The Little Chihuahua: a burrito sleeper you need to visit now

little chihuaha

For decades San Franciscans far and wide have debated over the city’s BEST spot for burritos. I stand by Gordo’s through thick and thin. But before you even try to compare apples to apples (or burritos to burritos), you need to prioritize what, to you, are a burrito’s essential qualities. For me, it’s first and foremost about the tortilla. I don’t care how flavorful the beans are – if they’re enveloped in a dry and crusty flour wrap, forget about it. The tortilla must be soft, pliable, chewy and hot, and the cheese must be fully melted onto it – not tossed in the middle of its fillings. Steaming or throwing the puppy on the grill with cheese on top usually gets the job done. Then, the meat, which must be grilled with only the subtlest of seasonings. It should not overpower the salsa, another key flavor generator. And of course, the guacamole should be fresh and not doctored with mayonnaise (vomit) or sour cream. My priority list could go on for paragraphs.

And while I may have my favorite spots, I am always on the lookout for other places that fulfill my top criteria for a great burrito, which is why I was thrilled to finally try The Little Chihuahua this weekend. With three locations, they evidently have a large fan base. The menu consists of what you would typically expect (burritos, tacos, etc), but also includes pozole, breakfast tacos, taco salads, and what I went out on a ledge to order – a black bean and fried plantain burrito. After reading the many Yelp reviews about this specialty item, I couldn’t resist, and thank GOD I didn’t because it completely hit the spot. The griddled tortilla bundles together sour cream, cheese, salsa, beans, and fried plantains to become the ultimate Latin combination of sweet and savory. I’d say a half of one of these dense puppies is the perfect lunch.

breakfast tacos

breakfast tacos

plaintain burrito

plaintain burrito

Because I came with a friend on a Sunday afternoon, we also decided to order the breakfast tacos off the brunch menu – two tacos with a generous portion of scrambled eggs, black beans, and cheese, and, in our case, delicious carne asada. A side of potatoes lays next to the tacos as if they’re not enough to fill the belly. Not to mention, all food comes with a complimentary side of chips and salsa (which you can fetch at the delicious salsa bar). Hangover cure? Check!

I loved the tacos, but as a burrito fanatic, I left elated that I’ve found a new burrito joint that will fill my occasional craving for a heavy, cheesy burrito. And, one thing The Little Chihuahua has that many other take-out joints do not is a clean and friendly setting for a sit-down meal – which comes in handy for those who like to eat their burrito as soon as it’s prepared. Get yee here now, and check out my Tastemade video for more angles of my burrito!

Grade: A+
Location: multiple
Website

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Filed under Californian Cuisine, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, Mexican, San Francisco

Locanda: insanely delicious and varied menu – with cocktails!

locanda

Picking a restaurant that appeals to my dad is difficult for mostly because of our difference in taste, but also because of his “full bar or this restaurant is dead to me” dining perspective. A lot of San Fran’s latest restaurants only offer beer and wine, which is fine by me, but not by a man who was drinking martinis before it was cool or commonplace to do so. Fortunately, because Locanda’s cocktail menu is boasting with great concoctions, and the restaurant was next on my “to-try” list, it presented itself as the perfect option for a father-daughter dinner with my mom out of town.

delicious crusty bread

delicious crusty bread

Jewish style artichoke - fried and crisp with lemon

Jewish style artichoke – fried and crisp with lemon

chicken under a brick

flavorful chicken under a brick

Despite the fact that I’d say my dad and I rarely eat similar foods, we both left totally wowed by all aspects of the meal, from the attentive but not so clingy service, to the complimentary olive-oily flat bread, to the crispy fried jewish style artichoke, to the luscious linguine with crab and lettuce, to my awesome chicken under the brick with quinoa. A sign of a good menu is one that makes the ordering decision process a tough one, and honestly, I almost had a panic attack considering the possibility of eating one of five dishes I felt I couldn’t live without. While I may not choose the ricotta bread pudding with orange blossom honey (a little too dry for me) again, I’ll absolutely return to experiment the other solid Italian style food Locanda has to offer. Check out my video for more footage of our meal and my dad’s profession of love for Locanda.

