Marcia Gagliardi

Guardian Guide: Comfort food and joy



Wintertime has descended, which means it’s high time for wonderfully unhealthy, heavy eating (a food coma is as close to hibernation as you can get). The chilly nights practically demand that you keep yourself in extra cuddly form, but at least you can hide your pale, flabby body under coats and sweaters. As we know, San Francisco’s Victorian and Edwardian apartments can be hella drafty, so when your fingers feel like frozen Vienna sausages and you need a break from wrapping presents, here are some hot spots around town guaranteed to warm you — and fill you — right up.

Nothing gets you toasty like a big bowl of soup, so count your lucky stars there are Vietnamese pho joints all over this foggy, damp city. The finest of them all is Turtle Tower, where you get some of the best pho in the city, and it’s ridiculously cheap. At the first sign of a cold, get yourself a bowl of their pho ga (chicken noodle) soup — you’ll score a pore-cleaning blast of steam as you slurp the delicate hand-cut noodles. You can really sweat a cold out with a bowl of the beef soup, like the pho soc vang — and feel free to go nuts adding some spicy, sinus-clearing sriracha to it.
631 Larkin, SF. (415) 409-3333

The Japanese have turned noodles into an art form (it’s right up there with bonsai), but it’s a shame so few eateries in our Japanophilic town give them much respect. One place that knows how to rock the ramen right is Suzu, nestled in the bottom of the Japantown Kinokuniya complex. It’s a small space, but the options for bowls of tender udon and silky ramen are varied and numerous. Some swear by the chicken kara-age (fried chicken), but the mabo ramen is the truly irresistible choice: tofu and ground pork in a somewhat spiced broth. Slurp.
1581 Webster, suite 105, SF. (415) 346-5083

The only snow we tend to get is in the bathrooms at the clubs, but you can still make like Hans and Heidi and head over to this quirky chalet for a winter wonderland night of fondue. Take your pick from a variety of cheese and beef fondues and start dunking chunks of baguette (carbs and calories be damned). You can even choose extra sides for dipping, such as apple, sausage, and mushrooms. But a ticket to ride to this alpine fantasy comes at a price — not quite a Swiss bank withdrawal, but still: cheese fondue is $34 for two, beef is $44 for two, and sides are $4 each — and if you have your heart set on some chocolate fondue for dessert, you’ll pay $16 for two. (“Edelweiss” not included.)
2323 Van Ness, SF. (415) 885-6116

The French have it down with soupe a l’oignon gratinée. Really, what’s not to love about crusty bread, sweet golden-brown onions, chicken and beef broth, a whisper of brandy, fresh thyme, and melted Gruyère cheese? It’s the original meal in a cup, or bowl for that matter. And one of the better bowls of this wonder stuff can be had at Absinthe, working a très charmant brasserie environment to accompany a menu of Frenchie classics. Finish or, heck, bookend dinner with some primo cocktails from the bar, and you’ll leave toasty and a little toasted.
398 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-1590,

The Germans practically invented hefty food, and if there is ever a time to scarf down some schnitzel or sauerbraten, these cold-ass months are it. Two East Berlin lasses run this homey neighborhood joint and will ensure you are well fed without totally lightening your wallet (entrées clock in at less than $15). And vegetarians, achtung! Now is the time in Sprockets when you eat, since there are a rather tasty vegetarian schnitzel and a meatless cabbage roulade on the menu, both served in generous portions with mashed potatoes. Bonus: this place is always warm and packed with friendly bodies, partially due to the seriously legit beers on tap. Prost!
381 S. Van Ness, SF. (415) 551-7181,

Ahhhhh, chowdah. There’s a reason anglers are able to keep fueled and warm on the stuff — it’s hot, filling, and hearty, and the boys at Bar Crudo are happy to make sure you leave feeling like a nautical warrior, even if you work for Google. This rich and savory chowder has fresh clams, cod, squid, and potato, plus some hunky hunks of smoky bacon, all in a cream-loaded broth that makes you grateful you’re not lactose intolerant. Order up an ale from the extensive beer list, and you’ll be calling yourself Long John Silver in no time. Oh, wait, he was a pirate.
603 Bush, SF. (415) 956-0396,

So your socks are soggy and your nose is runny? Let’s pretend you’re maxing and relaxing at a balmy locale instead. Poleng’s tropical feel, complete with batik, a water wall, and other island-evocative decor, should help. And for some weird reason, it can also feel quite stuffy, so the resort fantasy isn’t too far-fetched. Thanks to the talented Filipino chef, you can feast on an array of Asian small plates that are as delish as they are affordable, such as fried chicken adobo wings, lumpia Shanghai, and garlic crab noodles. Don’t miss the tea service, which is almost as effective as self-warming seats in a Saab.
1751 Fulton, SF. (415) 441-1751,

