The Dancing Pig: The Joy of Ribs Hits the Castro

Categories: Pop Review
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Alex Hochman
The St. Louis style pork ribs alone are worth a visit.
​Open barely a week, the Castro's Dancing Pig BBQ already has a mostly neighborhood crowd happily piling in, ordering up beers, cocktails, and -- as only San Franciscans can do -- white wine to go with platters of smoked meats. Though still getting used to their surroundings and a quirky iPod Touch-based POS system, servers couldn't have been nicer when we visited, and they were well informed about the menu.

Not quirky at all was a half-rack of St. Louis style pork ribs ($14.95 with two sides), fleshy and delightfully messy as the result of a balanced, barely sweet barbecue sauce. Both the faint flavor of smoke and a touch of heat were able to shine through. Our tablemates, including a 9-year-old, brawled for these ribs down to the last speck of charred crust. On the side, a small pan of creamy macaroni and cheese arrived gratin style with a light smattering of breadcrumbs. Baked beans were sweet and meaty, a nice foil to the ribs.

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Hot Food for Cold Nights: Ken Ken Ramen's Delightful Vegan Ramen

Categories: Pop Review

Ramen has come up on the culinary scene more and more lately, and worldly food-loving San Franciscans couldn't be more happy about it. Don't believe me? Check out expert ramen aficionado Luis Chong's Ramen Week right here on SFoodie. We're cultured and we're starving, OK? Give us the damn ramen.

Everyone is so stoked about the plethora of restaurants/pop-ups/food trucks/back yards/basements/dumpsters/etc to get all sorts of different types of ramen -- everyone, that is, except us vegetarians and vegans. Luckily, lots of ramen eateries are starting to bring it with the veg selections, finding that even the most die-hard meat-mouths often don't want to consume a whole piglet with their noodles. One of the places doing it best is Ken Ken Ramen.

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Prime Dip's Gourmet Sandwiches Are Anything but Gourmet -- and That's a Good Thing

Categories: Pop Review

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Alex Hochman
You might want to take the afternoon off after lunching on this.
Just a few steps down Larkin street from the always-packed lunchtime institution Saigon Sandwich, Prime Dip Gourmet Sandwiches quietly goes about its business creating straightforward, French dip style behemoths. Crackly rolls, supplied by neighbor Lee's Deli, are built to withstand flash floods of au jus. The burly roasted prime rib sandwich ($8.99) earned its top billing with a stack of thinly sliced, secretly seasoned (we asked three times), fat flecked beef that's plunged into a small vat of hot drippings before being carefully nestled in its casing.

Skip the offered mayo and horseradish and instead douse your lunch with extra au jus supplied on the side. A similarly prepared roast pork sandwich ($6.99) suffered from the addition of what the menu calls "cracklins" but reminded SFoodie more of artificial bacon bits.

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Cathead's BBQ: Smoky Brisket and Stellar Sides

Categories: Pop Review

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Alex Hochman
Cathead's Coca Cola-smoked brisket and hot slaw are early signature items
After three weeks in action as a brick-and-mortar operation, former pop-up favorite Cathead's BBQ is settling nicely into the old Big Nate's space. Shortly after an inaugural visit, SFoodie was magnetically drawn back, with nothing but brisket on the brain. Marinated in Coca Cola, peppers, and spices for two days, Cathead's brisket ($7 as a main, $8 as a sandwich) heads to the smoker for nine hours over a pile of cherry and hickory wood, rendering the beef fork-tender, faintly sweet, and, rare in San Francisco, overwhelmingly, beautifully smoky. Watching the pitmaster hack the beef up with a cleaver all axe-murderer style and then dump it into a pie tin (i.e. your plate) only enhanced the experience. Also tender was a trio of St. Louis pork ribs ($7,) but they suffered from being drenched in an overly sugary BBQ sauce. We would have preferred the ribs served dry, allowing us to add a few squirts of sauce with the bottle provided on our table.



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Julie's Coffee & Tea Garden in Alameda is a Reason to Cross Two Bridges

Categories: Pop Review

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​Although Alameda is almost literally smack dab in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Area, it's always been somewhat of a culinary wasteland*. However, lately there's a sea of promising restaurants opening, and some of the old classics are kicking it up a notch. One is Julie's Coffee and Tea Garden, an adorably tiny cafe on Alameda's main drag, Park street. Julie's offers an incredible selection of teas and a lunch menu that'll rival anything on Church street, scone for scone. Plus, an impossibly lovely backyard teaming with succulents, heat lamps, and wooden picnic tables. You'll have no choice but to question why you're selling off your babies and organs just to live in that shit box in the Tenderloin. Hello, Alameda!

Now, onto the food. Oh, the food.

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Boba Guys Bring Their Giant Balls to the Mission

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Yelp/ Boba Guys
Scooping out balls.
Actually, giant boobs might be more correct, as that's what boba is slang for. The Boba Guys, Bin Chen and Andrew Chau, have been chronicling their milk tea start-up over at Good.

We stumbled upon them in search of noodles at the new Ken Ken Ramen on 18th Street in the Mission. The Boba Guys were using the front of the house to sell their boba deliciousness that day. The guys were super welcoming, the operation was surprisingly settled and efficient for a pop-up, and the tea itself?

