BBQ Baby Back Ribs (Roy’s, San Francisco, CA)

BABY BACK PORK RIBS

THE DISH: Fire-grilled, Szechuan-spiced BABY BACK PORK RIBS

The pork ribs at Roy’s are one of those appetizers you might order on a whim, then you’ll dream about it for the next week until you can get back and have more. They’re a perfect mix of spicy-hot and sweet, and finger lickin’, finger lickin’ good y’all. If in downtown SF and in need of a cocktail and appetizer, get right to Roy’s and get yourself right.

THE SPOT: ROY’S RESTAURANT, San Francisco CA

(Note: Roy’s has quite a few restaurants in different locations; this is a review of the baby back pork ribs at Roy’s in San Francisco, CA.)

A bastion of Asian fusion cuisine, with deep (taro) roots in the Hawaiian Islands, Roy Yamaguchi’s Roy’s Restaurant is truly a flurry of flavors. Although I don’t visit Roy’s often, when I recall certain dishes I’ve enjoyed there, I contemplate why I’ve not been there lately and consider how soon I can get back there. A great way to enjoy Roy’s, if you’re not up for a dinner in the formal dining room, is to go for some appetizers and a couple of their wicked cocktails (Original Hawaiian Martini, Mango Mojito, etc.) The bar at Roy’s is probably a great place to start a date, as the drinks are awesome, the servers are friendly, the atmosphere is rich but relaxed, and the app’s are worth the trip alone.

THE GRADE: EXCELLENT (4 out of 5)

THE DAMAGE: $15

A better way to go is Roy’s combo appetizer (pu pu) platter for $28. It includes a couple ribs and a handful of other great appetizers on one giant plate.

THE SKINNY: ROY’S RESTAURANT

575 Mission Street, San Francisco CA

Phone: (415) 777-0277

Website: http://www.roysrestaurant.com

Roy’s Classics http://www.roysrestaurant.com/roysclassics.asp

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Spaghetti & Meatballs (Joey & Eddies, San Francisco, CA)

The Spot: Joey & Eddie’s Restaurant

As one of the few restaurants in North Beach that are really good, Joey & Eddie’s won me over the week it opened. The décor is comfortable but low-key, with a large, spacious and open main dining room of deep booths and dark wooden tables and armless, captain’s style chairs. The service is good, friendly, and professional, and the bartenders are sharply attentive and make nicely stiff drinks. 

The family style concept of Italian food, made popular through restaurant chains like Buca di Beppo and, on the higher end, Maggiano’s, is nothing new. But Joey & Eddie’s brings the family style Italian meal and makes it feel like a North Beach restitution, like it returns something lost and lovely to one of America’s great neighborhoods. 

Spaghetti & Meatballs, Joey & Eddies, San Francisco CA
Spaghetti & Meatballs, Joey & Eddies, San Francisco CA

 

The Dish: Spaghetti & Meatballs

When many people recall the comfort foods of their childhood, spaghetti and meatballs is a most frequent memory on that list. Basic spaghetti and meatballs is one of those dishes that young, inexperienced moms can generally pull off, but like any apparently simple dish, the difference between good and great is profound.

It’s about the sauce, whose greatness and thickness can vary by regional or familial preference. And it’s also about the meatballs, which take a considerable talent, or love, or patience. Or a great recipe from a great great-grandmother.

Joey & Eddie’s restaurant is on target again, serving up one of my favorite spaghetti & meatballs in San Francisco. It’s a giant plate of great sauce, perfectly cooked pasta, and magnificent meatballs. And it’s fun to dig into that big platter and share it, maybe like your family used to during your childhood. 

The Damage: $20 or $27 (“a little to share” or “a lot to share,” respectively)

The Grade: Excellent (4 out of 5)

The Skinny: Joey & Eddie’s Restaurant

1652 Stockton Street, San Francisco CA 94133

Phone: (415) 989-7800

Website: http://www.joeyandeddies.com

Cornish Game Hen (Sodini’s Bertolucci’s, South SF CA)

THE SPOT: SODINI’S BERTOLUCCI’S RISTORANTE, South San Francisco CA

Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is the kind of old-school Italian joint that you would imagine finding in downtown Las Vegas, or in Eastern New Jersey. With its giant signage, black-and-white awning, and exterior murals of Italian landscapes, it’s a holdover from another era, and a surprising discovery off the main drag in South San Francisco. Giant, framed turn-of-the-century European posters, a wraparound gold-striped curtain, a garden fountain, and swirling red booths that swallow you like the jaws of Jonah’s whale make the interior like a Sopranos backdrop, but cleaner.

