave like obedient schoolchildren! They are destroying the cause of bicycling for the law-abiding cyclists!" And so on.

In February and March, Critical Mass bicyclists rode for two to three hours through San Francisco streets, enjoying the city in ways unplanned by traffic engineers, police, and city bureaucrats. It’s a remarkable reinvention of urban life in an organized coincidence that is mostly spontaneous in spite of its predictability — surprising every time and inspiring most of the time.

Critical Massers are engaged in that most rare of activities: an act of collective imagination and invention that is considerably greater than the sum of its parts.

For those motorists or bicyclists who think Critical Mass is about a fight between cars and bikes, think again! We are all in this together, and a monthly demonstration of how much better life could be is an invitation to everyone to try something different. There is a well-defined etiquette among Critical Mass riders that encourages riders to thank stuck drivers for their patience, promotes an atmosphere of friendly camaraderie on all sides, and invites the curious to join us next month at the foot of Market Street (April 27, 6 p.m.) on a bicycle for an experience that just might change your life. *

The Committee for Full Enjoyment

The Committee for Full Enjoyment ( is an ad hoc group of San Franciscans dedicated to a richer life.



CHEAP EATS My new favorite superheroes are my old pal Mod the Pod and her social-working podner, the Kat Attack. Together they comb the streets and psyches of the Bay Area, looking for people to help, and in many cases that turns out to be me!
If I had a nickel for every time one or the other or both of them together have untied me from figurative railroad tracks or snatched me up in midair as I was falling into snaky pits or the abyss or … well, in this case, I was bummed about having been Just-Friended, yet again, the night before. Not a lot of sleep, and morning found the chicken farmer kind of crying into her coat collar down at Java Supreme.
My coffee was this close to being cold, literally, when out of nowhere our superheroes swooped down in their superminivan, and Earl Butter helped load me into the back. Wasting no time, Mod the Pod gave me a squirt of our favorite perfume, and the Kat Attack told a great joke in which a bear walks into a bar and says, “Gimme a shot and a … beer,” and the bartender goes, “Why the big pause?”
After about a beat, I laughed real hard and rolled on the floor, mostly because there aren’t any seats in the back of this van.
Earl Butter, still choking over my squirt of perfume, was groping around like a mime in a box, trying to open real windows that didn’t really open. (Note: this seemingly innocuous detail is what we writers call “foreshadowing,” so don’t forget to remember it later, OK?)
Well, Jelly’s was “closed for the season,” whatever that means. As if San Francisco has seasons. So we had to go to the Ramp. And we had to sit outside, even though it was practically raining and cold. All the inside tables were taken.
I was thinking: coffee. Hot coffee. But before I could say so, Mod the Pod ordered us four Bloody Marys, and I went with it, reasoning: she’s the social worker.
Sure enough, the sun came out! And food! Huevos rancheros ($10.95), a bacon avocado omelet ($9.75), bacon and eggs ($8.75 times two), and more Bloody Marys (way, way too much money to even think about) … and I told my sad story, and the Attack was her supersweet self, and Earl Butter made jokes and poked me, and the Pod, you know what Mod the Pod did, being a superhero?
She gave me some of her bacon.
To think, to think that earlier in the week I’d almost killed her! But that’s another story.
Did you hear? I shattered glass during my very first session of speech therapy! We were sitting at a long wooden table, Coach Freidenberg and me, and I was saying things into a microphone and she was monitoring my pitch on a computer screen, like the opposite of the limbo: how high can you go? My eyes were mostly closed, not in concentration, but because it was of course excruciating to hear my own voice being played back to me.
“Many men making much money in the month of May,” my voice said. “The murmuring of doves in the memorial elms.”
It was worse than excruciating. It was traumatic. It was psychologically damaging. Stanley Kubrick could prop toothpicks in my ears and make a movie out of it. I was this close to losing my will to live, and then I opened my eyes to see what time it was — because it seemed like an important moment to mark, the losing of one’s will to live.
But instead of seeing clocks I saw, down below on the sidewalk outside, loitering, looking for someone to save, guess who? Mod the Pod! Me, I thought. Save me.
To get her attention, I tried to open the window, which was one of those old out-opening ones with a crank. I wanted to say, “Lunch?” That’s all. And I turned the crank ever so slightly, but it broke. At 11:41 in the morning. The window, glass, shattering, crash, bang, boom, and time stood still for idiot chicken farmers and for pedestrians pushing perambulators filled with gurgling children, and for loitering superheroes.
Would she save the day? Could she? How? With bacon? This being the story of my life and my life being basically a comic book, time stands still for you too, dear reader, until next time, while foot-long shards of glass hang in thick air like enemy arrows.<\!s>SFBG

Mon.–<\d>Fri., 11 a.m.–<\d>3 p.m.
Sat.–<\d>Sun., 8:30 a.m.–<\d>4 p.m.
855 China Basin, SF
(415) 621-2378
Full bar
Wheelchair accessible

Campus crush


It’s easy to forget about the Villas Parkmerced.
Nestled in the foggiest, most sedate corner of San Francisco, the 62-year-old planned community feels like a slice of suburbia for seniors and families.
“There’s grass. There’s trees. There’s traffic circles where the cars can’t speed too damn much and knock off the pedestrians,” says 82-year-old Robert Pender, a tenant since 1967. “It’s forgettable suburbia in urban San Francisco.”
But the peace has been shattered recently by word that San Francisco State University is laying plans to transform its campus into a smaller version of UC Berkeley — with little apparent concern for its neighbors just across the street.
The SFSU administration has been busy at work for the past year on a new campus master plan. University officials say the body of college-bound students in California is steadily increasing and a campus overhaul is needed to accommodate that growth by 2020.
The proposed expansion calls for a conversion of many of the two-story buildings on campus to four- or five-story structures, as well as the construction of new buildings for academic, housing, and cultural purposes. A new 250-room hotel at 19th Avenue and Buckingham, a new creative arts facility, and a new gym are also on the table.
The project’s chief architect, James Stickley, told the Guardian that the master plan is about making SFSU “efficient as an urban campus” and transforming its character from a commuter campus to a destination community. In 15 years, he said, university officials expect to have 25,000 full-time students at the university (an increase of 5,000 students), many of them living on campus and taking advantage of new amenities and commercial ventures within university borders.
It’s an ambitious vision that aims to attract more students and accomplished professors to the SFSU campus. Which is great news for just about everyone — except the tenants of the 3,400-unit Villas Parkmerced, who allege not only that they were forgotten during the university planning process but also that their neighborhood is now coming under attack.
“I would love to see SFSU come out as a premier university and to have a really strong image,” said Adriana Torres, a current Parkmerced tenant and former SFSU student. She was speaking at a meeting held Oct. 24 to assess the environmental impacts of the university’s proposed master plan. “But you are not taking into consideration us, the people who live next to the students,” Torres continued. “I think what this plan is doing is, in building your image, it’s eroding ours.”
The meeting was hosted by campus planner Richard Macias and was attended by more than 70 disgruntled Parkmerced residents.
One major area of contention is the university’s proposal for Holloway Avenue, which separates much of the Parkmerced community from SFSU. The university intends to transform Holloway into what Stickley called “a campus street,” with around-the-clock commercial stores at street level and student housing above, something akin to Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue. The university already owns much of the residential property on the south side of Holloway.
But Parkmerced tenants still occupy about 70 percent of that housing, and in their minds, plans for the gradual conversion of that property “for University uses as current occupants vacate their units,” as a university notice put it, sounds a lot like a friendly eviction letter.
“I have lived in Parkmerced all my life,” Healeani Ting said at the Oct. 24 meeting. “My grandmother died here. My mother died here. I intend to die here. Would you have me living in a relocation camp for the homeless in Fresno?”
Parkmerced tenants also assert that SFSU has drastically underestimated the impact of 5,000 additional students on the neighborhood.
Parking — no surprise — is the biggest issue. The university notes in a preliminary environmental review document that “the bulk of the University’s parking needs is met through the multistory parking garage east of Maloney Field” and therefore it won’t be adding any additional parking spots to accommodate 5,000 more students. Parkmerced tenants maintain their parking situation is already a nightmare, thanks to students snatching up spots in their community.
“If you think that you’re going to confine the garbage, the noise, the disruption to all the residents by keeping everyone along Holloway, you’re wrong,” Michelle Miller, a resident of Parkmerced and the head of a local organization called Neighborhood Watch, said at the Oct. 24 meeting. “They filter out. They all want cars. If you keep your parking flat, that’s not going to work.”
University spokesperson Ellen Griffin told the Guardian that SFSU is interested in fostering a “collegial relationship” with Parkmerced tenants and the university will be taking their complaints seriously. University officials met with Parkmerced tenants Nov. 9 to discuss some of their objections. According to Parkmerced Residents’ Organization board member Arne Larson, the university said it would consider moving graduate students and professors to Holloway instead of pursuing the campus street idea.
Of course, SFSU doesn’t have to do any of that. As a state entity, the university has the authority to create and adopt its own plans without involving the San Francisco Planning Department.
The university is preparing an environmental impact report — but no matter what the document says, the project can move forward without city review or approval.
Sarah Dennis, a senior planner with the Planning Department, told us her agency is concerned with the project on two counts: first, the campus street proposal threatens to drain 945 units from the city’s already vulnerable rental housing stock; and second, the overarching plan endangers the basic historic and cultural resources of the city. The Villas Parkmerced is one of only four urban master plan communities in the country.
“We’re hoping that they’ll follow the good-neighbor policy and that we’ll have the opportunity to get involved,” Dennis said. “But again, that’s all up to them.”
District 7 supervisor Sean Elsbernd said that he too is concerned with the SFSU master plan.
“At this point [the university is] at least recognizing this is going to have a massive impact,” Elsbernd told the Guardian, referring to the SFSU environmental impact report that is under way. “But we can guess what’s going to be in that EIR when it’s finally published: ‘Oh look, they say there won’t be much of an impact.’ That’s when the real fight happens.” SFBG

Firing off at fixed-gears


RANT/FILM I’m all for the current bicycle renaissance in San Francisco. As the Indian summer heats up, you’ll notice the bike lanes will be nose to tail with bikers — like a line of baby elephants. This is a good thing. Maybe the notoriously free-form, Tijuana driving style of SF residents will ease up a notch and they’ll return to mowing down pedestrians exclusively. There’s safety in numbers.
Of course, every revolution has its drawbacks. There’s always going to be that crew that wants to convince the world they’re that much more revolutionary, devoted, and pure than everyone else. And as the rubber hits the roads in San Francisco, a clan of tight-trousered, mullet-headed, vintage-T-shirt-clad Robespierres has coalesced around the fixed-gear bicycle, or as it’s called in its proponents’ cutesy parlance, the “fixie.”
What’s a fixed-gear? Imagine yourself cruising down the street on your bike. You get tired and so you stop pedaling and coast. The freewheel mechanism in your hub disengages the drive train and lets the back wheel continue to spin while the cranks and pedals are still. On a fixed-gear the rear cog is bolted directly to the hub. There is no freewheel or cassette mechanism, so if the hub is moving, the cog is moving. Which means if the chain is moving, the pedals are moving, and if the bike is moving, you’re pedaling. There is no coasting.
Sounds like a pain in the ass. If you’re like me, the first question that comes to mind is “why?” Well, the modern SF two-wheeled steel, aluminum, and rubber hipster fashion accessory has its roots in racing, like other wheeled vehicles that don’t really translate to street usage. They were — and still are — used on banked, velodrome-style tracks during races that employ all manner of strategies, including slowing down to a stop or near stop and doing a “track stand” — balancing at a standstill without putting your feet down — so your opponent can pass you and you can ride in the draft.
Since you’re not likely to be drafting anyone on city streets, a track bike is a highly impractical choice of wheels. What’s more impractical is that fixed-gears often appear to lack brakes. The bike’s speed is controlled by the rider’s pedaling cadence — slow the pedaling, you slow the bike. Stop pedaling, stop the bike. This effect can be augmented by adding a front caliper brake, but that’s frowned upon by fixie fashionistas who do things like cut their handlebars down to a foot and don’t run bar tape or grips. The problem with using pedal cadence as a braking mechanism is that stopping is dependent on rider skill.
Now there’s the rub. Like trucker hats and PBR, what started as a bike messenger thing has become a fashion statement and status symbol. You’ve got kids in the Mission with the left leg of their jeans rolled up, a little biker hat on crooked, slip-on Vans, and a brand-new fixed-gear Bianchi; and they don’t know their ass from a light socket. Cadence? You may as well be talking astrophysics. They just know that it looks cool. It looks less cool, however, when one of these lemmings comes screaming down the Haight Street hill unable to keep up with the speed of the pedals and wrecks in the middle of Divisadero. A friend was riding down Stanyan with a box in his hand when some goon on a fixed-gear, unable to slow down, ran into his back wheel and crashed him in the middle of the street. He didn’t even stop to see if my friend was OK.
So what was the original draw that caused the person I’ll call “Biker Zero” — to crib epidemiological lingo — to ride a track bike on the street? The people I know who ride them talk about being at one with the bike, feeling part of it, in the bike instead of on the bike. I’ll go with that. But this human-bike-cyborg crap has reached the level of “I like the East Coast because I like to see the seasons change” tripe. Respect to the old-school heads who’ve been riding them since way back, but as someone who’s done way gnarlier things on wheels, it’s just not all that impressive. The Bicycle Film Festival had scheduled a screening of M.A.S.H., an unfinished fixed-gear documentary by Mike Martin and Gabe Morford, until it got pulled at the last minute. It was shot here in San Francisco and showcased the “skills and beauty of these riders.” Beauty, no doubt — as in perfect hair. So you can ride down a hill and lift up your back wheel and do little skids to slow down. So what?
Riding a fixed-gear is like handicapping yourself. The bikes are so awkward to ride that not looking like an idiot while riding one is an accomplishment. It’s like riding a three-legged horse in the Kentucky Derby. To do that well, you’d have to be an excellent jockey. At the same time, why not be in it to win it and ride a horse with four legs? To me, it takes the choices — and therefore some creativity — out of riding. I don’t ride a fixed-gear for the same reason I won’t drive an automatic: no car is telling me when to shift, and no bike is going to tell me when I can pedal. If you’ve got bike skills, why not take them to a higher level? Go home and search for “Steven Hamilton” or “World Cup Downhill” on YouTube and see what can really be done on a bike that has the capabilities to be pushed. (There is a whole European tradition of flatland tricks on fixed-gears that takes serious skills, but it doesn’t seem to be a part of the current SF scenester fixie explosion.)
Not everyone is riding a bike to push limits. Still, the fixie cabal sticks in my craw, and it’s not because I’m unimpressed with the virtuosity. It’s not the misuse of a track-racing bike on city streets that bugs me. BMX bikes came about through the misuse of Schwinn Stingrays in dirt lots, and mountain bikes were the result of chopped-up road bikes on dirt. Misuse can mean progress. What kills me is the sinking feeling I get when I ride down Valencia and think, “Does anyone in this town ever do anything original?”
Now there’s even fixed-gear graffiti, Krylon line art of single-speed bikes with bullhorn handlebars, and the dubious slogan of “gears are for queers.” The fact of the matter is, the popularity of these bikes has nothing to do with the bikes themselves or the few people who actually have the chops to ride them with style. The fixed-gear is to 2006 what the Razor scooter was to 1996: a wheeled freak show for wannabes. Test it: send the right guy with the right clothes and the right haircut out around town on one of those old-timey bikes with the enormous front wheel with the cranks mounted directly to it like a tricycle. You know, the ones you need a ladder to get on and off of. Just see how many giant-wheeled ladder bikes are locked up in front of Ritual Coffee Roasters next week.
Do what makes you happy, but also do some soul-searching, champ: does riding a fixed-gear make you happy or does fitting in make you happy? Ask yourself, what bike was I riding last year? Was I riding one at all?

