Category Archives: Knife: Around the World in SF

Asian Noodles to Love: Saiwaii Ramen

Another bowl of deliciousness from Saiwaii

Well, well, lookie here. Another post going on and on again about some kind of Asian noodle. And such a fine noodle at that – yes, I’m writing about ramen soon after writing about pho. This town, my friends, are full of ’em, and in such lovely numbers. How can I possibly deny their spotlight.

Ramen, turns out, is my girlfriend’s obsession. We often joke about what life would look like if we were to be single and there’s not a doubt in my mind her ramen consumption would rise exponentially. Because of this love, if there’s a ramen place in arm’s reach, we’ll try it. That’s taken us to the beloved Hapa Ramen, Katana-ya, Asuka, Suzu Noodle House, Namu, Ajisen, and Saiwaii. All of them have their pros – Hapa Ramen perhaps reigning above all else – but they’re a cart and tough to get to. So what’s the deal with Saiwaii? It’s delicious and open all the time.

Saiwaii Ramen sits in the thick of the Sunset – a neighborhood stewing in ramen locales. The ramen comes with standard broth choices, of which we always try the miso. Oh, and it’s so savory, dimensional, and rich. The chewy noodles arrive in a lovely mountainous pile underneath the plethora of toppings (bamboo, seaweed, green onions, spinach, corn, egg, pork belly). Often ramen places will leave almost all toppings off and require you add them as requested, which can substantially jack the price up.

The space is above average. It’s fairly clean, has more than three tables (something I’ve realized is sometimes rare), and has a TV. Side rant: WTF is it with TVs being in e v e r y kind of public-facing eating/drinking establishment? Geez.

Anyway – is Saiwaii the best ramen in the City? Gosh, that’s a tough statement to make. I don’t think so. Is it consistent, satisfying, savory and worth it to put on your list and try? Very much so. Will we be back? Without a doubt.

Here I Pho: Vietnam II

Easy, Classic, Pho with all the Goods

It wouldn’t be right of me to live in the Tenderloin, and not talk about Vietnamese food in some capacity. Tenderloin is a stone-throw away from San Francisco’s official ‘Little Siagon’ neighborhood, meaning the blocks are packed with various options of pho, bahn mi, bubble tea, and a million other Southeast Asian yummy things. I’m going to stick to going on and on about the one part of Vietnamese cuisine I feel confident talking about – pho – Cue Vietnam II (two).

Vietnam II has a perplexing presence. Is it a total dive? Is it an upscale dining room? It’s both and neither. It’s been a staple on Larkin Street for a long, long time – I can’t recall the source, but I think I read it started here in the 1980s. Well… they haven’t updated it much; however, it’s still retains a lot of the original class. There’s a lovely fountain in the middle of the place! Honestly, how often does THAT happen? It’s also huge – made for accommodating major family-style dining. The employees are also so nice.

And the pho? Of all the places in the neighborhood, I’m declaring it my favorite. It’s hot, huge, savory and fresh. The noodles are chewy; the brisket isn’t too fatty; the broth is rich but balanced; and the garnishes are crisp.

It’s difficult to talk about these things – pho and the neighborhood – without mentioning the beloved Turtle Tower. Turtle Tower is two doors down and has an obsessed, cult following (1161 Yelp! reviews, compared to Vietnam II’s 169). What’s up with Turtle Tower and why do I stray from the masses on this? Turtle Tower boasts Northern-style pho, compared with Vietnam II’s classic Southern style. The differences are key. Southern style has all the lovely garnishes – fresh basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapenos, plum sauce; and the noodles are a bit thinner. Turtle Tower is pretty good, but the space is tiny, jammed, and for whatever reason, seems a little dirtier to me. Die-hard Vietnamese-food enthusiasts will likely not agree with me, claiming I prefer a more ‘Americanized’ version and that ‘real’ food people wouldn’t let things like bad-lighting, grease stains, open bus tubs full of leftover broth, and uninviting servers keep me away from such a place of authenticity – but – well – it does. And for the record, Pho 200 and Pho Vietnam near by are also super good.



Around the World in SF: El Salvador

Olivo's Lunch Combo

Olivo’s falls in the camp of captivating me blind. It looks a bit greasy; the press on it is relatively thin; and it’s of a country not my own. Time and time again, I’ve learned this combination of truths does not lead to a hidden gem (read Burmese Kitchen), but does that keep me away? God, no. My insecure foodie ego shouts, You Must Try Every Hole in the Wall, or Else! Nevermind You Might Risk Food Poisoning – You’re Not A True Food Writer – Now, Go. Now!

