Fat, starch fantasies fulfilled at CheeSpud

I was drawn deep into the Sunset by the promise of a beautiful, crazy dream. A dream of potatoes. A dream of cheese. In a shiny new joint on Irving Street, these two ingredients are the building blocks of a fast food menu that’s part Asian, part Midwestern, part stoner and part mad scientist.

The name: CheeSpud. The fare: fried potatoes covered in cheese sauce and topped with all manner of insanity.

The potatoes themselves, the “spuds” of CheeSpud, are the most consistently successful element in this venture. Diners have three choices – a whole crispy-crusted potato, smaller crispy-crusted croquettes, or traditional french fries.

Each option has its merits. The whole potato gives you the most white fluffy mash, best for soaking up cheese sauce. The croquettes provide more fried breaded surface area for lots of crunch. The fries, just the right amount of greasy and seasoned with lots of salt and pepper, give dishes more of a poutine vibe.

You can’t go wrong with the trio of fried starches, but there is a very clear winner when it comes to choice of cheese: the spicy nacho sauce. It’s reminiscent of ballpark nacho sauce (and you can even get it ladled over some tortilla chips if you want to truly get the sports snack bar experience), bright yellow, imbued with mild heat, and somehow salty and nostalgically satisfying.

The other choice, classic cheeto sauce, has an odd sweetness lurking within its neon orange depths that isn’t my cup of tea.

Now come the toppings. Most of them make sense. Some of them, to my admittedly sheltered mind, make less than zero sense. But I am, always, elated to be surprised.

The Ocean Bliss, a strange concoction, has some bizarrely tasty elements, despite the unholy union of seafood and cheese. Spicy cheese-covered crab meat, shrimp, and scallops, paired with crispy breaded croquettes and topped with fluttering bonito flakes and briny strips of crunchy seaweed, make for a uniquely interesting snack. There’s some octopus and tuna in there as well, although I mostly ate around them. My newfound open-minded acceptance of cheese and seafood could only go so far.

I had no such issues with the Beefy Beefy, more traditional perhaps but fully delicious. The two “beefys” stand for steak and sausage. Bits of bacon round out the proteins, alongside corn and mushrooms, sour cream and a sprinkling of green onions. I like this option with a whole potato, so there’s plenty of soft mash to mix up with the meats, and the sour cream stirred into the spicy cheese sauce creates a rich texture.

The Club, with its meat-forward combination of ham, chicken and bacon, is another favorite. Sour cream and a hard-boiled egg sit atop the rest: broccoli, corn, and – strangely – pineapple. Smoky and sweet, rich and cheesy, the toppings work well together, except for the somewhat bland vegetables.

That’s the main issue I have with the toppings here: while the meat and seafood options are well-seasoned and flavorful, some of the vegetable options are not so thoughtfully prepared. Aside from the mushrooms, which are tenderly sauteed, the non-meat items could use a little jazzing up.

CheeSpud makes some of the best garlic fries I’ve ever had, proving that the spuds here are the real stars.

Location: 2154 Irving St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 530-2913
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Price range: $3.99 to $8.49
Recommended dishes: Beefy Beefy ($8.49), The Club ($8.49), Ocean Bliss ($8.49), garlic fries ($3.99)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted

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