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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SFoodie's 92, Part 3: Our Favorite Things to Eat and Drink in S.F.

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 10:28 AM

No. 65, brioche bread pudding from Tartine Bakery. - JOHN BIRDSALL
  • John Birdsall
  • No. 65, brioche bread pudding from Tartine Bakery.
Way back in January, SFoodie began a daily diary of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink around here. Why 92? It was the exact number of posting days from the start of 2010 till today, the day SF Weekly's Best of San Francisco issue hit the streets ― our version of advent, if you will. In Part 1 and Part 2, we recapped dishes 1 through 61; in this third and final installment, we take you home. Major thanks to Jonathan Kauffman, Andrew Simmons, and Carolyn Alburger, who collaborated on this long march through the city's best. And thanks to Web editor Alexia Tsotsis for her tireless paginating. Grab a fork and meet us after the jump.

click to enlarge It's sort of about the sauce.
  • It's sort of about the sauce.
Number 62: Prupisceddu in Umidu (Stewed Octopus) from La Ciccia In the wrong hands, octopus tentacles can end up having the tough, rubbery texture of an over-abused kid's toy. At Noe Valley Sardinian eatery La Ciccia, however, they are stewed slowly until they are meaty, chewy yet pliant, bathed in a rich, piquant, brick-red tomato sauce. As good as the octopus (called prupisceddu in umidu, $11) gets, the sauce is half the appeal. Even diners indifferent to carbohydrates scuffle over the basket of dry, otherwise un-noteworthy bread so they can get to dunking. Unique among Italian restaurants in San Francisco, La Ciccia has a lot to offer ― like fregula pasta with fresh ricotta and grated cured tuna heart, for example ― but a trip here wouldn't be right without a dip in that ruddy, ocean-kissed bowl. La Ciccia 291 30th St. (at Church), 550-8114; dinner only, Tues.-Sun.
Hipsters beware. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Hipsters beware.
Number 63: Ribs from Bruno's At this '90s neo-swinger lounge on Mission, chefs Katharine Zacher and Ryan Ostler serve up mostly Southern heartland eats so vivid they seem startlingly at odds with the room. So maybe hipsters don't gladly manhandle bones, and suffer their chins to get all shiny with pork residue. Except that, after one taste of Ostler's smoked ribs, and chances are they won't care. Smoked over hickory and applewood, the West Texas-style ribs show off a finely pebbled crust as dark as grade C maple syrup, with an aroma every bit as woody-sweet. The flesh is plush and stringy, and has enough flavor all on its own to make the accompanying barbecue sauce (not spicy, but subtly smoky) completely optional. Which is good news for things like cardigan sleeves, the potentially gunky hipster casualties of uninhibited eating ― something Zacher and Ostler have a way of inspiring. Bruno's 2389 Mission (at 20th St.), 643-5200
click to enlarge The smuggle-worthy Turkish salad (left). - FALLOPIAN SWIM TEAM D./YELP
  • Fallopian Swim Team D./Yelp
  • The smuggle-worthy Turkish salad (left).
Number 64: Turkish Salad from Old Jerusalem Next to Old Jerusalem's falafel ― as crunchy and yielding as fresh-baked rolls ― and its mousakhan, a beguiling Wednesday special of roasted chicken heaped atop a sweet, sumac-soaked flatbread, the restaurant's humble Turkish salad might not seem like a big draw. If you order a sandwich, you won't even taste it (unless you elect to fork over an extra few bucks). Still, folks setting their sights on entrées and specials get to start their meal with an appetite-crushing spread of warm pita triangles, tiny sour olives, bitter pickled turnip slices, a tangy parsley dip, and that Turkish salad, a vaguely jammy stewed-tomato compote. The dense web of flavors belies what could not be a lengthy list of ingredients. Studded with jalapeño coins and snappy onion curls, the "salad" is hot ― not truly hot, but pungent and peppery, with all the tang of a good spicy salsa. Like salsa, it would find its way onto everything in our kitchen, from eggs to crackers, if only we were given the opportunity, which we don't imagine we'll get. Unless we discover a way to smuggle out a few quarts, one cupful at a time. Old Jerusalem 2976 Mission (at 25th St.), 642-5958
Throwback to a milkier time. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Throwback to a milkier time.
Number 65: Brioche Bread Pudding from Tartine Bakery What happened to the junkets and egg custards, the flummeries and semolina puddings of earlier generations? Vanished beneath vast landfills of synthetic factory pudding cups. And though it's no simple revival of those bucolic desserts, Tartine owner Elisabeth Prueitt's homely brioche pudding has all the concentrated milkiness, the squidgy texture, and delicately sweet-sulfur egginess of its old fashioned antecedents. With an enormous spoonful of fruit compote on top (pears are pictured above), it shades Northern Cali: fall-leaf colors and a distilled fruitiness that precisely set off the pudding's milky opalescence. Tartine Bakery 600 Guerrero (at 18th St.), 487-2600
Deliciously bipolar. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Deliciously bipolar.

