‘Unique Eats’ tells stories behind SF dining spots

The main point that food and travel writer Kimberley Lovato makes about “Unique Eats & Eateries of San Francisco” is that it’s not a “best of” book.

“I didn’t want it to be a typical guidebook,” said Lovato, recently at a happy hour book signing in Belden Place alley at Sam’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant (one of the dozens of spots in the fascinating, fun-to-read volume).

“So much is written about food in San Francisco,” adds Lovato, who isn’t a culinary critic and doesn’t slavishly follow trends.

Her goal was to write about the people who own and work in The City’s eateries, and even offer readers information they didn’t know about their favorite restaurants.

“Picking only 90” was the difficult part of the fun assignment, which she completed in about eight months after the publisher, Reedy Press, asked her to do the project.

The book covers neighborhoods around The City, all types of cuisine, and establishments old and new.

Along with the 150-year-old Sam’s Grill, other classic joints in the book are Alioto’s (a single mom, Rose Alioto, built the Fisherman’s Wharf staple, which was among the first to serve cioppino); and Red’s Java House, the Pier 30 dive run for decades by colorful Tom “Red” MCGarvey, who, in his 90s, no longer owns it, but still hangs there.

Greens, Fort Mason’s groundbreaking vegetarian eatery run since 1985 by Annie Somerville (who took over from Deborah Madison), is “still doing amazing things, 30 years later,” Lovato says.

Lovato also checked in with Aaron London, chef-owner of Al’s Place, the cutting-edge Mission spot Bon Appetit magazine named best new restaurant in the country in 2015, Al’s first year in business. London told her he had an inkling he might get the honor (a photographer was sent to the restaurant) and says he spent the day the announcement was made at his computer, hopefully refreshing the Bon Appetit website until the news was revealed.

Lovato, who admittedly never tried Hangtown Fry (the Gold Rush-era egg and oyster dish that’s been on Tadich Grill’s menu since 1849) until she wrote this book, came away with a particular admiration for Bay Area diners’ passion, loyalty and willingness to try new things.

And, she says, considering the scene at Brenda’s French Soul Food, Mensho Tokyo and Swan Oyster Depot, the fact they will wait in line for hours to get what they want.


BOOK NOTES

Unique Eats & Eateries of San Francisco
Written by: Kimberley Lovato
Published by: Reedy Press
Pages: 214
Price: $20.95

Leslie Katz

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