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The Tenderloin

By Nina Wu with contributions from Elan Schmitt and Karen Solomon

 
 

 

Walking by Borobudur (700 Post St., http://www.borobudursf.com) will make you stop and pause, as there’s a miniature replica of a temple in the window. Borobudur, named after the site of a Buddhist temple in Java, is both an Indonesian restaurant and an art gallery. The Roti Prata (#9 on the menu) is a must-have. It’s grilled Indian bread served with a golden-colored curry dipping sauce. It's served piping hot from the oven, ideal for tearing apart with your hands to dip into the sauce. Other offerings include steamed coconut rice served with fried chicken spicy tofu, fried honey beef, scramble egg & shrimp crackers. The degree of spiciness which comes from the chain of 17,000 islands (which were dubbed spice islands by European traders) is indicted by chili peppers next to the dishes, though of course, spicy really is relative. The waiter will say, “Oh, it’s not spicy…” but it all depends on your tolerance level. Borobudur’s tropical drinks can help cool your mouth down, with offerings such as Es Teller, mixed sweetened fruits with coconut milk, or Es Alpokat, iced avocado with condensed milk and chocolate syrup.

 
     
  Vegetarians and vegans will be content with Golden Era (572 O’Farrell), which offers a wide selection of spring rolls, fried rice, wonton soup, and noodles. There’s also a selection of "meat dishes," with a pretty convincing soy substitute taking the chewy place of beef, fish, and chicken. The interior is spacious and quiet, offering a respite from the urban mess outside. Service is kind and attentive. While you’re there, they are happy to offer visitors reading materials and videotapes with the message of their spiritual leader.

Naan’N’Curry (336 O’Farrell, also 642 Irving) is another easy place to feed your vegetarian friends, and as the name would indicate, they specialize in good, cheap, Indian food.  It is a popular destination for students on a budget, as the food is filling but inexpensive. Try lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetable curries, or a tandoori. The palak paneer (spinach cooked with homemade cheese) is always good. Diners order at the counter, then find a table, and procure their own silverware, plates, and water (located in carafes stored in the refrigerator). Don’t forget to ask for the daily special. You can begin your meal with a mango lassi or save the sweet drink for dessert.
 
  A neighborhood rival for the best Indian and Pakistani food is Shalimar (532 Jones), another inexpensive and informal chain spreading throughout the City. They offer kebabs, naan, and other dishes cooked with expertise and to order. The enticing aromas from the open door make it hard for anyone to pass by without stopping, and the copious portions fill anyone with a big appetite. The naan bread is the best we have ever tasted—fluffy and bubbly on the outside with a hint of crispiness, and it tears apart with ease. Try a mixed plate of spinach, tandoori chicken, and tikka masala. The whole place is so fragrant with smoke and spices; your clothes will carry the smell after you leave.  
  If you want to try something different, say, a cross between Thai and Chinese food, try Indonesia Restaurant (678-680 Post). Indonesian food is a complex combination of Indian, Chinese and Thai flavors. Open since 1982, the Indonesia Restaurant feels authentic and the dishes are inexpensive. Try the lumpia semarang, Indonesian style egg rolls stuffed with chicken, fried tofu, carrots, bamboo shoots, and green onion served with spicy peanut sauce. Or sample one of the noodle dishes, like mie goreng, or rice plates like nasi goreng. Also good are the soups (beef balls and vegetables) or satays (marinated meat on bamboo skewers). For dessert, try the jelly in syrup with shaved ice, with durian or longan fruit on top. Sweet, tropical heaven.  
  Truly a diamond in the rough, Olive Bar and Restaurant, (743 Larkin) is a find! And the happy hour specials are a steal: $5 cocktails and $7.00 pizzas. The wild mushroom and truffle oil pizza is one of the most popular items on the menu, and the raspberry-infused gimlet is to die for. If you're not a big cocktail drinker, you'll convert after tasting a mojito or the watermelon martinis. The place is jumping, the staff is family-oriented, and the clientele is mostly local. The hip yet not-stuffy hangout turns into a popular Saturday night hot spot featuring no cover, soulful music, and a fun crowd. We may just make this a once-a-week dining-out occasion.  
  Dwayne Scott, Associate Instructor at the California Culinary Academy (625 Polk), opens the doors to the cooking school to the bargain-hunting public. Scott teaches production, culinary technique, safety, and kitchen mathematics. Over 1,500 students have studied at this highly acclaimed school of cooking every year since its inception in 1977. Formerly the German Social Club of San Francisco, the gorgeous interior design and detailed work of the ceilings, along with the marvelous balconies, are a perfect match for the restaurant that’s open to the public. For more information on their dining room, call 415-354-9198 or visit www.baychef.com.  
  Pastry and Salad Chef Amy Pearce is constantly busy in the kitchen of the all-vegan restaurant Millennium (580 Geary). "The cuisine is more interesting because you have to get the full and true flavors of what the chef is cooking", says Pearce. Executive Chef Eric Tucker's interpretive and adventurous style allows for a unique dining experience. They've been vegan since the first day they opened in December 2002, so if you want milk with your coffee, you will have to bring your own! Some dishes to try are the Tamarind Tempeh with Shiitake Quinoa Pilaf and Peanut Satay, or the Seitan Marsala with Seitan Medallions and Rosemary Almond Cream.  
  Dottie's True Blue Café (28 Sixth Street) captures the essence of San Francisco's unique and original style. Mugs with blue logos litter every table, and photographs of divas and movie stars from the 40s and 50s adorn the walls. The breads are all homemade, and breakfast is traditional country-style. Manager/owner Kurt Abney cooks in the tiny space just behind the breakfast bar. Serving satisfied customers for over a decade, Kurt has designed the restaurant with a true eclectic touch. Make sure to check out the salt and peppershakers; there are different sets on every table. Have any old snow globes that you don't want? Bring them in, as Kurt would love to add them to his collection.  
  House of Thai lives up to its name. Quick and delicious Thai food, surrounded by modern décor and the paintings of local artists, makes this American-Thai, nouveau-style restaurant an interesting combination. Located at 901 Larkin St. at Geary, it's ideal for the on-the-go eater. The cafeteria style seating, along with the many solo eaters during lunch, adds to the informal atmosphere. The prices are inexpensive. On each table you will find a colorful array of chopsticks. The American influence is easy to spot: bright fake flowers, a plastic Halloween pumpkin holding the To-Go menus, and Whitney Houston doing "How Will I Know" in the background. Yet Thai influence abounds from the Thai staff to the food. Thai Express is a nice casual lunch stop or good for an informal dinner.  

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