Number 66: Cornmeal Waffle and Buttermilk Fried Chicken from Brown Sugar Kitchen

When fried chicken and waffles come together, it's a question of taking sides. Do you go with stellar chicken (craggy texture bubbled like a popcorn ceiling, white flesh seeping juices) with waffles that are inevitably merely meh? Or eggy, crackle-crusted waffles, next to chicken whose fast-food aspirations you try to bury under a pile of grease-stained napkins? Rarely do both elements have even rough equivalence ― except, that is, at Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland. While owner-chef Tanya Holland's cornmeal waffles are inarguably good enough to land on anyone's mid-length list of best Bay Area dishes, period, her buttermilk fried chicken is likely to stir more debate than whether Oakland restaurants are eclipsing their cousins in the 415.

KFC cognate it isn't: Holland's fried chicken prizes flesh, not breading. Marinated with garlic and herbs (tarragon predominated in the leg and thigh pictured here), the taste is deeply chicken-y, the flour coating just about tempura-thin. It's fried in small batches and left to ripen on a baking sheet on a shelf above the range. Of course, the waffles need no convincing: popover light, with ridges as delicate as the thin bits around a piecrust's perimeter. You could argue ― and, well, we are ― that with waffles as texturally perfect as these, it frees up the chicken to be fleshy and delicious. Plus the apple cider syrup (you have to pay $2 more for maple, and the dish already costs $14) has a tartness that plays off the bird's richness beautifully. Our side-taking days are over.

Brown Sugar Kitchen 2534 Mandela Parkway (at Campbell), Oakland, (510) 839-7685; open till 3 p.m. Tues.-Sun.; closed Mon.

Limón cebiche: It's the tiger's milk that makes it so raawr.
  • Limón cebiche: It's the tiger's milk that makes it so raawr.
Number 67: Limón Cebiche from Limón

Spanish-trained Peruvian chef Emmauel Piqueras indulges flights of fancy at Limón ― like the pargo rojo, a whole fish deep-fried into a curl to hold crispy sections of its own flesh. But it's Piqueras's mixed cebiche plate says just as much about his technique. He dispenses with the elements of the classic platter that befuddle North Americans the most ― the fried corn, the corn cob ― and keeps the essentials: silky rings of squid; folds of whitefish fillet, just beginning to firm up; sweet raw prawns; and the tangle of shaved red onions on top. The cebiche marinates for a spell in Limón's finely balanced "leche de tigre" ― lime juice deepened with garlic and a little cumin, perfumed with cilantro, and spiked with enough aji chile to buzz on the tongue. When the tiger's milk proves too piquant, there's respite at the edges of the plate: fat, shiny kernels of field corn and a creamy half-moon of sweet potato.

Limón Restaurant 524 Valencia (at 16th St.), 252-0918
click to enlarge Custard with the weight and smoothness of butter. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Custard with the weight and smoothness of butter.
Number 68: Crème Brûlée from Sweet. The period is intentional ― Sweet. As if owner Rob Waddell sought to make the city's definitive street-food crème brûlée, which he has. Waddell began hawking his carefully assembled custards ― baked in four-ounce Ball jelly jars ― at the San Rafael Farmers' Market last July. For a little over a month, he's been selling at the Sunday Stonestown market (he no longer does San Rafael, but shows up Wednesdays in Corte Madera). A former recipe developer, Waddell brings a technician's diligence to his short line of custards ($5 each), and it shows: at a cool room temperature, his vanilla custard has the weight and smoothness of softened butter. (Velvety texture is what Sweet. does best: Precisely because it aimed to be as fudgy as its namesake, the flavor Waddell calls Flourless Chocolate Cake seemed overly heavy.) Ask Waddell to brûlée any flavor, and it takes four or five applications of pale-beige organic sugar, each torch-blasted to glassy amber. The resulting crust is as thin and brittle as birdbath ice in a San Francisco backyard. And Waddell is fussy about more than sugar: Organic Valley dairy, Judy's eggs, Blue Bottle beans to flavor the delicate coffee custard. Though you might find yourself devouring them in a mall parking lot, Sweet.'s custards are seriously indoors-worthy. Sweet. At the Sunday Stonestown Farmers' Market, 3251 20th Ave. (at Buckingham Way), 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and Wednesday Corte Madera Farmers' Market, 301 Town Center (Madera at Tamalpais), noon-5 p.m.
Number 69: Xiu Mai (Meatball) Banh Mi from Saigon Sandwich