Victoria Theatre
2961 16th St., SF

Casting off


Hornblower Yachts assumed control of the ferry service to Alcatraz Island on Sept. 25. As the new crew cast off the dock lines, spurned union workers — some 30-year veterans with the former contractor, Blue and Gold — rallied with supporters at the entrance, asking passengers not to board the boats.
Two union-friendly visitors from Sydney, Australia, ripped up their tickets and demanded refunds. “We don’t agree with what they’re doing to the workers,” one said, while in the background Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Tom Ammiano took turns with the bullhorn, also offering their support to the workers.
“All of our colleagues on the board are not going to stand for it,” Peskin said to the couple hundred laborers gathered on the sidewalk. “We’re going to stand with you and march with you.”
Terry MacRae, CEO of Hornblower, expressed little concern about the boycotting tourists and the rally at his gate. “I suspect there’s plenty more people who want the tickets if they’re not going to use them,” he told the Guardian. Visits to Alcatraz peak this time of year, with a couple thousand people turned away every day when tickets sell out, according to National Park Service spokesperson Rich Wiedeman.
The NPS decision to grant the lucrative, 10-year contract to Hornblower over Blue and Gold has resulted in more than just what some are calling the largest union layoff in San Francisco waterfront history. The story also has an environmental angle as slick as an oil spill and a nasty landlord-tenant tussle.
“The port and I are extremely concerned with how Hornblower has conducted itself,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the Guardian, referring to the company’s artful dodge of city and state permitting processes. “They’ve focused more energy on sidestepping public oversight than complying with it.”
Despite infuriating two leading San Francisco institutions — unions and city planners — MacRae has managed thus far to avoid too much of a stir by keeping another critical local constituency off his back with a well-played “green” card.
When NPS put out a request for proposals in 2004, three companies submitted bids for Alcatraz: Red and White, a local charter and bay cruise company that ran the service when it first started in the ’70s; Blue and Gold, which took over Red and White’s boats and unionized crew in 1994; and Hornblower Cruises and Events, which runs charter and dinner boat cruises from five California ports and is a subsidiary of a larger, $30 million company.
When Brian O’Neill, superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, announced last year that Hornblower won the bid, union activists immediately challenged the choice. Mayor Gavin Newsom, Peskin, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and both of California’s US senators expressed concerns about the decision. Neighborhood group Citizens to Save the Waterfront filed suit. Environmentalists, however, were elated.
For the first time since being passed by Congress in 1998, the Concessions Management Act applied to the bid for Alcatraz. In addition to forbidding the Department of the Interior from favoring incumbent contractors, the act also outlined new criteria for awarding contracts that included a mandate to improve environmental quality in national parklands.
“Bluewater Network has been advocating for more than five years for a solar- and wind-powered ferry for San Francisco Bay,” said Teri Schore, a spokesperson for the local environmental group. She added that diesel vessels in the Bay Area account for more pollution than cars and buses combined. “We’ve been talking to every ferry operator on the bay, and we also knew that the Alcatraz contract was up. We thought it was the perfect application.”
Hornblower’s MacRae wrote a provision into his bid that within two years of taking over the Alcatraz service, the company would build and launch a ferry to run on a combination of solar, wind, and diesel power. After one year of testing the vessel, a second would be built within five years.
That — in combination with a plan to make two initial vessels 90 percent more fuel efficient, as well as implement a clean energy shuttle service on the Embarcadero, power the landing facilities with solar panels, purchase green products, and vend healthy snacks — put Hornblower’s bid over the top.
Wiedeman said all bidders are informed that financial feasibility of the company and potential revenue for the government, as well as environmental and sustainability initiatives, were considered. But some criteria were more weighted than others, and Hornblower ranked strongly on all points.
“We’re ecstatic,” Wiedeman said. “We’re looking at higher-quality visitor services from the get-go.”
But some doubt whether the proposed vessels are anywhere close to a reality. MacRae said a final design and marine contractor have not been selected yet, although Solar Sailor’s model BayTri has been touted. A giant solar-arrayed fin provides auxiliary wind and sun power to the trimaran’s diesel engines. No such vessel has ever been built, but the model is based on a smaller solar ferry that services Sydney Harbor in Australia — with a top speed of just seven knots.
The proposed boat is emissions free and could go 12 knots with the aid of the wind, although it would need a push from auxiliary diesel engines to keep up with Alcatraz’s schedule. Boats now run between 15 and 19 knots.
The other concern is that MacRae’s commitment of $5 million for constructing the 600-passenger vessel might not be enough. The San Francisco Water Transit Authority has been looking into a similar vessel carrying no more than 150 passengers that would cost between $6 and $8 million.
“Their requirements for design are different than what mine would be,” MacRae said. “I think it’s possible to do it for $5 million.”
Bluewater Network founder Russell Long worries that the low-budget cap could hurt the vessel’s environmental potential. “We believe that Hornblower may intend to maintain this budget ceiling even if it compromises other aspects of the design, such as best management practices in regard to environmental components,” he wrote in a letter to NPS, urging reconsideration of the contract.
NPS awarded the contract anyway and Bluewater is hoping for the best.
“We will be watchdogging the progress and keeping track of what’s going on. If it doesn’t happen, it will be a huge black eye for the National Park Service, Hornblower, and the city of San Francisco,” Schore said. “At this point we have faith that it’s going to get built, because it’s in the contract.”
However, Hornblower’s snub toward union contracts and dodgy relations with the city suggest that playing by the rules may not be a top priority for the company.
Since 1974, boats to Alcatraz have run from the Pier 39 area of Fisherman’s Wharf, where waiting ticket holders can indulge in the myriad distractions the tourist hub offers.
MacRae launched his new ferry service from Pier 31, half a mile farther south on the Embarcadero, where he currently leases space and operates a charter and dining cruise business.
Pier 31 is little more than a parking lot with a ramp and floating dock, which only sees about 100,000 people a year, far fewer than the 1.3 million annual passengers Alcatraz draws.
MacRae has attractive plans for a complete overhaul of the area, which would include landscaping and sheltered seating, a bookstore, and an informational center. Such alterations would require a thorough run through the city’s planning process, which MacRae told the NPS he won’t be doing until 12 to 18 months from now.
Instead, interim improvements to the lot were planned, which sparked concern from the city that the sudden increase in foot traffic wouldn’t be properly mitigated. That area of the Embarcadero also hosts 250,000 passengers a year from cruise ships docking at adjacent Pier 35. The Port spent close to $200,000 last year controlling that traffic with signage and police officers. The addition of thousands more visitors streaming down the sidewalks seeking passage to Alcatraz could cause gridlock every time a cruise ship docks.
Monique Moyer, executive director of the port, sent repeated letters over the last year to MacRae asking for clarifications about his plans and expressing concern that the change in use of Pier 31 required a review of existing permits.
She wasn’t alone. On July 31, Citizens to Save the Waterfront filed suit against Hornblower, claiming that the amount of activity at Pier 31 would increase twentyfold. “That represents a substantial change in the intensity of use,” Jon Golinger, a representative from the group, told us.
A change in the intensity of use of a waterfront property triggers the need for a complete environmental impact review (EIR) from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a state agency with jurisdiction over anything within 100 feet of the shoreline. As many city developers know, EIRs can take many months to consider all potential changes to the existing landscape that the applicant would cause. Delays of that sort could have hindered MacRae’s ability to assume ferry service on the contracted date of Sept. 25.
MacRae said the litigation kept him from divulging to the city his proposed plans for upgrades to the pier.
Just days before the lawsuit was to be argued in San Francisco Superior Court on Sept. 6, BCDC executive director Will Travis sent a letter to Moyer stating that Hornblower’s new service and alterations to Pier 31 did not require any new permits.
He cited a typo from Hornblower’s current BCDC-issued permit as an allowance for the increase in passengers. The permit states that the pier may provide “access to the entire bay via vessel for 200,000 to 5000,000 [sic] people/year.”
He footnoted the quote: “There is clearly a typographical error in the 5000,000 number, which is intended to state the maximum anticipated usage of the dock … the correct number is probably either 500,000 or 5,000,000. While it seems reasonable to believe that the correct number is 500,000, the record contains nothing to substantiate this conclusion.”
Travis also relayed that Hornblower plans to use temporary measures that include trailers with port-a-potties, a portable ticket booth, and hollow traffic barriers for guiding traffic and pedestrians on and off the boat.
Herrera told us that this was the first Moyer had heard of what was planned for the lot and there was concern about how other services in the area and traffic on the Embarcadero would be affected, as well as if any structures, signage, and other enhancements would require additional permits. “It certainly would have been nice if they had shared all these plans so the port could conduct the proper environmental review that we all agree is in order,” he said.
In a strongly worded letter to Travis, Herrera wrote that to allow Hornblower to proceed without any environmental review could violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and urged the BCDC to “issue an immediate cease and desist order” to prevent the start of service. Herrera also made the salient point that “the later the environmental review process begins, the more bureaucratic and financial momentum there is behind a proposed project, thus providing a strong incentive to ignore environmental concerns that could be dealt with more easily at an early stage of the project.”
On Sept. 7, BCDC commissioners met in closed session at the end of a four-hour meeting and voted to stand by Travis’s argument.
David Owen, a former Peskin aide who’s also a BCDC commissioner, was one of two abstentions to the otherwise unanimous vote. “It was really frustrating, because it seemed like Hornblower did everything in their power to avoid a permit review,” Owen told us. “Now what? We have a CEQA lawsuit and then the Board of Supervisors shuts down the Alcatraz ferry service? They’ve managed to start up service without acquiring a single permit. Kudos to them for strategy.”
Citizens to Save the Waterfront then dropped its lawsuit, feeling it was weakened by the BCDC decision.
“Essentially, now there’s a turf war between Bush’s park service and the Port of San Francisco,” Golinger said. “BCDC tried to avoid getting involved, but the precedent it sets is horrible. A corporation can come in and skirt any planning process.”
After scoring the Alcatraz bid, Hornblower sought an exemption to the Service Contract Act of 1965 that would have required MacRae to pay equal to or more than what current crew make. But the Department of Labor ruled Sept. 21 against Hornblower. So veteran Blue and Gold crew have added safety to their concerns.
“I’ve made tens of thousands of landings on Alcatraz Island, and now they have captains who have never been there,” Capt. Andy Miller said. For 17 years, Miller has navigated the busy shipping lanes and the constant summer fog against the tugging tide and the sudden slams of inclement weather to bring tourists, park service staff, and supplies to the island.
“No one’s ever gotten hurt. It’s a very tricky place to land a boat. It takes skill and experience that you can’t just hire off the street,” he said.
Miller said he applied for a job with Hornblower but was not interviewed. So far, no captains and only three ticket agents and a deckhand have been hired from Blue and Gold’s former fleet.
“We have a ready workforce,” Master, Mate, and Pilot union spokesperson Veronica Sanchez said. “They’re going to have to be paid the same wages as union workers at Blue and Gold. They don’t want to be a union shop. Why don’t you want to be a union shop on a union waterfront like San Francisco?”
One reason could be concern that it might bump up costs for Hornblower’s other tour operations. “They want us to agree that if we sign up our workers for Alcatraz, that we won’t organize the dining yachts,” Sanchez said. In 1998, the union attempted to organize Hornblower’s dinner cruise operations in San Francisco but didn’t prevail in a supervised election.
MacRae said he’s not opposed to the unions and he’s encouraged the Blue and Gold staff to apply for jobs. “The unionization is the choice of the workers,” he said. “We try to let the employees make the choices. Last time I checked, that’s who the unions represent.”
“We want to make sure we have the best crew,” he said. “Many of the products and guest services we provide aren’t what Blue and Gold do now.” He added that some current employees from the dining cruises have also been shifted to the Alcatraz route.
“I’ve been here 21 years, and we’ve been replaced by busboys and waiters,” said deckhand Robert Estrada, standing with fellow workers outside the gate of the new Alcatraz ferry service.
Estrada said Hornblower’s reliance on part-time, low-wage workers has earned the company the nickname “the Wal-Mart of the Water.” The company’s rapid expansion, from a two-boat Berkeley-based charter to a multinational fleet with government contracts is a similar characteristic.
Blue and Gold spokesperson Alicia Vargas assured us that the remaining ferry services to Alameda, Angel Island, Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon, and Vallejo will be solvent, but some of the veteran crew who haven’t been laid off yet are worried this is the beginning of the end.
“The public needs to be warned. If funds don’t come from Alcatraz, Blue and Gold could fold,” said David Heran, an International Boatmen’s Union member and deckhand since 1974 who applied to Hornblower but wasn’t hired. “I’m not ready to retire yet, and this wasn’t the way I was expecting it to happen.” SFBG

Eureka! Here comes even more Eurekaism! (part 3)


Hearst was last seen covering the big Hearst/Singleton deal via Reuters out of New York. Now it is blacking out the story completely. A tale of two footnotes tells all.

By Bruce B. Brugmann

Just in time to update our annual Project Censored package, the Hearst/Chronicle demonstrated yet again how the galloping Conglomerati are covering the big story in Eureka (where the MediaNews Group/
Singleton are competing headon with a local upstart daily) — and blacking out the much bigger story in the Bay Area where Hearst and Singleton are destroying daily competition and forming a regional monopoly, aided and abetted by the McClatchy, Gannett, and Stephens newspaper chains.

The major new development: The federal judge in the
Clint Reilly/Joe Alioto lawsuit against the deal okayed an agreement between lawyers from both sides to fast-track the suit and set a trial date for Feb. 26.
Obvioiusly, this is a major local news story. Josh Richman, a staff writer for the Singleton’s East Bay group, wrote a story dated Saturday, Sept. 2, headlined “Newspaper suit put on legal fast track.” The story quoted Alioto as saying on Monday Sept. 4 that he and Reilly “are grateful that the court has ordered an expedited trial date in this very important antitrust case which seeks to prevent the monopolization of newspapers in the Bay Area.”

The story quoted MediaNews president Jody Lodovic as offering “no comment except to note that the case was accelerated by mutual agreement. Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer (B3 note: who he? where he? New York? ) said his company wouldn’t comment.” It is always great sport, of course, when publishers under fire say “no comment” to their own reporters.

Hearst’s last story on the deal came from the Reuters New Service out of New York (which it butchered, see my earlier blog.) This time, the Chronicle simply blacked out the story completely. The Singleton story left out a key point: that Hearst had invested $399 million in the deal and that the two major chains were becoming jolly good business and editorial partners in creating an unprecedented Bay Area newspaper monopoly. Both chains are sweating mightily to create the impression this is no big deal, there isn’t much of a story here, that Justice and the AG have cleared it, and Clint Reilly is just, well, Clint Reilly, and there is nothing to the lawsuit, and certainly nothing for anybody to worry about. Peace!

However, there is a deadly time bomb in the deal and it is hidden in a tiny footnote in Hearst’s July 25 filing in the suit. The footnote disclosed that Hearst is a major potential major investor and partner with Singleton. Here’s how it works: Hearst has stated repeatedly that its $299 million equity investment in MediaNews will be based on what is known as “tracking stock.” In other words, the value of the MediaNews stock will rise and fall depending solely on the performance of MediaNews businesses outside the Bay Area, which was a legal structure set up presumably to help the deal survive anticipated antitrust scrutiny.

However, Hearst admitted in the footnote that in the future the “tracking” stock “will be convertible into ordinary MNG common stock.” Hearst added that any such conversion will require additional antitrust review. Federal Judge Susan Illston picked up on the significance of this footnote in her own footnote in her ruling knocking out the Reilly request for temporary restraining order. She stated, “Although Hearst’s proposed interest in MediaNews does not include MediaNews Bay Area publications, Hearst implies in its filings that it will seek permission at a future time to convert its interest in MediaNews into MediaNews common stock.” (See the G.W. Schulz story in the current print and online Guardian).

Voila! In this mysterious tale of the two footnotes, the closely held secret is finally revealed: Hearst and Singleton are working hard to be partners, cheek to cheek, jowl to jowl, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. And this fact, among many others, demonstrates in 96 point Garamond Bold why they have employed Eurekaism and censored a big local story about newspaper monopoly, the local censored story of the year, while going hellbent to cover the story about Singleton’s competition in Eureka.

Stop the presses: Frances Dinkelspiel, in her Wednesday Aug. 30 blog (see link below), spotted a juicy Eureka and posted it under the head “Newspaper Coverage in the Bay Area is Shrinking.” Her lead: “the latest evidence of media consolidation in the Bay Area screamed out all over the front pages on Wednesday.”

She pointed out that the four major papers in the region (Hearst/Chronicle and the Singleton/Contra Costa Times/San Jose Mercury News/Oakland Tribune) all prominently displayed the same story–the story of the motorist who deliberately drove his car into l4 pedestrians, killed one man in Fremont, and injured l3 others in San Francisco.

“On Wednesday,” she said, “instead of four distinct stories on the region’s front pages, there were only two—one from the Chronicle and one from the MediaNews group.” (Merc reporters did the story for the three Singleton papers.) She concluded, “That’s a huge loss for Bay Area readers. Competition improves news coverage. What will readers miss out on in the future? What will readers miss out on in the future? This was just a police story; imagine the impact when the big story deals with corruption or another important, but less easily reported event. If fewer reporters are tracking the story, there will be fewer revelations.”