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Burger Urge Does Serve a Filling Burger

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Jonathan Kauffman
Burger Urge's steakhouse burger: Prepare to be filled.
A few weeks ago, the wooden chrysalis surrounding a former tattoo parlor on Haight and Clayton came down, and Jack Mogannam and Sam Sirhed's Burger Urge erupted, all neon and windows The owners spent months refitting the floors with hardwood slats, installing a blindingly silvery new kitchen, and painting the walls the color of fresh paprika. Then they made the place look like a college pub, cluttering it up with cheap tables, pictures of Marilyn Monroe, and a television permanently tuned to sports.

The business is built on the Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers template: Niman Ranch patties (turkey, chicken breast, or Garden Burgers can be substituted), priced $8-10, with names like the Pineapple (pineapple, Swiss, and teriyaki) and the Elvis (peanut butter, bacon, and fried bananas). Bonus: You can find Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream for dessert (Jack is Sam's cousin).

"Prepare to Be Filled!" is the business's motto, and the steakhouse burger SFoodie tried was, indeed, filling: A double-handful with a high-domed bun and a half-pound, half-inch-thick patty splayed atop giant leaves of lettuce and tomato slices. It's a burger that requires constant shifting to eat, with meat that slips across the vegetables at every move and mushrooms and horseradish sauce escaping with the ease of a wriggling two-year-old. 

The quality was standard-issue, good beef cooked well past the medium SFoodie asked for. The accompanying fries: skinny and underdone. It was the kind of burger you seek out after spending too long at Trax's two-dollar-pint night.


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Potala Organic in Albany Is Hearty, Simple, Healthy Vegetarian Food

There's a new, extremely healthy, veg restaurant in the East Bay with roots going back over 15 years to the old Organic Cafe in Oakland. A macrobiotic institution in Oakland, the Organic Cafe changed names to Manzanita and then to Shangri-La Vegan, but the food mostly stayed the same, thanks in large part to Tenzin, the faithful chef through it all.

If you've ever tasted Tenzin's cuisine, you'll know what a true artist in the kitchen can do. This man is like the vegetable and grain whisperer, teaching children to love kale with one wave of his magic spatula. Seriously, he's a master of healthy and delicious, and he's finally got his chance to shine in a brand-new restaurant of his very own, Polata Organic.

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A Polata Organic going on!
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Eat Here: Thai IDEA Vegetarian Dishes Superior Thai Tastiness

Thai IDEA Vegetarian is a brand-new restaurant on Polk. It's adorably tiny, and feels really new and clean. Which it is. Which is nice, considering you'll most likely have to step over a paramedic resuscitating someone's grandma or Nick Nolte's twin eating a pigeon to get inside. We kid -- Tenderloin jokes are the worst!

Anyway, Thai IDEA is cute and shiny, basically what a living room in a Thai Ikea might look like. The bathroom is especially worth a trip, if you're a connoisseur. But we're here to talk about the food, so let's do this!

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Laura Beck
Firecracker Balls = best name, best food.
Everything on Thai IDEA's dinner menu looked amazing to me and my lovely dining companion, so it was hard to narrow it down. The first dish we decided on was the Firecracker Balls ($8.95), which are veggie ahi tuna roll pieces, panko-crusted, and then deep-fried.

The combination of the name and the words "deep fried" sold us. Crunching through the perfect fry, a burst of tangy creaminess delighted us. The spicy chile sauce that adorned the balls kicked the dish to the next level. With that, we will now stop typing the word "balls" and just say that it was a true flavor explosion!More »

Walgreens Fresh Eats Spread Across San Francisco. Are They Worth Eating?

Categories: Pop Review
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Jonathan Kauffman
The fresh-food shelves at the Chinatown Walgreen's.
The renovations began rolling out in May: Dozens of Walgreens stores across San Francisco ripped out their one-hour photo processing desks -- no longer needed in the age of digital cameras -- and replaced them with chilled cases of sandwiches, chopped fruits, and microwave-and-serve entrees. One Chinatown store's makeover happened in June; the Fourth St. and Market store just rolled out the drugstore chain's "Fresh Eats" program yesterday. 

All in all, an estimated 17 stores in San Francisco are currently being stocked with freshly made foods, and according to Dave Devincenzi, district manager of SF's Central District, the company plans to convert another 22 locations in 2012. (SFoodie asked Walgreens' media relations department for confirmation of those numbers, but has not yet heard back.) "In the Bay Area, roughly 60 percent of our stores will have Fresh Eats," Devincenzi says. "In San Francisco, I think it would probably be higher."

The product line for the stores varies from the Financial District to the outer neighborhoods. Most of the freshly prepared foods come from a central commissary near Sacramento, Devincenzi says, and one of the counter people SFoodie spoke to confirmed the stock is replenished every day. 

The store SFoodie visited on Sansome and Bush had a small case of sushi rolls, yogurt parfaits, salads, and sandwiches, along with a couple of baskets with common fruits like apples and bananas -- all things nearby workers would grab for lunch. The Chinatown store added on a few shelves of ready-to-eat meals such as a vegetable-and-barley casserole and stuffed mushrooms. And the Bayview store, part of Walgreens' nationwide "food desert" initiative, stocks even more vegetables and fresh and frozen meals. 

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