Comfort, counter food rule in 2010

After 30-plus years of writing about restaurants during boom and bust, I have learned one thing: San Franciscans are
addicted to eating out and won’t cut back. They just spend less. The restaurant community is responding by creatively
revisiting comfort food and selling it from a counter. Self-service is a way to keep check prices down. The tip bowl may be the biggest trend of the coming year.

One Ferry Building, (415) 391-7599

Customers stand in line at this kitchen counter in the Ferry Building, then set their own tables — with a view of the Bay. The dishes are made with beautiful ingredients directly from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Imagine scrumptious Marin Sun beef brisket bollito sandwiches ($9), and spit-roasted pasture pork scattered with cracklings ($12.50). You cannot eat better anywhere for the price.

360 Ritch St., (415) 777-2777

This is just a window in a brick building in a SoMa alley that dispenses the best fried chicken in The City — incredibly moist, spicy and crisp. Two pieces come in a waxed brown box with an “angel biscuit” and a choice of side for $6.50. Devour it in the alley, sitting on milk crates. Cash only.

504 Broadway, (415) 577-4951

Two refugees from fine dining make the ultimate sandwiches out of Enrico’s kitchen. Order them there and then sit on Enrico’s patio. Try to catch the butter-basted local rock cod ($9) sandwich on a soft Acme bun with marinated cucumber, aioli, capers and a healthy layer of arugula. A paper cup of dreamy lobster cappuccino ($6), a deeply flavored shellfish bisque, could headline a posh dinner menu. Eat as many sandwiches here as you can before the talent moves on. Cash only.

4001 18th St., (415) 621-6940

Annamika Khanna has come up with a north Indian thali plate ($10.95) and a kati roll ($4.95) that are quickly assembled to order at a counter for immediate gratification in Kasa’s airy corner shop. Her food is vibrant, with fresh spices. A choice from Kasa’s rotating menu of vegetarian and meat dishes plus chutney goes into a whole wheat flat bread for a kati roll, with a big dollop of raita on the side. This is fast food at its best.

3318 Steiner St., (415) 674-6755

The specialty at this cute shop is the Frank Dog, a juicy healthy frankfurter made of 100 percent California grass-fed beef on an Acme bun with grilled onions ($5). For $1 more, slather on spicy hot Devil Sauce. The cole slaw is excellent, and chef/co-owner Larry Bain is branching out with a grass-fed beef meatball sandwich and soulful chili.

1020 Market St., (415) 558-9560

The chef/owners of Foreign Cinema have rethought the hot dog stand. They serve 10 meticulously sourced hot dogs and sausages ($5.50 to $7.65) with housemade condiments specifically tailored to each dog. Don’t miss their ethereal buttermilk and rice flour battered onion rings ($4).

308 Fifth Ave., (415) 379-4678

This reconceptualized hot pot spot from Isa’s Luke Sung may not be the cheapest, but for $18.95 a person you get a plate of hand-cut ribeye — $16.95 for thin-cut ribeye — plus organic tofu, yuba (dried tofu skin), piles of interesting greens, enoki mushrooms, udon and sweet potato vermicelli, Sung’s special dipping sauce and a pot of clean, light broth for cooking it all. This is Asian comfort food at its best.

2400 Folsom St., (415) 401-0200

German sausage and potato salad lovers can eat big for a song in this light-filled, natural wood-finished German cafe from the Walzwerk owner. Portions are so generous, almost everyone takes food home. I love the blood sausage ($10), spice scented and silken in texture, slathered with apples and onions, accompanied by a huge mound of the best potato salad in town. Cash only.

2231 Chestnut St., (415) 292-2300

This roaring Marina gastropub puts out superb comfort food classics: puffy onion fritters ($7); romaine hearts ($9) in buttermilk blue cheese dressing; mac ’n’ cheese studded with bacon ($8); pulled pork sliders (3/$12). Eat yourself silly on top-quality pub food, throw down a beer, and feel full and happy well into the next day — though you might not regain your hearing until then.

1148 Mission St., (415) 863-6008

Charles Phan brings together state of the art cocktails and Chinese bites at this sleek space next door to the new Federal Building. The menu ranges from salt and pepper squid ($13), which disappears like popcorn, to star anise braised tripe over fresh egg noodles ($8). You get hip surroundings, drinks in beautiful glassware and stylishly presented Chinese comfort food, in one innovative package.

Patricia Unterman is the author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at

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