Nopalito 306 Broderick St./Oak St., Lower Haight, across from DMV. This popular Mexican spot often requires a long wait. Menu favorites include posole, ceviche, carnitas, and any of the delicious moles. My companion and I shared vegetarian potato-spinach taquitos and a plate of chicken enchiladas with mole. Housemade seasonal fruit paletas (popsicles) make a refreshing dessert. Unfortunately, margaritas are available only unblended and served in ordinary glasses; fortunately, they are big and potent. A large selection of Mezcals and Tequilas are available, and housemade non-alcoholic drinks include guava juice, organic almond horchata, and Blue Bottle coffee. Complimentary niceties include spicy roasted chickpeas to nibble on while you peruse the menu (I found them addictive and ordered up some to take home with me), housemade sparkling tap water, and almond cookies with the check; chips and salsa are additional.
A Peet’s and upscale Falletti market are next door.
Pasión 737 Irving St./9th Ave., Inner Sunset District. Peruvian-style cuisine with complex sauces dominate the menu in this sleek, sophisticated restaurant furnished with dark wood tables and chairs softened by a few comfy banquettes. Floors are polished grey cement, and large windows provide views to the street. As would be expected, the menu offers a bevy of ceviches (my favorite is the scrumptious cooked lobster version with mango and avocado) and a raw oyster bar. Appetizers include conchitas (seared wild scallops from Maine topped with a sweet plantain tostone and colorful cilantro mojito sauce), albondigas (lamb meatballs in a creamy sherry-truffle sauce topped with fresno peppers), and duck empanadas. Entrees include a paella and traditional lomito saltado stir-fry of sirloin steak strips, tomatoes, and onions plus a side of french fries. Among the desserts are moist tres leches cake and chocolate-coconut bread pudding. Pisco drinks are a house specialty--I loved the traditional pisco sour with a swirl of bitters in the foam--and sangria is an option.
Before or after, enjoy a pleasant stroll along busy Irving Street and browse the shops. One of my favorites is Sakura at #936, a small shop that sells Japanese household items and foods. I picked up a big bag of rice crackers like they serve in nearby Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, some wasabi-covered hard green pea snacks, and a box of guava cookies from Kauai.
Pete’s Tavern 128 King St./2nd St., South Beach. Operating within a lovely vintage brick building right across from the baseball park, this updated American-style pub has TV screens surrounding its large, central horseshoe bar. The simple one-room interior is concrete floors mixed with natural wood support beams and rafters--the ceiling is way up high. Seating includes some high tables, and though the noise level is eardrum-piercing and the room dark, the ambiance is cheery. An extensive selection of beers on tap and wine by the glass is offered, along with pub food that includes a double cheeseburger with curly fries, house-smoked brisket sandwich and ribs, housemade corn dogs on a stick, and big “dogs.”
Polly Ann Ice Cream 3138 Noriega St./39th Ave., Outer Sunset District, (415) 664-2472. Claiming to be the only ice cream store in the world where both dogs and babies get a free ice cream cone, this small shop is notable for yet other reasons. Where else is there a constantly changing choice of more than 400 flavors of ice cream? Where else does the owner make all of his own ice cream and smile happily as he declares, “Tonight I think I’ll make watermelon”? At least 40 flavors are available every day. Some are seasonal, and some are trendy--like Batman (black vanilla with lemon swirls) and Star Wars (blue vanilla with rainbow marshmallows). Among the many unusual flavors are sunflower seed, vegetable, red bean, chocolate-peanut butter, and American beauty made with fresh rose petals. Believe it or not, some traditional flavors are also available, and vanilla is always the number one best seller. According to the owner, “Anything is possible.” And those who just can’t decide can spin a big wheel on the wall and let fate determine the flavor. No seating is available.
Zarzuela 2000 Hyde St./Union St., Russian Hill. With an open, yet cozy dining room warmed by butter-yellow Mediterranean walls and beamed ceilings, this gem serves tasty Spanish tapas. Each meal starts with bread and olive oil plus a complimentary plate of exquisite olives. For a terrific tapas dinner, begin with a small plate of salted almonds. Continue with grilled eggplant rolled around creamy goat cheese, crisp fried potatoes with garlic and sherry vinegar, and shrimps sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Make the meal more filling by adding a daily special such as fresh sardines, or paella, or a larger plate--traditional Catalan seafood stew, grilled lamb chops, ox-tail stew—and wash it all down with some traditional sherry. Liqueur-soaked sponge cake stuffed with fruit is a perfect ending.
After, jump on one of the cable cars passing by outside and take a refreshing ride.