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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Harry's Hofbrau

I'm now going to write some things that will no doubt piss off many, many decent people who are amongst the many longtime faithful who patronize Harry's Hofbrau in Redwood City.

The food is beyond mediocre. It just plain out sucks.

OK, ok, ok. True, it was my first and only time there. Maybe I missed something. Maybe they have the most kick-ass carved or sandwiched roast beef or turkey leg or beef brisket, and if so I profusely apologize.

Or then, maybe once was enough and maybe that queasy feeling I had while we were driving back to the city was an indication of how much this place's food blows.

But first, some background.

Harry's Hofbrau is perhaps the Bay Area's only chain hofbrau, perhaps owing to its early success to it's original location in Redwood City (which in the 1950s and 60s was home to many young, large suburban families) and on the reputation and business savvy of it's founder, Harry Kramer, an Austrian immigrant who prior to opening Harry's had a history of operating a small chain of 24-hour restaurants called "Kramer's".

In fact, the original Harry's Hofbrau was so successful that, upon hearing of Harry's retirement from the restaurant business, that other famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) American icon, Denny's, offered to buy it in 1969. Instead, Harry's son, Larry acquired the business and opened up Harry's Hofbraus in many parts of the South and East Bay.

But as we all know, time hasn't been kind to hofbraus. While many still have their longtime regulars, and even a few new ones, many of these independent, family-run businesses have had to shut their doors for good, including the Harry's Hofbrau in Mountain View 5 years ago. Although, one has to speculate whether it was closed because lack of business (hard to believe from reading this article) or because it was the sacrificial lamb whose land value was so immense Larry Kramer willingly put it up on the chopping block.

Lucky for the original location that it's not in the prettiest part of town. In fact, it's right off of Highway 84 and El Camino Real, next to a shuttered Slavic bookstore, various mercados, and the former site of "The Answer", Redwood City's no-tell, gay bar – the type that historically sought out the loneliest, often seediest, parts of Californian small towns.

Despite this, Harry's Hofbrau must be the local community meeting hall, since a brief scanning over the Internet netted results such as the holiday party of the San Mateo County Council of the Blind and the Peninsula Channel Commanders (a flying radio-controlled model plane club) and the next meetings of the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club and the local Meeting For Good (a singles group consisting of volunteers) chapter.

In fact, while Bruce and I were eating, a group of 15 people charged in followed by a family of six and a group of 10 ROTC cadets with their commanders.

As far as décor goes, Harry's is more tacky than kitchy (including the spinning roasting turkeys in the window displays on either side of the entry doors) and a lot "Applebee's".

It's a huge restaurant where the bar area is separate from the dining area. In the dining area, there are no televisions playing sports and references to beer steins and German stereotypes abound in the midst of very un-German things such as old photos of general stores and other early 20th century American businesses. I don't know if it's the owner or the management twisting the whole American hofbrau model to fit a German stereotype, but it's quite pathetic. American hofbraus don't need to "act German", because unless they specialize in spaetzle, muesli, schnitzel, sauerbraten, and have a German beer selection other than Heineken and Amstel Lite, they're not.

Also, what kind of German hofbrau serves $8.60 turkey enchiladas (sic, "enchalada")? And while we're at it, what kind of German hofbrau serves enchiladas but no tortilla chips?

Also, the place is way too bright for my tastes and as everyone knows, the Germans and the Austrians are not exactly famous for being shiney happy people holding hands. I mean, have you ever listened to Rammstein? Because, if you have, you would know that that and Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" which was playing at Harry's the night we were there, are about as polar opposite as Madonna and Judaism.

Note: I'm not dissing on Dusty. That's my girl.

The restaurant looked as if over the years they had remodeled to infinity until what was left was as characterless as the cheesy beer stein-print seat covers.

This was also the most expensive hofbrau I've been to yet. $12.48 is what I spent for a corned beef dinner and a glass of iced tea. The corned beef dinner came with freshly sliced corned beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, a "hot side" (mac and cheese) and a dinner roll with butter.

To break it all down for you, the corned beef was very salty and a little too fatty. I'm not an expert on corned beef, so if it was awesome, it was lost on me. Eating a whole plate of it made me ill. Also, what's with that rainbow sheen certain cured products have? That freaks me out.

Or perhaps what made me ill was the mac and cheese, which was colder than a witch's tit (no offense to wiccans, especially those who hold their annual meetings at Harry's) and congealed into one large Government-Cheesy clump. Blah!

Also, I thought the dish was called "mashed potatoes and gravy", heavy emphasis on the former. Instead, I got a small little ice cream scoop of potatoes floating like an island is a sea of pretty bad gravy. Contrast this with the side of mashed potatoes and gravy I got at the Chick-N-Coop and you'll understand how appalled I was.

And the roll?

Please, you could stone an apostate with it. Or at least crack your housekeepers head.

If I was a Mormon polygamist with a whole village of incestuous children and relatives to feed, I still would have to think twice about Harry's.

You know, if it was a true dive, I may have looked on it a little more generously because then you would expect shitty food in such an establishment. This place has an air about it and a price that tries to place it in a category above dive, and all I've got to say is: it is (shitty) and it isn't (dive-worthy).

Have you ever seen that show "Keeping Up Appearances"?

Think of Harry's Hofbrau as Hyacinth Bucket.

"…er, uh, excuse me, but it's bou-kay."

Normally, with the livelihoods of the workers in mind, I would be hard-pressed to tell you, my gentle readers, to avoid a place, seeing as I though I would never want to have the hardship of anyone unemployed hanging like an albatross around my neck.

But seeing as though Harry's Hofbrau isn't in any danger of losing the Amateur Radio Enthusiasts meetings, the blind people's holiday parties, and the large family factions, I feel at ease in telling you to skip it and head due north to the City That Knows How.


Monday, March 27, 2006

"Lefty" O'Doul's

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to go into any dining establishment and snap pictures left and right without nearly a wince from anyone working or eating there.

Lucky then that Lefty O'Doul's is located smack dab in the middle of the tourist hell that is Union Square. In fact, I think not taking pictures would make you stick out here.

I think it's awesome that an old school, inexpensive hofbrau still thrives in the heart of Niketown, Macy's, Needless Mark-up, Burberry, Coach, Bulgari, H&K, Williams-Sonoma, art galleries, and exclusive hotels.

In fact, any tourist to our city should feel lucky (like the Irish?) that without trekking to far off neighborhoods in search of an authentic San Francisco experience, you can get your high rolla shopping on and later take in a cheap, but filling, meal at Lefty's, all within the walking distance of a few blocks.

