Mi Ryung Song, a willowy, flute-playing San Francisco Symphony administrator, and her new boyfriend, Felix — Spanish, model, akido instructor, physical therapist — were decorously putting away a pile of spicy fried chicken wings at Toyose, a Korean dive literally in a Sunset residential garage. Windowless, cave-like and redolent of beer and old cigarettes, Toyose’s 10 or so tables nonetheless stay full, especially late at night.
“Perfect place to go after the symphony,” says Mi Ryung.
First and foremost, Toyose is a drinking joint, a Korean pub, where every faux wooden table in each partitioned-off cubicle has at least one big bottle of OB draft beer ($7), a light, crisp, Korean pilsner, and one bottle of soju cocktail ($11), my favorite being fresh strawberry because it tastes like an agua fresca with vodka.
Second favorite is yogurt soju cocktail. Though it does taste like vodka, soju is only 20 percent alcohol; 40, not 80, proof. The refillable square bottles are stopped with bar pourers, which makes it easy to keep shot glasses full.
Every dish on Toyose’s menu encourages lifting those glasses. The food is hot, garlicky, salty and full of red chile paste.
How could anyone eat here without ordering those dark brown, spice encrusted chicken wings ($11.95) served with shredded cabbage in creamy pink chile-spiked dressing? Find it on the Deep Fried page.
Look to House Favorites for a pizza-sized seafood and scallion pancake ($10.95), crisp on the outside, soft inside. Shrimp, chewy octopus, calamari and lots of scallion and onions give it texture. The tiniest dip into chile-infused soy sauce completes the picture.
Succulent, sizzling, thinly sliced pork bulgoki with onions ($14.95) in a maddeningly addictive, slightly sweet sauce full of chili oil, was scrumptious over rice. This and the fried chicken wings reach out to every palate — street food at its lustiest.
Kimchee and beef fried rice ($10.95), red, moist, vinegary, hot of course, topped with a fried egg, falls into the same soulful category.
Broth-based dishes may be lighter but certainly not less gutsy. Fish roe, pickled vegetables and tofu in a chile paste-reddened broth boiling away in a stone hot pot ($14.95) looks more incendiary than it tastes. The broth has exciting depth of flavor.
Casseroles bring a large metal pot filled with broth and arranged with ingredients like piles of thinly sliced beef, octopus, zucchini, tofu and straw mushrooms ($26.95). It is set on a portable burner. Diners slide in thick white soba noodles once the potion boils. Everyone dips in.
At many Korean restaurants the table is covered with little side dishes that accompany the main meal. Here, only a few come but they’re nice: barely pickled cucumber; a bright green Japanese-style seaweed salad; cubes of fresh, juicy white daikon gently dressed in sugar, salt and rice vinegar.
Korean pop plays on the sound system and waitresses in “save water, drink beer” T-shirts rush by to see what tables need more drinks. When it gets busy, they can forget to bring the check or a side of noodles, but the food flows from the closet-sized kitchen steadily. It turns out that this camouflaged club house behind a garage door has been throwing a neighborhood party every night for 10 years.
Mi Ryung knows a hot late night hangout when she finds one.
Location: 3814 Noriega St. (between 47th and 48th avenues), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 731-0232
Hours: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. for dinner every day
Price range: $7.95 to $26.95
Recommended dishes: Fried chicken wings, pork bulgoki, assorted seafood pancake, kimchee and beef fried rice
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.