Having grown up in Chicagoland, I’m a bit of a fiend for deep dish. On tasting this savory goodness, a visiting English friend found Chicago deep dish to be more like a “heavy, Italian-flavored fondue in a cornmeal crust.” Mmm. What’s not to love about a garlicky tomato and cheese fondue in a pie?
As a deep dish purist, I can attest to it being nearly impossible to find a good deep dish outside of Chicago. (My dad swears it’s some alchemy involving the lake water and perfect crusts.) That was, of course, until I followed the neon finger to Golden Boy, a wonderful divey pizza joint in San Francisco’s North Beach.
While not technically a true deep dish in the Chicago sense of the term, Golden Boy’s thick crust is golden on the outside and chewy on the inside, with a pleasantly tangy tomato sauce and my approved sauce to cheese ratio. (Full disclosure: I prefer a saucier slice than a cheesy one.) The crust holds up well to a variety of toppings: the pepperoni slice is a personal favorite, but I’ve never been unhappy with the sausage, veggie, or even the seafood slice at Golden Boy.
The square slices are only a few bucks. Whole rectangles aren’t that pricey either. And there’s a fine selection of craft beers on tap to accompany your multiple slices. (You will definitely have more than one. Save room!)
Follow the finger to Golden Boy, 542 Green Street (just off Jasper in North Beach)
Having lived out in the Avenues for a decade, I always enjoyed it when the rest of SF came out to our neck of the woods for events like Outsidelands and the Bay to Breakers. There’s something amusing about drunk people asking how far away Haight-Ashbury or the Ferry Building is, when most of them have just walked from there.
But you shouldn’t wait for a special event to bring you out where the streets have numbers and alphabetically sequenced names. The Outer Sunset (also indicated on old maps as the Outerlands when it was a somewhat barren terrain of rolling sand dunes) is one of San Francisco’s most original, authentic neighborhoods– a groovy mix of surfers, artists, folks starting cool local businesses, and just plain ordinary people (if anyone residing in San Francisco can ever be described as merely ordinary). Here’s a few things to do before or after a good walk in Golden Gate Park or on the beach, or anytime you’re lucky enough to find yourself out in OB (Ocean Beach).
Community Coffee Klatsch
If you head down in the morning to enjoy the beach, you may need some caffeine. For some of the best espresso in the city, head to Trouble Coffee, on Judah between 45th & 46th Avenues. You can also recharge with the excellent toast and the refreshing juice from freshly cracked coconuts.
At the end of Judah where the street car turns around is Java Beach, which offers coffee, some light fare, and beer when the time’s right. The outdoor patio and garden across the street are perfect places to sip a beverage and watch the neighborhood go by if it’s a sunny day. (Some nights, Java Beach also has music, and you can check out the calendar here: http://www.javabeachcafe.com/)
Picnic Items The Outer Sunset is a zone of independence against the tyranny of encroaching chain stores. So much so that the neighborhood’s residents successfully got chain stores banned from the neighborhood when the mermaid-logo people from Seattle tried to muscle in.
The epicenter of this independent, up-with-people movement in the Outer Sunset is Other Avenues (http://www.otheravenues.coop/), a worker-owned co-op offering natural and organic foods and merchandise since the 1970s. Other Avenues is located on Judah between 44th and 45th Avenues, and you should pick-up a kombucha drink, micro-brews, or organic vino along with cheeses, fresh breads, and great organic produce for a beach and park picnics here.
Surfer Gear If you left your board at home and want to catch some sets at OB, swing by Mollusk Surf Shop at 45th and Irving (one block toward Golden Gate Park from Judah). The apparel’s also great here, particularly the brilliantly designed t-shirts with sea/surf motifs. Year-round, Mollusk hosts a lot of fun events, from yoga classes to art shows to movie screenings. You can find out more here: http://www.mollusksurfshop.com/
Eat Your Veggies (It’s a Treat)
For organic, contemporary fare, Outerlands, at 4401 Judah (on the corner of 45th), offers a menu that changes with the seasons, with a real focus on vegetables that will make you forget they’re not the main dish. (I had brussel sprouts here once that would have changed any sprout-haters mind!) The soups and fresh bread are super-stars on an already tremendous menu, and the wine list offers several interesting options, along with a beer menu that changes daily. Take a look at what’s on offfer at Outerlands here: http://outerlandssf.com/
Good, solid Indian food can be found at Golden Gate Indian & Pizza, in a little strip mall on Judah, right off 46th. The veggie samosas are some excellent fried goodness, and you can get your chicken tikka as spicy as you like, if you ask. The Indian pizza is also a novel combination of two awesome foods: pizza and tandoori chicken. Mmm. When worlds collide.