I won't go into much detail about Lefty's because if you've stepped two feet into Union Square more than once, you probably know more about it than me. In fact, everyone and their mother, father, brother, sister, and cousins can tell you about Lefty's.

However, this blog tribute to Bay Area hofbraus wouldn't be nearly complete without a visit to one of the shrines of California hofbraus, Lefty O'Doul's.

Many observations from tourists and out-of-towners who experience Lefty's remark that it is an Irish pub. Eh, wrong. I've also read that the place is overpriced tourist food and is bland and boring. Eh, wrong again.

In fact, it seems that most people who comment on Lefty's have neither hide nor hair of understanding about hofbrau cuisine. And that's understandable. For example, recently, I surveyed my close friends (some of whom were born and raised in the Bay Area) for hofbrau recommendations and was suggested a few restaurants with German-sounding names. But as I've said before, the hofbraus I'm talking about having nothing to do with German food or beer.

Lefty's may draw it's own local crowd - which is rare for a place smack dab in the middle of touristville – and that crowd may be crusty, sports-minded, and even lecherous, but that's part of it's charm. Of course, the food isn't to be sneezed at (though sneezed on, it may be).

What I like about Lefty's is that it "knows itself" and yet doesn't. You know what I mean?

Sure, they know they're an "institution". They know the place was started by a famous San Francisco baseball player/coach who "discovered" Joe DiMaggio and that, no doubt, there are countless guide books telling tourists to stop in and see a blowup of Norma Jean DiMaggio's ID card.

They know that even a whiff of a hint of them closing for good will bring outrage from the old timers and histrionics from preservation societies.

True, Lefty's is a cut above many other hofbraus. Not only do they have a baby grand in the front lounge (drunken piano karaoke anyone?), but they even have something unheard of for most hofbraus – a website; one with so much java-script and plug-ins it sends my antivirus and firewall software into panic mode.

So, even though this hofbrau "knows itself", the staff at Lefty's seem completely down to earth – albeit a little curt – but down to earth. And as far as the customers are concerned, this isn't the "sweater around the shoulders" crowd, although I'm sure there may be a few of them who are regulars.

But the real reason why we layeth the macketh down at Lefty's is the amazing hofbrau choices, such as the roast beef and the pastrami, and their assortment of side dishes. I've also heard the mac and cheese here is awesome.

Bruce and I both got the freshly cut pastrami sandwiches; his on rye and mine on sourdough.

As is the custom, my sandwich roll was dipped in jus and then topped high with the pastrami. Even though Bruce thought the pastrami was too dry, I liked it. And actually, it could've been more moist, but it probably had been sitting under the heat lamps a little too long. Despite the dryness issue, it still was a pretty decent sandwich, especially with a little mustard and/or horseradish sauce.

The pasta salad was good for being what it was. It basically was spiral pasta, a few black olives, and Italian dressing. Actually, I liked Bruce's red potato salad better. It needed a little more salt and pepper, plus a tad bit more horseradish, and then it was pretty satisfying.

If you are looking for an "only in San Francisco" and an authentic hofbrau experience, this is it folks. This is why I've devoted the next few weeks of my life to documenting the hofbraus of the Bay Area.

Now, about that late-night drunken piano karaoke.


Saturday, March 25, 2006


It was a weird day in my part of the City today.

First, this weather has been more erratic than Paula Abdul. Is it going to thunderstorm or is it just going to be a heavy mist? Is it sunshining now? Cold? Warm? Windy? Is she happy or is she just drunk?

I don't get it.

Then, down at the baseball park, 25,000 youth shocktroops (and their shepards) for the New American Taliban are having a rock and roll/hip hop prayerfest which they say is "non-political", uh, except for that part where they held a rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, where, incidentally, 2 years ago the evil gays launched the Marriage Equality movement in the United States. But really, "we're not political".

(This just in: Bruce just got back from the Safeway closest to the prayerfest and said it was "nuts" and "packed with those damn Christians". The clerk at the checkout told him it was the same last night and that "they had stolen so much stuff, we had to call in extra security guards.")

Over at Moscone, the esteemed Learning Annex was holding a Get-Rich-Quick sideshow, uh, snakeoil, uh, scam artist, uh, "sucker born every minute", uh...really, I mean seminar that attracted thousands of true believers to worship and pray at the feet of secular capitalists priests like Donald Trump, Suze Orman, Tony Robbins, and the rich-dad-poor-dad guy.

Being a mere mortal and lowly human being, part of the animal kingdom as much as say, a hairy-eared dwarf lemur, the response of fight or flight kicked in and realizing I was outnumbered by jackasses, I jumped onto the L-Terrible (Taraval) and quickly headed towards the opposite end of town.

As if I had died and went the towards the light (Carol-Anne) at the end of the tunnel, when the train exited the underground at West Portal station, beams of sunlight shone down upon the sidewalks and the MUNI cars.

Uh, is the city giving these people extra sunlight cause they're wealthier and more politically connected? Is that why they call this area of town the Sunset? I may have to enact the Sunshine Law and find out.

The train let me off at 20th and Taraval, where it just so happens there's a cute little ol' hofbrau sitting on the corner. It's called the Chick-N-Coop and it's one of the few non-Asian restaurants in this little strip of a neighborhood within a neighborhood that looks down over the Pacific ocean.

The Chick-N-Coop looks like it has been there since the neighborhood was predominantly white. These days, that part of Taraval is predominantly Asian, with Asian politicians (and politicians), tropical fish stores, nail salons, and plenty of Asian places to eat like "Banh-wiches", "New Loi Mandarin Cuisine" (menu features a pork dish called "Ants Climb Up The Tree"), and "Szechuan Taste Restaurant". I guess you know where I'll be headed for dinner and lunch pretty soon!

Walking into the Chick-N-Coop, I was stunned by the clean and fresh scent in the air. The room wasn't dark and it was spacious.

Am I in the right place? First thing's first. I must pee.

That ride was long, and so I quickly set my coat and umbrella at a table and rushed to the men's room.

Oh, yeah. This is definitely a hofbrau alright.

After washing my hands and heading back out, I grabbed a tray and looked at the menu. You could buy a whole chicken here, but I stuck with the ¼ chicken. It came with mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as a side salad (got the ol' mac salad again!).

There were other meats to choose from, but I wanted to keep it real at the Chick-N-Coop, which is why I went with the chicken. The women behind the counter seemed pleased with my choice, although they were generally nice, so who knows. I couldn't make out the language they were speaking in to each other. It was like Spanish, but not Portuguese or Italian. Definitely not French.

Is there a colony of Esperanto speakers out in the Sunset?

As I sat at the table, I noticed the "frills". While the chair I sat in was off balance, the tables were clean, the chairs were all wooden, there were five-and-dime Hellenistic art pieces scattered about, and a lot of silk flowers and dangling plastic ivory.

This place is totally girly!

But yet it was a hofbrau!

There were the meats, sliced by hand, and the sides. There was sports (the ice skating championships) and even beer on tap (Budweiser and something frilly and wine cooler-like). There was a bar that inched one step away from being a silk Fern Bar, but the menus over it with the daily specials were dingy and old school.

This place was like the Lifetime of hofbraus. This could have been the hofbrau frequented by Jessie, of Murder She Wrote, or Bea Arthur in whatever she's in.

This place is definitely unique. It is perhaps the first and last and only feminine, XX-chromosome, Helen Reddy-listening, hofbrau of it's kind in existence.

In fact, let's dispense with male-centric paradigms. This isn't a hofbrau.

It is a hof-frau.

And being a hoffrau, let me just say that the roast chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy are exactly the same dear ol' Mom would make. The roast chicken is plentiful (although the breast is a little dry) and perfectly roasted and still on the bone. It tastes straight from the oven (or in the Chick-N-Coop's case, the rotisserie). The mashed potatoes are fresh-tasting, with small chunks of unmashed potatoes still floating around the mound that is topped by a meaty gravy.

But wait, because Mom loves you extra special, have a little macaroni salad while you're at it. This macaroni salad was made with extra large pieces of pasta and a few more herbs, because Mom thinks so much of you. It's good, in that Mom way.

But Mom ain't no doormat. You know, she raised you kids single-handedly while putting herself through school so that she could get a better job and provide for you and put you through college so that eventually you could have your own kids and home without going through the struggles she had to endure.

That's why Mom is charging you for this meal. You owe her...$6.95.

Now hurry on up or you'll be late for class.

Just leave your tray on the table.



Sitting practically underneath the University Avenue bridge, right off of the interstate, and practically out of site to most is a Berkeley institution most least likely to appear in the How Berkeley Can You Be parade.

Berkeley, as many know it, is the home of raging and aging liberals (competition for us SFers), hippies and punks, Leninists, Stalinists, Trots, Moonies, Maoists, LaRouchies, Krishnas, Fascists, Anti-Fascists, Zionists, Anti-Zionists, the former base of the SLA, where Huey Newton and Bobby Seal dreamt up the Black Panther Party, People's Park, the Free Speech Movement, Chez Panisse, and everything crunchy, granola, and painfully, insufferably PC.

The real Berkeley is a company town; the company being the University of California. The product - nuclear weapons and the future global managerial class.

But before the University came to dominate Berkeley's GDP, other industries flourished. Farming was one. And of course, the building trades.

One of those builders, a man by the name of John Brennan, built the restaurant that would eventually bear his name. But before entering the restaurant business at the age of 69, Brennan was unique among business owners of the time. A man who rose out of the working class to eventually become the owner of a construction company, he never stopped advocating for the rights of workers and was instrumental in securing worker's compensation for California workers who were injured on the job.

It is fitting then that the restaurant he opened 47 years ago still serves a clientele that is, at least on my visit, predominantly working class.

Bruce and I happened to visit Brennan's on a Tuesday night around 8:30 PM. For the most part, the place was dead.

Bruce and I grabbed a tray and perused the menu on the wall above the steam tables. They were a little too fancy, well-lit, and brightly painted, as was the rest of the restaurant, for my dive tastes. This is probably due to the renovation Brennan's underwent a few years back, no doubt some hairbrained scheme to attract new customers.

Bruce, who, in the early 1980s, use to stop by Brennans late after a long night working the Greek Theater for BGP, remembers it being a lot more divier, but says that the food hasn't changed all that much. From what he remembers, the drinks and the food were always cheap and plentiful.

We both ordered the beef brisket sandwich that came on a sourdough roll. The man behind the counter sliced the rolls and dipped them in the beef jus and then proceeded to thinly slice off pieces of the brisket. He piled it high on the sandwich and then sliced the sandwich in half.

I decided to get a bowl of the pasta salad, which was just like the pasta salad you would eat at any potluck or family gathering. In other words, the same pasta salad recipe that hasn't changed since the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg.

We sat down near one of the many large-screen televisions that was blaring some kind of sports event or another. Bruce asked to see my keys, since those are what my TV-B-Gone is attached to. Alas, my TV-B-Gone B-Not-Working. Sigh...time to order a new one.

There were a few couples, but mostly there were single diners either sitting at one of the long rows of tables or at the bar. The guys sitting at the bar looked like trucker types and probably were. I imagine they must have stopped in to get a big meal and a brew before they had to get back on the road.

There was a woman with a heavy and tired face sitting by herself, an empty plate and a coffee cup beside her, her hand propping up her forehead, staring down at the book she was three-quarters of the way finished with.

Sitting across from us was a short, older husband and wife who bickered occasionally in spanish. Talking on the payphone near the bathrooms was a guy that looked like the redneck on the television series "Lost".

Bruce and I proceeded to mack down on our sandwiches. "Excuse me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" Good, because this sandwich needed just a little.

Nevertheless, this was a great sandwich. The meat was tender and juicy (and so was the bread, with all that jus and everything!), not at all dry or tough. I think you really need a side of something here to go with your meat or sandwich. The pasta salad did the trick.

I think, in total, my meal came out to be $8.25, with the sandwich, the pasta, and a glass of water.

While the food was good, I'm not sure if I agree with the Berkeley preservationists that this place is worth saving. Of course, I sympathize with those folks who want a cheap, hot meal at all hours of the night, a cold beer, and someone to talk sports with, but...I don't know.

It seems that whatever character this place probably had was lost with the remodel and that what most preservationists seek to preserve are their memories of a happier, divier, Brennan's.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Hofbraus of the San Francisco Bay Area

California is, and perhaps always been, a place one comes to reinvent themself.

Sure, you’ve heard of the gold rush and the small-town girls who ride a Greyhound bus all the way to Hollywood in search of fame and stardom, but what about Gregg Rolie?

Who’s that, you say?

Dude, he only is the guy who moved down to San Francisco after his Seattle restaurant went kaput to form one of the biggest, legendary, stadium rock bands this Ci-tay has ever seen.

Um, yeah! I am talking about Journey. Duh?

You remember? Remember the feather-backed hair, the tight blue jeans, the big schnoz, the black guy on bass?

