While recently guest speaking to my daughter’s sixth grade class, I decided to conduct a mini-sociology experiment. First, I asked the kids, who come from all corners of The City, if they’d heard of Ike’s. Nearly every hand excitedly shot up in the air. Next, I asked them if they’d heard of Lou’s. Crickets.
Like Ike’s, Lou’s Cafe has a menu primarily consisting of seemingly bizarrely concocted sandwiches with playful titles. It’s almost as crowded as Ike’s, yet the customers tend to be local to the Richmond district, diverse in age, and not the type to Instagram their daily diet. The sweet, humble owners don’t seem to be in any rush to rapidly expand either, though a second location on a untrendy stretch of Taraval recently opened.
The common threads that run through all of Lou’s offerings are the Lou’s sauce, basically aioli with “natural herbs,” and an olive oil-based jalapeño spread that adds just enough heat to make things interesting. A wall-sized menu board implored patrons to mix the two, whatever the sandwich, and I'm glad I took its advice.
In one of many creations that plays sweet off spicy, the Hot and Sweet paired large coins of Louisiana hot links with pineapple slices and teriyaki sauce which kind of oozed all over. Admittedly, this all sounded a bit ludicrous on paper, but the combination proved addictive and I was hesitant to hand over the second half to my friend who I was splitting with.
But then I would have missed out on the Risky Bizness, a flat-out zany piling of hot pastrami, bacon, imitation seafood salad, avocado and pepper jack. We only ordered this as a kind of self-dare because, let's face it, the mix sounds disgusting. However, as a salt lover, I rejoiced in the sodium overload capped with the brine of the krab.
Tamer was the Ami-Cado, layering that same juicy pastrami with a generous amount of soft avocado on a softer roll. With nothing crunchy on board, this sandwich went down like a buttery filet mignon. Strangely though, a few slices of Italian salami went completely undetected on the tongue.
Also undetectable was any burning sensation after scarfing the Kick’n R.B., a roast beef number that came with its own warning of EXTRA HOT horseradish. There was nothing “kick’n” about it, but at least the roast beef was ruby rare as I prefer.
Breakfast at Lou's will forever end your desperate visits to the Jack in the Box a few blocks away. Served on warm, crisped ciabatta rolls, these beauts were stuffed to the gills with an entire hash brown puck, an omelet-style egg surprisingly fluffy (considering it was heated in the microwave), your choice of cheese and a protein. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen corned beef hash offered on a sandwich, but it, along with a healthy dab of that Lou’s sauce, took this specimen into a higher orbit of morning junk food.
Are these the best sandwiches in The City? No. In my book that honor still falls on Roxie Food Center in Mission Terrace. However, considering that nothing tops eight bucks and the little details like labeling leftovers are all tended to, Lou's is worth a shot the next time you're hungry in the Richmond.
Location: 5017 Geary Blvd. (at 14th Avenue), S.F.
Contact: (415) 379-4429, www.louscafe.net
Hours: 8 a.m to 7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays
Recommended dishes: Risky Bizness ($8.49), Hot and Sweet ($7.79), Ami-Cado ($7.74), Corned Beef Hash Sammie ($5.49)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted