July 19, 2016

If you haven’t heard of Andytown.. well, you probably never leave the Mission. Pity.

July 19, 2016

If you haven’t heard of Andytown.. well, you probably never leave the Mission. Pity.

Life in the Sunset has its advantages. The rest of the city sees a far-off ‘hood full of fog and surfers, but those who live there know that they’re sitting on some of the best eating in the city. The Sunset was first an Irish neighborhood, then Chinese, and now a sort of international amalgam where Irish pubs share sidewalk space with dumpling shops, sports bars, pho houses, old-school diners, and more.

The neighborhood is made up of five major commercial areas:

  1. The Inner Sunset at Ninth and Irving, basically downtown, is closest to the rest of the city and has the greatest concentration of restaurants and bars.
  2. Farther down Irving Street, around 19th, is the Middle Sunset, with many budget spots.
  3. There’s a beachy-cool vibe at the restaurants and bars on Judah where it dead-ends at Ocean Beach.
  4. Both Noriega and Taraval (5) have lively, mostly Asian, dining scenes.

If you get lost, remember that the numbered avenues run upward to the beach, and the streets run alphabetical from north to south (Irving, Judah, Kirkham, etc.)

The best part? Most restaurants have entrees under $15, and it’s entirely possible to feed yourself well for less than $10 or even $5. Just make sure to carry cash, as many places don’t take credit cards. And with that primer, here are the 20 best restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffee shops in the Sunset.

1 Andytown

Two words: Snowy Plover. This ambrosial drink is made by combining a shot of espresso with sparkling water in a tall glass over ice, then topping with a snowcap of thick whipped cream. It all mingles together in a sweet, creamy beverage that puts any Starbucks concoction to shame. The Snowy Plover alone is worth the trip to this tiny Outer Sunset coffee shop, but you’ll want to linger over a slab of toasted Irish soda bread spread with salted butter or cheese and thick-cut bacon. And if the few tables are taken, grab your drinks and take them to the beach, just a few blocks away.


2 Arizmendi Bakery

The worker-owned bakery collective is a long-cherished institution in the Bay Area, and this Ninth Street spot comes out of that tradition. Arizmendi Bakery, named after a Basque labor organizer, was founded by some members of the original bakery collective, The Cheeseboard in Berkeley, and has been keeping the Sunset full of baguettes, sourdough croissants and pizza slices since 2000. Its daily changing pizza is always vegetarian and based on the Cheeseboard model: crust-focused, with a film of cheese and toppings. Arizmendi also turns out a whole range of flavored breads, pastries, cookies and the like; find the daily menu on the website.


3 Art’s Cafe

At this narrow Inner Sunset diner, a thin round of hash browns — crisp and salty as all get out — is folded over itself like a quesadilla, encompassing a hearty pile of grated cheese and fillings that include bacon, sausage, spinach, mushrooms, chicken teriyaki, and kimchi. (Art’s Cafe owners Hae Ryong and Sarah Youn are Korean.) The hash brown sandwich is then served with eggs, toast, and a strong likelihood of an afternoon nap. But the best part of Art’s is the retro diner counter, which gives you a front-row seat to the short-order acrobatics of the Youns, who have been slinging eggs and ‘browns here six days a week for the past 26 years.


4 Cheung Hing

Some of the best Chinese barbecue duck in the city can be found at this no-frills Noreiga chop shop, which has a steady stream of customers and a line stretching out the door for most of the day. Don’t fret — it moves quickly, and soon enough you’ll have a takeout box bursting with barbecue or Peking duck, poached chicken with ginger sauce, crisp roasted pork or all manner of roasted offal, all of it hanging in the window for your perusal as you wait. Or you can sit down for a meat-and-rice plate or massive bowl of roast duck wonton noodle soup.


5 Devil’s Teeth Baking Company

To many, the case is closed: This is the best breakfast sandwich in town. Certainly it’s a worthy contender, with a flaky biscuit topped with fluffy scrambled eggs, molten cheddar cheese, and a few slices of smoky bacon (there’s also a version with pepper jack, bacon, avocado, and lemon). Or try the doughnut muffins, chocolate cake, BLT on fresh sourdough, and fresh beignets, which are only served on Sundays. Eat on the parklet in front of the cafe or take your snacks and Bicycle Coffee to the beach.