Postscript: Let’s keep the Eureka exercise going. Anybody who spots a Eurekaism, an example of the galloping Conglomerati censoring a local story, please send it along to the Guardian and the Bruce blog and any of the handful of independent voices left in the Bay Area. B3

The silent scandal

The Mercury News

Ghost Story

Newspaper suit put on legal fast track – Inside Bay Area

Shack chic


The crab shack is a species of restaurant indigenous to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, and so in these Pacific parts is something of a rarity. Back East, crab shacks tend to be found near beaches — my first experience of one was at Rehoboth Beach, Del., in the summer of 1987 — and to emphasize freshness and immediacy over elaborate preparation. Hence the omnipresence of crab and lobster rolls, french fries, fried clams, steamed crustaceans presented whole and chilled, and other simple, honest fare from the sea.
(A word to the wise: according to the Urban Dictionary,, “crabshack” also means “crusty slut.” Use of condoms is advised when approaching same, but why? Do rubbers stop critters?)
If you were to launch a search for crab shacks in San Francisco, you would probably not begin at the bustling vortex of Market, Church, and 14th streets — our version of Piccadilly Circus, with not a beach in sight but zillions of streetcars and buses and a subway line underfoot and a zillion transit connections with a zillion pedestrians to make use of them, or not. Also: cars beyond number; you are well advised not to drive into this maelstrom. But do go, by foot or bike, Muni or horse, because at this insane intersection you will find, in the longtime Café Cuvée space (subsequently and briefly occupied by World Sausage), the Woodhouse Fish Company, a cheerfully clattery simulacrum of a crab shack with a to-the-point menu of crab-shack greatest hits, convincingly rendered.
The space has always been a little awkward, despite its high profile at a busy crossroads. There isn’t a proper entryway — you step in and are among tables — and the street presence can seem a little too immediate when a bus roars by or an ambulance shrieks or (less frequently, but surprisingly frequently this summer) a hot wind blows. The lack of a buffer zone was a burr under Cuvée’s elegant saddle, but it matters less for an urban crab shack.
Although tumult from the outside world does seep in with regularity, the place doesn’t look like a shack. It’s been redone in handsome white and green tiles, with a bit of kitschy crab iconography worked into the floor. The look is clean and low maintenance, if reverberant. But tidying up does have its price; a glance at the menu card reveals plenty of numbers in the upper teens, with a few over $20 — not exactly shacky. On the other hand, $29 for a one-and-a-half-pound Maine lobster, served chilled, with drawn butter and coleslaw, isn’t a bad deal. Lobster is best when tinkered with little; the meat has a subtle sweetness that builds if left alone but is easily drowned by sauces. However, some sauce work might have helped the disappointing coleslaw. The cabbage shreds were pretty enough, a mélange of purple and green, but the dish was a little thin in the creaminess department.
A near relation to the slaw, but better equipped, cream-wise, is the iceberg wedge ($5.50), a quarter head of iceberg lettuce showered with bread crumbs, in the manner of a gratin, and lounging amid a supplicant pool of blue cheese dressing dotted with garlic croutons, tomato wedges, and slices of ripe avocado. The truth is that there is too much boring lettuce here — iceberg’s dim reputation is hardly undeserved — but the peripheral players are zesty enough to conceal much of the boringness. A more sophisticated sort of chilled salad is the stuffed avocado ($16); the fruit is peeled and halved and the halves stuffed with, respectively, crab meat (whose sweetness, like that of lobster, benefits from light handling) and peeled prawns. Sauces stand ready at the sides of the platter: a decent cocktail sauce and a distinctively clean-flavored lemon mayonnaise instead of the usual suspect, tartar sauce. I dunked both garlic bread and fries in the mayo and was pleased.
The clam chowder is excellent and is available by cup ($4.50) or bowl ($6) or as part of the Gloucester lunchá ($8.75). This midday option (available until 3 p.m.) also includes half a crab roll — with a seam of melted cheddar cheese that seems out of place — a stack of good fries, and a watermelon point. The roll’s roll was soft and toasty warm, but I wondered: if this is a half roll, how big is a full roll? The answer must be that if you have to ask, you don’t want to know.
You can also get fried Ipswich clams (flown in from New England) on a roll, but at dinnertime one does not favor sandwiches, so we go instead to the platter version ($20), a formidable mass of clam meat liberated from shells and given a knobbly breading before the quick swim in hot oil. Impressions: excellent rough-tender texture, clam meat has a chicken-livery flavor I’d never noticed before, and a plateful of fried clams with french fries is a lot of fried. A squeeze or two from a lemon wedge cuts the greasiness a little though not a lot, but even a little is better than nothing.
An excess of fried food during a dinner’s savory sequence can induce panic about dessert — i.e., should I have fries and a slice of chocolate mousse cake with a scoop of gelato? should I phone ahead for an ambulance? — but Woodhouse solves this problem by not offering dessert. You might luck out at dinner and score, gratis, a thumbnail-size brownie for everyone in your party: petits fours, crab-shack-style. I admire this cheerfully stern no-sweets policy. And … a hint for you sugar sluts: Just Desserts is just around the corner. SFBG
Daily, 11:45 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
2073 Market, SF
(415) 437-CRAB
Beer and wine
Wheelchair accessible

