Tag Archives: Little Italy

my week in the bay, pt. 2

I failed to mention in my last post something that most of you probably know. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it: the Bay area is a foodie mecca. Not only is there delicious food around every corner, but Northern California seems to has its wits about them in terms of food justice awareness and action. Like everywhere, there are definitely improvements to be made, but other urban areas can learn a thing or two from the organizations that have established a presence in San Francisco and Berkeley.

One of these organizations is La Cocina, an incubator kitchen in the Mission District that offers subsidized commercial kitchen rentals and entrepreneurial education to individuals with the culinary skills but without the financial resources to build their own commercial kitchen, go to business school, or invest in a project without guaranteed success. I visited La Cocina during one of my days of SF exploring and got a tour of the vibrant kitchen happenings: chai tea concentrate was being bottled, salsa was bubbling away, and tamales were being formed and steamed at record pace. It was inspiring and made me very, very hungry.

Following my recovery from the sensory overload inevitable from a visit to La Cocina, I passed Mission Pie. I immediately entered, armed with hunger, a craving for eggs, and the good word from a friend. Breakfast was a slice of broccoli quiche and The Best Latte I’ve Ever Had. Pretty sure I still have a lingering crush on that barista based solely on how that latte made me feel.

With mental and physical fuel from my respective visits to La Cocina and Mission Pie, I walked over to Hayes Valley Farm to volunteer for a day and help ease some of my Mano Farm withdrawal. The only job they had for me was compost sifting, so I did that for enough hours to sufficiently dirty my hands and make connections with some international visitors to SF. (I have a place to stay in Montreal with an urban farmer! Holla!) Hayes Valley is closing soon, as their agreement with the city is nearing its conclusion and the former highway off-ramp is going to be the site of an assisted living facility (or something), so I was happy to be catch them before they closed. And afterwards, I went to a little French bistro with two women from Barcelona and had this delectable cauliflower tart and bean salad.

A little cured meat porn to cure your ails. Spotted at the Fatted Calf, an insanely upscale specialty food store and expert in cured pork products. I ordered four slices of two salamis for a grand total of $1.98, much to the chagrin of everyone involved in servicing this customer. Screw them. I ended up walking to Toronado, a beer bar specializing in sours, ordering a cheap beer, and hiding at one of the back tables to enjoy my pork and beer. Nutritionally void; emotionally fulfilling.

One of my last meals in San Francisco was brunch at Mama’s, a tourist trap in Little Italy. And tourist trap it deserves to be. Connor and I waited on line for an hour and a half, and discussed our plan of attack for 95% of that time. We wanted a little bit of everything, so we split our plates. One of us ordered  the French toast sampler plate, complete with banana bread French toast (a revelation), and the other ordered the standard egg-meat-potato-toast brunch  combination/hangover cure. Dee. Lish. Us.

Houses of pastel and fog seen from Alamo Square Park, where I was accosted by approximately five dogs, three hippies, and one shaman-in-training. The population of San Francisco is primarily made of up dogs, hippies, and shamans-in-training, so I wasn’t too surprised. My trip to the Bay left me yearning to return before I even left, not only because two of my best friends live there, but a one-week stint left so much of its cultural and culinary richness unexplored. I can’t wait to visit again.

taco tuesdays

Before I came to San Diego, hearing “El Camino” triggered visions of my dream car, the Chevrolet model of the same name. Since being in this city,  I have become aware of a trendy, tasty Mexican restaurant in Little Italy called El Camino, and it has beckoned me back for seconds and thirds, due in part to the quality of the food and in part to the great special they have on Tuesdays. Taco Tuesdays involves half price on all taco options. Happy hour specials are half price quesadillas and nachos, along with $3 Coronas, sangria, and house made margaritas. Tuesday happy hour is clearly a recipe for fun.

Look what their menu promises! I don’t know how they can claim to be allergy free because people are allergic to all kinds of things, but their commitment to organic, locally grown food is a nice plus. They also have a location in North Park, but I have stuck to the Little Italy location because it is in the design district, and I can antique/fantasize about my future dwellings as an appetizer.

My first time at El Camino was with my friend Justin. We went on his first night in San Diego. After a margarita at the bar, we were seated and quickly met with fresh tortilla chips and a trio of dips: chipotle Mexican cream, salsa verde, and roasted pepper salsa. They also provided a couple roasted hot peppers in a bowl and a small bucket with marinated cucumber and jicama. YUM.

We both ordered the Camaron Asado tacos, or pan seared garlic cilantro shrimp finished with lime juice. They were served with some really good sauce, as well, and taco plates come with four tacos in corn tortillas, a pot of rice, and a pot of house black beans. Such a delicious way to satiate!

(This picture blows because I used a flash and edited it in iPhoto afterwards. Apologies.)

My cousin and I took our moms to El Camino twice: once to when they got off the plane (this place is a really great intro to SD) and once before we dropped them back off at the airport. These days were conveniently Tuesdays, and on both nights, we had our fill of food and drunk for under $30. We ordered three plates of tacos to split.

Carne Asada Tacos

Intensely seasoned, tender, and topped with onions, cilantro, and some chopped tomato.

Mahi-Mahi Tacos

Succulent grilled fish topped with cabbage. Simple, and always tasty.

Rajas Tacos

The surprising standout, packed with grilled poblanos, mushrooms, corn, onions, and bell peppers doused in Mexican cream (basically a more watery sour cream).

When you get the bill, they leave you with a bunch of these really cute pieces of gum. Before she left, my mom grabbed approx. 3 giant handfuls to “give my brother” because she thought they were so cute. Guaranteed they’re still in her wallet.

Above all, I need to thank El Camino and San Diego for turning my mother into a lover of Mexican food. It was never something she enjoyed, always a contentious topic in my household. Her SD vaca inspired her to make quesadillas for dinner, paired with radishes and salsa, a duo I introduced her to one night during her stay. Now I just need to work on her distaste for Indian.

24/3/365 (aka, unhelpful)

Last night, I went to see Antibalas/The Sway Machinery at the Cashbah in Little Italy. I’d seen Antibalas once before at the Roots Picnic ’09 in Philly, but the Sway Machinery was a new one. The lead singer is in Balkan Beat Box and the drummer was in NaNuchKa at some point. Go Eastern Bloc!

I had a Stone IPA that left this funny little pattern in its lacing. Heart it laces.

I also had a Stella Artois because I heard good things about it in the past but clearly those things came out of mouths that had not been around the beer block. It was watery and flavorless. For some reason, I like Sapporo much better so I got one of those to replace my judgment error.

So Antibalas announced the start of their last song at around 11:45 and as 12:00 approached, they showed no signs of stopping. Finally, at 12:15, they left stage, only to come out for a 45 minute encore. No complaints at all from me! But it was starting to get to that hour where my stomach acid takes on the role of fidgety-child-in-backseat-on-road-trip-who-won’t-quit-until-fed. I gallantly ordered my (Ford) Mustang, “To Keith’s 24 Hour Family Restaurant! Ándale!”

I pulled into the sketchy, eerily empty parking lot of Keith’s 24-hour, and I was met with something like this:

Angry, confused, disappointed and hungry as ever, I went home to a pantry and refrigerator full of ingredients. Not prepped food, but ingredients. What a night not to have leftovers! I figured out my cravings pretty quick, and whipped up an open face breakfast sandwich worth writing home about.

I toasted a piece of bread while slicing a perfectly ripe California avocado and frying an egg. As soon as the bread was done toasting, I rubbed it down with some garlic, layered on the avocado, balanced the egg atop all them monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs, if you will), and spread some spicy salsa on top. I served it (to myself) with some pickled jalapenos on the side, which have become one of my favorite ingredients/condiments since living in San Diego. I bought a jar for $1.29 at Vons because I figured if they were horrible, I could afford losing $1.29; then they turned out being amazing and probably the best $1.29 I ever spent on jarred food. I’ve also been wanting to pair them with my eggs ever since seeing this blog post from the Amateur Gourmet.

Also, don’t eat MorningStar’s Veggie Sausage Links. I usually dig meat emulators, but at this time of night, the combination of sausage flavor with mealy sand texture in a non-meat-based casing was horrible. I mean, I guess you can eat them. Maybe they’d be good on a nice roll or some baguette bread (ciabatta?) to disguise the texture, and doused in spicy mustard because spicy mustard is delicious. I feel like I should force myself to like them because each one only has 40 calories but I’d rather eat carrot sticks. Same shape, better everything.

I also looked up what the deal was with Keith’s, and they’re only open all night on Fridays and Saturdays. Thanks, Keith’s, for including “Open 24 Hours” on your neon sign. I really appreciate it and I’m sure all the hungry late nighters of San Diego do too. Their website says they’re open 24 hours on Wednesdays. What LIES!!