I mention all of this because whenever I hear “when the lights, go down, in the Ci-tay-ee” or (I love this line) “th'ssay that the road ain’t no p'lace to staahht a fam-lay”, I get all transported to a time when lunch was cheap, American beer flowed freely from the tap, and mash potatoes and big hunks of meat were plentiful.

In other words, I get transported to a Hofbrau. Specifically, a crusty ol' San Francisco hofbrau.

In most of the Western world, a hofbrau is, literally, a "court brewery", where many Helmuts and Gretchens got tanked while throwin' down Herr Kaiser's own homebrew - the most famous one being the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany (chain coming to you soon!)

But here in the American West, specifically California, hofbraus have very little or nothing to do with Germans or Germany. Instead, they are cheap (less so lately) places to grab a beer, watch sports, and eat hand-carved roast beef, ham, turkey, or beef brisket sandwiches or dinner plates in a cafeteria-style setting.

No one knows for sure who had the first California-style hofbrau since the modern-day versions, and the ones we know and love, all pretty much started around the same time – the 1950s and 60s. I have read some who believe hofbraus were once German-style, but changed over the course of time to reflect American tastes. I have also read some who say that the hofbrau developed out of the San Francisco "free lunch" school of bars at the turn of the century that served food to entice more people to drink on their lunch hour.

No matter who was first, the fact is that many are becoming the last.

A Citizen Fish show I went to at the old Hofbrau (punk shows happened on their second floor) on Broadway in Oakland. It's now Luka's Taproom.

Changing tastes, shifting demographics, and original owners passing away only to have their kids sell out have caused many of these restaurants to close down the steam table for good.

Some hofbraus have changed with the times in order to compete, with some even serving Asian food alongside the standard mash potatoes and gravy-covered turkey leg. Others have tried to spruce up and update their image, while simultaneously raising prices. In fact, some of these hofbraus do not deserve to be featured on these hallowed pages. However, I'll have to cross that greasy spoon when I come to it.

And while there are hofbraus located outside of the Bay Area, notably Sam's Hofbrau in LA which morphed into a strip club in order to survive, most of the old-school, truly unique, American, hofbraus are centered in and around the Bay Area.

Because I believe it's time these restaurants (and dives!) had their due respect, as places to eat and as cultural icons, Dive is going to be featuring them for the next couple of weeks.

As I visit and review each hofbrau, I will add it to the list below, along with the link to the post. Please bookmark or check this page often for updates.

Now, won't you join me for some rib-stickin', overeatin', cafeteria-butt havin' good times? Grab your wetnap, cause we're about to get greasay!


Hofbraus of the San Francisco Bay Area

"Lefty" O'Doul's
Harry's Hofbrau (Redwood City)
Bogy's Hofbrau
Silver Spoon Hofbrau(closed)
Hayward Hofbrau and Chinese (closed)
Jerry T's Hofbrau (not a hofbrau)
Frank's Saloon and Hofbrau (not a hofbrau)
Gubera's Pub and Hofbrau (not a hofbrau)
Walnut Creek Hofbrau House (closed)
Europa Hofbrau
Jerrold Market Place
Tommy's Joynt
Sam's Hofbrau in Oakland (closed)
Robbie's Hofbrau (closed)

Article on Hofbraus by Jonathan Kauffman (and featuring your's truly)


Sunday, March 19, 2006

First Annual Anti-War Dive Crawl

Excuse me, but where were you?

Do you know how long I waited in front of the library for you to show up?

You must have been at home picking lint out of your belly button because I sure didn't see you with the Foodies For Peace contingent. Too bad, because there were lots of beautiful people (10,000 according to the Chron) and food lovers gathered yesterday for the anti-war demonstration and march.

Too bad because you also missed the First Annual Anti-War Dive Crawl.

Technically, it's the 3rd annual anti-war demonstration since the start of the Iraq invasion, but this year I cashed in a few chits, pulled a few strings, peddled a little influence and the end result was the first, Pro-Dive, anti-war march through, where else, the Tenderloin, Mission Street, 6th Street, and McCallister.

I mean, you couldn't pick a better route to highlight the diversity and magnitude of true, only in San Francisco, dives. Thanks to the organizers for heeding my suggestions!

Tour guides, take notice.

The weather for the dive crawl was wonderful and the crowd seemed energized to learn about, sample, and explore the culinary cantakerous cuisines of the TL and 6th Street "gourmet" ghetto. The event even brought out anti-divers!

You just can't plan this stuff, people!

Before the dive crawl began, however, I first had to sample the dive food concession stands, most notably the Uhuru stand. Before I began diving as a way of life, I would generally avoid the concession stands at various political demonstrations and street fairs, of which many were attended by the Uhuru Concessions people. In hindsight, I feel like I may have missed out on some of the better incarnations of the Uhuru concession stand, since I remember many years of being choked by all of the smoke coming from their barbecue.

I always thought it a little funny when Uhuru's barbecue smoke billowed over the head of the crowd, most of them, to be sure, vegan or vegetarian. Talk about strange political bedfellows. What's even stranger is that the guy who leads the Uhuru cult, er, I mean organization is a practicing vegetarian.

Hum? Could this be infiltration of the African people's minds by the petty bourgeosie as led by sell-out negroes and their honky, capitalist, imperialist masters?

Let's first have a bite of the cheesesteak and then decide, shall we?

As I was waiting in line, I happened to pull aside someone who had just ordered the Uhuru falafel sandwich. If there was falafel anywhere in that sandwich it had been drowned by a ton of something resembling tahini sauce. How lovely.

As a point of unity, I would like to suggest walking a block or two over to Gyro King to liberate your mouth from this catastrophic, imperialist, so-called falafel.

Now, I'm no stranger to cheesesteaks. Lord knows I've had plenty in my day and, in fact, at one time I use to make my living off of selling them (and other things).

Never did the steak come in processed, molded patties. And the cheese was never Kraft American singles. Sure there were grilled onions, but bell peppers? I don't think so. And they are served traditionally on rolls, not hot dog buns.

Even for $5 this was an awful and degrading impersonation of a cheesesteak. This was defamation of the cheesesteak.

In fact, it was downright oppressive.

It wasn't a field cheesesteak, it was a house cheesesteak! It made me want to break my chains and rise up in Socialist revolution against the well-meaning honkies running the concession stand and liberate the cheesesteak from their petty bourgeois claws, shouting "Uhuru! On The Move for the liberation of the peoples of the cheesesteak diaspora!"

However, I had a dive crawl to attend to. But take warning, I've penciled you in on my list, so-called "Uhuru" so-called "Concessions".

As bad as the cheesesteak was, and when I possibly thought things couldn't get any more divey at a protest rally food stand, I was encountered with the dive of all dives:

The Dumpster Dive.

You know, there is always at least one person or one faction at these events who has to prove they are more radical or more in-line with "The People" or more cooler or, in this case, more divey than another person or group. Often, this manifests itself in ways that are mockable, if not downright off-putting. I mean, do we really need one more point to our manifesto?

Please, let's stop this circular firing squad already because...this is just gross:

And who of all people do I see standing around this free-for-all, than our very own Frank Chu. Please, Frank, I'll give you 2 dollars. Go buy yourself a burger at New Lun Ting, already.

The dive crawl began on Larkin and made its way slowly into the TL. As we marched from dive to dive, we chanted loudly so that Bush, Cheney and the anti-divers could hear:

"Black! Latino! Asian, Arab, White!
Stop Hate, Stop War, Defend Our City's Dives!"

Here's a map of the dive crawl for your future use.

Instead of posting every single picture of every single dive, I've created a set over at Flickr, which you can view or you can click on the specific dives I list below. Here are just some of the dives we "toured".

The Lafayette Coffee Shop

Cabbies Burger (all halal and very non-traditional dishes)
Café Donut (bahn mi sandwiches)
Original Joe's
Crate & Barrel (not a dive, but I considered looking for a turrine dish)
Fu War(I've had delivery from here countless times)
Hooker's Gumbo Shack (hoping to try soon)
Tu Lan (what can be said that hasn't been said many times before?)
6th and Market Food Corner (this WILL be featured here soon)
Taqueria Castillo B (noted for it's awesome burritos)

There were a few I missed, like Harry Harrington's Hofbrau and some places on side streets. Otherwise, I would say this year's Anti-War Dive Crawl was a raging against the machine success!

In your face, Bush!


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hustler Club

The allure of titties and pole dancing wasn't what lured me into the Hustler Club at lunchtime.

It was the $5 buffet.

Before you ask, yes I am that cheap. Obviously the women do nothing for me, but the thought of a $5 all-you-can-eat buffet gives me a chubby like no other! Besides, all I have to do is look in the mirror and see all the man-breasts I want.

I probably should wear a manzeer or a "bro".

Anyway, while it shouldn't *seem* odd that a stripclub serves food, it does bring up several negative images in my mind. Don't worry, I won't share. Besides, I'm sure you have plenty of your own.

Fact is, men have been seeking out titties and food in this city since the Gold Rush, when not only was it common for bordellos to offer food, or for food establishments to be linked to bordellos, but often was the case that it was the food that lured men into the bordello first, not the prospects of getting jiggy with it.

Some have speculated that this is why San Francisco, a classic Gold Rush, anything-goes, city has so many restaurants and, of course, foodies. Hey! Food, sex...other than "meaningful existence", what's left in life?

And that third part is totally optional.

I've often speculated that one of the true signs of divitude, not to be confused with divinity, is any restaurant you must walk down stairs into a basement for. This is true with many of my Chinatown haunts, as well as the international food court off of Kearny that is home to perhaps the last Filipino restaurant left near the old Manilatown – The House of Lumpia.

Of course, any business with the words "House of" , "Barn", "Just", or "World" in their title always receives two thumbs-up from me.

But with these eateries you first step down into: it's like you literally are "diving". At the Hustler Club, I wasn't diving for bearded clam, and even if I was (which would be weird), there's none of that anyways. For that, you have to dive even deeper at the Crazy Horse on Market, and I'm not sure if they even serve food.

Instead, I walked down the entryway and told the doorman I was there for the lunch buffet.

Funny what the right words will do for you, since the poor schmuck in front of me paid full price (I think I heard $15) for exactly the same privilege.

Fifteen dollars? In Hustler-speak, that's like 15 Beaver Bucks!

"This club is poorly laid out", I realized when I almost twisted my ankle stepping down from the step you can't see as you enter the club. After almost falling face first into the darkness, you are immediately sized up by the bartender and the tables of bikini-clad women sitting near or at the bar, which is the most lit spot in the whole place – no doubt to see who's dipping from the till every now and then to pay for their breast enlargements.

A non-busty, fully clothed waitress tells me to "please help yourself to the buffet, there are napkins and forks and plates" and "help yourself", and at first what I thought was just a dark corner was actually a dark corner where two tables were set up and had a spread laid out. Squinting, I could see three covered metal serving trays, a big bowl of iceberg lettuce tossed salad, and dessert consisting of fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

Suddenly I felt as if I had stepped into some stripper's potluck farewell party or babyshower and I was the friend of a friend.

The first tray I opened contained...I see pasta-like shapes like lasagna and something resembling melted cheese on top. Half of it was empty which made way for the glistening pool of grease previously suffocated by the non-essential artery clogging or bacteria-rich items, like food.

I lifted the lid to the next tray and suddenly realized that the Hustler Club went all Asian-fusion on my barely-legal ass, serving something resembling chow mein but was so overcooked the noodles had broken off into mush, and fat, burrito-sized egg rolls that were as limp and flaccid as dead John Holmes's prominent member.

The other tray contained another mystery pasta cassarole so I grabbed my fork, looked around the room for a well-lit or at least private place and found neither.

The oval stage takes prominance within the single-level basement and at the far side of the entrance, what I thought would be a private place to sit, was actually the front of the stage, closest to the pole. Three guys were sitting up against the perimeter of the stage watching the dancers and only two of them looked like they may have known each other. I didn't really understand this part since most of the club was empty, yet they were sitting shoulder to shoulder - practically touching penises! Or at the very least, sharing spittle.

Sorry. I had to go there.

Sometimes I think straight guys are a paradox wrapped inside of a conundrum wrapped inside of an enigma, and I never tire trying to figure out what the fuck is going on inside their minds.

Seeing that I wasn't engaged in the straight guy, lunchtime, circle jerk, at least I was at a fully functioning table away from the stage and away from flying folicles of foreign origin, trying to figure out what the hell was on my plate, unfortunately illuminated in a green glow, perhaps from behind The Green Door, from the stage. I started chowing down and realized that maybe it was fortunate that I couldn't see the food.

One bite of the eggroll and it was like sipping grease. Don't believe I'm exaggerating when I tell you that the level of grease on my plate was drinkable. I mean, there was more grease on my plate than in every scene and outtake of Ron Jeremy's last movie.