THE DISH: CORNISH GAME HEN

God bless the place that has Cornish game hen as a menu staple. I wish more restaurants served the lovely young bird. It’s the daily lunch special at Sodini’s Bertolucci’s on Tuesdays, and on the dinner menu that night as well. (Lunch specials here also include soup or salad; I thought the traditional minestrone was good.) The plate has not one, but two hens, perfectly roasted and seasoned with salt, pepper, with fresh rosemary sprigs tucked in. The fowls lay atop creamy polenta, with seasonal veggies (like squash) along for the ride. The veggies are unremarkable, but the polenta is great.

Like other dishes I’ve enjoyed at Bertolucci’s, the portion is enough for lunch and a take-home snack or light dinner. For the price, it’s a solid value but, more importantly, it’s delicious. 

THE DAMAGE: $14, lunch (includes soup or salad) and $19, dinner

THE GRADE: EXCELLENT (4 out of 5)

THE SKINNY: SODINI’s BERTOLUCCI’s

421 Cypress Avenue, South San Francisco, CA

Phone: (650) 588-1625

Website: www.sodinisbertoluccis.com

Meatballs (Roasted Veal Meatballs, Town Hall, SF)

The Dish: Roasted Veal Meatballs

There are meatballs that are forgettable (Chef Boyardee, and his ilk in many mediocre restaurants), and those that inspire drool when remembered. The roasted veal meatballs at Town Hall in San Francisco are the drool-y kind. Creating meatballs with veal instead of the more traditional pork-beef blend was inspired, and ladling rich peppercorn gravy over potato puree instead of pasta pushes the dish to perfection. This meatball dish is fantastic, and just one of many reasons I love Town Hall.

Roasted Veal Meatballs, Town Hall SF
Roasted Veal Meatballs, Town Hall SF

The Damage: $12

This is a high-value appetizer for the price. It’s rich and complete, a generous portion that’s great to share.

The Grade: Awesome (5 out of 5) 

The Skinny: Town Hall

342 Howard Street, San Francisco CA 94105

Phone: (415) 908-3900

Website: http://www.townhallsf.com/ 

Lunch weekdays, 11:30 to 2:30

Dinner nightly, beginning at 5:30 pm


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BBQ Ribs (Baby Back Ribs, Nova Bar, SF)

The Spot: Nova Bar & Restaurant

So for SOMA folks, this is a nice little bar & restaurant that gets too crowded during Giants baseball season, but offers a decent spot for drinks and appetizers when AT&T Park is not rolling out with orange and black clad fervor to the nearest bars, like this one.

The Dish: BBQ Ribs / Baby Back Ribs

A nice little rib appetizer, paired with a good, crisp house-made slaw that comes alive with a smack of salt and pepper. Not worth a trip across town, but definitely holds its own as a local offering.

The Damage: $12

The Grade: Great (3 out of 5)

The Skinny: Nova Bar & Restaurant

555 Second Street (between Bryant and Brannan)

San Francisco, CA 94107

Phone: (415) 543-2282

Website: http://www.novabar.com

BBQ Ribs (Crispy Wild Boar Ribs, Lambert’s, Austin TX)

CRISPY WILD BOAR RIBS

THE SPOT: LAMBERT’S DOWNTOWN BARBECUE, AUSTIN TX

It’s surprising, nay shocking, that Austin, Texas isn’t double-barrel loaded with heaps of great barbecue. And in a town full of cheap, great Tex-Mex joints and thousands of students on student budgets, the thought of a pricier barbecue restaurant in Austin seems a bit daring. The Lambert’s tagline “Fancy Barbecue?” summarizes both the dilemma and the solution. Because Austin, like every town in Texas (and Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, etc.) needs at least one reputable, if not great, BBQ place. Offering a solid selection of natural oak-smoked and oak-grilled meats in a stylishly converted historical building in downtown Austin, Lambert’s is a pretty neat joint that serves some very decent grub. And the couple dishes I had at Lambert’s set me right, so kudos to Executive Chef Larry McGuire and his compadres. 

Crispy Wild Boar BBQ Ribs, Lambert's Downtown Barbecue
Crispy Wild Boar BBQ Ribs, Lambert

THE DISH: BBQ RIBS / CRISPY WILD BOAR RIBS

Stacked like meaty Lincoln Logs, the crispy wild boar ribs is a wicked appetizer, great with a cold beer. The ribs are laden in a spicy sauce, and will vary somewhat by season. It’s a serious, hearty plate of little ribs that you should probably split with someone. Unless, like me, you’

re a fiend for sweet, gooey, spicy, delicious ribs; in which case, you should not.