{Empty title}


Welcome to our dining listings, a detailed guide by neighborhood of some great places to grab a bite, hang out with friends, or impress the ones you love with thorough knowledge of this delectable city. Restaurants are reviewed by Paul Reidinger (PR) or staff. All area codes are 415, and all restaurants are wheelchair accessible, except where noted.
B Breakfast
BR Saturday and/or Sunday brunch
L Lunch
D Dinner
AE American Express
DC Diners Club
DISC Discover
MC MasterCard
V Visa
¢ less than $7 per entrée
$ $7–$12
$$ $13–$20
$$$ more than $20
Acme Chophouse brings Traci des Jardins’s high-end meat-and-potatoes menu right into the confines of Pac Bell Park. Good enough to be a destination, though stranguutf8g traffic is an issue on game days. (Staff) 24 Willie Mays Plaza, SF. 644-0240. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Ana Mandara looks and feels like a soundstage, but the menu offers what is probably the best high-end Vietnamese-style food in town. (Staff) 891 Beach, SF. 771-6800. Vietnamese, L/D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
Anjou is the other restaurant on Campton Place — a lovely little warren of brick and brass serving an unpretentious, and sometimes inventive, French bistro menu. (Staff) 44 Campton Place, SF. 392-5373. French, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
B44 brings Daniel Olivella’s Catalan cooking to al fresco-friendly Belden Place. The salt cod-studded menu is stronger in first than main dishes. Frenchy desserts. (Staff) 44 Belden Place, SF. 986-6287. Catalan, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Bix radiates an unmistakable aura of American power and luxury, Jazz Age style. The food is simply splendid. (Staff) 56 Gold, SF. 433-6300. American, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Bocadillos serves bocadillos — little Spanish-style sandwiches on little round buns — but the menu ranges more widely, through a variety of Spanish and Basque delights. Decor is handsome, though a little too stark-modern to be quite cozy. (PR, 8/04) 710 Montgomery, SF. Spanish/Basque, L/D, $, MC/V.
Boulevard runs with ethereal smoothness — you are cosseted as if at a chic private party — but despite much fame the place retains its brasserie trappings and joyous energy. (Staff) 1 Mission, SF. 543-6084. American, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Brindisi Cucina di Mare cooks seafood the south Italian way, and that means many, many ways, with many, many sorts of seafood. (PR, 4/04) 88 Belden Place, SF. 593-8000. Italian/seafood, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Chaya Brasserie brings a taste of LA’s preen-and-be-seen culture to the waterfront. The Japanese-influenced food is mostly French, and very expensive. (Staff) 132 Embarcadero, SF. 777-8688. Fusion, D, $$$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Cortez has a Scandinavian Designs-on-acid look — lots of heavy, weird multicolored mobiles — but Pascal Rigo’s Mediterranean-influenced small plates will quickly make you forget you’re eating in a hotel. (Staff) 550 Geary (in the Hotel Adagio), SF. 292-6360. Mediterranean, B/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Cosmopolitan Cafe seems like a huge Pullman car. The New American menu emphasizes heartiness. (Staff) 121 Spear, SF. 543-4001. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Fleur de Lys gives its haute French cuisine a certain California whimsy in a setting that could be the world’s most luxurious tent. There is a vegetarian tasting menu and an extensive, remarkably pricey wine list. (PR, 2/05) 777 Sutter, SF. 673-7779. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Fog City Diner still doesn’t take American Express but does still serve a tasty polyglot menu in a romantically dining car-like setting. (Staff) 1300 Battery, SF. 982-2000. Eclectic/American, B/L/D, $$, DISC/MC/V.
Il Fornaio offers a spectacular setting (complete with terrace and tinkling fountain), simple and elegant Italian cooking, first-rate breads, and spotty service. (Staff) 1265 Battery, SF. 986-0100. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
*Gary Danko is an exercise in symmetries, with food, ambience, and service in a fine balance. Danko’s California cooking is distinctive, but the real closer is the cheese cart, laden with the exquisite and the rare. (Staff) 800 North Point, SF. 749-2060. California, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Jeanty at Jack’s introduces Philippe Jeanty’s earthy French cooking into the vertiginous old Jack’s space, and the result is leisurely fabulousness, at least at dinnertime. At lunch, the pace is more harried, the prices too high. (Staff) 615 Sacramento, SF. 693-0941. French, L/D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
Kyo-Ya may not be the best Japanese restaurant in the city, but it’s certainly one of them. Elegantly padded surroundings, sublime sushi, and a wide selection of cooked dishes attract an international mercantile class. (Staff) 2 New Montgomery, SF. 512-1111. Japanese, L/D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
MacArthur Park still occupies a gorgeous brick cavern in the Barbary Coast, but the restaurant these days is more a neighborhood spot than a destination, and the emphasis seems to be on takeout. (Staff) 607 Front, SF. 398-5700. Barbecue, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Mandarin, though a Gen Xer by birth and a longtime resident of touristy Ghirardelli Square, still offers a matchlessly elegant experience in Chinese fine dining: a surprising number of genuinely spicy dishes, superior service, and wine emphasized over beer. (PR, 9/04) 900 North Point (in Ghirardelli Square), SF. Chinese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
*Mijita shows that Traci des Jardins can go down-market with the best of them. The Mexican street food is convincingly lusty, but in keeping with the Ferry Building setting, it’s also made mostly with organic, high-quality ingredients. (PR, 4/05) 1 Ferry Bldg, Suite 44, SF. 399-0814. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.
MoMo’s San Francisco Grill The New American food at MoMo’s is surprisingly excellent, and the interior decoration is opulent, with prairie-style furniture, wood trim, dark green carpeting, and dimpled leather upholstery on the banquettes. (PR, 11/98) 760 Second St, SF. 227-8660. American, BR/L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Paragon has left behind its fratty Marina incarnation to become, near the Giants’ new ballpark, a stylish haven of gastronomic Americana. Something for everyone in a strikingly vertical space. (Staff) 701 Second St, SF. 537-9020. American, L/D, $$, MC/V.
Plouf Mussels 10 ways — need we say more? Plouf knows its turf, and that’s surf. All the seafood sparkles at this chic spot tucked away on pedestrians-only Belden Place, though mussels are a house specialty, impeccably fresh and served in brimming bowlfuls. Lots of outdoor seating reinforces the French-café feel. (Staff) 40 Belden Place, SF. 986-6491. French, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Ponzu opened early in 2000 but is likely to be remembered as one of that year’s best new restaurants. The decor manages to be warm, bright, and modern without going over the top. (Staff) 401 Taylor, SF. 775-7979. Asian, B/D, $$, MC/V.
*Postrio might be the last place on earth where you can still get a taste of the elegantly lusty cooking that made Wolfgang Puck and his first Spago famous. (Staff) 545 Post, SF. 776-7825. California, B/BR/L/D, $$$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Puccini and Pinetti practically shouts festivity: bright, primary-colors decor (with an emphasis on yellow and blue), plenty of noise, and solidly rendered Italian-American comfort food. (Staff) 129 Ellis, SF. 392-5500. Italian, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Shanghai 1930 resembles a cross between a speakeasy and one of Saddam Hussein’s famous bunkers. The high-end Chinese menu is a marvel of freshness and priciness. (Staff) 133 Steuart, SF. 896-5600. Chinese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Tadich Grill is the city’s oldest restaurant (150 years and counting), and it still packs ’em in, specializing in seafood and most anything grilled. (Staff) 240 California, SF. 391-1849. Grill, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Tlaloc rises like a multistory loft on its Financial District lane, the better to accommodate the hordes of suits crowding in for a noontime burrito-and-salsa fix. They serve a mean pipián burrito and decent fish tacos. (Staff) 525 Commercial, SF. 981-7800. Mexican, L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.
Tommy Toy’s Haute Cuisine Chinois is a cross between a steak house and The Last Emperor. The food is rich and fatty and only occasionally good. (Staff) 655 Montgomery, SF. 397-4888. Chinese, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Town’s End Restaurant and Bakery enjoys a reputation for a fabulous weekend brunch (getting in can be a trick), but the restaurant serves a polished California menu at dinner too. (Staff) 2 Townsend, SF. 512-0749. California, B/BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Tu Lan has few luxuries except the food, which is a luxury to the wealthiest palate. Raw foods converge in salads and stir-fries that’ll leave you wondering why your own cooking doesn’t look as easy and taste as good. (Staff) 8 Sixth St, SF. 626-0927. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢.
Da Flora advertises Venetian specialties, but notes from Central Europe (veal in paprika cream sauce) and points east (whiffs of nutmeg) creep into other fine dishes. (Staff) 701 Columbus, SF. 981-4664. Italian, D, $$, MC/V.
Dalla Torre is one of the most inaccessible restaurants in the city. The multilevel dining room — a cross between an Italian country inn and a Frank Lloyd Wright house — offers memorable bay views, but the pricey food is erratic. (Staff) 1349 Montgomery, SF. 296-1111. Italian, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Enrico’s Sidewalk Cafe remains a classic see-and-be-seen part of the North Beach scene. The full bar and extensive menu of tapas, pizzas, pastas, and grills make dropping in at any hour a real treat. (Staff) 504 Broadway, SF. 982-6223. Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Gondola captures the varied flavors of Venice and the Veneto in charmingly low-key style. The main theme is the classic one of simplicity, while service strikes just the right balance between efficiency and warmth. (Staff) 15 Columbus, SF. 956-5528. Italian, L/D, $, MC/V.
House of Nanking never fails to garner raves from restaurant reviewers and Guardian readers alike. Chinatown ambience, great food, good prices. (Best Ofs, 1994) 919 Kearny, SF. 421-1429. Chinese, L/D, ¢.
Maykadeh Persian Cuisine is a great date restaurant, classy but not too pricey, and there are lots of veggie options both for appetizers and entrées. Khoresht bademjan was a delectable, deep red stew of tomato and eggplant with a rich, sweet, almost chocolatey undertone. (Staff) 470 Green, SF. 362-8286. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Michelangelo Cafe There’s always a line outside this quintessential North Beach restaurant, but it’s well worth the sidewalk time for Michelangelo’s excellent Italian, served in a bustling, family-style atmosphere. The seafood dishes are recommended; approach the postprandial Gummi Bears at your own risk. (Staff) 597 Columbus, SF. 986-4058. Italian, D, $$.
Moose’s is famous for the Mooseburger, but the rest of the menu is comfortably sophisticated. The crowd is moneyed but not showy and definitely not nouveau. (Staff) 1652 Stockton, SF. 989-7800. American, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Pena Pacha Mama offers organic Bolivian cuisine as well as weekly performances of Andean song and dance. Dine on crusted lamb and yucca frita while watching a genuine flamenco performance in this intimate setting. (Staff) 1630 Powell, SF. 646-0018. Bolivian, BR/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Rico’s touts its salsas, and they are good, but so is almost everything else on the mainstream Mexican menu. (Staff) 943 Columbus, SF. 928-5404. Mexican, L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.
Rose Pistola cooks it up in the style of Liguria, and that means lots of seafood, olive oil, and lemons — along with a wealth of first-rate flat breads (pizzas, focaccias, farinatas) baked in the wood-burning oven. (PR, 7/05) 532 Columbus, SF. 399-0499. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Washington Square Bar and Grill offers stylish Cal-Ital food at reasonable prices in a storied setting. (Staff) 1707 Powell, SF. 982-8123. Italian, $$, L/D, MC/V.
AsiaSF Priscilla, Queen of the Desert meets Asian-influenced tapas at this amusingly surreal lounge. The drag queen burlesque spectacle draws a varied audience that’s a show in itself. (Staff) 201 Ninth St, SF. 255-2742. Fusion, D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Bacar means “wine goblet,” and its wine menu is extensive — and affordable. Chef Arnold Wong’s eclectic American-global food plays along nicely. (Staff) 448 Brannan, SF. 904-4100. American, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Basil A serene, upscale oasis amid the industrial supply warehouses, Basil offers California-influenced Thai cuisine that’s lively and creative. (Staff) 1175 Folsom, SF. 552-8999. Thai, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Big Nate’s Barbecue is pretty stark inside — mostly linoleum arranged around a pair of massive brick ovens. But the hot sauce will make you sneeze. (Staff) 1665 Folsom, SF. 861-4242. Barbecue, L/D, $, MC/V.
Butler and the Chef brings a taste of Parisian café society — complete with pâtés, cornichons, and croques monsieurs — to sunny South Park. (PR, 5/04) 155A South Park, SF. French, B/L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Le Charm is the perfect spot to settle into a padded banquette and order wine and lamb chops and lovely little crèmes caramels. (Staff) 315 Fifth St, SF. 546-6128. French, L/D, $$, MC/V.
Chez Spencer brings Laurent Katgely’s precise French cooking into the rustic-industrial urban cathedral that once housed Citizen Cake. Get something from the wood-burning oven. (Staff) 82 14th St, SF. 864-2191. French, BR/L/D, $$, MC/V.
Fly Trap Restaurant captures a bit of that old-time San Francisco feel, from the intricate plaster ceiling to the straightforward menu: celery Victor, grilled salmon filet with beurre blanc. A good lunchtime spot. (Staff) 606 Folsom, SF. 243-0580. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
*Fringale still satisfies the urge to eat in true French bistro style, with Basque flourishes. The paella roll is a small masterpiece of food narrative; the frites are superior. (PR, 7/04) 570 Fourth St, SF. 543-0573. French/Basque, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Hawthorne Lane comes about as close to restaurant perfection as is possible in this world. The California cooking shows marked Asian influences; the mutedly elegant decor is welcoming, not stuffy. Sublime service. (Staff) 22 Hawthorne Lane (between Second St and Third St at Howard), SF. 777-9779. California, L/D, $$$, MC/V.
India Garden indeed has a lovely garden and an excellent lunch buffet that does credit to South Asian standards. (Staff) 1261 Folsom, SF. 626-2798. Indian, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Jack Falstaff pays homage to the slow-food movement: there are emphases on the organic, the housemade, the local, and the healthful — and at the same time it’s all tasty and served in voluptuous, supper-club-style surroundings. (PR, 4/05) 598 Second St, SF. 836-9239. American, L/D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
Julie’s Kitchen offers a lunchtime buffet with, literally, a bit of everything, from roast turkey to sushi, with plenty of interesting items in between. (Staff) 680 Eighth St, SF. 431-1255. Eclectic, B/L, $, DC/MC/V.
Left Coast Cafe brings a breath of California freshness to the otherwise slightly antiseptic atrium of the Dolby Building. Healthy sandwiches (tuna, hummus), a decent Caesar, good mom-style cookies and brownies. (Staff) 999 Brannan, SF. 522-0232. California, B/L, ¢, cash only.
LJ’s Martini Bar and Grill sits on the second floor of the urban mall we know as Metreon, but its menu of American favorites and international alternatives is stylishly executed and reasonably priced in a sophisticated environment. For lunch, sit on the sunny terrace. (PR, 9/04) 101 Fourth St, SF. 369-6114. American, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
LuLu defines the modern California restaurant. Many dishes acquire a heart-swelling smokiness from the oven — a plate of portobello mushrooms, say, with soft polenta and mascarpone butter. (Staff) 816 Folsom, SF. 495-5775. Mediterranean, L/D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
Maya is like a good French restaurant serving elegant food that tastes Mexican. There are unforgettable flavors here: corn kernels steeped in vanilla, lovely grilled pork tenderloin served with a pipian sauce of pumpkin seed and tamarind. And for those weekday take-out lunches, there’s Maya (Next Door), a taquería that operates to the left of the host’s podium. (PR, 8/04) 303 Second St, SF. 543-6709. Mexican, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
*Mochica serves quite possibly the best Peruvian food in the city, at extremely reasonable prices. The location is iffy, mostly because of speeding traffic. Jaywalk with care. (PR, 6/04) 937 Harrison, SF. 278-0480. Peruvian, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Moshi Moshi serves a full palette of Japanese standards, from sushi to tempura to immense bowls of udon and near-udon. An ideal spot for neighborhood watching. (Staff) 2092 Third St, SF. Japanese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Nova still serves infused vodkas (remember Infusion?), but its orientation is less toward South Park than toward Pac Bell Park: sports on the TV above the bar, solid New American food, sleek pubbish looks. (Staff) 555 Second St, SF. 543-2282. American, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Oola gives Ola Fendert his own platform at last, and the result is a modern, golden SoMa restaurant with a menu that mixes playful opulence with local standards. (PR, 10/04) 860 Folsom, SF. 995-2061. California, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Public brings a Tuscan-tinged, Delfina-ish menu to a splendid multilevel space in a grand old brick building. Youthful but well-informed staff, incomparable chocolate bread pudding. (Staff) 1489 Folsom, SF. 552-3065. California/Mediterranean, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
[TK]Sneaky Tiki redoes the old Hamburger Mary’s space with a Polynesian flair, though you can still get a decent burger. Many dishes for two, including a huge, multitiered pupu platter. The human tone is sleek, with some echoes of the disco past. (PR, 10/05) 1582 Folsom, SF. 701-TIKI. Polynesian, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Sushi Groove South continues the westward march of hipsterdom through SoMa. The food — traditional sushi augmented by quietly stylish fusion dishes — is spectacular. The setting — a candlelit grotto abrim with black-clad young — is charged with high romance. (Staff) 1516 Folsom, SF. 503-1950. Japanese/sushi, L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
Tamal offers inventive Mexican-influenced small plates, including a selection of namesake tamales, in a lonely corner of southwest SoMa. The food can be inconsistent, but the best dishes are wonderful. (PR, 4/05) 1599 Howard, SF. 864-2446. Nuevo Latino/tapas, D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Town Hall offers the lusty American cooking of the Rosenthal brothers in an elegantly spare New England-ish setting. There is a large communal table for seat-of-the-pants types and those who like their conviviality to have a faintly medieval air. (Staff) 342 Howard, SF. 908-3900. American, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Vino e Cucina offers a pleasantly oasislike setting and solid Italian food — with the occasional pleasant surprise — on a gritty stretch of Third Street. (Staff) 489 Third St, SF. 543-6962. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
XYZ joins the pantheon of fabulous restaurants in the city’s hotels. Lusty California cooking glows like a campfire in a cool (if slightly deracinated) urban setting. (Staff) 181 Third St, SF. 817-7836. California, B/BR/L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Acquerello reminds us that the Italians, like the French, have a high cuisine — sophisticated and earthy and offered in a onetime chapel with exposed rafters and sumptuous fabrics on the banquettes. Service is as knowledgeable and civilized as at any restaurant in the city. (PR, 3/05) 1722 Sacramento, SF. 567-5432. Italian, $$$, D, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Alborz looks more like a hotel restaurant than a den of Persian cuisine, but there are flavors here — of barberry and dried lime, among others — you won’t easily find elsewhere. (Staff) 1245 Van Ness, SF. 440-4321. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Bacio offers homey, traditional Italian dishes in a charmingly cozy rustic space. Service can be slow. (PR, 1/05) 835 Hyde, SF. 292-7999. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Cordon Bleu has huge portions, tiny prices, and a hoppin’ location right next to the Lumiere Theatre. (Staff) 1574 California, SF. 673-5637. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢.
Crustacean is famous for its roast Dungeness crab; the rest of the “Euro/Asian” menu is refreshingly Asian in emphasis. (Staff) 1475 Polk, SF. 776-2722. Fusion, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
East Coast West Delicatessen doesn’t look like a New York deli (too much space, air, light), but the huge, fattily satisfying Reubens, platters of meat loaf, black-and-white cookies, and all the other standards compare commendably to their East Coast cousins. (Staff) 1725 Polk, SF. 563-3542. Deli, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
[TK]La Folie could be a neighborhood spot or a destination or both, but either way or both ways it is sensational: an exercise in haute cuisine leavened with a West Coast sense of informality and playfulness. There is a full vegetarian menu and an ample selection of wines by the half bottle. (PR, 2/06) 2316 Polk, SF. 776-5577. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Grubstake might look like your typical Polk Gulch diner — sandwiches and burgers, open very late — but the kitchen also turns out some good mom-style Portuguese dishes, replete with olives, salt cod, and linguica. If you crave caldo verde at 3 a.m., this is the place. (Staff) 1525 Pine, SF. 673-8268. Portuguese/American, B/L/D, ¢, cash only.
*Matterhorn Restaurant offers dishes that aren’t fondue, but fondue (especially with beef) is the big deal and the answer to big appetites. For dessert: chocolate fondue! (Staff) 2323 Van Ness, SF. 885-6116. Swiss, $$, D, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
O’Reilly’s Holy Grail, a redo of the old Maye’s Oyster House that strikes harmonious notes of chapel and lounge, serves a sophisticated and contemporary Cal-Irish menu. (PR, 10/05) 1233 Polk, SF. 928-1233. California/Irish, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Persimmon offers a tasty, fairly priced Middle Eastern menu to tourists, theatergoers, and neighbors alike. Excellent hummus. (PR, 9/05) 582 Sutter, SF. 433-5525. Middle Eastern, B/L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Le Petit Robert offers classy French cooking as a wealth of small plates, along with a few larger ones, in a setting that’s at once spacious and warm. Not cheap, but good value. (Staff) 2300 Polk, SF. 922-8100. French, L/D, $$, MC/V.
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse brings on the lipids in a big, big way — even the salads are well marbled — but if you’re not worried about fat, you’ll find the food to be quite tasty, the mood soothingly refined. (Staff) 1601 Van Ness, SF. 673-0557. Steak, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Wasabi and Ginger looks to become a popular neighborhood spot. The sushi is first rate, but the great stuff on the menu is cooked: buttery-tender beef short ribs and a seafood-miso soup served in a teapot. (Staff) 2299 Van Ness, SF. 345-1368. Japanese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Yabbies Coastal Kitchen There’s lots to shuck and swallow at the raw bar, but don’t miss tropical seafood cocktails (like the crab with mango and lemongrass) piled glamorously into martini glasses. (Staff) 2237 Polk, SF. 474-4088. California, D, $$, MC/V.