The Locals Local If you’re out in the avenues for a special event or on a banner weather day, don’t try to fight the crowds and claw your way back downtown. There’s a place for you called Pittsburgh’s. One of the only places that’s open until 2 a.m. in the area, Pittsburgh’s attracts an eclectic crowd: surfers, sports fans watching a game or two, locals shooting pool, and professional drinkers who could give Bukowski a run for his money. The bartenders are always friendly, and never bat an eyelash if you walk in wearing cowboy hats or other costumes. As long as you’ve got the green to pay for your ice cold PBR, it’s all good. Cruise over to 4207 Judah, at 47th Avenue for a solid, old-school American local.
Festivals that Find You in the Outer Sunset If you’re an SF resident who’s skeptical of the Avenues, you’ll already know about these festivals. If you’re a tourist, here’s some things you should definitely take part in when you come to SF for a visit.
Bay to Breakers – Third Sunday in May traditionally. People walking, running, and drinking from the SF Bay to, you guessed it, the “Breakers” of Ocean Beach. Wear a costume. Mexican wrestling masks count as a costime. The Beach/Park Chalet is a hot spot on the finish line. I’d give you the link, but every year, they annoyingly/intelligently change the URL to include a corporate sponsor’s name. Google will show you the way if you’re game.
Outsidelands – Mid to late August, this music festival combines top name acts with the best up-and-coming artists. For the festival’s first year, I saw Radiohead play at night when the fog rolled in, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll also never forget the deep-fried fancy macaroni and cheese sticks with a side of spicy tomato sauce. It’s like all the other festivals…without the crappy camping! Get details on the upcoming hoo-ha at: http://www.sfoutsidelands.com/
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Mid to late September/Early October, the park plays host to multiple FREE venues where you can hear acts like Joan Baez sing “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” It’s free because a very nice man made a lot of money in Silicon Valley/investment banking and decided to put on a music party for his favorite kind of folk/bluegrass tunes. I have never heard of a better expenditure of cash, which probably makes Warren Hellman (the funder of said festival) the smartest money human on the planet. Bravo, Mr. Hellman. Bravo.
Sometimes, you just want some fresh fish, perfectly cooked, without all the oddball extras some San Francisco hipster joints tend to layer on plates (chamomile chardonnay reduction with fudge nibs on swordfish). And, if you live in SF and have out of town guests, you’re probably desperate to find a place where you can meet your friends and family at the Wharf, where you won’t feel like you’ve fallen through the looking glass into a tourist circus.
Scoma’s is just the place. With boats still delivering catch straight to Scoma’s, it’s one of the last relics of when the Wharf was a more authentic place: where fishing and crab boats, and not chain restaurants, were justifiably king.
When in season, this is one of the best places in the city to sample locally caught Dungeness. Other times, you can try sand dabs and petrale sole, 2 San Francisco classics. Ask for whatever’s fresh and you won’t be disappointed.
The area outside Scoma’s has one of the best views of the Golden Gate bridge, and the view of the fishing docks from Scoma’s bar is a great place for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great wine list, featuring several of California’s best wines, to complement your meal as well.
As always in life, getting to Scoma’s is half the fun. You take a turn off the main drag– a tourist laden goldmine of gift shops and chain restaurants– and instantly, everything’s bustling in a different way or just quiet. You’re in a working port, where real fishing boats ply their trade, and seagulls swoop over boats to see if there are any scraps.
See it, and taste it, for yourself at Pier 47, Al Scoma Way, SF, CA. Online, check Scoma’s out at: http://www.scomas.com/
In case you haven’t noticed, candy for grown-ups is officially beyond trend. It is a fact of the grown-up landscape.
Maybe it’s the punch of the face of the recession. Maybe it’s the mortgage you can’t pay for. Maybe it’s the realization that you may be sitting in a beige cube for the next 30 years (or longer, given what has happened to your 401K).
Whatever grim grown-up news you face, candy takes you away from that. Particularly a little nook like fiona’s sweetshoppe with old-fashioned, glass apothecary jars showcasing their sweet contents: chocolate-covered nuts, gummies, sour candies, licorice, and more delights from all over the world. The special focus is on candy from Britain, home of one of the world’s best candy bars, most notably the Cadbury Flake. (Findable at fiona’s.)
For some reason, the Brits are way ahead of us on mass market candy bars. Perhaps it’s their wise decision to provide flavorful chocolate instead of loading a bar with wax for shipping purposes. (This is readily apparent in all mainstream chocolate candies, but very very obvious if you have a malt ball taste-off between Whoppers & Malteasers. Malteasers win every time. Less or no wax taste. Also findable at fiona’s.)
If you happen to be downtown and in need of cheer, although I typically recommend visiting a bar to remedy your troubles, candy is a nice change of pace. (And, there’s no hangover!) Or, if you need to bring a hostess gift and want to forego the candle or soap you have tucked away in your closet, fiona’s is also a good stop, as every offering is beautifully wrapped.
After a day of walking through Golden Gate Park or hanging out on the beach, the Chalet is a great place to wet your whistle with the great beer made on site. (Of course, the cocktails and the wine aren’t bad either.) The Chalet encompasses 2 restaurants, each with its own vibe and menu.
When you first enter the building, you’ll notice the beautiful murals that cover the walls, a WPA project. (Back in the day, to help take the sting out of Depression-related unemployment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration employed artists to beautify public buildings. The Chalet is one of the best examples of such art in San Francisco.)
On closer inspection of the murals, however, you will notice some interesting details, which seem to imply that, perhaps, not everything was as it should be with the local denizens. One creepy stand-out is the mural section as you head over to the bathrooms (on the right side of the passage to the bathrooms). Once you start looking for strange, symbolic things in the murals (think: sausages, fountains, and cylinder shapes at odd angles), you’ll find the oddities right in plain sight. (Much like San Francisco itself, but I digress.)
The Beach Chalet, upstairs, has a menu that’s more steakhouse-focused, and the steaks are great. There’s a lot of music (particularly jazz) played up there throughout the week, which makes it pretty enjoyable. The view of the ocean is tremendous for dinner when you can watch the sunset. For breakfast, while you sip a fine bloody mary, you can watch the surfers and other ambitious aqua-athletes (kiteboarders, skimboarders, and more) hit the frigid ocean in the morning.
The Park Chalet is downstairs in the back, and has a different food menu, though the same great libations. Pizzas are great. Burgers and other grilled stuff are also good, particularly when you eat them outdoors at the weekend BBQ on their lawn (only available during certain months). Studded with cheerful Adirondack chairs where you can get service, the lawn’s a perfect place to watch some great music outdoors in the summer. (The Mermen swing by from time to time.) You’re also welcome to throw a blanket down on the grass when the comfy chairs fill up, and you can even get service from your own blankie. Sunny Sundays are very popular here, and you’ll see a great cross-section of San Francisco folks massively enjoying the weather, tunes, and beer.
If it’s too chilly for all that, as it often is in San Francisco, they’ll do the music indoors at the Park Chalet, which is just fine. The entire indoor area is glass, which opens and closes in different configurations to make you feel like you’re always outside. There’s a stone fireplace that is nice to sit and sip next to on cooler nights, of which there are many in San Francisco, particularly in July.
Check out their site for special nights, special deals, and music schedules before you go @ www.beachchalet.com Or, just get surprised and head over to the end of Golden Gate Park at 1000 Great Highway. If you have only one day in San Francisco and the weather happens to be nice, this is a must-visit.
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.
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.