THE DAMAGE: $10 (lunch)

THE GRADE: EXCELLENT (4 out of 5)

Interior, Lambert's Downtown Barbecue, Austin TX
Lambert's Downtown Barbecue, Austin TX

THE SKINNY: LAMBERT’s DOWNTOWN BARBECUE

401 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701

Phone: (512) 494-1500

Website: http://www.lambertsaustin.com/

Lunch Menu: http://www.lambertsaustin.com/menus/LAMBERTS_LUNCH.pdf

Dinner Menu: http://www.lambertsaustin.com/menus/LAMBERTS_DINNER.pdf

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Burger (Filet Burger, Frisee Restaurant, SF)

FILET (MIGNON) BURGER

THE SPOT: FRISEE RESTAURANT, SAN FRANCISCO CA

Frisee restaurant is one of those places that you discover, bring friends to, they pass it along, and so on, but it doesn’t get enough good press. So eat there now, whilst you can. The décor is lime-fresh, with a small counter in front of high windows looking out onto Market Street, and seating lined down a long banquette that feels like a groovy lounge.

But it’s not so hipster that you can’t bring your Mom to enjoy a meal there. That’s because Frisee staffs genuinely nice (but not overbearing), professional, and caring servers. Even if you’ve never been there, they make you feel like you’re coming back to a friend’s house. The staff, the food, the cool hidden gem vibe all make Frisee a great find and a great place to chow when you’ve got that burger urge.

Filet Burger with Kinnebec fries, Frisee, SF
Filet Burger with Kinnebec fries, Frisee, SF

THE DISH: FILET BURGER

So we’ve been on a steady burger diet, for the benefit of the people and Mr. Kite, and among San Francisco’s burger purveyors, we’ve got to rank Frisee among the top (so far). One thing that makes Frisee’s burger more enticing from the get-go is its plush menu vocabulary. To wit: All-natural (hormone-free, antibiotic-free), grass-fed, filet mignon hamburger.

Be still my bloody heart.

But there’s more. Point Reyes blue cheese, toasted red onion, tomato relish, butter lettuce, Dijon mustard and mayo on an onion roll. Wow…seriously?

Plus, it comes with crisp, Kennebec fries topped with a balsamic drizzle. Compare the Filet Burger @ Frisee by price and value to other burgs in town, and you’d be hard pressed to eat burgers anywhere else in SF. (Prove me wrong.)

The Filet Burger is available during brunch, lunch, or dinner.

THE GRADE: AWESOME (5 out of 5)

THE DAMAGE: $14 lunch; $15 dinner

THE SKINNY: FRISEE RESTAURANT

2367 Market Street, San Francisco CA

Phone: 415-568-1616

Menus: http://www.friseerestaurant.com/Menu/menu.html

Hours: Mon – Fri Dinner only 5:30pm to 10:00pm

Sat & Sunday Brunch 10:30am to 3:00pm

Sat Dinner 5:30 to 11:00; Sun Dinner 5:30 to 9:00

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Burger (“The Burger” at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA)

BURGER (“THE” BURGER)

 

"The Burger" at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur, CA

THE DISH: “THE” BURGER

When you spend a full page on your website glorifying your burger and you call your burger “The Burger,” you had better deliver something beyond special. Hungry burger lovers are licking lips in anticipation, in a literal way. Despite the great environment, a house-made bun, and 8 ounces of Niman Ranch beef, “The Burger” just doesn’t deliver. (Especially for the high price which, for now, I’ve conveniently forgotten). The condiments, the toppings (typical white onion, tomato, lettuce, pickle), even the fries, meh…

I encourage the great folks at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant to revise the recipe, up the ante, confound the condiments, shock the vegetables, bustle the hedgerow, whatever it takes to step this up to its reputation. Because every other dish I ate at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant was rocking. Every one but “The Burger.”

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA
Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA

THE SPOT: BIG SUR BAKERY & RESTAURANT, BIG SUR CA

To say I love this restaurant is an understatement; it’s a wonderful, warm place to dine in Big Sur, the chefs are conscious and caring, and the food, on the whole, is great. You know, the burger was OK but at the price, it should be awesome.

THE GRADE: DISAPPOINTING (0 out of 5) 

THE DAMAGE:Expensive for a burger that you will not fall in love with

THE SKINNY: BIG SUR BAKERY & RESTAURANT

Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Phone: (831) 667-0520

Website: http://www.bigsurbakery.com/

Brunch, Saturday & Sunday, 10:30 am to 2:45 pm

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Burger (The Famous Ambrosiaburger, Nepenthe, Big Sur CA)

The Vibe: Nepenthe is the legendary Big Sur dining spot with a vast view, family-owned since 1949. There’s a large outdoor patio in front, a smaller patio in back that faces the ocean (through many tall trees), and indoor seating with tall wooden beams above, a semi-circular bar to the right, and an old fireplace to the left. It’s a neat little place that exemplifies the Big Sur energy, homey and pioneering and funky and cool.