Grade: A
Location: 557 Valencia Street btwn 16th and 17th
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Filed under American, Bread Basket Breakdown, Californian Cuisine, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, San Francisco

Flour + Water: divine pasta in rustic romance

flour

FINALLY I made it to Flour + Water, and FINALLY I know what people mean when they say this place produces THE best pasta in the city. For fear of being turned down without a reservation, my sister Justyn and I waited patiently outside the door 15 minutes prior to the the 5:30pm opening time along with the other dedicated pasta-lovers, and were able to snag a prime table near the bar. We followed a tip from one of our friends to request bread, and thank the lord that we did because I shoveled each piece into my mouth like candy – the center was warm and soft, almost sticky-chewy  surrounded by a sturdy, crusty edge that made a lovely crackling sound with each bite, indicating its perfection. And despite loading on that, we made our way to carbo-coma, starting with the special: trenette (a long, fettucine-like noodle with a ribbon-ridge on each side) with a slow-roasted veal ragu, and moving onto the funghi pizza with hen of the woods mushrooms and fontina. Not only was our pasta melt-in-your-mouth delicious, but also every stuffed and long-noodle pasta that went by me looked incredible. My food envy was raging – especially over the teleme-stuffed scarpinocc that looked like little white angels on a plate. We also finished every last crumb of the pizza, whose salty charred crust and generous toppings did not go unnoticed, but next time I’d just focus on the pasta – there’s too many good ones to say no to.

mushroom pizza

mushroom pizza

Pasta with veal

Pasta with veal

look at that beautiful stuffed pasta!

look at that beautiful stuffed pasta!

To top off the influx of dense flour-full food, we finished with the most dense and chocolatey budino that was covered in fleur de sel (to my liking) and a coffee creme. The portion size was huge, so naturally, I left the restaurant feeling like I had enough food to last me for a week. Based on my meal and the food I saw others enjoying, Flour + Water has become one of my top recommendations for those dining in SF looking for a casual but memorable meal. It’s perfect for a date or a smaller group, especially if you come without a reservation (of which they offer very few).

chocolate budino

chocolate budino

 

Grade: A+
Location: 2401 Harrison Street @ 20th Street
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Domo: tiny space, brief menu, big flavors

domo

One thing I miss most about New York is the overload of coveted sushi offerings. Restaurants with Japanese-born and trained sushi chefs. Restaurants with fish fresher than Tokyo. Sushi restaurants that are actually fun, not stale as a library, with cocktails and energetic music. These are few and far between in my little Pac Heights enclave (though I do love Umami on Webster), so I was thrilled to pin down Domo in Hayes Valley last night. Wow. This place is awesome.

Though I love sushi, I dread sifting through four-page-lists of roll combinations, which are often accompanied by an additional cut out menu of specials. Tuna, unagi, fried shrimp, avocado, and cucumber in different forms – the rolls start to blend together quarter-way down the list. Domo removes the perusing legwork with a clearly laid out, one-page menu. Simple and succinct. People don’t need 10 variations of spicy tuna, and they don’t want to put off catching up with friends to study a menu. And on Domo’s menu is a wide variety of hot and cold small plates, salads, and other concoctions I could never imagine on my own. As tiny and intimate as this bar-seat-filled spot may be, it’s got a menu that lures a big group of repeat customers every night (which means you should get there early if you want to avoid a wait).

Emily in Domo

Emily in Domo

Fortunately, my friend Emily arrived hungry, so we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes. And because each one was mouth-watering, I can vouch fairly that this is one of the best sushi spots I’ve tried in SF. We started with the daikon salad, thinly sliced, crisp layers of cool daikon topped with bonito flakes and garlic ponzu. The salad was light, crunchy, and pungent – a creative alternative to the typical wakame salad. We then tried the hamachi carpaccio, which was seared and beautifully plated with a light, tangy garlic ponzu, tobiko, and thinly sliced jalapeno – a fresh fish celebration. Then, the cold and simple Spicy Hulk roll, amazingly fresh spicy tuna with avocado surrounded by a crisp cucumber wrapper. I loved this because the spicy tuna was only subtly dressed – not laden with a garlicky mayonnaise like I find in most sushi restaurants. The two special rolls we ordered were incredible – the Wiki Wiki was a creative mix of fried shitake mushrooms, cucumber, and avocado topped with silky seared butter fish. Totally addictive. And crispy rice cakes, move over – I popped the fire cracker balls in my mouth pretty much like popcorn. These dense, miniature, panko crusted tuna balls with spicy mayo, unagi sauce, scallions and tobiko blow any other fried sushi out of the water.