San Franciscans know wintertime is all about Dungeness crab. And when there’s crab, there’s a bowl of the quintessential San Francisco treat out there with your name on it. Not Rice-A-Roni, friend — cioppino. Belly up to the counter at Tadich, and you’ll get a big steaming bowl of clams, prawns, scallops, bay shrimp, crabmeat, and white fish, with garlic bread on the side. You can also warm up with a bowl of its various chowders or some Chesapeake Bay oyster stew. For those who have never had a Tadich experience, just know the long-standing waiters here are about as salty as your Saltine cracker, so don’t try any funny stuff, kid.
240 California, SF. (415) 391-1849

Luna Park is already a favorite of comfort food junkies for its warm goat cheese fondue, oven-baked mac ’n’ cheese with broccoli and applewood-smoked ham, and other stick-to-your ribs savories for less than $20. But this holiday it’s time to release your inner kid, the nice one who wants to decorate cookies (not the bad one who throws rocks)! From Dec. 10 to 25, you can come in and decorate your own gingerbread man and Christmas tree cookie with all kinds of candies and toppings. You can also warm up like an adult with a mug of Santa’s Little Helper, Luna Park’s brandy- or whiskey-spiked eggnog. It comes with a bar of dark chocolate, perfect for stirring and eating naturally.
694 Valencia, SF. (415) 553-8584,

This friendly little eatery is well-known around town for its killer brunch, but a lot of people are just learning about its ridiculously affordable dinners too, thanks to the new owners. Chow down on homey neoclassical American faves such as slow-roasted lamb shank, roasted free-range chicken, and Shiraz-braised short ribs, with not a single dish more than $16 in that little roundup (and you get some fab veggie sides). Any place that serves chicken potpie is a champ, but how about chicken hash, for dinner? Uh, yeah, bring it on. Fill up on the homemade bread too.
500 Presidio, SF. (415) 441-2238,

Most San Francisco fireplaces have been converted into receptacles to store crappy gas heaters, but there are a couple spiffy restaurants around town that understand the importance of a good, crackling fire. Nothing quite tops the fireplace at Kokkari, which does double duty as a rotisserie for various meat treats such as spring lamb, whole Red Wattle pig, duck, goose, and goat. (No Duraflame here.) Meanwhile, newcomer Terzo has a cozy hearth that complements its slick and attractive space; its extensive menu of Mediterranean and seasonal small plates supplies some old-world hominess.
Kokkari, 200 Jackson, SF. (415) 981-0983,; Terzo, 3011 Steiner, SF. (415) 441-3200,

A steamy room isn’t normally considered an asset, but when it’s nippy out, nothing quite beats the front room of Woodward’s Garden for snuggly respite. The open kitchen cranks up the ambient temperature and sends out seasonal and substantial dishes such as pork chops, lamb shanks, and homemade ravioli. Depending on what’s cookin’, you also might walk out smelling a little smoky, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
1700 Mission, SF. (415) 621-7122,