6 Izakaya Sozai

On a cold night, when the fog whipping in from the ocean makes the Sunset feel like Siberia, there’s nothing better than a warm serving of ramen — and this mega-popular izakaya has one of the best bowls in the ‘hood. People line up for the ritsu tonkotsu, which has a surprisingly delicate broth, and supplement their meal with skewers, chicken wings, spicy tuna on crispy rice, and more. Look to the board for specials like spot prawn sashimi and squid ink tsukemen. It’s best to get there right at the 5:30 p.m. opening to guarantee a table for dinner, but on the plus side, that means you can partake in happy hour deals on beer and appetizers like garlic edamame and takoyaki.


7 Kingdom of Dumpling

Don’t confuse this Noriega dumpling shop with its regally named rival across the park, Shanghai Dumpling King, famous for its xiao long bao. Kingdom of Dumpling serves fine XLB, but it’s really known for its Northern-style shuijiao dumplings, which are more oblong, have thicker wrappers, and fillings like lamb or pork and cabbage. There’s also a long menu of Chinese restaurant standards, including worth-ordering flaky green onion pancakes. Pro tip: Score bags of frozen dumplings to take home and steam up at your leisure.

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8 Nopalito

There aren’t a ton of great nights for patio dining in the Sunset, but when they happen, a good place to be is at a table on the succulent-decorated, cafe light-draped patio at Nopalito. This is the second branch of the Mexican offshoot of Nopa, and continues to draw crowds for its ceviches, carnitas, housemade tortillas, pozole, Bloody Marias and more. Lunch, served seven days a week, is heavy on tacos, tortas, quesadillas, and a few bigger hot plates, while dinner focuses on sharable small plates and entrees. The cozy, green-walled dining room can accommodate anything from a graduation dinner to a date at the bar, and heat lamps on the patio ensure that you won’t freeze even if the fog comes in.


9 Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant 老北京

Some swear by the crack fish, an addictive dish of rock cod in a sauce largely made up of chile oil and numbing Szechuan peppercorns. Others obsess over the cumin lamb, beef pancake, and Beijing-style hot pot. As you can tell, there is a wealth of reasons to make the trek out to Parkside for a meal at this 20-year-old Northern Chinese restaurant. Old Mandarin Islamic is halal, so no pork, but that just means more room for lamb dishes that range from ribs to dumplings. The only downside is that the restaurant’s small size usually means a medium-to-long wait. Takeout is always an option.


10 Outerlands

Brunchtime waits can top three hours here, thanks to the reputation of the beachy-chic restaurant’s Dutch pancake, eggs-in-jail, and pastry chef Brooke Moseley’s excellent scones, muffins, and coffee cake. But Outerlands is open all day, and you’ll find a chiller scene at breakfast, which offers a short menu of egg dishes and steel-cut oats; at lunch, which has a gooey grilled cheese and varying salads and soups; and at dinner, which showcases the mad Cal-Med skills of head chef Yoni Levy (Alta CA). No matter when you visit, the handsome dining room, decked out in reclaimed wood and poured concrete, is a warm and welcoming place to spend an hour or two.


11 Polly Ann Ice Cream

This old-fashioned Noriega ice cream shop is infamous for its durian ice cream, which is so pungent it needs to be kept in the back freezer so as not to pollute the other flavors. But there are at least 500 non-durian flavors that have kept locals coming back since 1955. Standards like chocolate, strawberry, and rocky road are well-represented, but there is also a hearty list of exotic flavors like black sesame, jasmine tea, mangosteen, taro, lychee, honeydew, and more. If you can’t make up your mind, you can always spin the flavor wheel and let it decide — you may walk away with a free scoop, but be warned: You may also walk away with a scoop of durian.


12 San Tung Chinese Restaurant

The sticky-spicy ultra-shellacked dry-fried chicken wings live up to the hype. That’s the first thing to know about San Tung, the perennially-crowded Chinese spot on Irving. The second is that the menu has other treats in store, from the pot stickers to black bean sauce noodles to garlicky string beans. And the third? If San Tung and its identical next door neighbor, San Tung #2, are full, you can always order food to go and take it to nearby Golden Gate Park — just bring your own wet naps and expect to wait for takeout ten to 20 minutes longer than the time quoted.