daikon salad

daikon salad

hamachi with garlic ponzu

hamachi with garlic ponzu

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

two special sushi rolls

two special sushi rolls

spicy hulk roll

spicy hulk roll

Along with our cold, dry sake, the entire meal was incredible. Each roll was a piece of art, a stunning culmination of so much attention to detail that revealed itself as perfection to my tastebuds. This is undoubtedly my favorite sushi restaurant in San Francisco – it’s worth any wait, as well as the distance if you’re not in the neighborhood. If you need more incentive, plan a post-dinner stroll down Hayes to Smitten Ice Cream, where they freeze to order with liquid nitrogen to make some of the creamiest concoctions of your life.

Go here.

Go here.

My experience at Domo only further confirms my theory that Hayes Valley is THE place to be in SF!

Grade: A+
Location: 511 Laguna Street @ Linden Street
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Filed under Asian, Erin's Favorites, Japanese, San Francisco

Burma Superstar: casual Burmese in the Richmond

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 5.34.31 PM

My friend Amy and I are going through the same angst of trying to make the most of our last days in San Francisco before we depart for the other side of the world. And while at times treating every meal and moment like their last can get stressful and monopolize the time I should theoretically be spending packing, studying, and preparing for my trip, I couldn’t imagine a more fun activity to devote my time to.

We’re checking off our must-tries rather quickly, and after a Sunday at the Tourist Club with Mayflower sandwiches and beers, we decided to move down the list to Burma Superstar, a popular Burmese restaurant in the Richmond. After living in SF for over two decades, I was surprised to have never heard about this place, which just shows what a bubble the Pac Heights / Marina area can be. But Burma Superstar is just one of the many diamonds in the rough on Clement Street.

After reading the many rave-reviews about this place (it was even on Food Network!), I was pumped to try it. And because I’m funemployed and heard that the wait can be horrendous, I arrived more than an hour before my two friends Amy and Sarah, which proved unnecessary on a Monday night. There was an average of 10-15 minute wait times for parties of 2-4, but I’m sure as the week progresses the wait gets longer.

Though we were seated at an awkward table practically inches from the kitchen, we could still appreciate the laid back charm at this place. No frills. But despite not having a hard-liquor license, they have an interesting selection of shochu, beer, and wine cocktails. Not knowing too much about Burmese food, we ordered what came recommended in our research and by our waitress. First, we started with one of my favorite things: the platha, a multi-layered, buttery fried bread that comes with a chicken curry dipping sauce that I could eat on top of rice for days. It’s addictive, and the bread is as crisp as a potato pancake. We then shared the two most popular salads, the tea leaf salad and the rainbow salad, which the waiter mixes a la table. The tea leaf salad comes with tea leaves that almost look like the wilted spinach in sag paneer, crunchy peanuts, and fried garlic that give so much texture and flavor to the crisp romaine lettuce. That said, I preferred the rainbow salad, a noodle salad with four types of noodles, a green papaya slaw, fried tofu, and a tamarind dressing. A platter that arrived to the table looking so bland turned into one of the most exciting Asian salads I’ve had.

platha goodness

platha goodness

waiter explaining salads pre-mixing

waiter explaining salads pre-mixing

Rainbow salad

Rainbow salad (photo from SF chronicle)

tea leaf salad

tea leaf salad

For our main, we shared the vegetable curry delux, a bowl of tomatoes, okra, squash, eggplant, and tofu jam-packed and simmering in an earthy lentil curry. As opposed to some curries I’ve tasted that have a measly portion of vegetables swimming in a ton of sauce, this one was very vegetable focused with the sauce as more of an afterthought, which I loved. The vegetables were different and the tomato really freshened up what otherwise was a pretty hearty dish. Delicious on the coconut rice topped with fried onions!