You can never calculate how long it's going to take to get your banh mi at Saigon Sandwich, because the sandwich makers like to group the orders ― basically as many French rolls as the tiny toaster oven can warm and crisp at once ― while more than a dozen customers press in to the tiny Tenderloin shop, eying one another suspiciously: Are you going to be the guy who bought sandwiches for his entire office? the glares challenge. When the crowd sees the women filling a bag with 10 paper-wrapped oblongs, shoulders slump en masse. The guilty party always leaves with a triumphant smile. 

Thankfully, the women stuff and wrap quickly, chattering to one another without pause. Just when you're ready to abandon your order and head down the street for a doughnut, one of the snaps of the rubber band that marks the completion of a sandwich turns out to be your snap. You pay your $3 and shoulder your way out.

While the classic Saigon-style banh mi is the combo with pâté, fanci (steamed) pork, and cold cuts, the one that sets certain hearts aflutter is Saigon Sandwich's xiu mai, or meatball. It's more of a hybrid between a meatloaf and a country-style pâté, smooshed into the warm, crackly-crusted bread so the rich meat juices mingle with the mayonnaise, in potent contrast with the flashy salad of pickled vegetables, cilantro sprigs, and green chile slices packed on top. The price of the banh mi here has almost doubled over the past decade, but it's still a steal. Just as long as you don't monetize the time you spent waiting for it.

Saigon Sandwich 560 Larkin (at Eddy), 474-5698

click to enlarge Butter you grok in your sinuses. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Butter you grok in your sinuses.
Number 70: Croissants from La Farine Croissants have been debased for so long we hardly notice anymore. Squat and shapeless as walked-out loafers, weirdly sweet, and with an interior texture like damp mattress batting: It's as if American bakers were engaged in some unspoken conspiracy to gradually turn the extravagantly leaved yeast rolls into hamburger bun cognates. And even in croissants where the texture is vaguely right, the flavor is almost always blank, obliquely buttery at best. That's what makes La Farine's croissants such a marvel ― they're super buttery. Not greasy-finger buttery, but invisibly so, brittle exoskeletons giving way to pliant whorls of pale-yellow crumb, with a butter flavor you taste in your sinuses. Remarkable. La Farine 6323 College (at Alcatraz), Oakland, (510) 654-1025; 3411 Fruitvale (at MacArthur), Oakland(510) 531-7750; 1820 Solano (at Colusa), Berkeley, (510) 528-2208
Mission Burger's chili on cheesy tater tots. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Mission Burger's chili on cheesy tater tots.
Number 71: Chili from Mission Burger Call us lazy ― Americans, that is. The nation that invented chili, we've shown little interest in taking it beyond predictable simulacrums of the can, or the semi-digestible multi-bean creations of hippie moms. But not at Mission Burger, where from his corner at Duc Loi Supermarket, chef Danny Bowien wrings surprising things out of fewer ingredients than stock a Johnny Rockets. The namesake sandwich is a salty aggregate of ropy meat fibers stiffened on the flattop. The patty's construction has been much written about (short rib, chuck, and brisket, blended in the grinder and extruded, plastic-wrapped into a mighty torchon of meat). But it's the scraps ― the torchon's ends, in other words, which Bowien says end up too compacted to make successful patties ― that form the base (and the raison d'être) of Mission Burger's occasional chili. The latest version was an hours-long braise of those burger ends, with a bit of onion, chili vinegar, and house-made harissa. It ended up a thick, fiery stew with smoky undertones that offered a glimpse of redefined chili, part Italian ragu, part ma-po vividness. Bowien says if the temperature dips he'll consider selling bowls of it as a special. Today it showed up ladled onto tater tots (the frozen kind, from Sysco) glazed with slices of brick Monterey Jack. We'd be satisfied with a clump of the stuff spooned over rice, a hot dog. Hell, even a bowl of Fritos ― in fine American tradition. Mission Burger at Duc Loi Supermarket 2220 Mission (at 18th St.), 551-1772; open noon-3 p.m., Sat.-Weds.
Slathered with drama. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Slathered with drama.
Number 72: Chile-Braised Carnitas Sandwich from Bento 415 Bento 415 partners Patience Elfving and Chris Beerman have a caterer's flair for the dramatic. Their neighborhood lunch boxes (Haight Box, Chinatown Box), are distillations ― in compostable clamshells ― of themed party buffets. And while we can't say we absolutely love every element that finds its way into Bento 415's Mission Box, Beerman's carnitas sandwich is a fully formed classic. Beerman starts by rubbing Berkshire pork shoulder with arbol chile powder, cumin, lime, and roasted garlic, before braising in stock infused with pasilla and chipotle chiles. The cooked pork is shredded to a rillettes-like thatch, and packed onto a challah bun baked by Cheryl Burr of Pinkie's Bakery, which, along with Ryan Farr's 4505 Meats, shares kitchen space with Bento 415. The meat mingles with chile-spiked aïoli and cabbage slaw that has the green-tobacco taste of Beerman's house-pickled jalapeños (the former Boulevard saucier is a whiz with mustards and conserves of all kinds). The result? A sandwich with the finger-staining appeal of a Sloppy Joe, a contemporary palette of flavors, and drama all its own. Bento 415 300 De Haro (at 16th St.), Suite 342, 355-1269; Mission Box ($10) available weekdays, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Boiled lamb dumplings: Sexy isn't always photogenic.
  • Boiled lamb dumplings: Sexy isn't always photogenic.