Zarzuela’s rich selection of truly delicious tapas and full meals makes it a neighborhood favorite. (Staff) 2000 Hyde, SF. 346-0800. Tapas, D, $$, DISC/MC/V.
A la Turca is a surprisingly stylish spot on a not particularly stylish block. Excellent pides and Turkish beer. (PR, 3/04) 869 Geary, SF. 345-1011. Turkish, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Ananda Fuara serves a distinctly Indian-influenced vegetarian menu in the sort of calm surroundings that are increasingly the exception to the rule. (Staff) 1298 Market, SF. 621-1994. Vegetarian, L/D, ¢, cash only.
[TK]*Bodega Bistro has a certain colonial formality — much of the menu is given in French — and it does attract a tony expat crowd. The food is elegant but not fancy (lobster, rack of lamb, both simply presented); if even those are too much, look to the “Hanoi Street Cuisine” items. (PR, 11/05) 607 Larkin, SF. 921-1218. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, DC/DISC/MC/V.
Canto do Brasil The draw here is lusty yeoman cooking, Brazilian style, at beguilingly low prices. The tropically cerulean interior design enhances the illusion of sitting at a beach café. (Staff) 41 Franklin, SF. 626-8727. Brazilian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Chutney combines elements of college-town haunt and California bistro. The Pakistani-Indian food is fresh, bright, spicy, and cheap. (Staff) 511 Jones, SF. 931-5541. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, ¢.
Gyro Kebab adds to the Turkish presence in the Tenderloin. The signature dish, swordfish kebab, is estimable, but almost everything else on the menu is crisply prepared too. (PR, 4/05) 637 Larkin, SF. 775-5526. Turkish, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Gyro King has that Istanbul feeling: lots of kebabs and gyros, hummus, dolma, eggplant salad, and of course baklava fistikli for dessert. It’s all cheap, and it makes for a good, quick Civic Center lunch. (Staff) 25 Grove, SF. 621-8313. Turkish/Mediterranean, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Indigo serves up good California cuisine in a pleasantly stylish setting. A great presymphony choice. (Staff) 687 McAllister, SF. 673-9353. California, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Jardinière combines an aggressively elegant Pat Kuleto design with the calm confidence of Traci Des Jardins’s cooking. The best dishes are unforgettable. (Staff) 300 Grove, SF. 861-5555. California, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
[TK]Mangosteen radiates lime green good cheer from its corner perch in the Tenderloin. Inexpensive Vietnamese standards are rendered with thoughtful little touches and an emphasis on the freshest ingredients. (PR, 11/05) 601 Larkin, SF. 776-3999. Vietnamese, L/D, $, cash only.
Max’s Opera Cafe Huge food is the theme here, from softball-size matzo balls to towering desserts. Your basic Jewish deli. (Staff) 601 Van Ness, SF. 771-7300. American, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
[TK]Mekong Restaurant serves the foods of the Mekong River basin. There is a distinct Thai presence but also dishes with Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and even Chinese accents. (PR, 1/06) 791 O’Farrell, SF. 928-2772. Pan-Asian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Olive might look like a tapas bar, but what you want are the thin-crust pizzas, the simpler the toppings the better. The small plates offer eclectic pleasures, especially the Tuscan pâté and beef satay with peanut sauce. (Staff) 743 Larkin, SF. 776-9814. Pizza/eclectic, D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Pagolac For $10.95 a person you and two or more of your favorite beef eaters can dive into Pagolac’s specialty: seven-flavor beef. Less carnivorous types can try the cold spring rolls, shrimp on sugarcane, or lemongrass tofu. (Staff) 655 Larkin, SF. 776-3234. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢.
*Saha serves “Arabic fusion cuisine” — a blend of the Middle East and California — in a cool, spare setting behind the concierge’s desk at the Hotel Carlton. One senses the imminence of young rock stars, drawn perhaps by the lovely chocolate fondue. (PR, 9/04) 1075 Sutter, SF. 345-9547. Arabic/fusion, B/BR/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Absinthe restyles the rustic foods of southern France into sleek urban classics. No absinthe; have a pastis instead. (Staff) 398 Hayes, SF. 551-1590. Southern French, B/BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Arlequin offers light Provençal and Mediterranean food for takeout, but the best place to take your stuff is to the sunny, tranquil garden in the rear. (Staff) 384B Hayes, SF. 863-0926. Mediterranean, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Destino reweaves traditional Peruvian flavors into a tapestry of extraordinary vividness and style, and the storefront interior has been given a golden glow that would have satisfied the most restless conquistador. (Staff) 1815 Market, SF. 552-4451. Peruvian, D, $$, MC/V.
Espetus means “skewer” in Portuguese, and since the place is a Brazilian grill, the (huge) skewers are laden with a variety of meat, poultry, and seafood. The giant buffet at the rear assures that you will not — you cannot — leave hungry. (PR, 3/04) 1686 Market, SF. 552-8792. Brazilian, L/D, $$$, MC/V.
Frjtz serves first-rate Belgian fries, beer, crepes, and sandwiches in an art-house atmosphere. If the noise overwhelms, take refuge in the lovely rear garden. (Staff) 579 Hayes, SF. 864-7654; also at Ghirardelli Square, SF. 928-3886. Belgian, B/L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Hayes Street Grill still offers a workable formula: the best fish, prepared with conservative expertise and offered with a choice of sauce and excellent pommes frites. An old, reliable friend. (Staff) 320 Hayes, SF. 863-5545. Seafood, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Sauce enjoys the services of chef Ben Paula, whose uninhibited California cooking is as easy to like as a good pop song. (PR, 5/05) 131 Gough, SF. 252-1369. California, D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Suppenküche has a Busvan for Bargains, butcher-block look that gives context to its German cuisine. If you like schnitzel, brats, roasted potatoes, eggs, cheese, cucumber salad, cold cuts, and cold beer, you’ll love it here. (Staff) 601 Hayes, SF. 252-9289. German, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.
*Zuni Cafe is one of the most celebrated — and durable — restaurants in town, perhaps because its kitchen has honored the rustic country cooking of France and Italy for the better part of two decades. (PR, 2/05) 1658 Market, SF. 552-2522. California, B/L/D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
Alice’s sits on an obscure corner of outer Noe Valley, but the Chinese food is reliably fresh, tasty, and cheap. The decor is surprisingly elegant too: Wedgwood place settings and displays of blown glass. (Staff) 1599 Sanchez, SF. 282-8999. Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Amberjack Sushi is like a miniature version of Blowfish or Tokyo Go Go. The more complex dishes, such as a tuna-sashimi tartare with lemon olive oil, are better than the simple, traditional stuff, which can be overchilled. (Staff) 1497 Church, SF. 920-1797. Japanese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Bacco breathes north Italian authenticity, from the terra-cotta-colored walls to the traditional but vivid veal preparations. One of the best neighborhood Italian restaurants in town. (Staff) 737 Diamond, SF. 282-4969. Italian, D, $$, MC/V.
Blue dishes up home cooking as good as any mom’s, in a downtown New York environment — of mirrors, gray-blue walls, and spotlights — that would blow most moms away. (Staff) 2337 Market, SF. 863-2583. American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
Burgermeister uses top-grade Niman Ranch beef for its burgers, but nonetheless they’re splendid, with soft buns and crisp, well-salted fries. Foofy California wrinkles are available if you want them, but why would you? (PR, 5/04) 138 Church, SF. 437-2874. Burgers, L/D, $.
Catch offers some excellent seafood pastas and a fabulous dish of mussels in Pernod over frites, while the atmosphere is full of Castro festivity. (Staff) 2362 Market, SF. 431-5000. Seafood, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Chenery Park is the restaurant Glen Park has been waiting for all these years: a calm, understated setting and an eclectic American menu with plenty of sly twists. (Staff) 683 Chenery, SF. 337-8537. American, D, $$, MC/V.
Chow serves up an easy Californian blend of American and Italian favorites, with a few Asian elements thrown into the mix. (Staff) 215 Church, SF. 552-2469. California, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Côté Sud brings a stylish breath of Provence to the Castro. The cooking reflects an unfussy elegance; service is as crisp as a neatly folded linen napkin. Nota bene: you must climb a set of steps to reach the place. (Staff) 4238 18th St, SF. 255-6565. French, D, $$, MC/V.
Eric’s Dig into the likes of mango shrimp, hoisin green beans, and spicy eggplant with chicken in this bright, airy space. (Staff) 1500 Church, SF. 282-0919. Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.
*Firefly remains an exemplar of the neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco: it is homey and classy, hip and friendly, serving an American menu — deftly inflected with ethnic and vegetarian touches — that’s the match of any in the city. (PR, 9/04) 4288 24th St, SF. 821-7652. American, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Firewood Cafe serves up delicious thin chewy-crusted pizzas, four kinds of tortellini, rotisserie-roasted chicken, and big bowls of salad. (Staff) 4248 18th St, SF. 252-0999. Italian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Los Flamingos mingles Cuban and Mexican specialties in a relaxed, leafy, walk-oriented neighborhood setting. Lots of pink on the walls; even more starch on the plates. (PR, 11/04) 151 Noe, SF. 252-7450. Cuban/Mexican, BR/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Fresca raises the already high bar a little higher for Peruvian restaurants in town. Many of the dishes are complex assemblies of unusual and distinctive ingredients, but some of the best are among the simplest. The skylighted barrel-ceiling setting is quietly spectacular. (PR, 7/05) 3945 24th St, SF. 695-0549. Peruvian, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Hamano Sushi packs them in despite a slightly dowdy setting and food of variable appeal. The best stuff is as good as it gets, though, and prices aren’t bad. (Staff) 1332 Castro, SF. 826-0825. Japanese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Home sounds homey, and it is, at least foodwise: first-rate pot roast, macaroni and cheese, broccoli with white cheddar cheese sauce; the occasional dressier dish. The crowd has a strong clubland look. (Staff) 2100 Market, SF. 503-0333. New American, D, $, AE/MC/V.
Incanto sets the bar a bit higher for neighborhood Italian restaurants. Gorgeous stonework, a chapel-like wine room, and skillful cooking that ranges confidently from pastas to braised lamb shanks. (Staff) 1550 Church, SF. 641-4500. Italian, D, $$, MC/V.
Long Island Restaurant dishes up reliable Chinese standards in a space that’s been considerably brightened since the passing of the previous occupant. (PR, 3/04) 1689 Church, SF. 695-7678/79. Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Lucky Time drifts happily between the foods of Vietnam and China. Low prices, fast service, reasonably nice decor, location vastly convenient to public transport. (PR, 3/05) 708 14th St, SF. 861-2682. Vietnamese/Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Lupa, in the old Noi-Little Italy space, serves a strong pan-Italian menu with Roman accents. Service is knowledgeable and familial, the food competitive in a competitive neighborhood. (Staff) 4109 24th St, SF. 282-5872. Italian, D, $$, MC/V.
[TK]Malacca serves the foods of the Strait of Malacca region, and the sophisticated mix is unmistakably Singaporean, from Portuguese noodles (with basil, tomato, garlic, and ginger) to beef rendang. Wine is emphasized over beer, and the decor of unduutf8g bamboo is quietly striking. (PR, 11/05) 4039 18th St, SF. 863-0679. Pan-Asian, D, $$, MC/V.
Nirvana offers a peaceful respite from busy Castro streets. Although noodles make up the bulk of the menu, there’s also a list of entrées that range from stir-fried jicama to grilled lemongrass chicken. (Staff) 544 Castro, SF. 861-2226. Pan-Asian, L/D, $, MC/V.
La Provence bestows a welcome dash of south-of-France sunshine to an often befogged city. Many fine Provençal standards, including a memorable tarte tropézienne. (PR, 9/05) 1001 Guerrero, SF. 643-4333. French, D, $$, MC/V.
Samovar Tea Lounge has tea — of course, and of many, many kinds — but also food to go with your tea and a gorgeous setting of fluttering fabrics to enjoy it all in. A world of tea culture. (Staff) 498 Sanchez, SF. 626-4700. Eclectic, B/L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.
Savor has transformed the old Courtyard Cafe into a fantasy of a Mediterranean country inn. Pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, et al, occur in various permutations throughout the menu’s crepes, omelets, frittatas, sandwiches, and salads. (Staff) 3913 24th St, SF. 282-0344. Mediterranean, B/L/D, $, MC/V.
Tangerine occupies one of the lovelier and more tree-lined corners in the Castro, and the “fusion” cooking is really more of a potpourri, ably ranging from gumbo to deep-fried calamari to sea bass edamame. (Staff) 3499 16th St, SF. 626-1700. Fusion, L/D, $, MC/V.
Tao Cafe exudes rich atmosphere — a beautiful two-tone green paint scheme, ceiling fans, bronze fittings — and the attractively brief menu has some smart French touches, including a Vietnamese-style beef bourguignon. Quite cheap considering the high style. (Staff) 1000 Guerrero, SF. 641-9955. Vietnamese, D, $, AE/MC/V.
*Tapeo at Metro City Bar has a leg up on most of the city’s tapas places, since it is part of an actual bar (and a gay bar!) in the true tapas tradition. It has a second leg up because the food is both innovative and authentically Iberian. An excellent locale for street surveillance. (PR, 8/04) 3600 16th St, SF. 703-9750. Spanish/tapas, D, $, MC/V.
Thai Chef joins the ranks of top-tier Thai restaurants in the city. Virtually every dish with meat, fish, or poultry is available in meatless guise. (PR, 3/05) 4133 18th St, SF. 551-CHEF. Thai, L/D, $, MC/V.
Tita’s Hale Aina Traditional dishes include a tasty lomi lomi scramble chock-full of scallions, tomatoes, and salmon, and refreshing cold green tea soba noodles. (Staff) 3870 17th St, SF. 626-2477. Hawaiian, B/L/D, ¢.
2223 could easily be a happening queer bar, what with all that male energy. But the American menu joins familiarity with high style, and the ambience is that of a great party where you’re bound to meet somebody hot. (Staff) 2223 Market, SF. 431-0692. American, BR/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Yianni’s brings a bit of Greek sunshine to outer Church Street. All the standards — saganaki and pastitsio, among others — are here, as well as “Greek” pizzas and fries. (Staff) 1708 Church, SF. 647-3200. Greek, BR/D, $$, MC/V.
Le Zinc brings a French bistro presence to 24th Street. The setting is lovely, the food and service uneven and not cheap. But the possibility for something spectacularly good persists. (Staff) 4063 24th St, SF. 647-9400. French, B/BR/L/D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
Alamo Square is an archetype for the “good little place around the corner.” Five different kinds of fish are offered next to three cooking techniques and five sauces. (Staff) 803 Fillmore, SF. 440-2828. Seafood, D, $, MC/V.
Ali Baba’s Cave Veggie shish kebabs are grilled fresh to order; the hummus and baba ghanoush are subtly seasoned and delicious. (Staff) 531 Haight (at Fillmore), SF. 255-7820; 799 Valencia, SF. 863-3054. Middle Eastern, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
All You Knead emphasizes the wonderful world of yeast — sandwiches, pizzas, etc. — in a space reminiscent of beer halls near Big 10 campuses. (Staff) 1466 Haight, SF. 552-4550. American, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Asqew Grill reinvents the world of fine fast food on a budget with skewers, served in under 10 minutes for under 10 bucks. (Staff) 1607 Haight, SF. 701-9301. California, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Bia’s Restaurant and Wine Bar proves hippies know what’s what in matters of food and wine. An excellent menu of homey items with Middle Eastern and Persian accents; a tight, widely varied wine list. (PR, 11/04) 1640 Haight, SF. 861-8868. California/Middle Eastern, L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
Blue Jay Cafe has the Mayberry, RFD, look and giant platters of Southernish food, including a good catfish po’boy and crispy fried chicken. Everything is under $10. (PR, 4/04) 919 Divisadero, SF. 447-6066. American/soul, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
Brother-in-Laws Bar-B-Cue always wins the “Best Barbecue” prize in our annual Best of the Bay edition: the ribs, chickens, links, and brisket are smoky and succulent; the aroma sucks you in like a tractor beam. (Staff) 705 Divisadero, SF. 931-7427. Barbecue, L/D, $.
Burgermeister uses top-grade Niman Ranch beef for its burgers, but nonetheless they’re splendid, with soft buns and crisp, well-salted fries. Foofy California wrinkles are available if you want them, but why would you? (PR, 5/04) 86 Carl, SF. 566-1274. Burgers, L/D, $.
Eos serves one of the best fusion menus in town, but be prepared for scads of yuppies and lots of noise. (Staff) 901 Cole, SF. 566-3063. Fusion, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Fly could easily host séances, but if your only interest is food and drink, you’ll be happy too. Good pizzas and small plates; plenty for omnivores and vegetarians alike. Tons of sake drinks to wash it all down. (Staff) 762 Divisadero, SF. 931-4359. Mediterranean, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
*Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe has Pilsener Urquell, a Bohemian beer, on tap for a touch of Czech authenticity, but the crowd is young, exuberant, Pacific Heights, het. Follow the crowd and stick with the burgers. (PR, 2/05) 1682 Divisadero, SF. 921-4725. Czech/American, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Grandeho’s Kamekyo Sushi Bar Always packed, Grandeho serves up excellent sushi along with a full Japanese menu. (Staff) 943 Cole, SF. 759-5693. Japanese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Hukilau brings a dash of Big Island conviviality — and Big Island (i.e., big) portions — to a wind- and traffic-swept corner of the big city. Spam too, if you want it. (Staff) 5 Masonic, SF. 921-6242. Hawaiian/American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
Kate’s Kitchen dishes up the best scallion-cheese biscuits out west. The lines on the weekends can be long. (Staff) 471 Haight, SF. 626-3984. American, B/L, ¢.
Magnolia Pub and Brewery A mellow atmosphere and beers that taste distinctly hand crafted make great accompaniments to burgers, chicken wings, ale-steamed mussels, and pizzas, along with some unexpected Cali fusion like grilled soy-sesame eggplant. (Staff) 1398 Haight, SF. 864-PINT. Brew pub, BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Metro Cafe brings the earthy chic of Paris’s 11th arrondissement to the Lower Haight, prix fixe and all. (Staff) 311 Divisadero, SF. 552-0903. French, B/BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
New Ganges Restaurant is short on style — it is as if the upmarket revolution in vegetarian restaurants never happened — but there is a homemade freshness to the food you won’t find at many other places. (Staff) 775 Frederick, SF. 681-4355. Vegetarian/Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Raja Cuisine of India serves up decent renditions of Indian standards in an unassuming, even spare, setting. Low prices. (Staff) 500 Haight, SF. 255-6000. Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Rotee isn’t the fanciest south Asian restaurant in the neighborhood, but it is certainly one of the most fragrant, and its bright oranges and yellows (food, walls) do bring good cheer. Excellent tandoori fish. (PR, 12/04) 400 Haight, SF. 552-8309. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, $, MC/V.
Tsunami Sushi and Sake Bar brings hip Japanese-style seafood to the already hip Café Abir complex. Skull-capped sushi chefs, hefty and innovative rolls. (Staff) 1306 Fulton, SF. 567-7664. Japanese/sushi, D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Winterland borrows the nostalgic name of the onetime ice-skating rink cum music venue that once stood on the spot, but the food is pure — and foamy — Euro avant-garde, served to a glam crowd dressed in shades of SoMa black. For a less vertiginous experience, enjoy the bar menu. (PR, 6/05) 2101 Sutter, SF. 563-5025. International, D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
[TK]Zoya takes some finding — it is in the little turret of the Days Inn Motor Lodge at Grove and Gough — but the view over the street’s treetops is bucolic, and the cooking is simple, seasonal, direct, and ingredient driven. (PR, 12/05) 465 Grove, SF. 626-9692. California, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Al’s Cafe Good Food Al’s is the best dang diner in town. Everything here is great, from the home fries and eggs to the chili and burgers, and even the toast in between. (Staff) 3286 Mission, SF. 641-8445. American, B/L, ¢.
Amira melds virtuosic belly dancing shows with veggie kebabs; smoky, delicate walnut dip with pita chips; and the star choice, Turkish eggplant, a handsome portion of unbelievably tender sautéed aubergine in a marinara sauce. (Staff) 590 Valencia, SF. 621-6213. Middle Eastern, D, $, MC/V.
Angkor Borei Nicely presented smallish portions of really good food, friendly service, and excellent atmosphere way down on Mission Street. (Staff) 3471 Mission, SF. 550-8417. Cambodian, L/D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.
[TK]*Baku de Thai unites the elegant cuisines of Thailand and France with memorable — and affordable — results. The dinnertime prix fixe, available earlyish, is an especially appealing deal. (PR, 11/05) 400 Valencia, SF. 437-4788. Thai/fusion, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Baobab Bar and Grill serves great-tasting West African specialties like couscous, fried plantains, and savory rice dishes for a reasonable price. (Staff) 3388 19th St, SF. 643-3558. African, BR/D, ¢.
Baraka takes the French-Spanish tapas concept, gives it a beguiling Moroccan accent — harissa, preserved lemons, merguez sausage — and the result is astonishingly good food. (Staff) 288 Connecticut, SF. 255-0370. Moroccan/Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Bistro Annex occupies a narrow space like a glorified broom closet and serves a French-inflected, west-Med menu at very low prices. (PR, 5/05) 1136 Valencia, SF. 648-9020. French, D, $, MC/V.
Blowfish glows red and inviting on an otherwise industrial and residential stretch of Bryant Street. Sushi — in pristine fingers of nigiri or in a half dozen inventive hand rolls — is a marvel. (Staff) 2170 Bryant, SF. 285-3848. Sushi, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Blue Plate has a diner aura — bustle, clatter — but the Mediterranean food is stylishly flavorful. A great value. (Staff) 3218 Mission, SF. 282-6777. Mediterranean, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Bombay Ice Cream and Chaat Stop in for some Indian chaat — cheap, delicious fast food such as samosas and curries. (Staff) 552 Valencia, SF. 431-1103. Indian takeout, L/D, ¢.
Burger Joint makes hamburgers like you remember from your childhood, with lettuce, onion, tomato, and mayonnaise. (Staff) 807 Valencia, SF. 824-3494. American, L/D, ¢.
Cafe Bella Vista brings a stylish touch of Catalonia to the Inner Mission. Excellent gazpacho and tortilla española. The interior decor is sleek and modern, though the space itself seems slightly squashed by the apartment building overhead. (PR, 6/04) 2598 Harrison, SF. 641-6195. Spanish, B/BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Cafe Ethiopia It’s basically a coffeehouse, serving all the same coffees and teas and Toranis as anyone else. It’s just that they also have great, cheap Ethiopian food. (Staff) 878 Valencia, SF. 285-2728. Ethiopian, B/L/D, ¢.