vegetable curry

vegetable curry

The best part about the meal was that despite eating what seemed like a ton of food, we didn’t feel sick or uncomfortable, which I attribute to the focus on vegetables and fresh ingredients. There is a ton to try on the menu, so next time I may go back with a few meat eaters to sample some of the chicken dishes that looked to die for. Definitely worth a visit if you like interesting, flavorful food in a relaxed setting with super friendly and efficient service.

Grade: A
Location: 309 Clement St between 4th Ave & 5th Ave
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Filed under Asian, Featured U.S. City Posts, San Francisco

Kitchen adventures: festive rice krispies treats

Up until last week, I was pretty much a rice krispies treat hater. I’ve always sworn by the fact that stirring cereal into melted butter and marshmallows is a poor excuse for “baking,” and considering they’re chocolate-free, a bite of one of these can be completely forgettable. Then, my friend Natalie gave me the genius idea of switching up the original recipe for Smitten Kitchen’s salted brown butter rendition, using Cocoa Krispies instead of Rice Krispies, and adding orange candy to make something festive for Halloween. When my friend Katie turned to me to say “these are different, and they’re really f*ing good” at the Halloween potluck where I unleashed the finished product, I knew that this American-born baked good and I had turned a new leaf. The opportunities to elevate this simple, three-ingredient classic into a creative and delicious dessert are surprisingly endless. I was blind, but now I see.

Halloween treats!

Halloween treats!

After the epiphany, I couldn’t wait to try a different variation of the recipe for my friend Leah’s birthday this weekend. And I have to admit I got the inspiration from the adorable ones I saw at SusieCakes, which had specks of fall leaf sprinkles. I altered the Smitten Kitchen recipe only slightly, adding 6 tablespoons as opposed to an entire stick of butter (the original recipe on the cereal box calls for 3), and throwing in festive birthday sprinkles with the cereal. Within minutes I had whipped up a treat that was adorable and absolutely addictive.

mixing in the krispies and sprinkles

mixing in the krispies and sprinkles

perfect birthday treats

perfect birthday treats

The recipe can be found here, is very easy to follow, and upgrades the original in a MAJOR way. Any mix-ins should be added with the Rice Krispies so they don’t melt. I suggest cutting with a thin sharp knife, and if you’re really obsessive like me, cutting a millimeter of the outer edge to outfit each square with four perfectly straight edges. I’m so glad I discovered a new go-to, simple recipe for potluck events – I hope you’ll try this!

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Copita: modern Mexican in Sausalito

20120430_copita_560x375

Love Mexican food. My last meal on earth would be a Gordo’s chicken burrito, sour cream on the side. So when my friend Gillian spontaneously suggested going to Mexican restaurant Copita last night to celebrate some good news, I said Heck Yes!

Given the plethora of restaurants to explore in SF, I pretty much only venture out to Sausalito if I’m with Gillian. That said, I always have memorable food experiences when I cross the bridge. From Sushi Ran to Poggio, Sausalito is home to a good bundle of food-focused restaurants that peer onto the gorgeous bay area skyline.

Copita, with its inviting open air entrance, fits the trend. Gill and I sat at the bar where the Columbian bartender gave us his undivided attention and accommodated our requests for a non-sweet margarita (me) and a non-tequila cocktail (Gillian). Both, served over 1 massive ice cube, were perfection. The guacamole, made fresh with flavorful Californian avocados, wasn’t as chunky as I like it but definitely delicious. The standout, however, were the chicken tinga tacos – roasted chicken, avocado, tomatoes, and crema wrapped in warm corn tortillas. It was such a relief to find crema, not aioli, in my taco to balance out the spice, and the roasted chicken was a standout in terms of flavor, just like what you can find in the chicken tacos at La Canasta. The huarache de milpa, vegetables with heirloom tomato salsa, queso fresco and pickled onions piled atop a thick round of masa with black bean puree, was a creative alternative to a vegetarian taco. Thought it needed a heavier dosage of queso fresco, I still loved the mixture of fresh cherry tomatoes and managed to eat every last crumb on my plate.