Clockwise From Top: Chow Mangled Mein, Egg Roll Over and Die, and Autopsy Pasta

Carving into the pasta was like that scene in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover where they start carving into the body of the dead lover. With each bite I took, something deep down just kept telling me, "nun-uh". In fact, afterwards I was literally grease-sick. It was instant food poisoning.

In between painful bites, I was propositioned for a lap dance by a busty Asian woman, who not only didn't make my dining experience less horrid, but got all pouty and petulant when I honestly told her I was just here for the buffet.

"Are you here by yourself?"

No. I'm here with the ghosts of gold speculators and young sailors who similarly keeled over from bad strip club dive food and your bodacious tah-tahs and flat ass are not kicking it up a notch.

The one highlight, seriously, was the black woman who was pole dancing to "Rock With You" by Michael Jackson, when she slid down the poll upside-down using only the muscles in her legs, when the lyric "and when you feel that heat" came up, she slapped herself on the butt insync with the downbeat, followed by the rest of the song, "and we're gonna ride the boogie".

It wasn't much, but this judge gave her a 9.5 for performance and artistic integrity/consistency, despite the fact her braided extensions were, like, Cousin It long.

I managed to snap 3 ghastly pictures of my food in the course of a few minutes. As you saw, they are horrible due to the lighting and the proximity; plus the fact that I'm photographing shit doesn't help either. They were also photos I took using the greatest discretion possible.

Nevertheless, within the course of 10 minutes, I had one security guy rush by me, walkee-talkee in hand, trying to bust me red-handed (every pun intended), followed by the doorman/manager approaching me saying that cell phones weren't allowed inside.

They couldn't see that I was taking pictures of the dancers (which I wasn't), but that I had my camera pointed down, so they assumed I didn't have a camera but a cell phone.

Actually, I'm sympathetic with this rule of no pictures of the dancers, but besides the food and the atmosphere, I felt as if it's the club who should pay the customer, not the other way around.

I mean, I was only there for the food. Imagine how cheated I would've felt if I had been there for the ladies which – sorry to jump bad - but most were so-so dancers whose jadeness and boredom was thinly veiled, if not blatant.

It's great that these women and men have jobs, but this club and the "buffet" are just lame. And as far as dives go – oh it certainly is one, and then some – there are no diamonds here.

Not unless Diamond's her name.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Kam Po (HK) Kitchen

Photo from About.com

Note To Self: Carry extra batteries.

Old batteries in a camera that sucks the life out of them quicker than the whole cast of Underworld: Evolution fanging out on a 130-pound, bespectacled pipsqueak named Herbert Twillowbee can certainly ruin a good blog post.

Oh, snap!

Actually, no it didn't.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my lunchtime trip to Kam Po (HK) Kitchen today. Originally I had intended on going to Po Kee, a similar Chinatown dive on Stockton and Pacific that specializes in noodles and jook, all for an insanely low, low price. Alas, it was closed. I was there yesterday and had the braised noodles with "beef stew", which not only was god-awful but they sat me near the bathroom, whose nasty funk kept wafting up my nose.

Due to this, I believe I may have discovered the "funk" in "a Funky Chinatown".

Despite this, I'm willing to go back to see if I can fish out any gems. Although, this may be closer to the equivalent of fishing out of the bay rather than the clear, blue sea. Lots of poor people do it, maybe you've even engaged in it (or at least considered it), but deep down you know it's just nasty.

Let's face it: the bay is the dive of fishing holes.

Back to Kam Po, I arrived to find three, young hip (honestly, I hate this word, but let's just say they weren't square, which is another word I hate) Chinese guys waiting out front who had just been summoned into the charcuterie/restaurant by the (for lack of a better term – Chinatown has many of these style of eateries) charcuterie cook. I peered in through the door to find every table in the small restaurant occupied. To the left of the doorway was the charcuterie cook chopping up cooked chicken legs and other pieces of roasted, smoked, fried, or boiled meats and offal. Beside him, hung by their necks, were shiny, dark red, roast ducks, chickens, and bright orange squid. Some hot metal trays underneath held glossy red chicken feet, tripe, and other to-go foods.

I stepped in despite not seeing an open table, perhaps praying to sit at the table of people who were just leaving. Eventually I caught the glance of a waitress who asked me how many and then motioned me over to the table in the middle; the small one with someone already sitting at it.

Now I'm no stranger when it comes to sharing tables in Chinatown restaurants, but this was just ridiculous. The table fit two, snuggly. Even though I was instructed to sit at the table, I still felt like I was invading this lady's space. So before I sat down, I asked if it was ok. She kindly motioned for me to sit and moved her cup of tea closer to make room for me.

I'm not sure what prompted it, but after looking at the menu for a while, she said something to me and I said something back, and then eventually we were in the middle of a conversation.

She was middle-aged, Chinese, had dyed reddish brown hair, a green sweater (the kind someone knits for you), and spoke conversational English.

I asked her what was good or what was popular, to which she replied the noodles. This surprised me, actually, since the place has a fully functional charcuterie complete with the guy who'll cut things up for you on the spot.

But no, it was the noodles (Leland Wong mentioned the beef chow fun in a previous email to me). "How do you like them? Thin or fat?" she said.

After telling her my love for fat chow fun noodles and attempting to convince her that I was no ordinary gweilo who happened to venture too far from Grant, I asked her what she was having. This caused her to bust a poetic move in describing her dish, the pork chow fun.

As she described the noodles, I could almost see her frying them quickly in oil, but not too much oil (!), because she doesn't like real oily noodles. And then on top of these noodles were slices of pork, which I envisioned her carefully slicing by hand, or envisioned her envisioning slicing by hand - eyes squinting with glee and face turned heavenward as if to say "um, um, um" right as she generously ladles on the gravy.

Short-haired waitress finally takes my order – words that form the equivalent of "what are you having".


"Same", I said pointing at my dining partner's plate of just arrived chow fun.

Short-haired waitress looks confused. I don't know why. Looking at Short-haired waitress, my gaydar went ballistic. No confusion there.

Seeing as though my new friend's food had just arrived and was still hot, I excused myself from conversation and, after asking if that was ok, went to reading this week's Bay Guardian. As we sat there, an older Chinese couple sat down at the table beside us.

My new friend, whose name I later learned was Julie, would occasionally look over at me, perhaps starved for conversation, or maybe not "starved", but wanting to engage in. I finally realize that I may be behaving rudely, so I put my paper down and made myself available.

Eventually our conversation struck up again, and as we talked, the old lady beside us would occasionally chime in, in Cantonese, with Julie saying something back like (I imagine, but could sort of tell) "oh, it's his first time here" and "he just knows a few words like 'Doh Jeh', ha, ha, ha".