So I did. I tried Olivo’s. Is it a Salvadorian Food Lover’s Paradise? Well, maybe. I’m hardly a Salvadorian-expert. I can only remember one other time I’ve technically had Salvadorian food, which was in New York and I LOVED it. Insert another reason that got me salivating.

A tried and true icon of Salvadorian food is the papusa. Oh, sweet, hot pocket of stringy cheesy-ness… Papusas are thick, handmade corn tortillas stuffed with things, mostly cheese, beans or ground pork. Fancy papusas will have all kinds of things up in there, but the classic style keeps it simple. That’s what exists at Olivo’s – cheese or pork. I opted for the two-cheese-papusa lunch combo, which came with a ream of black beans, rice, cabbage slaw and free chips and salsa. Hot damn, that was a brick of food. Plus I got a Mexican hot chocolate; something I adore and haven’t had in years.

Olivo’s also throws the carne asada fans a bone by having traditional mission-style burritos and – fries!? Yes; they smear carne asada over a basket of ’em. I do not plan on intoxicating my body with those anytime soon, but yo – I understand there’s a place for that in this world, so I ain’t gonna judge if you do.

So do I recommend Olivo’s? Sure; if you’re craving a pocket of savory cheese and you’re in the Tenderloin, this is your spot. Otherwise, I’m still on the hunt for yet another favorite.

Around the World in SF: Burma

Burmese Kitchen veggie combo recommended

Wait, so Southeast Asia, in culinary terms, is more than just Thai food, pho and Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches? I’m kidding… slightly. It’s only been until very recently I could say — from experience — that I know otherwise.

I’ve traveled, a little bit, but not enough to have a clue what countries like Laos, Malaysia or Bangladesh taste like.  And Burma? Thanks to this edition of Around the World SF and Burmese Kitchen, I have a much better idea.

This country of about 50 million people is yes, close to India, China and Thailand so the cuisine will naturally lean heavily towards those influences, but of course there are the signature differences. Such as:

  • use of fish – the country’s “signature dish” is a noodle, fish soup
  • meals are often a series of small plates – rice, simple broth, fresh cut veggies, a curried item
  • soy sauce isn’t a staple
  • the term “salad” often incorporates cold noodles

I'm not good

I knew none of this prior to going to Burmese Kitchen. That cluelessness is both a friend, and a foe. You can end up trying new things and loving them, or trying new things and wanting to spit them out. The latter was the case with the garlic noodles. They were just gross. Too oily, not flavorful enough and the chicken was akin to chewed gum.

The vegetarian combo wasn’t anything like that. It was spiced well and a good value for $5.95. This lunch special I chose featured, sautèed yellow peas, Biryani rice (spiced fried rice),  and curried potatoes. It also comes with “Burmese tea” and when I asked exactly what that meant, I got a vague response along the lines of, “it’s a tea – we import it from Burma.” Oh, okay, great; now I understand completely.

So do I recommend Burmese Kitchen? I’d say no. Should you try it if you’re uber adventurous and love all slices of Southern Asian food? Absolutely.

Around the World in SF: Indonesia

Fried, Stirred and Enjoyed at Borobudur

Once I knew I was moving to SF, I had the idea of trying to eat my way around the world, one restaurant at a time – all in the same city. (Disclaimer: I think another food blogger has done this before, so I’m not going to go claiming super-original thinking here.)

Today’s edition of Around the World SF lands in Indonesia, aka the spice islands, via Borobudur Restaurant. Have I eaten Indonesian food before? No; not knowingly, anyway. So disclaimer numero two, a lot of my descriptions are based on the similar Southeast Asian cuisine, like, say, the ever so hard to find Thai food.

I passed Borobudur many times and once the lunch-Gods aligned, I stopped in. Immediately I noticed a pattern. There were many other single, young, women there. Hmph. Good sign?

Coconut frosty

One in particular was drinking a frosty, tall, fruity-looking beverage. And I wanted it too. I looked and looked on the menu, but all I saw was wine, beer and tea selections. So I did what any other envious diner does – I asked the server if I could have “that,” and pointed to the woman in front of me.

It was a “Es Tele” – shavings of fresh, young coconut amidst coconut water and other tropical fruit juice. Perfect.

I searched the menu for a one-hit-wonder dish. I wanted chicken; I wanted vegetables… I settled on the noodles section. Bakmi Goreng (“fried egg noodles”), turns out, is a classic Indonesian dish. I was starving so ate it all up in a flash, but honestly couldn’t tell a huge difference between that and say, an average plate of Chow Mein. The Indonesian version definitely has a bit more kick and more overall spice and flavor, but nothing exceptional. I’ll try something else next time.