Cafe Gratitude specializes in surprisingly delicious, painstakingly prepared raw and vegan cuisine with a hippie attitude. For less than $10, you will be full and healthy from buckwheat and Brazil nut cheese pizza, mock tuna salad and other herbaceous nut-based spreads, and sumptuous date-based smoothies. (Staff) 2400 Harrison, SF. 824-4652. Vegan, B/BR/L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Cafe Phoenix looks like a junior-high cafeteria, but the California-deli food is fresh, tasty, and honest, and the people making it are part of a program to help the emotionally troubled return to employability. (Staff) 1234 Indiana, SF. 282-9675, ext. 239. California, B/L, ¢, MC/V.
Caffe Cozzolino Get it to go: everything’s about two to four bucks more if you eat it there. (Staff) 300 Precita, SF. 285-6005. Italian, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Caffe d’Melanio is the place to go if you want your pound of coffee beans roasted while you enjoy an Argentine-Italian dinner of pasta, milanesa, and chimichurri sauce. During the day the café offers a more typically Cal-American menu of better-than-average quality. First-rate coffee beans. (PR, 10/04) 1314 Ocean, SF. 333-3665. Italian/Argentine, B/L/D, $, MC/V.
Il Cantuccio strikingly evokes that little trattoria you found near the Ponte Vecchio on your last trip to Florence. (Staff) 3228 16th St, SF. 861-3899. Italian, D, $, MC/V.
Chez Papa Bistrot sits like a beret atop Potrero Hill. The food is good, the staff’s French accents authentic, the crowd a lively cross section, but the place needs a few more scuffs and quirks before it can start feeling real. (Staff) 1401 18th St, SF. 824-8210. French, BR/L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Circolo Restaurant and Lounge brings Peruvian- and Asian-influenced cooking into a stylishly barnlike urban space where dot-commers gathered of old. Some of the dishes are overwrought, but the food is splendid on the whole. (PR, 6/04) 500 Florida, SF. 553-8560. Nuevo Latino/Asian, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
[TK]Couleur Café reminds us that French food need be neither fancy nor insular. The kitchen playfully deploys a world of influences — the duck-confit quesadilla is fabulous — and service is precise and attentive despite the modest setting at the foot of Potrero Hill. (PR, 2/06) 300 De Haro, SF. 255-1021. French, BR/L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
*Delfina has grown from a neighborhood restaurant to an event, but an expanded dining room has brought the noise under control, and as always, the food — intense variations on a theme of Tuscany — could not be better. (PR, 2/04) 3621 18th St, SF. 552-4055. California, D, $$, MC/V.
[TK]Dosa serves dosas, the south Indian crepes, along with a wealth of other, and generally quite spicy, dishes from the south of the subcontinent. The cooking tends toward a natural meatlessness; the crowds are intense, like hordes of passengers inquiring about a delayed international flight. (PR, 1/06) 995 Valencia, SF. 642-3672. South Indian, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Double Play sits across the street from what once was Seals Stadium, but while the field and team are gone, the restaurant persists as an authentic sports bar with a solidly masculine aura — mitts on the walls, lots of dark wood, et cetera. The all-American food (soups, sandwiches, pastas, meat dishes, lots of fries) is outstanding. (Staff) 2401 16th St, SF. 621-9859. American, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack offers a tasty, inexpensive, late-night alternative to Pasta Pomodoro. The touch of human hands is everywhere evident. (Staff) 18 Virginia, SF. 206-2086. Italian, D, $, cash only.
Foreign Cinema serves some fine New American food in a spare setting of concrete and glass that warms up romantically once the sun goes down. (Staff) 2534 Mission, SF. 648-7600. California, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Geranium occupies an old butcher shop and serves vegetarian comfort food that, in its meatless meatiness, manages to honor both past and present in a way that should make everyone happy. (PR, 8/04) 615 Cortland, SF. 647-0118. Vegetarian, BR/D, $$, MC/V.
Herbivore is adorned in the immaculate-architect style: angular blond-wood surfaces and precise cubbyholes abound. (Staff) 983 Valencia, SF. 826-5657; 531 Divisadero (at Fell), SF. 885-7133. Vegetarian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Jasmine Tea House feels vaguely Italian, with its pastel pink walls and peals of opera floating from the kitchen, but the classic Chinese cooking is bright and crisp. Avoid the deep-fried stuff. (Staff) 3253 Mission, SF. 826-6288. Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Joe’s Cable Car is the place where “Joe grinds his own fresh meat daily,” and it shows. Fill up with a thick milkshake on the side, but skip the disappointing fries. (Staff) 4320 Mission, SF. 334-6699. American, L/D, $, MC/V.
[TK]Kiji announces itself with red lanterns, one above the door, the rest inside. The food is hipster sushi, immaculate and imaginative, with some interesting cooked dishes thrown in. (PR, 1/06) 1009 Guerrero, SF. 282-0400. Japanese, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Last Supper Club is really a trattoria, and an impressive one, from its half-lit reddish-gold interior to its always tasty and sometimes astounding food. Don’t miss the Sicilian-style ahi tartare on house-made potato chips. (Staff) 1199 Valencia, SF. 695-1199. Italian, BR/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Liberties reinvents the Irish pub for digital times. The food has an unmistakably masculine cast. (Staff) 998 Guerrero, SF. Irish, BR/L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Liberty Cafe specializes in simple, perfect food: a Caesar salad that outshines all others, the best chicken potpie in the city, and down-home desserts even a bake sale in Iowa couldn’t beat. (Staff) 410 Cortland, SF. 695-8777. American, BR/L/D, $-$$, AE/MC/V.
Little Baobab reminds us that creole cooking isn’t just from New Orleans; the excellent (and inexpensive) food takes its influences from French island culture in the Caribbean Sea and Indian Ocean. (Staff) 3388 19th St, SF. 643-3558. Creole, D, $, MC/V.
*Little Nepal assembles a wealth of sensory cues (sauna-style blond wood, brass table services) and an Indian-influenced Himalayan cuisine into a singular experience that appeals to all of Bernal Heights and beyond, including tots in their strollers. (Staff) 925 Cortland, SF. 643-3881. Nepalese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
La Luna gives its fine nuevo Latino cuisine a distinctly Argentine spin. The parrillada (for two) is more than enough to sate even incorrigible carnivores, and the Mediterranean-blue color scheme is agreeably muted. (Staff) 3126 24th St, SF. 282-7110. Nuevo Latino, D, $$, MC/V.
Luna Park bubbles over with the new Mission’s nouveau riche, but even so, the food is exceptionally satisfying and not too expensive. (Staff) 694 Valencia, SF. 553-8584. Californian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Maharaja offers romantically half-lit pastels and great spicy food, including a fine chicken tikka masala and a dish of lamb chunks in dal. Lunch forswears the usual steam-table buffet in favor of set specials, as in a Chinese place. (Staff) 525 Valencia, SF. 552-7901. Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Mariachi’s serves up its fare in a cheery pastel-painted space, and its chalkboard menu features ingredients like sautéed mushrooms, pineapple, and pesto. (Staff) 508 Valencia, SF. 621-4358. Mexican, L/D, ¢.
Maverick holds several winning cards, including a menu of first-rate New American food, a clutch of interesting wines by the glass and half glass, and a handsome, spare Mission District setting discreetly cushioned for sound control. (PR, 9/05) 3316 17th St, SF. 863-3061. American, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Medjool doesn’t offer much by way of its namesake date, food of the ancient pharaohs, but the pan-Mediterranean menu (which emphasizes small plates) is mostly tasty, and the setting is appealingly layered, from a sidewalk terrace to a moody dining room behind a set of big carved-wood doors. (PR, 11/04) 2522 Mission, SF. 550-9055. Mediterranean, B/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Mi Lindo Perú dishes up mom-style cooking, Peruvian style, in illimitable portions. The shrimp chowder is astounding. Lots of tapas too. (Staff) 3226 Mission, SF. 642-4897. Peruvian, L/D, $, MC/V.
Mi Lindo Yucatán looks a bit tatty inside, but the regional Mexican cooking is cheap and full of pleasant surprises. (PR, 3/04) 401 Valencia, SF. 861-4935. Mexican, L/D, ¢, cash only.
Moki’s Sushi and Pacific Grill serves imaginative specialty makis along with items from a pan-Asian grill in a small, bustling neighborhood spot. (Staff) 830 Cortland, SF. 970-9336. Japanese, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Napper Tandy serves good Irish pub-grub standards of immeasurable scale. Little-known Irish beers on tap make a good match with the food. (PR, 5/04) 3200 24th St, SF. 550-7510. Irish, L/D, $, MC/V.
New Central Restaurant serves Mexican comfort food, while ambience flows from the jukebox near the door. (Staff) 399 S Van Ness, SF. 255-8247, 621-9608. Mexican, B/L, ¢, cash only.
Pakwan has a little secret: a secluded garden out back. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the fiery foods of India and Pakistan. (Staff) 3180 16th St, SF. 255-2440. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, ¢, cash only.
Panchita’s No. 3 plays a much-needed role, as a kind of Salvadoran-Mexican bistro or taverna. The food is straightforward and strong and presented with just a bit of flair; the setting shows small touches of elegance. (Staff) 3115 22nd St, SF. 821-6660. Salvadoran/Mexican, L/D, $, MC/V.
Pancho Villa The best word for this 16th Street taquería is big, from the large space to the jumbo-size burritos to the grand dinner plates of grilled shrimp. The only small thing is the price. (Staff) 3071 16th St, SF. 864-8840. Mexican, BR/L/D, ¢.
Papalote Mexican Grill relieves our Mexican favorites of much of their fat and calories without sacrificing flavor. Surprisingly excellent soyrizo and aguas frescas; sexily varied crowd. (Staff) 3409 24th St, SF. 970-8815. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Parkside serves a decent affordable California menu — under the stars, if you like, in a spacious walled garden at the rear. (Staff) 1600 17th St, SF. 503-0393. California, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Phoenix is a little of this, a little of that — bar, nightclub, restaurant — but the accent of the place is unmistakably Celtic. Order anything with Irish bacon. Gut-swelling pasta dishes, the occasional weirdly successful soup. (Staff) 811 Valencia, SF. 695-1811. Irish, BR/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Platanos joins the Mission’s Roller Derby of freshened Latino cooking with a potpourri menu of dishes from throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas. Good seviche, an excellent chile relleno, and of course plantains every which way. (Staff) 598 Guerrero, SF. 252-9281. Pan-Latino, D, $, AE/MC/V.
Ramblas resists the globalized-tapa trend by serving up Spanish classics. And they are good, from grilled black sausage to calamares a la plancha to crisp potato cubes bathed in a vivid red-pepper sauce. (Staff) 557 Valencia, SF. 565-0207. Spanish/tapas, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Range recaptures the dot-com spirit of 1999 with its generically edgy postmodern look, but the food at its best is honest and spirited. The coffee-rubbed pork shoulder, a variation on mole, is a one-in-a-million dish. (PR, 9/05) 842 Valencia, SF. 282-8283. California, D, $$, MC/V.
Rasoi The food here is milder than the fiery south Indian curries, and it’s very vegetarian friendly. Slowly revolving ceiling fans give a pleasant illusion of heat even when it’s freezing outside. (Staff) 1037 Valencia, SF. 695-0599. Indian, D, $, AE/MC/V.
Restaurant YoYo joins the food maelstrom at Valencia and 16th Street bearing a powerful tool: sushi, good and cheap. The Mel’s-diner interior, on the other hand, is pure Americana. (Staff) 3092 16th St, SF. 255-9181. Japanese/sushi, L/D, $, MC/V.
Sally’s serves mainly lunch — lots of people work around the northern foot of Potrero Hill — but there’s breakfast too, and even early dinner, if you can live with sandwiches, salads, burritos, and chili. There’s also a bakery. (Staff) 300 De Haro, SF. 626-6006. Deli, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.
*Slow Club still has a speakeasy charm, and the California cooking that emerges from the tiny, clamorous kitchen is still the class of the northeast Mission. (PR, 1/05) 2501 Mariposa, SF. 241-9390. California, BR/L/D, $$, MC/V.
Sunflower strikes all the right notes of today’s Mission: good inexpensive Vietnamese food in a modish California ambience, with friendly, casual service. (Staff) 506 Valencia, SF. 626-5023. Vietnamese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Taquería Can-Cun serves up one of the best veggie burritos in town — delicious, juicy, and huge. (Staff) 2288 Mission (at 19th St), SF. 252-9560; 1003 Market, SF. 864-6773; 3211 Mission (at Valencia), SF. 550-1414. Mexican, L/D, ¢.
Ti Couz’s menu of entrées consists exclusively of crepes — from light snacks to full meals, from sweet to savory — served up in a bright, boisterous café environment. (Staff) 3108 16th St, SF. 252-7373. Crepes, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
Tokyo Go Go’s simplest dishes are the best. Given the location and the thick crowds of people dressed in black, the noise level is surprisingly moderate. (Staff) 3174 16th St, SF. 864-2288. Japanese, D, $$, MC/V.
[TK]Universal Café does California cooking the way it’s meant to be done. The mingled influences of Italy, France, and the Pacific Coast result in such unforgettable dishes as split-pea soup freshened with mint and a grilled flatbread with melted leeks and salume. (PR, 1/06) 2814 19th St, SF. 821-4608. California, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
[TK]Velvet Cantina has the feel of a Nogales brothel and carefree food to match, though the kitchen has some pedigree and upscale aspirations. The mood is one of raucous conviviality, moving to the heartbeat thump of techno music. (PR, 2/06) 3349 23rd St, SF. 648-4142. Mexican, D, $$, MC/V.
Vogalonga Trattoria continues a tradition of excellent rustic cooking in a setting of cozy warmth. Despite the gondolier etched on the front window, the menu includes standards from all regions of Italy. (Staff) 3234 22nd St, SF. 642-0298. Italian, D, $, MC/V.
Walzwerk bills itself as an “East German” restaurant, but don’t be frightened: the food is fresh, clever, tasty, and surprisingly light. The decor has a definite Cabaret edge. (Staff) 381 S Van Ness, SF. 551-7181. German, D, $, MC/V.
Watercress succeeds Watergate — the space is still handsome and the food is still French-Indo-Chinese fusion, but the prices are lower and the prix fixe option is so generous as to be irresistible. One of the best values in town. (Staff) 1152 Valencia, SF. 648-6000. Fusion, D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
[tk: closed?]Wilde Oscar’s slings decent Irish pub food — burgers, curries, plenty of fries — in a comfortably homo-inflected environment. Wilde witticisms adorn the walls. (Staff) 1900 Folsom, SF. 621-7145. Irish/pub, L/D, $, MC/V.
*Woodward’s Garden defies its under-the-freeway setting with a seasonal, reasonably priced California-cuisine menu that explains how a restaurant has managed to thrive for more than a decade in a seemingly unpromising location. Dim lighting can make reading the menu a chore. (PR, 3/05) 1700 Mission, SF. 621-7122. California, D, $$, MC/V.
Zante Pizza and Indian Cuisine is that famous Indian pizza place. Meaning it’s got Indian food, it’s got pizza, and it’s got Indian pizza. (Staff) 3489 Mission, SF. 821-3949. Indian, L/D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.
L’Amour dans le Four gives a nice local boho twist to classic French bistro style. Many dishes from the oven. Tiny, noisy, intimate. (Staff) 1602 Lombard, SF. 775-2134. French, D, $, AE/MC/V.
Annie’s Bistro is a small jewel that offers stylish downtown cooking at neighborhood prices, with an extensive California wine list available by the glass and half glass. (Staff) 2819 California, SF. 922-9669. California, D, $$, MC/V.
*A16 refers to an Italian highway near Naples, and the food (in the old Zinzino space) is stylishly Neapolitan — lots of interesting pizzas, along with other treats from the wood-burning oven. (PR, 3/04) 2355 Chestnut, SF. Italian, L/BR/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Betelnut Peiju Wu is a pan-Asian version of a tapas bar, drawing a sleek postcollegiate crowd with its wide assortment of dumplings, noodles, soups, and snacks. (Staff) 2030 Union, SF. 929-8855. Asian, L/D, $$, MC/V.
Bistro Yoffi offers a homey California menu in a paradise of potted plants. Splendid al fresco dining (under heat lamps) in the rear. (Staff) 2231 Chestnut, SF. 885-5133. California, L/D, $$, MC/V.
Cafe Maritime captures something of the feel of a New England seafood restaurant. Despite the touristy location, the food is honest and good. (PR, 7/04) 2417 Lombard, SF. 885-2530. Seafood, D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Chez Nous fills the French slot in our town’s tapas derby, and it does so with imagination, panache, and surprising economy. The menu features touches from around the Mediterranean, but much of the best stuff is unmistakably Gallic. (Staff) 1911 Fillmore, SF. 441-8044. French, L/D, $, MC/V.
Chouquet’s gives stylish little spins to all sorts of French bistro standards and some nonstandards. The general look and tone is sleek and Parisian. (PR, 6/05) 2500 Washington, SF. 359-0075. French, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Curbside Too, younger sibling to the Curbside Cafe, looks like a roadside greasy spoon. But come dinnertime the Mexican brunch influences melt into a sublime French saucefest. (Staff) 2769 Lombard, SF. 921-4442. French, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Dragon Well looks like an annex of the cavernous Pottery Barn down the street, but its traditional Chinese menu is radiant with fresh ingredients and careful preparation. Prices are modest, the service swift and professional. (Staff) 2142 Chestnut, SF. 474-6888. Chinese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Eastside West fits right into the Cow Hollow scene. It’s comfortably upscale, with first-rate service and stylishly relaxed Cal-American food. (Staff) 3154 Fillmore, SF. 885-4000. California/American, BR/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Elite Cafe A welcoming place. The menu has plenty of familiar Creole and Cajun favorites along with more typical California fare. (Staff) 2049 Fillmore, SF. 346-8668. Cajun, BR/D, $$, MC/V.
Ella’s serves breakfast, lunch, and supper, but brunch is the real destination at this friendly corner eatery. (Staff) 500 Presidio, SF. 441-5669. American, B/BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Eunice’s Cafe is the place to go when you’d rather have a conversation than make a big entrance. Good soups, sandwiches, pizzas, and quiches, with a world of influences. (Staff) 3336 Sacramento, SF. 440-3330. Brazilian/eclectic, B/L, ¢, MC/V.
Greens All the elements that made it famous are still intact: pristine produce, an emphasis on luxury rather than health, that gorgeous view. (Staff) Fort Mason Center, Bldg A, Marina at Laguna, SF. 771-6222. Vegetarian, L/D, $$, DISC/MC/V.
*Harris’ Restaurant is a timeless temple to beef, which appears most memorably as slices of rib roast, but in other ways too. Uncheap. (PR, 5/04) 2100 Van Ness, SF. 673-1888. Steakhouse/American, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Kiss is tiny, industrial, not particularly Anglophonic — and serves some of the best sushi in the city. Warning: the very best stuff (from the specials menu) can be very pricey. (Staff) 1700 Laguna, SF. 474-2866. Japanese, D, $$$, MC/V.
Letitia’s has claimed the old Alta Plaza space and dispensed with the huge cruise mirror. The Mexican standards are pretty good and still pricey, though they don’t seem quite as dear in Pacific Heights as they did in the Castro. (PR, 6/04) 2301 Fillmore, SF. 922-1722. Mexican, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Mezes glows with sunny Greek hospitality, and the plates coming off the grill are terrific, though not huge. Bulk up with a fine Greek salad. (Staff) 2373 Chestnut, SF. 409-7111. Greek, D, $, MC/V.
Plump Jack Café If you had to take your parents to dinner in the Marina, this would be the place. A small but authentic jewel. (Staff) 3127 Fillmore, SF. 563-4755. California, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
*Quince doesn’t much resemble its precursor, the Meetinghouse: the setting is more overtly luxurious, the food a pristine Franco-Cal-Ital variant rather than hearty New American. Still, it’s an appealing place to meet. (PR, 7/04) 1701 Octavia, SF. 775-8500. California, D, $$$, AE/MC/V.
Rigolo combines the best of Pascal Rigo’s boulangeries — including the spectacular breads — with some of the simpler elements (such as roast chicken) of his higher-end places. The result is excellent value in a bustling setting. (PR, 1/05) 3465 California, SF. 876-7777. California/Mediterranean, B/L/D, $, MC/V.
Rose’s Cafe has a flexible, all-day menu that starts with breakfast sandwiches; moves into bruschettas, salads, and pizzas; and finishes with grilled dinner specials such as salmon, chicken, and flat-iron steak. (Staff) 2298 Union, SF. 775-2200. California, B/L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Rosti Getting half a chicken along with roasted potatoes and an assortment of vegetables for $7.95 in the Marina is cause for celebration in itself. (Staff) 2060 Chestnut, SF. 929-9300. Italian, L/D, $, AE/DISC/V.
Saji Japanese Cuisine Sit at the sushi bar and ask the resident sushi makers what’s particularly good that day. As for the hot dishes, seafood yosenabe, served in a clay pot, is a virtual Discovery Channel of finned and scaly beasts, all tasty and fresh. (Staff) 3232 Scott, SF. 931-0563. Japanese, D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
Sociale serves first-rate Cal-Ital food in bewitching surroundings — a heated courtyard, a beautifully upholstered interior — that will remind you of some hidden square in some city of Mediterranean Europe. (Staff) 3665 Sacramento, SF. 921-3200. Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Sushi Groove is easily as cool as its name. Behind wasabi green velvet curtains, salads can be inconsistent, but the sushi is impeccable, especially the silky salmon and special white tuna nigiri. (Staff) 1916 Hyde, SF. 440-1905. Japanese, D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Takara The menu offers plenty of sushi and sashimi, as well as udon, broiled items, and the occasional curiosity, such as grated yam. (Staff) 22 Peace Plaza, Suite 202 (Japan Center), SF. 921-2000. Japanese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Taste of the Himalayas is primarily Nepalese, but the Indian influences on the food are many, and there are a few Tibetan items. Spicing is vivid, value excellent. (PR, 10/04) 2420 Lombard, SF. 674-9898. Nepalese/Tibetan, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
*YaYa deals in Mesopotamian cuisine, and that means unusual and haunting combinations of sweet, sour, and salty. The halogen-lit setting of blue and gold includes a trompe l’oeil mural of an ancient Babylonian city. (PR, 6/05) 2424 Van Ness, SF. 440-0455. Mesopotamian, D, $$, MC/V.
ZAO Noodle Bar manages the seemingly impossible: the food’s good, cheap, and fresh; the service is friendly; and there’s an inexpensive parking lot half a block away. (Staff) 2406 California, SF. 345-8088. Asian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Bursa Kebabs brings a taste of Turkey to West Portal. The elegant pistachio-colored decor suggests a California bistro, but the carefully prepared food is traditional. (PR, 3/04) 60 West Portal (at Vicente), SF. 564-4006. Turkish, L/D, $, MC/V.
Cafe for All Seasons reflects the friendly vibrancy of its West Portal neighborhood. The California comfort food doesn’t set off fireworks, but it’s reliably good and fresh. (Staff) 150 West Portal, SF. 665-0900. California, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Chouchou Patisserie Artisanale and French Bistro is the place to go for pastry, whether you like it as an edible cap on your potpies or as a crust beneath your fruit or chocolate tarts. French standards — charcuterie, onion soup — are executed with verve. (Staff) 400 Dewey, SF. 242-0960. French, L/D, $$, MC/V.