Number 73: Lamb Dumplings from Kingdom of Dumpling

If there's a more inelegant-looking thing than a boiled dumpling, we haven't seen it. Even Frito pie and nachos have some color contrast, and oatmeal ... okay, oatmeal comes close. Order a couple dozen boiled jiaozi from this pocket restaurant on Taraval, whose name seems to promise regal fare, and your table will soon be covered with plates of grayish blobs of dough edged in rough frills. Not even a sprig of cilantro for garnish. Compared to the elegant twists and precise folds of dim sum, lamb jiaozi look like the potato jojos of the dumpling kingdom.

Dip one of those blobs in a thimble of sweetened black vinegar. When you bite, be sure to tip your head over the table, so you don't lose that spurt of rich, condensed lamb juices to your beard or sweater. The dumpling wrappers are just thick enough to have some chew to them, and thin enough that they don't take over for the taste of the meat. With its whiff of lanolin and earth, the finely ground lamb inside is hard to mistake for pork, but it's mild and larded with fat. Elegant from the inside out.

Kingdom of Dumpling 1713 Taraval (at 28th Ave.), 566-6143

Sort of the barbecue chips of our dreams. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Sort of the barbecue chips of our dreams.
Number 74: Bacon Potato Chips from Who's Your Daddy Last July, Bill Horst rolled up to Dolores Park with paper bags filled with something he'd been nursing a notion for: potato chips fried in bacon-flavored oil, tossed with Bac-Os-sized crumbly bits. Horst looked like he'd really be more comfortable in a pair of Dockers, diligently inhabiting an office cube, but he became a fixture at the summer's street-food events, hawking bags that soon morphed to plastic. Since then, Horst has been in an almost continuous process of refining. As an equation, bacon plus crispy snack food equals irresistible. But Horst's chips have a kind of ungreasy subtlety, a bacon flavor that teases more than jabs, and a warm, husky breath that makes you think of barbecue chips, only if barbecue chips hadn't become so toxic and garishly powdery. It's no wonder Horst has achieved rare success for Mission street-food vendors ― his chips have made it to Bi-Rite. Starting tomorrow, the Mission's retail food tastemaker will begin stocking Who's Your Daddy. Bi-Rite even persuaded Horst to nudge upscale, sourcing antibiotic-, hormone-, and nitrate-free bacon from a small producer in Oregon. Not bad for a guy who started out pretty much clueless in Dolores. Who's Your Daddy Bacon Potato Chips (around $5 for a roughly four-ounce bag) available starting tomorrow at Bi-Rite Market (3639 18th St. at Guerrero), Avedano's Meats (235 Cortland at Bonview), and Pal's Takeaway at Tony's Market (2751 24th St. at Hampshire)
Double plus good: Langka on a scoop of ube (sweet potato).
  • Double plus good: Langka on a scoop of ube (sweet potato).
Number 75: Langka Ice Cream from Mitchell's

The line at Mitchell's began in 1953 and hasn't let up yet. The temperature can be a rainy 45 degrees, yet there will be a crowd standing around the door, shivering en masse, jockeying for a spot indoors the second someone leaves. "Oh," you think when you pull your number, "I'm only 10 away from getting served." Then you watch the crowd and realize that each time a number is called, a family of six rushes the counter, each asking for samples. 

