Out of sight: Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack

18 Virginia Ave.

(415) 206.2086

Hard to find factor: 3

1 Not too bad

2 Takes some searching

3 Ask a native

4 Bring a map

Neighborhood: Outer Mission

On the downlow since: 2001

Get the funk out: From the random mural that decorates (and, thematically speaking, does not quite reflect the spirit of Emmy’s) to a disc-jockey console smack-dab in the middle of everything, this 30-seat restaurant boasts an ambiance that is ideal for entertaining out-of-towners, featuring enough quirky accents to let them know they’re in San Francisco but not so much that your aunt from Wisconsin will feel out of place. A slanted corrugated steel roof hits home the restaurant’s “shack” element, while the modern art on the walls speaks to its hip factor and oozes local flare.

Chow now: Second to the small plates phenomenon sweeping nearly every other restaurant in San Francisco is the comfort food shakedown devouring our fine culinary capital. And Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack heeded that then-subtle call five years ago, taking a risk to go old-school, and then upping its personal ante by locating the joint from the furthest reaches of the Mission’s ongoing gentrification. That kind of confidence must have come from the shack’s original mess hall mistress, chef Sarah Kirner (who now serves her signature brand of hash at Front Porch). Kirner’s eclectic take on all-American standards is what makes Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack a local favorite. Of course, most people got to Emmy’s for the extremely popular spaghetti and meatballs ($8.50), and why not, those savory spheres of meat are unforgettable. But don’t be surprised to find more highfalutin’ fare on the menu. The pan-roasted wild salmon served with “mushy” peas tastes like what mom used to make, except a lot better. But the Muscovy duck with buttered papparadelle pasta, apricots and roasted garlic is a well-thought-out fusion of flavors that only Emmy’s fine minds could think to put together.

Hang tough: As eclectic as the menu is Emmy’s clientele. Trendy urbanites click through their new Nanos while waiting for one of Emmy’s tables. The couple next to them fusses with their Baby Bjorn. And given Emmy’s limited seating (a mere 30 seats!), you’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other. This place is not for the hurried and harried. If you get tired of the sidewalk, hit the dive bar immediately around the corner. The staff will even come get you when your table’s ready.

Know any hidden gems? E-mail us at outofsight@examiner.com and tell us your favorite off-the-beaten path haunts.

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