*Dragonfly serves the best contemporary Vietnamese food in town, in a calmer environment and at a fraction of the cost of better-known places. (PR, 8/05) 420 Judah, SF. 661-7755. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Eldos is a cross between a brew pub and a taquería, with a few standard American items thrown in. Fabulous chicken posole. (Staff) 1326 Ninth Ave, SF. 564-0425. Mexican/brew pub, L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
Fresca has gone upscale, and its Peruvian menu has been expanded beyond burritos. Still excellent roast chicken, seviche, enchiladas. (Staff) 24 West Portal, SF. 759-8087. Peruvian, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
[TK]Gold Mirror tells a tale of old San Francisco west of Twin Peaks, where the servers are in black tie and the menu is rich in veal, from saltimbocca to piccata and beyond. Baroque decor; large weekend dinner crowds. (PR, 11/05) 800 Taraval, SF. 564-0401. Italian, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Hotei is a marvel of great Japanese fare combined with efficient, accommodating service. Four types of noodles are the foundation around which swirl lively broths. (Staff) 1290 Ninth Ave, SF. 753-6045. Japanese, L/D, ¢, AE/DC/MC/V.
Ichi-ban Kan Cafe serves sushi, sandwiches, burgers, teriyaki, an all-you-can-eat buffet — are you getting the picture? The winning neighborhood tone is reminiscent of Mayberry, RFD. (Staff) 1500 Irving, SF. 566-1696. Japanese/American, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Jimisan brings a stylish and value-conscious sushi option to the Ninth Avenue restaurant row. Good cooked stuff too. (PR, 8/05) 1380 Ninth Ave, SF. 564-8989. Japanese/sushi, L/D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Jitra Thai Cuisine serves up creditable Thai standards in a pink dollhouse setting. (Staff) 2545 Ocean, SF. 585-7251. Thai, L/D, $, MC/V.
Ladda’s Seaview Thai Cuisine gazes upon the mists and surfers of Ocean Beach. The kitchen divides its attentions between Thai and American standards. Free parking in the always near-empty lot. (PR, 5/05) 1225 La Playa, SF. 665-0185. Thai/American, B/L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.
Marnee Thai A friendly, low-key neighborhood restaurant — now in two neighborhoods — that just happens to serve some of the best Thai food in town. (PR, 1/04) 2225 Irving, SF. 665-9500; 1243 Ninth Ave (at Lincoln), SF. 731-9999. Thai, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Masala means “spice mixture,” and spices aplenty you will find in the South Asian menu. Be sure to order plenty of naan to sop up the sauce with. (Staff) 1220 Ninth Ave, SF. 566-6976. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Nan King Road Bistro laces its mostly Chinese menu with little touches from around Asia (sake sauces, Korean noodles), and the result is a spectacular saucefest. Spare, cool environment. (Staff) 1360 Ninth Ave, SF. 753-2900. Pan-Asian, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Park Chow could probably thrive on its basic dishes, such as the burger royale with cheese ($6.95), but if you’re willing to spend an extra five bucks or so, the kitchen can really flash you some thigh. (Staff) 1240 Ninth Ave, SF. 665-9912. California, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
P.J.’s Oyster Bed Of all the US regional cultures, southern Louisiana’s may be the most beloved, and at P.J.’s you can taste why. (Staff) 737 Irving, SF. 566-7775. Seafood, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Pomelo Big portions of Asian- and Italian-inspired noodle dishes. If you need something quick, cheap, and fresh, pop in here. (Staff) 92 Judah, SF. 731-6175. Noodles, L/D, $, cash only.
Sabella’s carries a famous seafood name into the heart of West Portal. Good nonseafood stuff too. (Staff) 53 West Portal, SF. 753-3130. Italian/seafood, $, L/D, MC/V.
Sea Breeze Cafe looks like a dive, but the California cooking is elevated, literally and figuratively. Lots of witty salads, a rum-rich crème brûlée. (Staff) 3940 Judah, SF. 242-6022. California, BR/L/D, $$, MC/V.
Tasty Curry still shows traces of an earlier life as a Korean hibachi restaurant (i.e., venting hoods above most of the tables), but the South Asian food is cheap, fresh, and packs a strong kick. (PR, 1/04) 1375 Ninth Ave, SF. 753-5122. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Tennessee Grill could as easily be called the Topeka Grill, since its atmosphere is redolent of Middle America. Belly up to the salad bar for huge helpings of the basics to accompany your meat loaf or calf’s liver. (Staff) 1128 Taraval, SF. 664-7834. American, B/L/D, $, MC/V.
Thai Cottage isn’t really a cottage, but it is small in the homey way, and its Thai menu is sharp and vivid in the home-cooking way. Cheap, and the N train stops practically at the front door. (PR, 8/04) 4041 Judah, SF. 566-5311. Thai, L/D, $, MC/V.
*Xiao Loong elevates the neighborhood Chinese restaurant experience to one of fine dining, with immaculate ingredients and skillful preparation in a calm architectural setting. (PR, 8/05) 250 West Portal, SF. 753-5678. Chinese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Yum Yum Fish is basically a fish store: three or four little tables with fish-print tablecloths under glass, fish-chart art along the wall, and fish-price signs all over the place. (Staff) 2181 Irving, SF. 566-6433. Sushi, L/D, ¢.
Angkor Wat still serves tasty Cambodian food for not much money in a setting of Zenlike calm. (Staff) 4217 Geary, SF. 221-7887. Cambodian, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Assab dishes up unforgettably spicy Eritrean food, family style, in a comfortable space near the University of San Francisco. Honey wine, for those so inclined. (PR, 9/05) 2845 Geary, SF. 441-7083. Eritrean, L/D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.
*Aziza shimmers with Moroccan grace, from the pewter ewer and basin that circulate for the washing of hands to the profusion of preserved Meyer lemons in the splendid cooking. (Staff) 5800 Geary, SF. 752-2222. Moroccan, D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Bamboo Village serves excellent Indonesian food in a comfortably modest setting for not much money. Take-out orders can slow the kitchen down considerably. (Staff) 3015 Geary, SF. 751-8006. Indonesian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Bella might make you feel as if you’ve ended up inside a piece of tiramisu, but the classic Italian cooking will definitely make you happy. (Staff) 3854 Geary, SF. 221-0305. Italian, L/D, $$, MC/V.
Blue Fin Sushi does indeed have a blue-finned sport fish mounted over the bar and, more interesting, an attached sports bar, Prime Time, where you can enjoy nigiri and cheeseburgers. Lots of imaginative Japanese-style cooked dishes. (PR, 3/05) 1814 Clement, SF. 387-2441. Sushi/American, D, $$, MC/V.
*Chapeau! serves some of the best food in the city — at shockingly reasonable prices. The French cooking reflects as much style and imagination as any California menu. (Staff) 1408 Clement, SF. 750-9787. French, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Clement Street Bar and Grill The high-backed booths spell romance at this always crowded spot. Grilled fish dishes snap with flavor, and there are always a couple of delicious-sounding vegetarian options. (Staff) 708 Clement, SF. 386-2200. American, L/D, $-$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Clémentine offers comfortable sophistication at a fair price. Free valet parking. (Staff) 126 Clement, SF. 387-0408. French, BR/D, $$, MC/V.
Katia’s, a Russian Tea Room evokes the bourgeois romance of old Russia, and the classic Slavic food is carefully prepared and presented. Silken Crimean port is served in a tiny glass shaped like a Cossack boot. (PR, 12/04) 600 Fifth Ave, SF. 668-9292. Russian, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Kitaro This Japanese restaurant, unlike many others, has a lot of options for vegetarians. (Staff) 5850 Geary, SF. 386-2777. Japanese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Lucky Fortune serves up a wide variety of Chinese-style seafood in a cheerfully blah setting. Prices are astoundingly low, portions large. (Staff) 5715 Geary, SF. 751-2888. Chinese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Mai’s Restaurant On the basis of the hot-and-sour shrimp soup with pineapple alone, Mai’s deserves a line out the door. (Staff) 316 Clement, SF. 221-3046. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢, AE/DC/MC/V.
Mandalay Restaurant still packs them in after 21 years with moderate prices, a handsomely understated decor, and confidently seasoned food of considerable Burmese and Mandarin variety. (PR, 5/05) 4348 California, SF. 386-3896. Burmese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Al-Masri suggests, in food and ambience, the many influences that have swept across the Nile delta: feta cheese and olives from Greece or a quasi-Indian stew of peas and tomatoes, served with basmati rice. (Staff) 4031 Balboa, SF. 876-2300. Egyptian, D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Melisa’s deals in spicy Chinese food, and if that’s what you’re after, you won’t mind the brutally bleak decor. Dishes bearing Melisa’s name are especially tasty. (Staff) 450 Balboa, SF. 387-1680. Chinese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Pachi’s brings sophisticated Peruvian cooking to outer Clement. The menu includes a few Spanish dishes, such as paella, but the food in the main emphasizes those longtime Peruvian staples seafood and the potato, each in a variety of guises and subtly spiced. The setting is handsome, though on the spare side of spare. (PR, 2/05) 1801 Clement, SF. 422-0502. Peruvian, BR/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Pacific Cafe serves simple, reliable seafood in an atmosphere redolent of 1974, when it opened. Lots of dark wood and faintly psychedelic glass in the windows. (Staff) 7000 Geary, SF. 387-7091. Seafood, D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Pera combines elements of Istanbul café and college-town hangout. The Turkish food is vividly flavored, cheap, and served in big portions. Excellent street-gazing possibilities. (PR, 6/05) 349 Clement, SF. 666-3839. Turkish, B/L/D, $, DISC/MC/V.
*Pizzetta 211 practices the art of the pizza in a glowing little storefront space. Thin crusts, unusual combinations, a few side dishes of the highest quality. (PR, 2/04) 211 23rd Ave, SF. 379-9880. Pizza/Italian, L/D, $.
Q rocks, both American-diner-food-wise and noisy-music-wise. Servings of such gratifyingly tasty dishes as barbecued ribs, fish tacos, and rosemary croquettes are huge. (Staff) 225 Clement, SF. 752-2298. American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.
RoHan Lounge serves a variety of soju cocktails to help wash down all those Asian tapas. Beware the kimchee. Lovely curvaceous banquettes. (Staff) 3809 Geary, SF. 221-5095. Asian, D, $, AE/MC/V.
Singapore Malaysian Restaurant eschews decor for cheap, tasty plates, where you’ll find flavors ranging from Indian to Dutch colonial to Thai. Seafood predominates in curries, soups, grills, and plenty of rice and noodle dishes. (Staff) 836 Clement, SF. 750-9518. Malaysian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Spices! has an exclamation point for a reason: its Chinese food, mainly Szechuan and Taiwanese, with an oasis of Shanghai-style dishes, is fabulously hot. Big young crowds, pulsing house music, a shocking orange and yellow paint scheme. Go prepared, leave happy. (Staff) 294 Eighth Ave, SF. 752-8884. Szechuan/Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.
*Straits Cafe has a slightly campy faux-tropical decor, but its Singaporean menu is a kaleidoscope of mingled satisfactions; masterful deployment of unusual ingredients all the way to a dessert of rice pudding in palm sugar syrup. (Staff) 3300 Geary, SF. 668-1783. Singaporean, L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
Tawan’s Thai Food It’s tiny, it’s cute, the prices are reasonable, and the food is tasty. (Staff) 4403 Geary, SF. 751-5175. Thai, L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
Thai Time proves that good things come in little packages. The food is tremendous. (Staff) 315 Eighth Ave, SF. 831-3663. Thai, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Tia Margarita is an old-style Mexican restaurant with big servings and big flavor. Go hungry. (Staff) 300 19th Ave, SF. 752-9274. Mexican, D, $, MC/V.
Traktir serves as a kind of town hall for the local Russian community, but the food has a distinct international flavor: dolma, feta-cheese salad, Georgian wine, curry-spiked pieces of cold chicken. (Staff) 4036 Balboa, SF. 386-9800. Russian, D, $, MC/V.
Twilight Cafe and Deli is a bit of an oldster, having opened in 1980, but the Middle Eastern menu is full of delights, from falafel and hummus to foul muddamas, a cumin-scented fava bean stew. A fabulous mural on one wall relieves the standard deli dreariness. (Staff) 2600 McAllister, SF. 386-6115. Middle Eastern, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Cable Car Coffee Shop Atmospherically speaking, you’re looking at your basic downtown South San Francisco old-style joint, one that serves a great Pacific Scramble for $4.95 and the most perfectest hash browns to be tasted. (Staff) 423 Grand, South SF. (650) 952-9533. American, B/BR/L, ¢.
Cliff’s Bar-B-Q and Seafood Some things Cliff’s got going for him: excellent mustard greens, just drenched in flavorfulness, and barbecued you name it. Brisket. Rib tips. Hot links. Pork ribs. Beef ribs. Baby backs. And then there are fried chickens and, by way of health food, fried fishes. (Staff) 2177 Bayshore, SF. 330-0736. Barbecue, L/D, ¢, AE/DC/MC/V.
JoAnn’s Cafe and Pantry has gotten some word-of-mouth recommendations as a dive, but it serves upscale breakfasts with decidedly nondive sides such as low-fat chicken basil sausage, bagels, and homemade muffins and scones. (Staff) 1131 El Camino Real, South SF. (650) 872-2810. American, B/L, $.
Old Clam House really is old — it’s been in the same location since the Civil War — but the seafood preparations are fresh, in an old-fashioned way. Matchless cioppino. Sports types cluster at the bar, under the shadow of a halved, mounted Jaguar E-type. (Staff) 299 Bayshore, SF. 826-4880. Seafood, L/D, $$, MC/V.
Peking Wok is a great Chinese dive in Bayview, right smack on the way to Candlestick. Not counting the 18 special combos for $3.25-$4.50, there are 109 items on the menu. At least 101 of them are under five bucks. (Staff) 4920 Third St, SF. 822-1818. Chinese, L/D, ¢.
Soo Fong features good inexpensive Chinese food. For the heat-seeking diner, its fiery Szechuan specialties will hit the spot. Nice chow fun and other noodle dishes too. (Staff) Bayview Plaza, 3801 Third St, SF. 285-2828. Chinese, L/D, ¢.
Taqueria el Potrillo serves one of the best chicken burritos in town, if not the best. You can get your bird grilled or barbecued or have steak instead or tacos. Excellent salsas and aguas frescas, and warmer weather than practically anywhere else in town. (Staff) 300A Bayshore Blvd, SF. 642-1612. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, cash only.
Young’s Cafe A restaurant full of cheap, big, decent Chinese food, Young’s serves up 15 rice dishes, most of them for $2.95, and 64 other standard Chinese things. Only four of those are more than five bucks. (Staff) 732 22nd St, SF. 285-6046. Chinese, L/D, ¢.
Ajanta offers a variety of deftly seasoned regional dishes from the Asian subcontinent. (Staff) 1888 Solano, Berk. (510) 526-4373. Indian, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
La Bayou serves up an astounding array of authentic New Orleans staples, including jambalaya, (greaseless!) fried catfish, and homemade pralines. (Staff) 3278 Adeline, Berk. (510) 594-9302. Cajun/Creole, L/D, ¢-$, MC/V.
Breads of India and Gourmet Curries The menu changes every day, so nothing is refrigerated overnight, and the curries benefit from obvious loving care. (Staff) 2448 Sacramento, Berk. (510) 848-7684. Indian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Café de la Paz Specialties include African-Brazilian “xim xim” curries, Venezuelan corn pancakes, and heavenly blackened seacakes served with orange-onion yogurt. (Staff) 1600 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-0662. Latin American, BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Cafe Rouge All the red meat here comes from highly regarded Niman Ranch, and all charcuterie are made in-house. (Staff) 1782 Fourth St, Berk. (510) 525-1440. American, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
César You’ll be tempted to nibble for hours from Chez Panisse-related César’s Spanish-inspired tapas — unless you can’t get past the addictive sage-and-rosemary-flecked fried potatoes. (Staff) 1515 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 883-0222. Spanish, D, $, DISC/MC/V.
Cha-Ya Everything chef-proprietor Atsushi Katsumata makes, from the pot stickers and nigiri sushi to the steaming bowls of udon, hews to strict vegan standards. (Staff) 1686 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 981-1213. Japanese/Vegetarian, D, $, MC/V.
Chez Panisse may be an old-timer, but a devotion to the best seasonal ingredients (often organic), grilled on its wood-fired open hearth, means the restaurant’s distinctive Franco-Cal-Ital signature remains unmistakable and unmatched. (Staff) 1517 Shattuck, Berk. Café, (510) 548-5049, L/D, $$; restaurant, (510) 548-5525, D, $$$. California, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Christopher’s Nothing Fancy Café Chicken, beef, veggie, and prawn fajitas are the sizzling specialties. (Staff) 1019 San Pablo, Albany. (510) 526-1185. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Clay Pot Seafood House specialties include steaming clay pots full of fascinating broths and such ingredients as meatballs, Chinese sausage, and whole fish. (Staff) 809 San Pablo, Albany. (510) 559-8976. Chinese, L/D, $, DISC/MC/V.
Holy Land transforms falafel, hummus, tahini, tabbouleh, and other Middle Eastern standards into gourmet-quality yet home-style delights. (Staff) 2965 College, Berk. (510) 665-1672. Middle Eastern/Kosher, L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V.
Lalime’s is a long-standing institution in East Bay haute cuisine culture, but there’s nothing institutional about the attentive service or the creative and gorgeous dishes. (Staff) 1329 Gilman, Berk. (510) 527-9838. French/Mediterranean, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.
Locanda Olmo Fine versions of risotto, gnocchi, and soft polenta pie, terrific thin-crust pizzas, and good traditional desserts have made Locanda Olmo a reliable anchor in the burgeoning Elmwood neighborhood. (Staff) 2985 College, Berk. (510) 848-5544. Italian, D, $, MC/V.
La Note Unique egg dishes and pancakes, big luncheon salads, fancy baguette sandwiches, and hearty weekend dinners. (Staff) 2337 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-1535. Country French, B/BR/L/D, $$, AE/MC/V. Restroom not wheelchair accessible.
Rick and Ann’s serves some of the best shoestring fries on earth, along with excellent (if nouvelle) renditions of such Americana as meat loaf and chicken potpie baked under a cheddar cheese biscuit. (Staff) 2922 Domingo, Berk. (510) 649-8538. American, BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Rivoli is a near-perfect balance of the neighborhood eatery and the eclectic California cuisine destination restaurant. (Staff) 1539 Solano, Berk. (510) 526-2542. California, D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.
Sam’s Log Cabin Daily special egg scrambles, great griddle cakes and corn cakes, and exceptional scones and muffins top the morning fare, which also includes gourmet sausage and bacon, hot and cold cereals, and organic coffee. (Staff) 945 San Pablo Ave, Berk. (510) 558-0494. American, B/L, ¢, cash only.
Vik’s Chaat Corner For less than the price of a scone and a latte, you can try lentil dumplings, curries, or a variety of flat or puffed crisp puris with various vegetarian fillings. (Staff) 726 Allston Way, Berk. (510) 644-4412. Indian, L/D, ¢, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Your Place Venture away from typical Thai menu items toward neau yang num, laab gai, blackboard specials, and at lunch, the “boat noodles” soups. (Staff) 1267-71 University, Berk. (510) 548-9781. Thai, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Zachary’s Chicago Pizza The stuffed pizza is simply out of this world. The fact that both Zachary’s outlets are always busy speaks for itself. (Staff) 1853 Solano, Berk. (510) 525-5950; 5801 College (at Oak Grove), Berk. (510) 655-6385. Pizza, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Arizmendi is a worker-owned bakery where bread rolls out in seemingly infinite varieties — potato, Asiago, sesame-sunflower. (Staff) 3265 Lakeshore, Oakl. (510) 268-8849. Bakery, B/L/D, ¢. Not wheelchair accessible.
Asena Restaurant Good dishes at Asena, a charming Med-Cal cuisine spot, include individual pizzas and grilled marinated lamb sirloin in a burgundy-rosemary demi-glace. (Staff) 2508 Santa Clara, Alameda. (510) 521-4100. California/Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Le Cheval Shrimp rolls and peanut sauce, the fried Dungeness crab, the marinated “orange flavor” beef, the buttery lemongrass prawns — it’s all fabulous. (Staff) 1007 Clay, Oakl. (510) 763-8495. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Connie’s Cantina fashions unique variations on standard Mexican fare — enchiladas, tamales, fajitas, rellenos. (Staff) 3340 Grand, Oakl. (510) 839-4986. Mexican, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Garibaldi’s on College focuses on Mediterranean-style seafood. (Staff) 5356 College, Oakl. (510) 595-4000. Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.
Gerardo’s Mexican Restaurant offers all the expected taquería fare. But a main reason to visit is to pick up a dozen of Maria’s wonderfully down-home chicken or pork tamales. (Staff) 3811 MacArthur, Oakl. (510) 531-5255. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢-$.
Mama’s Royal Cafe Breakfast is the draw here — even just-coffee-for-me types might succumb when confronted with waffles, French toast, pancakes, tofu scrambles, huevos rancheros, and 20 different omelets. (Staff) 4012 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 547-7600. American, B/L, ¢.
La Mexicana has a 40-year tradition of stuffing its customers with delicious, simply prepared staples (enchiladas, tacos, tamales, chile rellenos, menudo) and specials (carnitas, chicken mole), all served in generous portions at moderate prices. (Staff) 3930 E 14th St, Oakl. (510) 533-8818. Mexican, L/D, ¢, MC/V.
Nan Yang offers too many great dishes — ginger salad, spicy fried potato cakes, coconut chicken noodle soup, garlic noodles, succulent lamb curry that melts in your mouth — to experience in one visit. (Staff) 6048 College, Oakl. (510) 655-3298. Burmese, L/D, $, MC/V.
Ninna You’ll find steaks, duck breast, and pork loin on the same menu as chicken in yellow curry, as well as such intriguing and successful fusions as penne pasta “pad Thai” style and veal “Ithaila.” (Staff) 4066 Piedmont, Oakl. (510) 601-6441. Thai fusion, L/D, $-$$, MC/V.
Il Porcellino When faced with a menu like Il Porcellino’s, any concern for health benefits should take a backseat to hedonism. (Staff) 6111 LaSalle, Oakl. (510) 339-2149. Italian, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.
Restaurante Doña Tomás offers upscale versions of enchiladas and carnitas, as well as tantalizing chicken-lime-cilantro soup and bountiful pozole. (Staff) 5004 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 450-0522. Mexican, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.
Rockridge Café offers bountiful breakfasts, a savory meat-loaf special, and hearty cassoulet. But the burgers, wide-cut fries, and straw-clogging milkshakes remain the cornerstones of the menu. (Staff) 5492 College, Oakl. (510) 653-1567. American, B/L/D, $, MC/V.
Taquería Ramiro and Sons typically has customers lined up to the door for (mostly take-out) burritos and tacos and quesadillas. The menu nods to contemporary tastes with black beans and spinach or tomato tortilla options. (Staff) 2321 Alameda, Alameda. (510) 523-5071. Mexican, L/D, ¢, cash only.
Tijuana serves big round bowls and plates teeming with shrimp, crab, octopus, and fish in cocktails, salads, and soups. The place is usually packed and loud. (Staff) 1308 International Blvd, Oakl. (510) 532-5575. Mexican, L/D, $, MC/V. Not wheelchair accessible.
Tropix Dig into a heap of spicy grilled jerk chicken or wallow in the wonders of the shrimp pawpaw: curried vegetables and fat shrimp piled up over meltingly ripe papaya. (Staff) 3814 Piedmont, Oakl. (510) 653-2444. Caribbean, L/D, $, AE/DC/MC/V. Patio not wheelchair accessible. SFBG




visual art/event

“The Art Don’t Stop”

With the help of local businesses and random pedestrians, Todd Berman will be “democratically creating” a collage Thursday, using the future of Sixth Street as a theme. Backlit and hanging in the windows of host gallery DA Arts will be recent paintings of and by neighborhood restaurant employees such as Mo from Chico’s Pizza who did an amazing portrait of … uh, Joe from Chico’s Pizza. (Justin Juul)

5:30-8:30 p.m.
DA Arts
135 6th St., SF
Free pizza, music, and art
(415) 595-0337


Thievery Corporation

Listen to the lyrics of the last two original Thievery Corporation albums, and you might think they more closely resemble something out of the Free Speech Movement than Eighteenth Street Lounge. The opening track for last year’s The Cosmic Game (Eighteenth Street) begins, “Well let’s start by/ Making it clear/ Who is the enemy.” Don’t think this is some celebrity musician facade either; last September, Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza and Eric Hilton performed at “Operation: Ceasefire,” a free concert-rally protesting the war in Iraq. (Kevin Lee)

9 p.m.
Concourse at SF Design Center
620 Seventh St., SF
(415) 421-TIXS

Town and country


It is safe to say that when city people talk about going on a jaunt to the country, the country they are talking about going on a jaunt to qualifies as the country mostly by virtue of not being the city. Jaunters are not proposing to leave civilization; city people do not drive to Healdsburg on a tranquil Saturday afternoon in June, braving bridge traffic and 101 traffic, so that they can milk cows or pull weeds at a biodynamic winery. City people go, one suspects, largely in hopes of escaping the city’s fog and wind, of seeing the sun and being able to wear short-sleeve shirts without shivering or looking like foolish tourists.
If these simple graces are what you have in mind, then you will find Healdsburg an accommodating place in early summer. Later the weather will grow torrid, and even the lush, arboreal green of the quaint town square will not be enough to banish the faint fear of heatstroke. But the square will still cast its 19th-century spell, and if you are seated in Bistro Ralph, on the north edge of the square, you might find yourself looking out the plate-glass windows to the shady prospect and imagining that you are beside a cooling pond somewhere in Monet-land, at Giverny itself, perhaps.
Ralph Tingle opened Bistro Ralph in 1992, and I remember peering inside the restaurant on a mid-1990s jaunt with European friends and thinking, How chic, how citified! At that time, Healdsburg still seemed to me to be mostly a dusty, sleepy country town — a more relaxed version of day-trippy Sonoma — and Bistro Ralph an aberration arresting in its sleekness, not a harbinger. But … it turns out to have been a harbinger. Today the town square on a warm weekend afternoon is like Union Square, aswarm with expensively dressed pedestrians and honking, bumper-to-bumper traffic: late model cars furiously getting in one another’s way. The wealth of spanking-new or just-renovated buildings — there is one for Gallo, another for a restaurant called Zin — look as if they belonged on the set of a Spielberg movie.
In this transformed locale, Bistro Ralph is no longer quite so striking. You could walk right by it, in fact, if your thoughts were elsewhere (it’s narrow and midblock, unlike Gallo and Zin, a pair of cornerstones), and once inside, you might find yourself paying less attention to the restaurant’s kinship with Zuni and Mecca than to its resemblance to an old Roman storefront: narrow, deep, and cool under a high tin ceiling. Toward the rear of the dining room stands a longitudinal bar, while at the very rear is a semi-exhibition kitchen — not big, but then the restaurant itself is quite snug, not much larger than the original Delfina.
The wine list consists exclusively of bottlings from the Healdsburg vicinity, and this bias gives our first hint as to what Tingle’s food is going to be like. Although California wines have their virtues, they do tend to be fruity and a little boisterous — not the food-friendliest qualities, unless the food is equally assertive. And Bistro Ralph’s is. The only dish we could find on the shy side, in fact, was a Caesar salad ($8), which lacked anchovies, used a mild aged–jack cheese from Vella instead of the traditional parmesan, and was tossed with a dressing in want of more garlic. On the other hand, the spears of romaine were immaculate, and a pair of croutons smeared with a loud red rouille gave a nice murder-mystery twist.
But let us forgive and forget the salad. The rest of the dishes were notable for their muscularity, beginning with a heap of calamari ($11) dipped in a peppery batter before being flash-fried. The pepper was enough to carry the day, but just to make sure, the kitchen provided a pot of gingery sesame-soy sauce for dipping. A bowl of tortilla soup ($6), thick and glossy like velouté, was the most intensely flavored such soup I’ve ever tasted: a liqueur of roasted corn. There was visual and textural interest here too, from crispy strands of fried tortilla and drizzlings of cilantro oil, but, as with the calamari, the soup could easily have stood on its own.
Liver raises a flag for some of us — calves’ liver especially; chicken livers are manageable. Tingle’s version ($12) presents the latter sautéed in a rich yet nicely acidic bath of balsamic vinegar, caramelized onions, and pancetta, with a block of fried polenta to one side, a golden promontory over a moody brown sea. If you’re inclined toward the reddish orange end of the spectrum, you will like the lamb burger ($9.50), whose spicing appears to include (sweet) paprika. Of at least as much note, though, is the pile of sublimely crisp matchstick fries on the plate.
The dessert list is largely a choco-fest. An exception is the “best” crème brûlée ($7.50), whose custard is flecked with vanilla bean to reinforce the claim of superlativity. As for chocolate: It gets no more chocolatey than the marquise Taillevent ($7.50), two petite slabs — rectangles, not squares — of a substance our server described as “a cross between a mousse and fudge,” adrift in a puddle of crème anglaise. Like any great dessert, this one disappears quickly but leaves you with a memory, a pleasurable tingle. SFBG
Lunch, Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Dinner, Mon.–Sat., 5:30–9 p.m.
109 Plaza, Healdsburg
(707) 433-1380
Full bar
Can get noisy
Wheelchair accessible

Get thee to a naanery



Polk is a many splendored strasse, with lower lows and higher highs, socioeconomically speaking, than practically any other road in town, with the possible exception of Market Street. Below California, there is still an agreeable crunch of urban grit under your feet, you still see the occasional boy hustler, and the restaurants tend toward the ethnic and cheap but this neighborhood is the western edge of the Tenderloin, after all.

Above Broadway we are in chi-chi-land, cheek to cheek with some of the town’s swellest swells (but what cheeks do I mean?) and gazing upon the menu cards of such redoubts of swankery as La Folie and Le Petit Robert. Is this, then, a bipolar story, a tale of haves and have-nots or -littles, grit and glamour, worlds apart? Have I forgotten the stretch of Polk north of California and south of Broadway, the transition zone? I have not.

It is on this very stretch of street, in fact, that we find Indian Aroma, a nicely middle-class South Asian restaurant in a middle-classy neighborhood in a city whose middle class seems to be disappearing in our drive for third worldstyle stratification of wealth and status: a handful of chubby-cheeked plutocrats and masses of the disenfranchised. The place is far from a dive, with handsomely set tables, a paint scheme of sponged ochres and umbers, a huge round mirror mounted in one wall like a giant’s monocle, a nonperfunctory wine list (including several selections by the glass), and professional table service. On the other hand, it’s not particularly pricey (most main dishes are within a tick or two of $10), it’s easy to glide into, and there is the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at $8.99, not the cheapest buffet of its kind in town, but pretty reasonable all the same and with better-than-average food.

Indian Aroma is a reincarnation of sorts of Scenic India, which, until it closed three years ago owing to loss of lease, was one of the better Indian restaurants on the Valencia Street corridor and held a strategic location near the corner of 16th Street. The new location can’t match the old for hipster-central cachet, but it does have its charms, mainly of variety: The Civic Center and Tenderloin are within walking distance, as are the hillier, tonier precincts of Nob and Russian Hills and the human parade a block west, along Van Ness.

There is also the stabilizing presence of owner and head chef Tahir Khan, whose Bangladeshi-influenced cooking features spices ground and blended in-house hence the Indian aroma, which wafts onto the street and helps drifting pedestrians distinguish between the restaurant and the Christian Science Reading Room next door halal meats, and for those averse to meat (halal or otherwise), a wide variety of meatless choices.

Khan’s kitchen does a decent job with flesh there is a good lamb curry ($8.95), with cubes of boneless (and reasonably tender) meat in a tomato-based sauce, and a nice, slightly sweet version of shrimp bhuna ($12.95), large prawns sautéed in a stir-fried spice mixture with tomatoes, ginger, and garlic but really, if the only nonvegetarian items on offer were of chicken, you wouldn’t complain. Chicken is possibly the meat most compatible with, even in need of, strong spicing, and the tandoori chicken ($8.95 for a half bird) is marvelous, tangy-tender with an edge of char, while the chicken tikka masala ($10.95) met with the enthusiastic approval of the CTM aficionado, who spent several minutes wiping up the remnant gravy with shreds of cooling naan. Even the plain chicken tikka ($10.95) chunks of boneless, marinated meat cooked on skewers in the tandoor met the highest standards of moistness and tastiness despite an absence of sauce.

The vegetable dishes too are solid, if stolid, citizens. Spinach, the bane of many a childhood but a cherished source of antioxidants for adults, appears in two guises: cooked simply with tomatoes and a curry blend (saag bhaji, $5.95) and with chunks of white cheese instead of tomatoes (saag paneer, $6.95). Mutter paneer includes cubes of the same fresh white cheese but replaces the spinach with peas for a touch of sweetness that nicely smooths the edge of the curry sauce, while chana masala ($5.95) lets chickpeas be chickpeas, with gentle spicing that bolsters rather than competes with the beans’ naturally nutty flavor.

Many of these dishes turn up at the lunch buffet, along with a mild, though dramatically yellow, mulligatawny soup (a close relative of dal, the famous Indian lentil stew) the presence of turmeric was strongly suspected and fabulous pappadum, the wrinkly, crackery disks of flash-fried lentil flour still carrying a slight sheen of oil. Lunch also includes pakora, the fritters of shredded vegetables, though like forensic examiners studying the evidence of an especially baffling murder, we were unable to establish which.

The naan, of course, is splendidly pillowy and warm. At lunch it’s free and abundant so go then if you’re hooked but even at dinner, when you have to pay by the piece, you get a disk the size of a medium pizza for just $1.50. Adherents to a variety-is-the-spice-of-life philosophy might opt instead for the puri ($1.50), a naanlike round of dough that’s puffy, golden, and slightly crisp from a turn in the deep fryer rather than the oven; like its distant relation langos (the fried bread of Hungary), it resembles a pizza crust made of pastry. But enough pillow talk. SFBG

Indian Aroma

Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5–11 p.m.

Lunch: Daily, 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

1653 Polk, SF

(415) 771-0426

Beer and wine


Comfortable noisewise

Wheelchair accessible