By now, Mitchell's Filipino flavors are the familiar ones, while classics like grasshopper pie seem exotic. Macapuno, buko, ube, mango, avocado ― the "tropical favors," as the menu calls them, range from comfortingly bland to ripe and fragrant. And the best is the langka, or jackfruit. It has all the bright melon-mango-candy appeal of the fresh fruit, with none of its occasional gas-leak overtones. Here and there, as you scoop your way through your ball of langka ice cream, you encounter small nuggets of golden flesh. They're proof that it's made with real fruit, fresh cream, and a drop of the waters of the River Lethe, which magically erases any memory you have of the wait. Until it's time to line up once again.

Mitchell's Ice Cream 688 San Jose (at Valley), 648-2300

Number 76: Chicharrones from 4505 Meats

Some of the city's cult dishes earn their rep for sheer ballsiness ― Humphry Slocombe's Jesus Juice, for example. Other dishes become favorites because they're so damn addictive. Ryan Farr's chicharrones appeal on both fronts.

The pork rinds, each a curl of glassine bubbles, are lighter and more translucent than the chicharrones you'll find at carnicerias and corner stores. You put one in your mouth, and it  grips the tongue, creating pinpoints of pain wherever it touches. Bite down, and the rind shatters with a crunch louder and more satisfying than bubble wrap. True to their appearance, Farr's chicharrones are so insubstantial that it's easy to pretend you're eating mostly air; then a pocket of liquified fat bursts across the tongue, reminding you that you're in guilty pleasure territory (that is, unless you're still an acolyte of Dr. Atkins, RIP, who brought some measure of respectability to pork rinds in the early naughts).

Most chicharrones taste of roasted pork fat and salt, and lord, that's potent enough. But Farr tricks the palate, hitting it first with a dusting of sugar. Just when you're getting over the surprise of the sweet, the salt kicks in, then the pork ― and finally your tongue starts prickling again with some chile heat. Eating a chicharron offers a small arc from pain to pleasure and back to pain. You find yourself reaching into the bag seconds after you've finished one of Farr's pork rinds, eager to follow the arc again.

4505 Meats, Available at Farr's stand at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market and at chichi grocery stores around the city

  • J. Birdsall
Number 77: Lasagna from Zuppa Zuppa is one of those all-but-invisible places you're surprised still exists. And the first few times we rediscovered the place, Zuppa's off-menu lasagna was quite literally invisible. But there it was, a half-hotel pan keeping warm at the cool end of the charcoal grill. Lasagna here is the antithesis of the prefab article we all knew growing up: house-made pasta sheets, stacked with the restaurant's house-made mozzarella, and chef Liam Bonner's pork ragu, thick with ground Berkshire pork and fennel-shaded sausage. It shows up as variations on a theme. One day it was a homely pile of sauce-covered noodles; on another, a neat stack of squares thinly spread with a béchamel that ― in the blast of the wood-burning pizza oven ― turned as dark and leathery as a scab. Both were fantastic. Keep in mind that lasagna's a lunch-only dish here, and cheap ($8). And Bonner says that, starting Monday, it'll show up on the menu. If you don't see it? Ask. Zuppa 564 Fourth St. (at Freelon), 777-5900
No. 78: Emperor's Pancake from Suppenküche

For more than 15 years, this Hayes Valley German restaurant has been offering diners a different kind of Sunday brunch: Eggs, sausage, and potatoes make up much of the menu, but it also includes sauerkraut, smoked pork, pretzels, cucumber salad ― and beer. Diners crowd around the bar, waiting for a spot at the communal tables by nursing foot-high half-liter glasses, which may be why the mood is always so animated. Listed alongside the Nürnberger bratwurst and farmer's omelets is Suppenküche's glorious Emperor's pancake (Kaiserschmarrn), an Austrian specialty that dates back to the days when the Viennese were the world's best pastry chefs.

The craggy, fluffy mass begins as a normal-looking eggy pancake ― practically a half-inch soufflé ― studded with brandied raisins. (These days you can also get an Emperor's pancake with Nutella and bananas.) It's cooked quickly until the edges are rimmed with brown, then chopped up and covered in whitecaps of powdered sugar. While the pancake itself is a pleasure to eat, when it's dredged through the puddles of applesauce and rich, prune-y compote on the side, it becomes a marvel of breakfast confectionery.

