As I waited in the brutal lunch line at HRD Coffee Shop, a woman sidled up close. “Have you been here before?” she asked. I had not.
“Are you like us? We got in line because everyone else did.” She gestured to a trio of sheepish, grinning guys.
My first impulse was to snicker at these lemmings, but was I so different? Whenever I had read about HRD, the fabled lines always came into play. The website says they won’t even take phone orders, citing an “overwhelming number of customers.”
It piqued my interest.
Of course, I had more reasons for trying HRD than herd mentality. Namely, I’d never seen a coffee shop menu like this one. Fried oyster kimchee po’boy with Asian Cajun remoulade? Pesto-smeared pork torta? Mongolian cheesesteak?
HRD plays on fusion fantasies I didn’t know I had. Well, me and every 30-something brogrammer in greater South of Market.
Over three visits, the male-to-female ratio averaged roughly 4 to 1. Whether this speaks more to the neighborhood’s demographics, or to HRD’s Guy Fieri-approved, mallet-over-the-noggin culinary style, I can’t begin to know.
I’m not complaining, mind you. Part of me thinks that putting a fried egg on top of bacon on top of spicy pork on top of hash browns on top of a cheeseburger patty is a beautiful idea. And labeling it a “breakfast burger”? Pure gonzo genius.
But fine cuisine this was not. Once I started inspecting the burger’s composite parts, I found a gray, overdone patty, limp bacon and an excessive mountain of pulpy potato shreds. I stopped looking too close: Better to be bowled over by this gorgeous monstrosity than to get all finicky on the details.
A Chinese breakfast burrito (zany!) came packed with scrambled eggs, cheddar, hash brown shavings, chili sauce, sour cream and barbecue pork. It was satisfying, volcanic fare, fit for a hungover king. That is, until I tried a stray bit of the char siu — unnaturally pink and dry, reminiscent of Panda Express-style takeout meat.
The firecracker shrimp sandwich bore a compelling flavor profile, pairing wasabi Sriracha aioli with cooling sesame sprouts, avocado and julienned cukes. But the roll was throwaway starch, and the shrimp were the pre-breaded frozen rods you might wolf down at a Tiki bar buffet.
Trying to make it through the pulled pork sandwich in one sitting, I felt like one of those competitive-eater psychopaths. The densely threaded pork haystack was massive, with little variance in texture (e.g., crisp edges, morsels of fat). Only a spicy peanut slaw relieved the monotony.
You’ll fare better with HRD’s kimchee-based offerings. Co-owner Jojo Banks’ family recipe is fiery but tart, tender with a bit of crunch. Mixed with steamed rice, the kimchee provided a strong base for all the goodies in the bibimbap and the loco moco.
Of all the kimchee entrees, I was most enthralled by the spicy pork burrito. Sprouts and cucumber were fresh and cooling, and the pork was tender enough, but pairing the kimchee with sour cream and sweet kiwi bits really made this burrito shine.
Overall, HRD’s frequent lines are unsurprising; the food is crazy cheap, the portions are trucker-ready and the menu is quirky and playful.
Is that enough for me to recommend a restaurant? Sometimes, I think it might be.
HRD Coffee Shop
Location: 521-A Third St. (at Bryant Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 543-2355, www.hrdcoffeeshop.com
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays
Price range: $5.75 to $8.25
Recommended dishes: Korean breakfast burger ($6.50), Chinese breakfast burrito ($5.75), spicy pork kimchee burrito ($7.25), short rib bibimbap ($7.25), Japanese curry kimchee loco moco ($7.25)
Credit cards: Cash only