Eventually, the old woman asked Julie, incredulously, if she was Chinese since her hair was light and she was sitting with me. This caused both of us to laugh.

When, after waiting a good, long while and joking with Julie about how they must be making the noodles from scratch, she finally shouted at the waitress who was serving another table something in Cantonese (or Mandarin, since she speaks both) like "hey, what's taking so long? This guy put his order in long ago!"

Damn! Can I take Julie everywhere with me? Like, say, the post office?

Soon enough, my pork chow fun came and oh, the fragrance! I could smell ginger, the mushrooms, some garlic, and that essence of wok. You know, wouldn't it be cool if they made a car air freshener like the pine tree, only it was essence of wok and it was shaped like a wok?

I imagine I'd be chewing up the upholstery after a long road trip.

I started chow funning down while Julie told me about how she had the day off and went to her CPA today. On her way in, she found a small purse laying on the ground. She picked it up and took it inside with her, telling the receptionist that she had just found it and asking her to open it for her. Inside was a medicare card and an ID. Also inside was a 20-dollar bill. Obviously it belonged to an elderly person who had lost it. Julie made sure the receptionist contacted the person it belong to because she understood the importance that $20 is to someone who is elderly and, most likely, poor.

Julie and I ended up talking for close to an hour about work, about her son at UC Davis, about her upcoming trip to Hong Kong, about Boston, New York, 9/11 and where she was, and about food.

When I finished and the waitress came by, I asked for the check and pointed to Julie and myself. When Julie caught wind of this, she immediately refused, but I insisted "no, no, no, no" and focused my eyes downward. She got out her change purse and insisted on paying the tax. I held out my hand as if to say "talk to the hand with all that nonsense".

The old woman sitting at the table next to us chimed in and Julie said something to her like "oh, this fella is going to pay for me and I don't even know him". More laughter.

When the bill came, it was a whopping $7.50.

Julie, you're a cheap date, but a damn fine one.

Here's to you and Kam Po!


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mariposa Cafeteria

Taking Leland Wong's tip about the roast pork at Mariposa Cafeteria off of Third Street, I decided to venture on over there today to see what all the fuss is about.

Waiting for the number 15 bus was somewhat of a challenge since it doesn't run that often on weekends and it was frickin' cold outside.

Cold? Yes, cold.

You have to know something about San Francisco and San Franciscans. We don't do under 50 or over 90.

At all.

In fact, we don't even do sunlight all that well either. Show me a San Franciscan who does and I'll show you a drifter or, at the very least, an absentee voter.

I live in San Francisco precisely because I grew up in the moutains of North Carolina, where it would snow every year, and then moved down to Florida, where it was so hot I often received 2nd degree burns on the palms of my hands just by touching the steering wheel of my 1970 Super Beetle.

So get away from me with all of these extreme temperatures already!

The number 15 bus is, other than the 14, perhaps the most racially diverse, predominantly lower working class bus in the city. The riders consist of those historically pushed out of the downtown, by race and class, and those who are new arrivals from Asia and Latin America, all headed towards the areas of the city known as Dogpatch, Hunters Point, and the Bayview.

As the bus speeds down the long and lonely stretch of Third Street just after crossing Mission Bay, one actually feels if one is being transferred out of San Francisco and into the ghetto. Of course, all of that is about to change with the construction of the new UCSF campus, the Third Street lightrail, and the development of the China Basin area. But as it currently is, there remains very little, other than industrial warehouses and the small neighborhood of Dogpatch, in between the projects of the Bayview and the baseball park.

There is, however, the Mariposa Cafeteria.

Had Leland not of told me about it, I could've passed it by for years and never known it existed. While it is officially on Tennessee Street, just past 25th and off of Third, it seems to sit in the middle of one huge industrial warehouse district. In fact, this place seems to never have existed as a neighborhood nor a destination restaurant. This place obviously exists to feed hungry dock loaders, truck drivers, machinists, and industrial supply sales reps.

Though you wouldn't know it from the outside, this dive is a Chinese restaurant.

To figure that out, one first has to walk through the front doors which lead into a sparse "dining room" strung about with rickety old tables and plastic/metal chairs that are falling apart. Actually, you have yet to enter the main dining room which, to do so, you first must walk further in and around a wall, whereupon you see a typical cafeteria steam table.

On the right side of the room is a chalkboard with the daily specials. Hum, let's see. For Monday, the special is roast pork. Tuesday, roast pork. Wednesday oxtail or roast pork. Thursday and Friday, fried chicken...just kidding! It's roast pork!

I didn't bother looking at any of the other items on the menu, though I probably should have. Still, if someone mentions that the restaurant is known for a certain dish, chances are I'll go for that and try other things later. It's in this one respect that I am a diehard conformist; in other words, I swear by what's popular.

As it was, I did get the roast pork plate, which is a large mound of white rice, a pile of cooked lettuce that is topped with the roasted pork and, if you like, gravy, which I do.

Oh man! I could just tell this was going to be hearty. For $7.75 it wasn't dirt cheap, but it was also enough food for two! In fact, being the big boy that I am, I almost never walk away from a plate with food still on it, but this really was just too much food.

Let's talk about the pork. It was hot and freshly roasted. Tender and perfectly cooked until it was just slightly underdone. It was moist and had a rich meaty flavor. There was just enough fat to get your chewy fat thing on, but not so much that it made you sick. There was no gristle or bone. It was a bit salty, but the plain rice and gravy balanced it out.

The roast pork at Mariposa Cafeteria went beyond being mere roast pork and reach upwards to the hallowed halls of Southern barbecue. In fact, I dare say that this pork could beat the barbecued pork found at many notable Bay Area BBQ joints.

The gravy covering the pork wasn't necessary, although it did go well on top of the rice. And I really like the hot, cooked lettuce they bury underneath the pork since it gives you that mandatory vegetable requirement.

This is dive food at it's finest. And let's not kid ourselves, Mariposa Cafeteria is 100 percent, pure-bred dive. How do I know other than the fact that everything about the looks, the location, the patrons (haggard old men, lonely workers, and the occasional large family with screaming kids running around), and the service screams dive? Uh, let's talk bathrooms.

Just as I was about to finish up and leave, I decided to step into the restroom for a quick "number 1". After flipping on the light, I was hit (beaten, more like it) by a large, vile, and most rank bathroom odor, so much so I literally began dry-heaving right on the spot. After my eyes stopped tearing up and I was able to hold my nose with one hand while desperately trying to breath through my mouth, I took care of business (though not very well, and yes, I know that's too much information but I'm trying to convey something here).