marg perfection

marg perfection

beautiful chicken tinga tacos

beautiful chicken tinga tacos

veggie taco

veggie taco

Food aside, Copita does a great job of creating a warm, feel-good environment, especially with the wood-fire oven behind the bar and festive Mexican tile on the walls. I’d say it’s definitely a go-to spot for those in Marin seeking a more upscale Mexican experience, but for those who want down-home greasy Mexican, head to Lucinda’s instead.

Grade: A-
Location: 739 Bridgeway Street
Website

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SusieCakes: another SF bakery to the rescue

l

Thanks to SusieCakes, I now have a place where I can find the perfect slice of cake – chocolate, red velvet, coconut, or carrot cake-mood alike. The thing that gets me about most cupcake shops is that 1) they limit themselves to cupcakes when they could easily make cakes and 2) the cupcakes are laden with excess, sugary frosting, and 3) they are just too fancy for my taste. SusieCakes stocks their display case with a variety of beautifully frosted treats that are straight forward, homey, and scrumptious. It’s my west coast Amy’s Bread. My favorite? The red velvet mini cupcake, but for any homestyle flavor you’re craving, you really can’t go wrong here. They even sell SF Giants cupcakes.

tiny shop

tiny shop

red velvet

Halloween treats!

Halloween treats!

Definitely worth a special trip if you’re not in the neighborhood, or check out one of the 8 locations throughout California!

Grade: A+
Location: 2109 Chestnut btwn Steiner and Pierce Streets
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Filed under Featured U.S. City Posts, San Francisco, Sugar Surge

Jane on Fillmore: a neighborhood café to die for

JAne

As bustling of a food-city that San Francisco is, I’ve always been disappointed by the lack of bakeries or coffee shops with awesome home-baked goods. New York City is chock-full of them – from Amy’s Bread to Billy’s Bakery, there’s a bakery available to the cookie obsessed and the cake fanatics in every neighborhood. Sure, San Fran has a few cupcake shops (I love Kara’s cupcakes off Chestnut), and incredible artisanal bakeries that aren’t as accessible to the Pacific Heights resident (Tartine is amazing), but homey cafés with an abundance of cakes, muffins, cookies, scones, and other butter, flour & sugar concoctions are SERIOUSLY lacking. Maybe my 4 years working at UC Davis’s Coffee House, which pumped out cakes (and cookie samples) by the hour, caused my withdrawal. Whatever it is, it’s a well justified concern.

jane from second floor

jane from second floor

Thankfully, Jane on Fillmore street has recently come to the rescue. Over the last few weeks of fun-employment, despite having the chance to explore all my neighborhood has to offer, I just can’t get enough of this café’s almond milk cappuccinos and scrumptious baked goods. The plentiful case displays more than enough options, but I can proudly say that I’ve pretty much tried every single one of them. They’ve got a buttery citrus brioche. A savory scone with ham, chives and cheese. Banana bread – both vegan and regular. A vegan pumpkin chocolate chip muffin for those sweet-craving mornings. The blueberry-banana muffin for the days I’m pretending to eat a healthy breakfast. There’s also a “Cooking for Breakfast” cookie that’s subtly sweet and stuffed with dried fruit and oats, for those who those who like that sort of thing. The cookies – which include flavors like sprinkles, salted white chocolate chip oatmeal, chocolate chocolate chip, chocolate toffee chip, and peanut butter-quinoa-millet are to die for, especially the ones that sandwich a scoop of cream cheese frosting. As I write this blog, I’m noshing on a “Crazy Cookie” filled with chips, chocolate chips, toffee, and marshmallow. True, it doesn’t get much crazier than this.