What most people don’t know is that Nepenthe’s got an incredible wine list, so it’s a great place to go for a salad or burger or sandwich paired with a really top-flight bottle of wine. You’re on vacation; why not?

The AmbosiaBurger at Nepenthe, Big Sur, CA
The AmbosiaBurger at Nepenthe, Big Sur, CA

The DIsh: “The Famous Ambrosiaburger” (with Cheddar Cheese)

Despite the fact that Nepenthe undercooks their burgers on purpose—and you may be too hungry to care to send it back—the flavor and juiciness of this burger makes it really a delight. If you visit, be kind and mindful and remind your waiter you really do want it medium or medium-well instead of waiting for it coming back a bit bloody, no matter what level of grill time you request. The meat’s great and it comes on a great bun with great sauce (the ambrosia, which is like a home-style thousand island dressing). But there’s something more: a charcoal or dirty grill flavor to the burger that reminds you of being a kid, having a home-cooked burger, that makes their burger really flavorful and enjoyable. The immense, relaxing, and romantic environment probably have an affect on the senses as well, turning a hungry memory into something larger than it should be. But good meals are like that.

The beef is actually chopped steak, and the slightly sweet French roll is fantastic, with gooey cheddar pulling it all together. It’s one of the best burgers I ate in 2008.

The homemade slaw was somewhat bland and disappointing, so I recommend you opt for another side selection. The service can be slow, but if you’re down in Big Sur, you should start slowing down, too. Be sure to review the wine list! You’ll be as gaga as Wine Spectator was over it.

The Grade: Excellent / Exceptional (4 out of 5)

The Damage: $13.50 (yikes…oh yeah, chopped steak), plus $1.50 for cheese (a must)

The Skinny: Nepenthe Restaurant

Highway 1, Big Sur CA 94920

Phone: (831) 667-2345

Website: http://www.nepenthebigsur.com/

Serving lunch and dinner, 11:30 am to 10:00 pm daily

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Burger (Burger Meister, San Francisco CA)

The Dish: Mushroom & Onion Burger

The “Meisterburgers” begin with great meat, and a substantial amount of it: half a pound of Niman Ranch beef. (If you prefer turkey, they have 1/3 pound turkey burgers as an option.) Your burger comes paired with a generous topping pile: a flag of green lettuce, blushing tomato slice, red onion, and crisp pickles. You also get a choice of coleslaw, salad mix, or fries. While the slaw was decent, I’d recommend the salad or the fries instead. I’d bolster up with some cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper jack, Swiss, or blue cheese) for just 0.75 more.

Mushroom & Onion Burger, BurgerMeister, SF
Mushroom & Onion Burger, BurgerMeister, SF


Since burgers at Burger Meister are totally customizable, I was tempted to add some blue cheese to my mushroom & onion burger. It was a very good burger, bordering on great. But because Burger Meister provides free toppings that include red onion (not grilled), I felt that ordering a burger with onion was redundant. My poor big, free red onion sat alone and uneaten, whilst the grilled red onion got all my love and attention. Ugh, guilt over onions.

So next time, I’ll opt for another burger and leverage the onions that came to the dance.

One more note about sauciness and customization: everyone likes to make a burger to their taste, and at BurgerMeister, every counter and table has a cardboard beer bottle holder with six bottles of hot sauces, steak sauces, and condiments ready for the spillage. BurgerMeister is actually that place where you can have it–it being a memorable burger–your way. Kudos to that.

The Grade: Very Good (2 out of 5) (Other burgers would probably merit higher grades, but those will be judged individually)

The Damage: $8.75; Add 0.75 for your choice of cheese

The Spot: Burger Meister is a Bay Area favorite, for good reason. They make a pretty mean burger. From this basic American mouth-melter, they’ve built a small chain of five chop-beef-shops. This review is of the little Burger Meister in the Castro, on Church Street.

Burger Meister and Punk, San Francisco
Burger Meister and Punk, San Francisco

The Skinny: Burger Meister, Bay Area (5 Locations)

138 Church Street, SF CA 94114

11 am to 11 pm, 7 days a week

Website: http://www.burgermeistersf.com/

Burger list: http://www.burgermeistersf.com/menu.php

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