(Note: Piglets will be short posts for sharing things I eat that aren’t thorough enough to make full posts out of, e.g. used phone camera, only tried one thing, great food out of nowhere…)
Time to break up the Europe trip with a trip back in the US! I really didn’t expect to be visiting San Francisco less than 2 weeks after coming back from Europe, but some business took me there so I got to enjoy a nice Cali weekend in the sun. (Sorry for the iPhone pictures btw!)
I came on pretty short notice so eating wasn’t my first priority, but I still ate some cool things that I wanted to share! None of these were proper or detailed enough to make into full posts, so they all get put in one nice little summary here.
Stop 1: In-N-Out Burger
I’m not sure how it happened, but I completely forgot about trying to find In N’-Out burgers until I actually saw the sign! What a close call! To think that I could’ve missed it on my first ever trip to San Fran…
If you haven’t heard, In-N-Out Burger is a West Coast institution. It doesn’t fill the same niche as its Eastern cousin Shake Shack mainly cause In N’ Out sticks more to traditional cheeseburgers with a less diverse menu and a lower price point than Shake Shack’s more upscale burgers.
Its popularity stems from the higher quality ingredients that they use to make burgers taste better than other fast food chains as well as all the off-menu customization options. Seriously, they even have a “not-so-secret” menu addendum!
2×2 Cheeseburger– 5/6 (Excellent), $3.65
- Burger with two patties, two American cheese slices, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and “Spread”
Instead of going Animal-style (with caramelized onions and mustard-cooked patties) I stuck to the basic double cheeseburger this time. I loved the burgers here! It was a cheap burger done right: well-balanced ingredients, lots of cheese, good quality beef and just the right amount of bun.
Nothing really tasted surprising for a burger, but it was refreshing to see a burger where pretty much everything was done right. The tomato and lettuce was fresh and country, the beef was fresh and not overdone, and the bun was forgiving and light without being greasy. The sauce was a pretty typical Thousand Island style dressing.
Check out Serious Eats’ amazing deconstruction of what goes into an In-N-Out burger for more info! Apparently the secrets include using super fresh and fatty 60% ground beef and a 31:19 blend of mayo to ketchup/relish (yes this was as detailed as it sounds!).
In-N-Out definitely lived up to the hype! This was definitely the best cheap burger I’ve had and it’s no surprise that people treat this as a destination on California visits! I’ll be sure to try the Animal-style next time because it sounds even more amazing.
Stop 2: Dessert Republic
In the evening I met up with some friends for dinner and dessert in San Mateo, about 45 min south of San Francisco. We happened to find this cute dessert place called Dessert Republic selling a wide variety of Chinese desserts with a cool interior decorated like old Hong Kong!
The menu was super diverse with many typical “homely” Asian desserts available like sweet soups and tofu desserts to go with the typical bubble tea and ice cream stuff. Even though these are easy to make and usually come at the end of Chinese dinners, I don’t see many places that offer them as a stand-alone dessert place so this was interesting to try. They even had savoury options like rice, noodles, and crêpes!
That probably explains how popular it was! They offer the option for takeout, but seeing as this was a *cold* day by California standards (only freezing guys come on!) the place was quite full and wait times were around 15 minutes.
Green Bean Soup with Sweet Tofu – 2.5/6 (Okay – Good), $3.95
I tried a warm green bean soup with sweet tofu. Unfortunately the standard of the food wasn’t as good as the idea or decor. It tasted a little weak with not enough green bean flavour and the tofu wasn’t quite top-notch in quality either. I probably would’ve guessed that the tofu was bought pre-made rather than made in-house.
My friend got this cool yin/yang dessert made from white and black sesame. According to her it didn’t taste quite like the authentic thing done right either though.
Overall I liked the concept and the diversity on the menu was nice, but it seemed like they were trying to do too much without perfecting any one thing. I would have preferred that the owners stick to making the Chinese style desserts really good without getting into some of the Western desserts like crêpes or ice cream sundaes.
Stop 3: Brunch in SF at Nob Hob Grille
There’s a lot of food to choose from in SF, but the king of all meals appears to be brunch. My friend and I went looking for brunch spots around downtown SF to catch up, but the wait times at some of the more popular places like Brenda’s Soul Food were hours long!
After lots of wondering, we found Nob Hob Grille and managed to snag a table which looked like the last one in the house! The brunch menu here is quite typical of brunch, with your typical eggs and bread-based staples.
Corned Beef Hash – 3/6 (Good), $11
- “Slow cooked corned beef with bell pepper trio, onions and two poached eggs topped with mild jalapeno aioli served with wheat toast” – NHG website
This was a pretty solid dish for a neighbourhood brunch spot. The corned beef wasn’t the most tender, but it had a nice meaty flavour which translated well to the hash. You really can’t go wrong with poached eggs at breakfast of course! The toast was also decent with a good mix of grains, although it didn’t appear to be homemade. The jalapeno aioli was quite weak as described and unfortunately didn’t add much to the dish, having been overwhelmed by the flavour of sour cream.
Stop 4: Golden Gate Bakery
One of the most well-known food exports of San Francisco are the egg custard tarts or 蛋挞 from Golden Gate Bakery (the bakery isn’t close to or affiliated with anything “Golden Gate”, but everything seems to be named after that here!)
It’s rare that you see an Asian bakery with lines out the door at all times, so there must be something worth trying inside! I would say that 90% of their sales/operations are dedicated to making their freshly baked egg tarts.
Egg Tart – 5.5/6 (Excellent – Must Try!), $1.35
These were absolutely delicious! It was much richer in egg flavour than your typical egg tart but it fitted the Asian taste bud perfectly as it was savoury while still having a hint of sweetness. Asian desserts in general tend to be less sweet than their Western counterparts and this fit the bill.
The textures at work were wonderful. The custard was soft and smooth, especially when eaten fresh, and the crust was light and flaky unlike the crumbly shortening rich crusts that poor egg tarts come with.
They are quite expensive for something so small and easy to make which is no doubt a byproduct of their popularity, but it’s easy to see why these are so popular and it’s well worth a try.
That concludes a eventful and spontaneous trip to San Francisco! The Bay Area has always been a place that I’ve wanted to visit, and even though I’ve scratched the surface a little of what is here there’s still much to be tried.
Places that I have on my food bucket list in SF include Saison, Manresa, Benu, The French Laundry, Aziza, Atelier Crenn and Mama’s for brunch (okay not all of these are really San Francisco, but they’re all close to the Bay Area!). Unfortunately it will take more than a few trips to finish all that and more, but I can’t wait until I get to go back again!