cappuccino

cappuccino

my fantasy display case

my fantasy display case

cake of the day

cake of the day

savory quiche

savory quiche

But that’s not all – Jane has amazing food to order as well, all homemade and most of the time organic. The granola – both vegan and regular – is like crack. I’ve bought them both, and I eat the oats by the handful. The breakfast sandwiches, like the one with egg, cheese, avocado, and roasted tomatoes stacked between two thick-cut pieces of griddled sourdough bread, are the perfect hangover helper. And the salads (there are about 10 of them) are fresh, healthy, and delicious, especially the ones with their house-made green goddess dressing. And how could I forget the energizing green smoothie with apple, lemon, kale, and ginger?

chopped veggie salad with green goddess dressing

chopped veggie salad with green goddess dressing

salad nicoise

salad nicoise

smoked salmon platter

smoked salmon platter

egg white breakfast sandwich

egg white breakfast sandwich

The space itself is beautiful as well – the natural light and the black and white motif are the perfect setting for zoning out on a laptop. And, though it’s always bustling in here, the energy is contagious, not overwhelming.

To put it lightly, I am freakishly obsessed with this place, and I fear that my pre-business school food budget is going to rapidly dwindle if my daily habit continues. But when I’m saddened by the thought of a day without a creamy almond milk cappuccino, I realize that it’s totally worth chipping into my school books’ budget. I’m just waiting for the day that the barista remembers my name.

Grade: A+
Location: 2123 Fillmore between Sacramento and California Streets
Website

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Filed under Brunch, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, San Francisco

Kitchen Adventures: Ina Garten’s coq au vin

my fave.

Ina, my fave.

My cooking instinct leads me to assemble meals that are fresh and easy, not ones that take a lot of simultaneous action, prep-work, cook time, or dirty dishes.  Life is too short and I’m already 27! With the recent delivery of all my New York apartment kitchenware, however, I couldn’t stand leaving my cherished Le Creuset dutch oven (gifted by my friend Ashley) lonely and abandoned in a box – I needed to use it for a dish worthy of such a traumatizing move. So, I sacrificed my fuss-avoiding tendencies to prepare coq (pronounced “coke”) au vin, a French classic that requires a tiny bit more love and care than what I’m used to.

That said – coq au vin is still a relatively simple one pot dish, but the most tender versions of it require a generous amount of cooking time. The dish is great because it satisfies those who prefer lighter meat (chicken) as well as those who are in the mood for a heartier meal with a belly-soothing sauce. The taste of the reduced red wine and bacon laden sauce can warm a body better than a blanket, and for that reason it’s one of my favorite cold-season dishes.

When cooking classics, I look to my three closest friends for help: Julia Child (duh), Ina Garten, and Martha Stewart. Julia always tells me how it should be done traditionally – short cuts don’t exist. Ina tells you how it should be done, but leaves out tedious steps that don’t necessarily elevate the dish. Martha tells you how her many test kitchens have discovered it to taste best – a mix of tradition and modernity. So, this time, I went for Ina, mostly because the Food Network site had an accompanying video that helped to answer some of my questions.

The general breakdown of coq au vin is this: fry pancetta, remove it, use the fat to brown the chicken pieces, remove them, cook down root vegetables and garlic, deglaze pan with cognac, add wine, chicken stock, and all the rest. Put pot in the oven, remove and do a few last minute things. I like to serve mine over egg noodles with a green salad and a glass of the red wine I used for cooking. Ina’s recipe turned out great, but the video actually had a longer cooking time than the written recipe, and I should have gone followed the video, because the chicken wasn’t as tender and the sauce wasn’t as thick as I wanted it to be. Another note – the chicken takes longer than 5 minutes to brown, and that’s okay. So stick to what looks right and not what the recipe says and you’ll be fine.

rendering the pancetta

rendering the pancetta

brewing the coq

brewing the coq

voila!

voila!

Overall, I am very pleased with the turnout. You can find the recipe for Ina’s Coq au Vin here.  And, if you want to replicate the EXACT meal I prepared, click here for Bon Appetite’s awesome (and super easy) horseradish cheddar dip that I served as an hors d’oeuvre. Highly recommended for any occasion.

cheddar dip

cheddar dip

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