Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My favorite South San Francisco eateries

I'm not a great foodie, but I do know what I like. I don't get too fancy or too adventurous, but I am willing to go out on a limb now and then, foodwise.

So my list of favorite places to eat in South San Francisco doesn't get too fancy or adventurous either. The restaurants on the list below are not necessarily the best (I've never been to the Basque Cultural Center, for example) or the ones I most visit (no fast food places), but are the restaurants to which I most like to go.

First, a map of the locations below:

View South San Francisco eateries in a larger map

I tried to balance the list out a bit in terms of geography, type of food served and how often I go to a particular place. In no particular order:

Pho The Gioi

Pho The Gioi
2239 Gellert Blvd / (650) 754-1888
Genre: Vietnamese
Yelp Review

While in a strip mall, Pho The Gioi’s generous portions of pho and other spicy noodle dishes make you think you’re in a far-fancier place. The location (Next to Pak and Save and OSH) is a great attraction for west of El Camino Real suburbanites. Admittedly the food is not the real attraction at Pho The Gioi. There is a well-reviewed Vietnamese place downtown (Ben Tre, 219 Grand Avenue), but I’ve not been there.

Little Lucca's

Little Lucca Sandwich Shop
724 El Camino Real / (650) 589-8916
Genre: sandwiches
Yelp review

Little Lucca looks like a house left over from the days before suburbanization, when single family homes lined El Camino Real – “The King’s Highway.” And the sandwiches at Little Lucca really are made for a king — piled so high that one really can’t get their mouth around it (unless they’re a snake). There’s always a line out the screen door into the front yard (remember, this place is basically a house) at lunchtime, but an efficient line crew moves the queue swiftly.

Darby Dan's

Darby Dan's Sandwiches
733 Airport Blvd / (650) 876-0122
Genre: sandwiches
Yelp review

Completely on the other side of town from Little Lucca, Darby Dan’s is in a much-more traditional setting than the other sandwich shop. A favorite among bio-tech workers on the east side of Highway 101 (although located just on the west side), Darby’s Dan’s specialty is the eponymous Darby Dan sandwich: salami, pepperoni and mortadella piled high with garlic mayonnaise on Dutch crunch. It’s a spacious restaurant on the inside (right): especially compared to its seat-less crosstown rival. If you’re downtown and don’t want either a “corporate” sandwich or one from a questionable deli, hike a few blocks north to Darby Dan’s.

El Taco de Oro

El Taco de Oro
Usually in front of Orange Park (W Orange Ave. and Tennis Drive) / No phone
Genre: Mexican/taqueria/food truck
Yelp review (for Alviso location)

Part of a chain of taco trucks that usually is ensconced in South Bay locations, the El Taco de Oro truck has a prime location. Usually parked from mid-morning to dusk in front of South City’s largest park, it serves several niches: From moms taking their kids to the playground; to athletes needing fuel for their pickup soccer games on the adjacent athletic fields; and to members of the community who make special trips to the truck. At $1 per taco (try the al pastor), $3 for a large burrito, it’s a great deal, in an uncrowded location.

The "snack shack" at the SSF High football field

South San Francisco High Snack Shack
400 B Street (football field) / No phone
Genre: American and Polynesian comfort food

A kind of an “out-there” choice, considering it’s usually only open five nights per year (10 this season, because El Camino shared the South City High field this fall). But it’s a favorite of mine. The char-broiled smell of burgers and sausages wafting over the football field is a fall tradition in South City. Specialties include the decent-sized burgers (complete with a do-it-yourself fixings bar) and, reflecting the large Polynesian population in South San Francisco, the teriyaki bowl. All at reasonable prices that support local youth programs. Usually a hopeful diner would be out of luck by this time of year, but this season both South City and El Camino made the playoffs and South San Francisco hosts Willow Glen on Friday night at 7 p.m.

La Tapatia "Mexicatessen"

La Tapatia
411 Grand Ave / (650) 589-5881
Genre: Mexican/taqueria
Yelp review

One of South San Francisco’s best eateries doesn’t look like one. It looks like a small Mexican market – and in fact, it is. But walk back to the deli counter and there’s an amazing taqueria. Directly across from South San Francisco’s ornate City Hall, the carne asada and other burritos are delicious.

El Faro
435 El Camino Real / (650) 589-6288
Genre: Mexican
Yelp review

First-time visitors to this no-frills Mexican restaurant on the main road will come with low expectations. And, at first glance, they’ll be met when their take out comes packed in cheap Styrofoam and a paper bag full of chips. But — despite the packaging — the main dishes are filling and authentic. Claire swears by El Faro’s tostada, and I’ve shared many a carne asada plate (too many onions) with Ian. The place even has a drive-through!

Ristorante Buon Gusto
224 Grand Ave / (650) 742-9777
Genre: Italian
Yelp Review

If I had an Italian grandmother — or a Mafioso godfather — she would feed me like Buon Gusto. “Healthy” portions made with exactly the right amount of seasoning (even if it’s different every day due to the preference of the chef) and amazing, maybe even over-the-top, service enhances the family atmosphere. The interior d├ęcor is very busy, but the food (your standard array of pastas, beef, poultry and fish) is what you’ll be looking at.

Honorable mention
These places are good, but not quite up to the standards of the eateries above:

Gunters (1057 El Camino Real) is a good, old-fashioned coffee shop. Busy in the morning with probably the same crowd that’s been going there since 1957. If the laws hadn’t changed, you’d expect a cloud of smoke when you walked in the door. Good for a group breakfast.

Bogy’s Hofbrau (207 Linden Ave) lies on a downtown side street, and if you like roasted turkey or beef, mashed potatoes and other “down home” foods, consider this place. But the wide windows and uncomfortable seating detract from the dining atmosphere.

Genentech (1 DNA Way) has one of the best corporate cafes on the planet. Great food, lots of variety, decent prices. Free food on certain Fridays. Unfortunately one has to be an employee or their guest to eat there.

Royal Pin Donuts (551 El Camino Real) has great doughnuts, an atmospheric dining room and a quick (and rare, for doughnut shops) drive-through. I have to hold it off my main list, however, because if you’re there after 9 a.m. on a weekend your choices will be severely limited — and who wants to go out before 9 a.m. on weekends?

The only reason that Taqueria La Morena (307 Baden Ave) isn’t on the main list is that I thought more than one downtown taqueria would be excessive. Every bit as good as La Tapatia, but without the market and not on the main drag.

Chevys (141 Hickey Blvd) is the token big corporate chain restaurant on the list, mostly because of its excellent all-you-can-eat tortilla chips and salsa, its community fundraising and the fact that this branch is much less busy than the one at Stonestown.


Anonymous said...

Great list! I'd also add Bertolucci's as another great Italian old school place.

SSFHunter said...

New sandwich shop between Little Luccas and Darby Dans. It's called Subculture Deli. It's located on the backside of Raymonds sourdough on Spruce. Go on Friday and get the chili dog. You can thank me later. Any other day, just get a small chili. Eat the small chili, then go back in and get a large chili.