13 Social Kitchen & Brewery

It’s big. It has 18 beer taps. It also has a full bar, TVs and a new American menu that has everything from a burger to confit duck leg. Basically, Social Kitchen is the perfect neighborhood meeting place, one flexible enough to accommodate both a happy hour drink with a friend at the long curved bar and a romantic rendezvous tucked away at a balcony table. The food isn’t anything special (though don’t sleep on the Parmesan-lime Brussels sprouts), and the guest taps are often better than to the house brews. But despite all this, Social Kitchen seems to be the catch-all for Sunset occasions, and does it well.


14 Sunrise Deli

This charming deli and grocery has been providing the Sunset with falafel, baba ganoush, baklava and other Middle Eastern items since 1984. The falafel sandwiches (especially the one loaded with avocado) are often good, if inconsistent, and the chicken shawarma can be dry — but locals know that the real move is the falafel to go. At $6 a dozen, they can easily make up a quick lunch or dinner, especially when augmented with takeout containers of tabbouleh, hummus, dolmas, and more from the deli counter. If you want to eat in, there are a few tables along one wall, and shelves in back house imported groceries under a mural of Jerusalem.


15 The Little Shamrock

Built in 1893, this is the oldest bar in the Sunset and one of the oldest in the city, and it has a comfortable, worn-in vibe about it. With its collection of board games, darts, backgammon tables, mystery novels, couches, and Tiffany lamps, The Shamrock is a particularly good bar for whiling away a foggy afternoon with friends, and its abundance of TV screens makes it a popular spot to watch the game. Especially fun on St. Patrick’s Day.


16 The Taco Shop at Underdog’s

Get here early if you expect to get a seat for a big game; this sports bar from the owner of Nick’s Crispy Tacos draws a hearty and enthusiastic crowd. And you do want a seat, because then you get to eat tacos, quesadillas, wings, burritos, and other solid Cal-Mex fare as you drink pitchers of margaritas and cheer on your team. The menu’s signature is beer-battered fish tacos “Nick’s way,” with a crisp corn tortilla wrapped in a flour tortilla with cheese, pinto beans, pico de gallo and guac. But the sleeper hit is the unadorned “Mexican street-style” tacos on corn tortillas, especially when they’re only $2 on Taco Tuesday.


17 The Yellow Submarine

There’s nothing obviously gourmet about these submarine sandwiches, but they are addictive thanks to two secret weapons: the crisp-on-the-outside, soft-inside rolls, which are baked special for the shop, and the fiery house hot sauce, made with a blend of peppers and not for the faint of heart. Favorite subs include the pepper steak, hot pastrami, Italian combo, and simple turkey, and don’t miss the coin-shaped fries that fall somewhere between French fries and potato chips. Eat in the no-frills dining room next to the counter or take your sandwich and chips to the park (the nearby Shakespeare Garden is always a nice place for a picnic).


18 Toyose

The best time to visit Toyose is after 11 p.m., when things really get cooking. This Korean spot in a converted garage near the beach is a favorite late-night stop for many, who arrive from both neighborhood bars and shared rides from near and far. Order the super-crisp chicken wings, spicy noodles with succulent baby octopus, kimchi fried rice with beef and egg on top, and plastic bottles of Korean beer or large teapots of hot sake. Though it’s a fun place to be late at night, the semi-private wooden booths and hidden gem atmosphere also make Toyose a fun choice for a dinner date, as long as they’re the adventurous type.


19 Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club

Don’t question it, just get the cinnamon toast. This Ocean Beach-adjacent cafe is allegedly one of the originators of the“$4 toast” movement, and its thick-cut cinnamon toast on white bread is the stuff that childhood dreams are made of. (You can also get toast topped with peanut butter, honey and jam, but why mess with the simplicity of cinnamon sugar?) As the name suggests, Trouble sells whole young coconuts with straws in them along with coffee, chai, and other caffeinated beverages. Take your drink and toast to the parklet, which is abundant in driftwood seating, succulents, and surfer types.


20 Yummy Yummy

This casual Inner Sunset Vietnamese restaurant is a favorite haunt of food writers and chefs; Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino (Cockscomb) has professed his love for its pho and seafood omelet more than once. It does serve very good pho, with a rich, complex broth, as well as juicy five-spice chicken, salt-and-pepper house special crab, spicy grilled clams, and more — and all at reasonable prices. The interior isn’t opulent, but it’s pleasant enough, with glass-topped tables and paintings of Vietnam. And though there’s often a wait for a table, if you sneak in on off hours you can usually get seated right away.



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