I noticed on the wall besides the toilet….

mmmwaa....mmwaaa.....(cough).....(sniffle)...."breathe Kevin, breathe".

Sorry, flashback.


….anyway, I noticed this amusing graffiti.

Not white power, not black power - barely even Mexican or flower power - but God's Power.

Can I get an amen?

Oh, God, please give me the power to finish my business without losing my lunch.


As I finished up, I grabbed my coat and took one last picture of the sleepy cafeteria lady who was ready to close up at 2 PM.

This actually caused a little bit of a stir since the flash accidentally went off (I always try to keep it off so as not to draw attention) and left me with several nasty and confused looks from both them and the table of young Chinese dudes sitting next to me.


The thing about taking pictures of food and the insides of dives is that a.) people don't understand why you're taking pictures of the food and b.) of the restaurant and c.) don't like it because d.) are you a health inspector or e.) here to cause trouble or f.) what exactly is your problem?

Would they believe me if I told them this was all for you, dear reader? Probably not.

Because I've experienced this before, I usually try to save my pictures for last and in the case of the food, I try to be as sly as possible (often I sit with my back facing the staff and other customers).

But sometimes you've just got to be bold, and that goes beyond simply walking into the bathroom.

Mariposa Cafe
1599 Tennessee
Open 10 am to 2 PM on Saturdays
Other times I'm not sure.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

AllStars Donuts

Food often tastes better when you're drunk.

So, one night long ago, around 3 in the morning, drunk and walking back home, I happened to pass AllStars Donuts at 5th and Harrison, a 24 hours donuts and more shop. Although I had known AllStars as a place to get a coffee and sugar fix when getting off work at 4 in the morning from a crappy job I had over 12 years ago, I never bothered to consider eating there. I mean, during those days, all I was concerned about was walking up to Market and BARTing back to Oakland, where I then had approximately 5 hours of sleep before I had to wake up again and start my other job.

Skip ahead 6 years later and I'm living South of Market and working in a Castro district bookstore with local luminaries and scenesters. At the time, there was a club on Sunday night called Sixxteen that, for a little while, was the hottest club I knew of in the city. Picture goths, punks, rockabillys, glam kids, Valencia Street baby dykes, and trannies dressed to the nines, all getting down to live music followed by excess dancing to classic Misfits, T-Rex, Ziggy Stardust, Bauhaus, and 80s hair bands.

If you were there, you may have remembered me as the one who was swinging that girl around by her wrist and ankle in the flying airplane game (don't worry, she was a friend). Or perhaps you remember me and Bambi Lake engaged in a flashing contest with each other across the room. It was the flashing thing that finally got me booted from the club, although at that point I began to realize Sixxteen had been infiltrated with a very uncool element. That was made clear to me, when dancing with Bambi, some "well-meaning", lame-ass, guy had to just let me know that "dude, you know that's a man, right?" The club had become too full of itself, as evidenced by the bitch coat-check girl, and known just enough to attract the slumming crowd.

It was walking home from Sixxteen one night that I happened to get the drunken munchies. Since it was the one sure place I knew of that would be open, I stopped by AllStars. The crowd consisted of your typical bunch of night owls: cops taking a break or just getting on their shift, the occasional prostitute from the no-tell hotel of ill repute across the street, people leaving clubs, cabbies and Super Shuttle drivers working the night shift, and homeless guys trying to warm up before they go back to hitting the bottle.

I stood at the counter what then seemed like forever, and probably was if I could fully remember, trying to decide between the teriyaki, the standard diner food, or maybe just a donut.

I held my nose and jumped in feet first ordering a $4.50 cheeseburger with fries. When it finally came, I didn't even wait around to see what it looked like and started out the door for home. Trying to stumble your way home while eating a cheeseburger is quite difficult, especially as you're trying to watch the sidewalk and what your putting in your mouth, but as I did so, I kept thinking "damn, I'm either super drunk or this cheeseburger is fucking awesome!"

Little did I know, it was both.

The next day, all I could think about was the cheeseburger. What got me was that I really didn't know if it was good or not, since all of the ahem, ahem, you know, stuff. I told Bruce about it and begged him to go with me and check it out since it was all I could think about. I don’t remember if it was the next day or next week, but on our way back from Daly City, we decided to stop by.

To make a long story short, the cheeseburgers were everything I had hoped for. Hot, juicy, cheesy, and with everything you need – a sesame seed bun, onions, pickles, a slice of tomato, and just a little mayo to bring up those calories to the This Is Damn Good mark. Oh, and the fries? Nothing special, but they were hot, fat, and (usually) crispy – full of potato goodness.

For the next several weeks, we made a point to grab a cheeseburger whenever we could at AllStars. It was also then that I discovered everything good about their cheeseburgers was equally good with their patty melts.

You know, as bizarre as it is, I had never even heard of a patty melt until I came to California. It wasn't until several years ago that I had my first one – in the visiting room of the Central California Women's Facility – Chowchilla (talk about the ultimate dive).

I was there with a volunteer group interviewing incarcerated women about medical conditions, when during a break, the outside food vendor/contractor showed up with hot sandwiches. We had bought some for the women we were interviewing when there happened to be one sandwich left over.

It was a patty melt.

All of a sudden, I forgot where I was and why I was there and just kind of sat there in disbelief and amazement that, of all of the years I've been alive, why it was that I never had this sandwich before.

Well, that was it for me. From then on, patty melts were on my top sandwich list, right beside reubens, monte cristos, and club sandwiches.

Recently I went back to AllStars to see if anything has changed. I was there around 10:30 on a weekend night. As usual, you had the mix of club goers fueling up before the night begins or asking to use the restroom. You had random street guys coming in to get their usual teriyaki bowl (this must be AllStars other little gem).

Needless to say, everything pretty much is as it was way back when. Both the cheeseburger and patty melt were delicious, although the price has rise from $4.50 to $5.25 (cheeseburger) and $5.50 (patty melt), but then that generally reflects the rising cost of living in the city.

After years of eating nothing but burgers at AllStars, I think I'm ready to move on to their other selections. Next I'll be trying the teriyaki bowls (grilled chicken, beef, and "shrimps"), the $6.50 fish and chips, roasted turkey sandwich, or perhaps their Philly Cheesesteak. You know…they're also open for breakfast (of course), serving pancakes and all sorts of omelettes, including a chicken steak omelette.


In fact, you could eat forever at AllStars Donuts and never even touch a donut!