Suppenküche 525 Laguna (at Gough), 252-9289; Sunday brunch served 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
  • C. Alburger

Number 79: Turkey Kati Rolls from Kasa

It doesn't bother Kasa co-owner Tim Volkema if you call his quick-service restaurant an Indian taqueria. But we wonder if anyone really things Kasa's roti ― a hefty, homemade, griddled flatbread that manages flakiness, chewiness, and softness all at once ― could really be compared to a tortilla. Kasa's roti are made from a simple recipe of unbleached and chapati flours mixed with water and a pinch of salt. The process mirrors croissant-making in that brushstrokes of butter ― or, in this case, house-made ghee ― are layered into the dough in a multistep process. Order the Kati roll lunch special and you'll get two roti with your choice of fillings: chicken tikka, chicken tikka masala, lamb curry, turkey kebabs, karahi paneeer, or cumin-spiced potatoes. The Thai chili-infused ground turkey packs a sweat-inducing kick that, in our opinion, provides the best scenario for generous spoonfuls of cooling yogurt raita. Kasa's homemade chai, whole milk steeped for about an hour with freshly ground cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, sweetens the deal. You could call it Indian horchata. But we think that's a stretch.

Kasa Castro 4001 18th St. (at Noe), 621-6940
Kasa Marina 3115 Fillmore (at Filbert), 896-4008

Salvadoran quesadilla: cheesebread meats cake
  • Salvadoran quesadilla: cheesebread meats cake
No. 80: Quesadilla from Rico Pan

There are dozens of Mexican and Salvadoran bakeries in the Mission, most of them the size of your parents' pantry and not quite as well-stocked. Two-and-a-half-year-old Rico Pan, on the corner of Mission and Highland, operates on a different scale. Cleaner, newer, more brightly lit, its cases are filled with maize-colored cookies, fruit-filled turnovers, breads, cakes, and slabs of caramelized banana-topped bread pudding (the last: bombastically rich). In the afternoons, there's a steady traffic of schoolkids, some picking out a pastel de piña for a snack, others stuffing a bag with banana leaf-wrapped tamales for family dinner.

Once you've had your look around the room, zero in the corner where the two cases meet for a tray of gold cakes, sprinkled with sesame seeds, each the size of a saucer and an inch thick. If you think a quesadilla is always a greasy, Jack-filled flour tortilla, you need to taste the Salvadoran version. When they're still warm from the oven (say, late morning), Rico Pan's quesadillas are buttery enough to crisp around the edges, and larded with pockets of soft, barely tangy cheese. There's no convincing yourself a quesadilla is a dainty snack, but the sweetness doesn't overpower, tempered as it is by the toasted sesame seeds on top. One last tip: If the quesadilla has been sitting around for a few hours, resist devouring the cake in the shop ― take it home to rewarm in the microwave for a few seconds. If the quesadilla is fresh, the odds of it making it 20 yards past Rico Pan's door are 50 to 1.
Rico Pan 3717 Mission (at Leese ― take the 14/49 to Bernal Heights, and get off two stops after it swings round the bend), 550-1565

  • J. Birdsall
Number 81: Gin and Tonic from Pizzaiolo/Boot and Shoe Service House-concocted bar mixers are hardly new, but few have the DIY charm of the tonic Cate Whalen brews up in Oakland for sister eateries Pizzaiolo and Boot and Shoe Service. It's a murky, pinkish infusion of tropical chinchona bark, grapefruit-dominant citrus, and spices that, allied with Plymouth gin and topped up with fizzy water, ends up tasting more aperitif than highball. Tannic, bitter, and hauntingly aromatic, it turns the lowly gin and tonic into a plausible accompaniment for blistered-crust pizzas of stinging nettles and house-made sausage, or chef Charlie Hallowell's signature wood-oven-roasted squid. Pizzaiolo 5008 Telegraph (at 51st St.), Oakland; (510) 652-4888 Boot and Shoe Service 3308 Grand (at Mandana), Oakland; (510) 763-2668 No. 82: Scallop Crêpe from Ti Couz

There's a no-nonsense charm to Ti Couz Crêperie: Aside from the blown-up photos of ancient Breton women in giant lace headdresses, it's free of strenuous Gallicization, that compulsion that many French restaurateurs have to over-romanticize their home country. More remarkably, considering Sylvie Lemer's restaurant has expanded several times since its initial opening more than 15 years ago, the scallop "krampouz" is just as good as ever: The buckwheat savory crêpes are still a millimeter thick, still tasting of grain and earth, still crackly at the edges when they come off the crêpe iron. And we admit, we don't exactly order the scallop for the eraser-sized, creamy bay scallops inside, but for the pool of "sauce marée" spooned over top. We're still not sure exactly what's in it, but there's a little tomato, probably a little wine and seafood stock, and butter. Lots and lots of butter. That's romantic, and French, enough for us.

Ti Couz Crêperie 3108 16th St. (at Valencia), 252-7373; lunch and dinner daily

  • J. Birdsall
Number 83: Chocolate Beignet from Arlequin Café When it comes to dessert plate-ups, Absinthe pastry chef Luis Villavelazquez has a gorgeously baroque touch. But for the pastries he designs for Arlequin Café, Absinthe's casual next-door sib, it's the astonishingly luxe ingredients Villavelazquez uses to reframe the cliché offerings of the neighborhood bakery that leave us gobsmacked. Our favorite? Arlequin's beignets, glazed, slider-sized filled doughnuts. Of the four fillings on offer (more ― including bacon ― Thursdays at Ferry Plaza), the chocolate has us under its spell. It's a 50-50 mix of bittersweet from Valrhona and TCHO, melded into a squidgy, dangerously deep-tasting pomade. Could this be the most insidiously indulgent sinker ever made? Arlequin Café 384 Hayes (at Gough), 626-1211 and Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, South Arcade
Number 84: Poc Chuc from Poc-Chuc The restaurant's hyphen-free namesake is an inviting platter of thin-sliced pork, simultaneously crispy and chewy, draped around a mound of lightly dressed cabbage and steaming expanse of buttery rice ― a signature Mayan dish. No surprise that half of the husband-and-wife team that owns the place grew up in the Yucatán (that'd de Delmy Ruiz; husband Carlos is from northern Mexico). We love dropping spoonfuls of smooth, rich black beans on the orange-marinated pork and scooping up with fresh corn tortillas. We're also fond of the appetizers here. Panuchos (slightly crunchy tortillas layered with shredded turkey, black beans, avocado, and pickled onions), empanadas, and tostadas are all worthy warm-ups for poc chuc. A bonus, in case you're dining with someone you don't want to talk to: Sweet Mexican cowboy flicks sometimes play on the flatscreen TV above the doorway. Poc-Chuc 2886 16th St. (at S. Van Ness), 558-1583
  • J. Birdsall
Number 85: Cazuela de Chilaquiles al Guajillo from Nopalito Chilaquiles are hangover food, mostly, diner fry-ups of soggy tortilla chips thickly veiled with enchilada sauce and grayish scrambled eggs. Not at the hands of Nopalito chefs Jose Ramos and Gonzalo Guzman. Here, the daytime-only dish becomes a vehicle for the restaurant's remarkable salsa guajillo, which, despite the single-chile designation, is a snarly assemblage of five varieties: guajillos, plus anchos, arbols, mulattos, and chipotles. The heat's no more than moderate, but the salsa's brash acidity works like a spritz of cold water in the face ― perfect morning food, in other words. It coats ragged hunks of thick, house-made tortillas, fried to a chicharron-like crunch, while clumps of soft scrambled egg and queso fresco have a dulcifying effect. We'll never go back to the diner version again. Not gladly, anyway. Nopalito 306 Broderick (at Oak), 437-0303

Number 86: Tamales from All-Star

For years, All-Star Tamales has been the other reason most of us shop the Alemany Farmers' Market, the half-meal that gives a bleary man the clarity to distinguish between eight choy sum vendors and the fortitude to haul the bushel of fruits and vegetables he invariably collects back to the car. Wrapped in Pittsburg, steamed, and kept hot in insulated boxes deep enough to hold a preschooler, All-Star tamales come in 14 flavors, from roasted pasillas and cheese to Oaxacan chicken mole. We like best the red mole owner Linda Quintana braises chicken or beef with, with the hint of sweetness to the spice paste, and the classic red pork tamale, shredded pork coated in a mild red chile sauce. What makes the tamales so good is the masa. Even though it's lard-free, the masa is never dry -- the texture is always the perfect midpoint between that of a tres leches cake and a bowl of polenta.

All-Star Tamales
, (925) 252-1097, Appearing at the Alemany Farmers' Market Saturdays, 7a.m.-2p.m.; the Heart of the City (Civic Center) farmers' market Wednesdays, 7a.m.-2p.m.; and the Old Oakland farmers' market Fridays, 7a.m.-2p.m.

That's not pesto on that there slice.
  • That's not pesto on that there slice.
Number 87: Indian Pizza from Zante Pizza and Indian Cuisine

Pizzas with Indian toppings have appeared up and down the West Coast since 1988, when Zante Pizza invented Indian pizza. But Zante's is still the best we've tried, mainly because it doesn't stop at half-measures (i.e., tomato sauce + tandoori chicken). The crust, gilded with a pinch of turmeric, is smeared with a gingery, garlicky spinach puree that we suspect originated as saag paneer. The pie is then topped with, well, whatever the cooks have in house. There will always be chopped green onions and cilantro, and if you're lucky, cauliflower and eggplant, too. Zante does cater to veg and vegan diners, but if you don't specify meatless you could receive any combo of tandoori chicken, lamb, and prawns. The downside of ordering pizza from Zante: If you call in your order, you're going to have to wait an hour to an hour and a half for delivery. (We still don't know why.) The upside: Indian pizza tastes amazing the morning after.

