Over the two days we were there, we had four of the most amazing, memorable meals we've ever had. So I'm gonna start with that. In the order in which we ate them:
1090 Point Lobos
San Francisco, CA 94121
This is a San Francisco institution. Everybody in the city knows it, and a seemingly large percentage of them go there on the weekends - you're in for a long wait at certain times, and the regular dining room doesn't take reservations. (There's now a separate fancy dining room called Sutro's that does.) They hand you those little beepers a lot of restaurants use now, so you can wander around a little bit while you wait.
But it's so, so worth it.
This was the view from our table. Depending on where you get sat, you'll have this view, a full view of the ocean, or a view of the ocean and rocks on the other side. Any of them are beautiful in their own way.
I feel kind of bad for people who sit on the inside - there's a row of tables away from the windows. I was glad to sit where we were.
Somehow we forgot to take pictures of our entrees. I had fish and chips; I think my wife just had crab cakes. We also shared a shrimp cocktail, which I remember getting as a kid. They were great, and very fresh, although the crab cakes were a different style than what we're used to in the northeast. Just crab and chopped up vegetables, basically; no real binder or liquid component.
But these popovers... holy crap. The free popovers were the highlight of the meal! So light and airy and fresh out of the oven. It's worth going just for the view and the popovers!
After our meal, we wandered down to the rocks along the water where the ruins of the Sutro Bath House are. I think of this as part of the Cliff House experience. I loved coming down here when I was a kid, and it was fun to do it as an adult too. A little word of caution for anyone who does the same: going down on one side is easy. Coming back up on the other is another world. You can reverse course and go back up the same way you came down, but we tried just making a circle - which you can do, but it's very difficult and dangerous, and you'll be climbing straight up steep cliffs. You will also get dirty. So much fun, though, and not something you get to do very often in the northeast!
5929 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94121
Another place I used to come often as a kid. This was the place that got me into Mexican food! Because of Tommy's, my default meal at any Mexican restaurant is the enchiladas. And I've never found any as good as Tommy's.
Tommy's is just a little hole in the wall restaurant - doesn't look like anything special. Also looks the same as it did 30 years ago, to me. But the food! This is authentic homestyle Mexican. I know New York has everything, but just like you can't get ramen as good as you can in Tokyo, you cannot get Mexican as good as you can in San Francisco. (Ok, San Francisco is not in Mexico... but it's the same general land mass. And closer than NYC. You wouldn't think that necessarily matters, but it does.)
You can see my enchilada in the background, but honestly it didn't look great in photos so I'm showing my wife's red snapper instead. She loved it, and I loved my enchilada - it was just like I remember it from 30 years ago. Nobody does enchiladas better! I cleaned that plate, and my plate held literally about two pounds worth of food.
The flan! I forgot this, but Tommy's was also the place that got me into flan. I remembered after seeing it on the menu that in 4th grade, we had some class project for home economics class to make a dessert, and I made flan. There's no other place I would have ever had it besides Tommy's - I couldn't have even known about it otherwise. And now I always try to order it whenever I see it on a menu elsewhere, but I'm always at least vaguely disappointed.
But not here! This was so smooth, but dense, and with just the right amount of caramelization (no burnt taste, but a real deep sweetness). This made me remember why I loved flan to begin with... it was because of Tommy's!
Image credit: SFWeekly
2101 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
I forgot to take my own exterior pics of this place - a business friend brought us there, and we didn't know about it beforehand. Nice to get some help from the locals!
That's my deep-fried french toast(!) along with scrambled eggs (you can get them any style) and something they call "millionaire's bacon". The bacon is thick cut - real bacon - and spiced up, then I think also deep-fried. I felt guilty eating it - I could feel my arteries closing up with every bite - even though it was so good.
My wife's somewhat healthier dish - I don't know what can be so special about a salad, but she is still talking about this.
1906 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Another SF institution, though one I either didn't know about or remember until I saw it featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. As Tony says, it's a restaurant that's stuck in time, as old-school as it gets - my kinda place. It felt familiar enough that I do think I probably ate here once as a kid, but my stepmother at that time came from a butcher's family so we got good meat pretty much all the time. It was tough for me to appreciate a place like this back then, but now it's a lot harder for me to find really good meat to begin with, let alone someone to cook it properly.
Tough to get decent white balance in there - I'm sure this doesn't look as appetizing in photos as it did in real life. House of Prime Rib has one thing: prime rib. And sides to match. That's a big slab of prime rib, fresh baked Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. (Actually my wife's meal; I got creamed corn instead of spinach.)
I think I'd have to put this at the top of my list for best beef dinner that I've personally had in at least the last 20 years. And that includes the real Kobe beef I had just a few months ago (though it's close!). The beef, you can seriously cut with a fork, it's so tender. And it has a tremendous amount of flavor, cooking in its own juice, which is then turned into an au jus that's served over the meat and on your plate.
I gotta mention one kind of weird thing about our visit to these restaurants. Two of these four are places I used to go all the time with my dad, and a third I think I probably did at least once. This trip was kind of a nostalgia trip for me, since we were going up to Portland for his final internment (he died about six months ago). Well, at the restaurants I knew as a kid, there happened to be a parking spot either right in front or at least suspiciously close to the restaurant waiting for us, even during busy times. In fact, as we pulled up to Tommy's I was telling my wife how hard it was to find parking nearby and how excited my dad used to get if he'd find a spot right in front. Well, guess what? We got a spot right in front. Only spot that was available. Almost like we had help...