Tiki in the Tonga Room

In between rainstorms, one of the world's best tiki bars
In between rainstorms, one of the world's best tiki bars

The tiki bar is a sadly dying breed in the surviving American kitsch scene, and the Tonga Room is the Graceland of tiki bars. Scurrilous rumors are currently circulating around San Francisco that the Tonga will be closed at some point to make way for luxury condos, and this has only heightened the Tonga’s popularity.

Situated in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel, the Tonga Room is a San Francisco institution, most notably for the hangovers it cheerfully administers, but also for its kind staff and amazing decor. Did I mention the rainstorm, replete with thunder? Yes, it rains indoors at the Tonga.

You can even conga in the Tonga when the band plays, which is usually Thursday through Saturday evenings. The musicians come out on a barge on the old swimming pool and play the most rocking of disco beats from the 1980s.

You can shake your tiki goodness on the dance floor, which resembles the deck of a schooner.

Though it can be fun to go dancing here as a couple, the Tonga Room is the most fun when you’re with a group of friends, all devoted to worshiping the Gods of Tiki, Mai Tai, & Scorpion Bowl.

Tiki it up at the Tonga. Before you go, check on hours and musical schedules: http://www.fairmont.com/sanfrancisco/guestservices/restaurants/thetongaroomhurricanebar.htm

For your one-way trip to Polynesia, take the cable car or cab up to 950 Mason Street, right off California.

Some Awesome Thin Crust in the Outer Sunset

I’m not usually a thin crust pizza fan, but the Pizza Place on Noriega changed my mind. Great toppings, awesome sauce to cheese ratio, and a crispy yet not too cracker-like crust. (Full disclosure on sauce to cheese ratio comment: I prefer a fairly balanced sauce to cheese ratio, and dislike pizza that has too much cheese or too much sauce. Your preference for this ratio will drive your pizza preferences, whether you are a thin crust or a thick crust devotee.)

Good selection of beers on tap (including the ever refreshing PBR), and nice variety/quality, yet reasonable, wine list. Some great salads to start off with, particularly the wilted spinach with Zoe’s bacon. Amongst the pizza selections, the Dimitri’s pretty outstanding when you’re in a garlic/meat-tastic mood.

The folks who work here are super nice as well, even when it’s crowded, and it can be, because it’s really good. If you’re solo, the bar is a good place to get a beer and grab a slice.

Pizza Place on Noriega, online http://www.pizzaplacesf.com/ in person @ 3901 Noriega @ 46th Avenue.

Getting Crabby! The Best Crab in San Francisco

As a town that prides itself on the fine Dungeness crabs that once teemed in the local waters, it’s easy to find lots of restaurants that serve crab in San Francisco. However, such multiplicity makes it tough to find the best crab.

Until you wash up on Ocean Beach, that is.

The An family has been dishing up roasted crabs for decades at its flagship restaurant, Thanh Long. There are a variety of styles of roast crab on offer, but if you’re a garlic person, the roast garlic crab is perfection, along with a side of the secret recipe garlic noodles. (Adding to the special cache of Thanh Long is the secret kitchen, where only family members can enter!)  

It’s a great place to go share plates, and I’ve never taken anyone who has been disappointed. In addition to the infamous crab, other wonderful entrees, great appetizers, nice desserts, some interesting cocktails made with house infused spirits, and a wonderful wine list. But don’t over-indulge in any of that if it takes you away from the garlic roast crab and garlic noodles.

Thanh Long, online @ http://www.anfamily.com  Physically located at 4101 Judah @ 46th Avenue. (Valet parking)

Get into Some Trouble (Coffee) in the Sunset

Trouble Coffee, SF
One of the only house rules at Trouble

Way back when, before a topless mermaid took over your morning coffee fix, folks in coffee-centric towns like San Francisco used to go to local places for a good cuppa joe or espresso.  Over the years, it’s been a real shame to see the town’s coffee houses collapse to the sterile, manufactured ambiance of the franchise kings of Seattle.

One neighborhood fought back. The Outer Sunset. It may be one of the only places in town where the closest chain coffee store is 20 blocks away in any direction.

The perfect embodiment of a local coffee house collective, along with what may well be the best espresso in the city, is Trouble Coffee,  on Judah, at 46th Avenue, http://troublecoffee.com.  

A fine cast of local characters runs and frequents the place. The espresso will make hair sprout instantly on your chest, though lacks the bitterness that plagues some espressos elsewhere. If you’re around for breakfast (or hungover in the noonish time), order an espresso, coconut, and toast. All will be forgiven.