Zante Pizza and Indian Cuisine, 3489 Mission St. (at Cortland), 821-3949; slices at lunch, whole pies lunch and dinner.

  • J. Birdsall
Number 88: Spit-Roasted Porchetta Sandwich from Il Cane Rosso In San Francisco last year, porchetta became almost as commonplace in a certain class of restaurants as the Caesar salad. And while very good adaptations of the traditional Tuscan pig roast appear all over town, no one does it with quite the finesse or intelligence you find at Daniel Patterson and Lauren Kiino's casual lunch and supper place. Chef Doug Borkowski (like Kiino, a veteran of Delfina) seasons pastured pork with a mix of orange, fennel seed, chile flakes, garlic, herbs, and lots of salt before spit-roasting. What ends up on the sandwich changes with the seasons: plum mostarda in summer; pickled cabbage and house-made Dijon in winter. Some of the subtlety of the pinkish, lushly fat-laced pork might wilt under the mustard's hot blast, but crisp shards of blistery pork skin ― the textural equivalent of potato chips in a baloney sandwich ― more than make up. Il Cane Rosso One Ferry Building (at Embarcadero), 391-7599; daytimes only
  • J. Birdsall
Number 89: Brown Sugar-Black Pepper Biscuits from Little Skillet Little Skillet daddy Farmer Brown worked out the formula for these angel biscuits, adapting a recipe by late Southern cooking icon Edna Lewis. Their rise comes from both baking powder and yeast, ensuring the airy lift of the former within the chewy structure of a Parker House roll. Little Skillet chef Christian Cicle packs brown sugar and a sprinkling of pepper on top, yielding biscuits with a delicately craggy surface. The taste? A semi-subtle buttermilk tang and molasses-y sweetness, with the buckshot sting of black pepper ― a worthy re-do of a Southern classic. Little Skillet 360 Ritch (at Townsend), 777-2777; daytimes only
  • J. Birdsall
Number 90: Coconut Bun from Out the Door on Bush Charles Phan's juxtaposition of Vietnamese, Cantonese, and American diner-ese is so seamless that, after your third or fourth meal at Out the Door on Bush, it starts to feel like an indigenous cuisine. That's especially true of the coconut buns, which ― while delicious with hot Vietnamese coffee while prepping for the daily hustle you're about to step off into ― find a natural partner in espresso. The Hong Kong-style buns are softly shiny domes of yeast dough with a texture heftier than brioche, filled with a pale amber paste of shreddy fresh coconut, reduced to jam with brown sugar. More worldly than morning buns, and with an intensity that makes you slightly embarrassed for ever having loved a coconut-shaggy doughnut. Out the Door Bush 2232 Bush (at Fillmore), 923-9575
  • J. Birdsall
Number 91: Pastrami Sandwich from Orson Show up for lunch most weekdays at Orson, and you could strip down to your briefs and elicit only mild interest from the bored-looking bartender and busser milling aimlessly through the empty dining room. Since launching last June, lunch as been a hard sell for Elizabeth Falkner's cavernous SOMA restaurant, better known for its clubby nighttime vibe. It's a shame, since Orson's lunch-only pastrami and Swiss on rye is one of the city's best sandwiches. Sous chef Elgin Espiritu cures beef brisket for two to three weeks with a spice mixture jacked with chili flakes and caraway before cold-smoking over cherrywood. Seven hours in the steamer yields faintly gamy, delicately chewy slices webbed with fat, perfect with cave-aged Gruyère melted onto sourdough rye from in-house baker Josh Capone. Be nice to that bored bartender and he just might slip you a free cupcake ― but probably only if you keep your clothes on. Orson 508 Fourth St. (at Bryant), 777-1508; Tue.-Fri. lunch only
Number 92: Cracked Half Dungeness from Swan Oyster Depot From mid-November into early spring, crabbers make 4 a.m. deliveries of furiously writhing local Dungeness to the city's Pier 45. Within hours, they're boiled in massive pier-side vats, iced down, and sent to kitchen backdoors and delivery docks baywide. The most famous might be Swan Oyster Depot, where half a cold cracked Dungeness at the scarred and sunken marble counter is the city's defining meal. Eat it adorned with nothing more than a dish of sticky yellow mayo (get it for tradition's sake, then leave it untouched) and slices of late-bake sourdough caked with cold butter. The taste of sweet flesh roots you in the local every bit as firmly as Swan's bolt-down stools. Swan Oyster Depot 1517 Polk (at Sacramento), 673-1101; daytime hours and cash only
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