Foreign cures



It’s Saturday morning, 10 a.m., and the sun streaming into your bedroom is driving a wedge into your brain. Someone put little socks on your teeth while you were sleeping. You smell like a distillery. You failed to follow any of the drunken rules when you stumbled home, pantsless, the night before: You didn’t drink a big jug of water and take two ibuprofen, and you didn’t make yourself a fried egg sandwich. (You know about that one, right? Grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg and mayo inside — works every time.) You promise yourself you’re never going to mix mai tais, margaritas, and merlot again. With a Mary Jane finale.
But if you’re up for some real chow (instead of crackers, club soda, and Emergen-C), fortunately you’ll find salvation in a number of our city’s dining outposts. Since there are cultures that have been dealing with hangovers for many moons longer than our little post–Barbary Coast enclave has, I went on a citywide tour to unearth the best international food cures to help counteract the deleterious effects of knowing a bartender, blacking out at bachelor parties, or just drinking to forget.
A hot bowl of the Vietnamese noodle soup pho (pronounced fuh) comes highly recommended as a restorative by a couple restaurant owners I know, and some bona fide boozehounds. Turtle Tower (631 Larkin, SF. 415-409-3333) in Little Saigon has the best pho in the city, and number nine, the Pho Ga/chicken noodle soup — a steaming bowl of silky, hand-cut rice noodles and some darned good white chicken meat — is your rescue. Since Turtle Tower’s pho is considered to be northern, or Hanoi, style, it comes in a light broth with cilantro and a side of lemon and sliced peppers. Order the small size — it’s plenty big enough, trust. Back it up with a tangy lemon soda and you are seriously set. Lucky you, they’re open early, so you can get your slurp on.
Some other folks wise to the soup-as-hangover-antidote method are those wild ones of the mountains, the Basque. Sheepherders really know how to party. (What else can you do there? Wait, don’t answer that — just leave the sheep out of this.) Their classic day-after elixir is garlic soup. Visit Piperade (1015 Battery, SF. 415-391-2555, and order a bowl of hearty soup made with rock shrimp, bacon, bread, garlic, and egg. It covers all the bases. You can eat at the cozy bar, so don’t let the white tablecloths scare you.
OK, everyone has heard of the infamous Mexican hangover cure, menudo. (No jokes about the band, please, that’s tired.) Menudo is a soup made with beef tripe (yes, it comes from three of a cow’s four stomachs), hominy, onion, and spices. Sometimes you’ll find some pork knuckles or calf’s foot. The Greeks have a version of it; same goes for a number of South American countries, and you’ll even find a variant in the Philippines. Menudo is traditionally only available on the weekends, so I made sure I was good and hungover the Sunday I stumbled into Chava’s (2839 Mission, SF. 415-282-0283) to try it. How hungover? How about a wedding rehearsal dinner the night prior, with a cavalcade of flutes of sparkling wine, red wine, and a couple French 75s followed by two old-fashioneds? Yeah, I was feeling it.
But, um, here’s what I’ve decided about menudo: On the days when you’re so nauseated you need to get sick, come to Chava’s, get a bowl of menudo to go, bring it home, and open the lid. Just one whiff, partnered with the sight of the rubbery tripe and animal parts, will inspire a great big Technicolor yawn. No offense to Chava’s, but you simply had to grow up with the stuff to be able to eat it, let alone eat it when you’re hungover.
Speaking of fatty food: It’s supposedly tough on your liver the day after, since it’s already working double time to flush out all those nasty toxins, but I say whatever — if the fat makes you feel good, eat up. This is where el Farolito (2951 24th St., SF. 415-641-0758) lives up to its “little lighthouse” name, especially for those who can’t see through their morning-after daze. The doctor is ready to see you now: The super quesadilla suiza is a flour tortilla exploding with a mass of carne asada, cheese, meat, avocado, salsa, and sour cream that you can pick up and hold in your quivering DTs-afflicted hands. It’s so huge you can bring the rest of it home for when you’re hungry again. (What is it about hangovers that turns everyone into Count Snackula?)
A runner-up in the “Mexican food–bad for you” category are the nachos (and a Pacifico, if you can manage it) at Taqueria Can-Cun (2288 Mission, SF. 415-252-9560). The nachos saved me one afternoon after a bleary night in North Beach with some Italians (don’t ask). You’ll get a pile of meat, refried beans, avocado, cheese, sour cream, jalapeños, and their lousy grainy chips that actually come to life in the nachos. Spicy too. Feeling more arriba now?
The Irish know a thing or two about hangovers, and you can find a hearty Irish breakfast — sausage, bacon, black-and-white pudding (you might not want to eat it — it’s made with blood), baked beans, potatoes, mushrooms, and eggs any style — at the Phoenix Bar and Irish Gathering House (811 Valencia, SF. 415-695-1811, The place is nice and dark, even during the day, so you don’t have to dine in your sunglasses (unless someone punched you in the eye because you were mouthing off). There are all kinds of brunch dishes and other greasy foods served until late in the day, and you have plenty of options for some hair of the dog at the bar. I’d say they know their clientele.
A partyer pal was kind enough to let his secret out of the (barf) bag for me: the Korean dish bi bim bap from Hahn’s Hibachi (1305 Castro, SF. 415-642-8151), a magic combo of chicken, pork, or marinated beef and vegetables on a bed of rice, with a raw egg on top. Throw some hot sauce on and mix it all up in its hot stone bowl so the bits of rice on the edge get crispy and the egg cooks. The name literally means “thrown-together rice,” and while there are definitely more authentic places around town, hangover day is never good for serious exploration — you need a sure thing.
The hungover French (well, those from the region of Brittany, anyway) would surely cosign a crepe from Ti Couz (3108 16th St., SF. 415-252-7373). These aren’t the finest crepes in the world, but I would say an order of the complete crepe (ham, cheese, and a sunny-side up egg inside) with the Ti Couz mimosa (made with peach schnapps — I know, you thought you were done with schnapps) while sitting out in the sun will get you feeling très bon again.
Lastly, our tour of the culinary landscape of San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a couple classic American burger options. I am not alone in vouching for the wonders of a Whiz Burger (700 S. Van Ness, SF. 415-824-5888) cheeseburger and a root beer freeze. There’s even a decent veggie burger, and tasty seasoned waffle fries. But it’s hard to beat a giant juicy burger hot off the grill while hanging out on the patio of Zeitgeist (199 Valencia, SF. 415-255-7505) on a Sunday, with an ice-cold beer or one of their Bloody Marys. My badass bartender friend Kenny Meade from Vertigo Bar recommends either a shot of Fernet or, post-Zeitgeist, a Mexican chocolate milkshake from Mitchell’s Ice Cream (688 San Jose, SF. 415-648-2300, He’s gotten me drunk enough times for me to totally trust him on this little piece of advice. SFBG
In between potential Betty Ford benders, Marcia Gagliardi somehow publishes a delicious weekly column about the SF restaurant scene, the Tablehopper, at Got a favorite foreign hangover cure? Let us know: