Tasting the Thai Idea Veggie heaven

Last week we brought about word of Thai Idea Veggie restaurant opening in the neighborhood. This week we bring you a run down of the food that we finally got to try. In a word: damned tasty. Well, that’s like two words, but we had five different dishes and I don’t know at this point if it’s more worrisome that fake meat tastes awesomely like real meat or that real meat tastes scarily like fake meat. Whatever the case, this was a fantastic meal.

We started out with a red cabbage cream amuse-bouche served in little mugs, which I don’t think is in the menu but was surprisingly rich and tasty. With it we had this beautiful crab cake appetizer (keep in mind that no animals were harmed in the creation of these dishes). It was a nice, crunchy, fried plate of goodness.

Then, we moved on to this “Thai crepe” as the owner, Pop called it. That was a serious WTF moment as we’d never had anything crepe-oriented in Thai food before. This one is apparently made with curry powder and coconut milk so it’s completely vegan. The filling is a mix of shredded young coconut meat, veggie chicken, tofu, bean sprouts topped with crushed peanuts, chilli and cilantro. Damn, that was good and it’s also one of those “off-menu” items that people might want to give a try.

From there, it was to the main dishes: we somewhat randomly chose the panang curry and the volcano beef, as everything in the menu sounded good. Again, it was all awesome as well as terrifying at the same moment given that the “beef” really tasted like damned beef. And look at that presentation in the photos below. Total class. Oh yes, note that there is a five level Spice Index you can request at Thai Idea: No Spice, Mild Spice, Medium Spice, Spicy, Thai Spicy. I went with Spicy and didn’t regret it.

We closed with another Thai crepe, but this one filled with some sweet goodness and a vegan coconut ice cream dessert that had some type of roasted peanuts on the side. It was a hot day yesterday, so the ice cream was melting fast, but like, whatever, as if I didn’t want to shove all that in my mouth as fast as I could.

Anyone who reads us often knows that we’ve been adoring lers ros since way before douche wad “expert” chefs from the Mission have “exposed it“. But lemme tell you, Thai Idea is great because it gives you a really serious alternative to really good Thai food in a classy setting, while making all your vegetarian and vegan friends extremely happy. Think of it as the place to bring mom when she’s visiting you in the Loin or that annoying vegan boy you have a crush on.

PS: If you’re somehow not convinced yet, here’s Vegansaurus’ endorsement. Satisfaction guaranteed!

Kare-Ken Japanese Currry, finally close to opening

At the beginning of June we were contacted by Ryan (pictured above) telling us about his upcoming Japanese curry project on Jones Street in the space where popular Eden’s Mediterranean Turkish and Greek Restaurant used to be. It is to be a called Kare-Ken, which in Japanese means Curry House and yes, you’ve guessed it, it will specialize in Japanese curry served at the counter. There will also be a “curry portal” takeout window for quick access to the goodness.

After nearly a year looking for a space with his two business partners, Ryan was so excited to share his plans that he even sent us the future floorplan of the space and picture renderings of the interior and exterior design. He told us their plan was to be open by August 15.

A few days later we met up with Ryan who showed us the construction in progress, and we even took some photos. Around the same time we also got word of the space right across the street starting construction to become a new restaurant too, a project by one of the owners of the Salama Halal butcher shop around the corner and, coincidentally, the former chef from Eden’s Mediterranean, Vahit Besir. They had plans to also open around August 15.

Of course, as anyone familiar with how this permit-heavy, NIMBY-laden city treats small business owners in general and restaurants in particular could have guessed, the opening of both restaurants got delayed. But Grill House Mediterranean, as it ended up being called, opened a few weeks ago while Kare-Ken is still waiting. And so is the whole neighborhood, as we’ve been receiving emails asking about the fate of their restaurant as well as questions in the street from impatient locals.

Ryan has been keeping us posted, explaining how they’ve had to deal with several ventilation and electrical issues that have been holding up the permitting process. Then last month, when they’d passed all the obstacles, they were told they needed to fix the sidewalk for better accessibility to their restaurant. At one point Ryan told us, frustrated, “I feel the people who live on the block have more sympathy for us than the City”. We can only sympathize and hope that they’ll be finally opening in the next few days.


While they iron out their website, you can follow Kare-Ken latest developments via Twitter @karekenSF

New Thai Idea Veggie Opens!

As I was rolling down to a Filipino food tasting at the Civic Center yesterday afternoon, I came across a new restaurant on Polk between Eddy and Ellis named Thai Idea. I stopped to look at their menu and the friendly owner, who introduced himself as Pop, came out to say hi.

He told me he opened a bit over a week ago in the space that was formerly an unremarkable Mexican restaurant (that I have seriously no recollection of ever existing), and that his menu is 100% vegetarian and vegan. After a few minutes chatting on the sidewalk, he invited me inside to check out the brand new space. The furniture is nice and comfortable, and the walls are painted green, silver and gold with decorations handcrafted by Pop himself. The decor is definitely a notch above most other Thai and Asian places in the neighborhood.

Pop explained that his mom cooks super amazingly and that she owns two very successful Thai restaurants in Foster City and San Mateo, Basil Sweet and Basil Cha Cha respectively. He has also been working as the manager for the Osha Thai branch on 2nd Street and Howard, so he felt like it was really time to open a place of his own.

He’s vegetarian so he wanted to have a place offering a fully vegetarian menu with no meat dishes whatsoever and no fish or oyster sauce sneaking in. He also wanted to offer a different food experience from most other Thai places nearby, such as Zen Yai around the corner which we know most of you swear by. But in spite of the menu focus and the pretty interior design, Thai Idea’s prices are still all under $10, making it a great value for the dining experience.

And if you’re as excited as we are to check out Thai Idea, then you’re in luck! We’re giving away 10 Complimentary Dinner Entree vouchers to Tender Readers who leave a comment below telling us why they’d like to eat there. You have until this Wednesday October 5th so get commenting! The winners will be notified via email, thank you all for your interest in trying Thai Idea!

Thai Idea Vegetarian Restaurant (Facebook)
-710 Polk St. San Francisco

Vietnamese Restaurant becomes Vietnamese Restaurant

According to the photo above, as well as Eater, we now have the new Vietnamese restaurant, “Sao Bien” where there once was a Vietnamese restaurant, “Vietnam Too”. The only visible difference seems to be that this one also has Chinese food.

So, for all of those people who love to say that the Tenderloin is a vibrant, constantly-changing neighborhood, suck it. We can be as boring as a brunch line at Brenda’s if need be, although you’ll probably still want to look out for random bouts of flying trash while you wait for a table.

What’s up Dog? begets Prime Dip

With the implosion of the What’s up Dog? chain a few weeks ago (Goldentooth review), their disappearing act in to a mist of mystery meat left a few spaces around San Francisco, such as 518 Larkin where they had their Tenderloin shop (their only location serving the Stoner dog, topped with chili and fritos). Those whose need for hot meat was being unfulfilled may rest easy though, as Prime Dip took over the space earlier this month. Since this is right next door to beloved Saigon Sandwiches, we have to wonder how long they’ll stay around since nothing seems to be able to stay around very long in that location.

Prime Dip’s offer is, yes you’ve guessed it, a “dip-centric” assortment of sandwiches. And by that, I mean they all come with hot au jus for dipping in the range of $6-8. Apparently, they’re planning to expand in to more classic sandwiches in a little bit as well as get some kind of website up and running. It appears that Morty’s now has some competition. May the 2011 Sandwich Wars commence and may New Century Theater come up with clever side promotions.

Labor Day palate cleanser: Combination Taco Bell and Pizza Hut

The whole crime data mapping thing is interesting, but honestly, a waste of money. Yum! Brands figured all this shit out years ago. Basically, if you want to know where things are bad in a neighborhood, just look for a combination KFC/Pizza Hut/Taco Bell/WingStreet[wtf?]/Long John Silver’s and there you go, you’re in the ghetto.

Case in point, that combo Taco Bell/KFC in the Bayview with the bulletproof glass on the drivethru. Or, better yet, our own combo KFC/Taco Bell at the corner of Polk & Eddy under the EINE mural. For anyone screaming about gentrification from Twitter and Brenda’s, I want to toss down that card on the table and say, STFU. Major props to Google Maps for hiding the Colonel’s face by the way.

Anyways, enjoy “Combination Taco Bell and Pizza Hut” by Das Racist to sober you up and get the Playa out of your ears after your Labor Day/Burning Man hedonism.

The Yemeni’s chow down

We originally wrote about Yemeni’s in February of last year, but only to announce that they had moved into the old Jenny’s restaurant space. And despite the fact we don’t make it down to this Middle Eastern eatery at Sutter & Larkin as much as we’d like, it’s one of our favorite places nearby and we even featured one of their dishes (Salteh, the stew pictured above which is the Yemeni national dish) in our list of Top 10 dishes under $10 in Tenderloin Heights.

We like them because they offer great food that’s a great deal different from the awesome Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants that are so abundant in this neighborhood. We also like them because they have always been friendly and welcoming, so we decided it was time to do a proper write-up about them here.

On this latest visit, we decided to go all out and try a few more things beyond the Salteh such as the lamb Kufta Plate and chicken Kasbah dishes. They both came with a side of fragrant spicy rice that had me craving for more the next day. We had wanted to start out with the Sahawig Cheese but it was unfortunately out so they comped us a nice, spicy Yemeni soup to start with, which got us happily sweating at the beginning of the meal.

We also tried their special flatbreads (Tanour & Yemeni), both as a side and one of them as a dessert as well. It came dipped in milk and honey, folded and cut in little delicious pieces. Although we were stuffed, we couldn’t help finishing it all up with the complimentary Yemeni tea they brought. I also always love the fact that the water they serve usually has cucumber and lemon in it, quite a nice touch.

At Yemeni’s everything is quite solid and damningly filling. I couldn’t even finish what was basically half a fat chicken in my dish and had to take it home (made some pretty awesome fajitas with it the next day). And that’s really the beauty of Yemeni’s in that it’s a great value and it’s a different experience with a lot of great spices. At first you might just think it’s Mediterranean and then maybe you’ll think it’s Indian, but it’s not either. It’s something in between and a welcome change.

By the way, this is the owner Ali who was extremely happy to have us in the restaurant and went out of his way to make us feel at home. Although this is an inexpensive restaurant, he’s put some effort into the decor to make it a bit more cozy than most budget eateries. He told us that he had briefly lived in San Francisco in the early 1980s, but then moved to NYC where he opened a clothing store. After all those years in the East coast, one day he felt like coming back to the Bay Area and opening up his own restaurant here, as he loves to introduce people to the cuisine of his country. He also told us, in case anyone is interested, the reason the old Jenny’s restaurant was vacant for so long–nine years in fact: the previous tenant wanted not just to rent, but sell everything that was part of the old restaurant and was inflexible as to any other arrangement.

In any case, we’re very happy Yemeni’s took it over as it’s a great addition to the neighborhood. Check it out if you’re around.

The Nile Cafe to serve breakfast, get a parklet

A couple of days ago we wrote about the city’s Public Health Department shutting down hookah lounges due to the state ban on indoor smoking. And while most neighbors don’t seem extremely sad about the loss of Cairo Nights (I know my tear ducts are dry), some of us have been wondering about the fate of other, more responsible hookah lounges.

It turns out that Nile Cafe on Jones & Geary (whose owner is the same as Jebena coffeeshop on Polk & Geary) is making a go of trying to transition themselves in to being a proper day-time cafe serving breakfast and lunch. Currently they are just an evening cafe, opening from 4 or 5 to 4am on weekends and 12:30 during the week. They’re planning to start opening in the morning, serving breakfast and lunch. They also applied for a parklet a few days ago, which would be a great addition on that block. With Dottie’s closing this area will be ripe for new cafe and eatery business as, despite the current thug bleed over from O’Farrell, tourists wander these parts in desperate search of sustenance.

Top 10 Tenderloin dishes under $10

Although we aren’t always their biggest fans (ahem), 7×7 Magazine asked us to contribute to their ‘Best 10 dishes under 10‘ web series with our picks from our neighborhood/s. Since they asked nicely (and yes, we are whores) we ended up compiling the two lists and they ran them today here. It ended up being really hard to write as there are way more than 10 excellent cheap dishes in this neighborhood (although we also discovered that some of our favorite ones are actually a little over $10). And since it took us a pile of time to do it, we thought we’d share the lists with our local Tender Readers in case you don’t go check out the “49” all that often. So after our picks for the Tendernob, we present you with our picks in the Tenderloin (south of Geary), in no particular order. As usual, be sure to share your thoughts.

1. Louisiana-Style Bread Pudding from Hooker’s Sweet Treats
There are days when the Louisiana-style bread pudding with seasonal fruit and caramel sauce from Hooker’s Sweet Treats has a touch more Bourbon than others. We call those days, “lucky” and you should too as you can grab the bread pudding Tuesday through Sunday with any permutation of Sightglass coffee your heart so desires and trust us, it will desire. $5.50. 442 Hyde St. Cash only.

2. Karahi Chicken from Lahore Karahi
At Lahore Karahi everything is made to order by the always smiling owner Guddu, so we advise you to BYOB so you can better enjoy the wait — which is totally worth it. Their tandoori fish is the star dish in the menu, but we’re quite fond of their signature Karahi chicken , featuring tender chunks of chicken in a deliciously creamy tomato and bell pepper sauce. Sure, there can be a line some nights, but there’s a reason: they serve this in heaven’s buffet. $7. 612 O’Farrell St.

3. Bún bò Huế from Ngọc Mai
While we love the famous Phở from Turtle Tower, the Bún bò Huế from Ngọc Mai is one of our favorite Vietnamese noodle soups in the Little Saigon section of the Tenderloin. It’s a hearty and spicy broth made with beef and pig’s knuckle, with rice vermicelli, lemongrass and spicy shrimp paste that sends us to soup heaven every time. And we love the homey feel of this family-run cute restaurant. $6. 547 Hyde St. Cash only.

4. Sloppy Josephine from Brenda’s Soul Food
When discussing the Sloppy Josephine from Brenda’s Soul Food we tend to quote those from other neighborhoods and say, “OMFG!!!” because really, you gotta use a touch of F when you talk about how awesome this sandwich is (they also have a vegan version). It’s served for lunch from 11am to 3pm Monday through Friday. $9. 652 Polk St.

5. Al Pastor Burrito from Tesoro
Yeah, yeah, the Mission is where it’s at when it comes to burritos, but we’re big fans of the al pastor burrito from Tesoro. And not only because it’s conveniently closer than the Mission and has two locations in the Tenderloin, but also because it’s juicy and extremely delicious after a night out in the TL. $5.95 regular, $6.95 super. 868 Geary St & 599 O’Farrell St.

6. The Bánh mì from Saigon Sandwiches
These sandwiches are on every one of these cheap eat lists for a reason: they’re tasty and at $3.25, you can get three and stuff yourself silly with goodness. Our favorite is the one with grilled pork, but the tofu option is extremely popular and we suspect it’s due to the secret sauce they use in all their sandwiches. $3.25. 560 Larkin St. Cash only.

7. Koh Moo Yang from Lers Ros
It appears that our constantly spreading the word about the excellence that is Lers Ros has gotten around and it’s grown mightily in popularity. We stick by the Koh Moo Yang which is their grilled pork shoulder with chili and rice powder sauce. It’s a delicious steal. They pull no punches in the spice department, so ask them to dial it back a bit if you can’t handle the heat. $7. 730 Larkin St.

8. Tea Leaf Salad from Burmese Kitchen
While we’re big fans of their lunch plates, what makes us keep going back to Burmese Kitchen is their addictive tea leaf salad. It’s not only one of the crunchiest and tastiest we’ve had, but it’s also one of the most authentic in the city. It features unchopped laphet, the fermented tea leaves which serve as a base for the salad, which the owner buys directly from a small farm in Burma and carries back to his restaurant. That really puts a new spin on “from farm to table”. $5.95. 452 Larkin.

9. The Gözleme from A La Turca
It’s a traditional Turkish bread filled with vegetables or meat, closed like a pouch and cooked over a griddle. Order it and be happy or don’t and practice your “I really missed out” look. Starting at $6.25. 869 Geary.

10. The ‘Loin cold sandwich from Morty’s Deli
Give it a try if not for any other reason than the name (they also have a Tender burger with pepper jack cheese, caramelized onions and chipotle mayo for $8.95). All of Morty’s offerings are pretty solid on the sandwich front, so go crazy, but only during the week as he’s unfortunately closed on weekends. $7.25. 280 Golden Gate Ave.

Top 10 Tenderloin Heights dishes under $10

Although we aren’t always their biggest fans (ahem), 7×7 Magazine asked us to contribute to their ‘Best 10 dishes under 10‘ web series with our picks from our neighborhood/s. Since they asked nicely (and yes, we are whores) we ended up compiling the two lists and they ran them today here. It ended up being really hard to write as there are way more than 10 excellent cheap dishes in this neighborhood (although we also discovered that some of our favorite ones are actually a little over $10). Since it took us a pile of time to do it, we thought we’d share them with our local Tender Readers in case you don’t go check out the “49” all that often. So here are our picks for the upper Tenderloin aka Tendernob aka Tenderloin Heights, in no particular order. As usual, be sure to share your thoughts.

1. Any burger from Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers
When the burger is calling, it should be calling from Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers. You really can’t go wrong and they offer so many different types of meat (even buffalo!) as well as add-ons that pretty much anyone is going to go away happy and mighty full. Starting at $6.49. 708 Post St.

2. Crimini Mushroom and Goat Cheese Omelette from Canteen
While the dinner menu at Canteen is adventurous and glorious (not to mention well above the $10 price range), their weekend brunch menu offers all the creativity of Dennis Leary’s culinary mind at an early morning price we can afford. Such as the Crimini mushroom and goat cheese omelette. $9.75. 817 Sutter St.

3. Bangan Bhartha from Maharani
Fire-roasted eggplants with a special blend of spices in a tomato-based house sauce, called Bangan Bhartha, is one of the many favorite dishes from Maharani that makes us consider it one of the best Indian restaurants in the whole city. The decor is eclectic, especially in their aptly named Fantasy room where you can sit barefoot on fancy pillows, but both the portions and quality of this favorite establishment will leave you going Naan n’ What? when you walk out. There’s a reason why huge Indian tour groups dock there regularly for sustenance. $8.95. 1122 Post St.

4. Housemade Quiche from farm:table
While their morning crowd whirls in and out to sit around the single table, or outside enjoying the elusive San Francisco sun on Post Street, those who go to farm:table know that Kate puts together a great menu that rotates daily. When the house-made quiche pops up (check on their Twitter), you should take it upon yourself to make the trek from wherever you are as it’s one of the best this side of the Left Bank. $8 with a side of salad. 754 Post St. Cash only.

5. Salteh from Yemeni’s
Salteh is Yemen’s national dish and the one from Yemeni’s is delicious. It’s a hot boiling spicy stew with vegetables, eggs, potatoes, and a green, bubbly broth. Traditionally eaten with Tanour flat bread it provides you with a conversation piece that you can eat readily and happily. $5.95 with vegetables, $8.95 with lamb. 1098 Sutter St.

6. Pupusas from Olivo’s (pictured above)
Olivo’s is the only place in the Tendernob (and even the Tenderloin) area who serves those delicious Salvadorian filled savory pancakes, pupusas. The choices are cheese, cheese & beans or cheese & pork. Two for $4.25, with rice & beans $6.50. 1017 Larkin St. Cash only.

7. Nasi Goreng from Borobudur
This is probably Indonesia’s best known dish which is a combination of: fried rice, egg, onion, and a choice of meat or mixed vegetables. They also have their own house version with anchovy paste and a super-hot version with spicy shrimp paste. $9.95. 700 Post St.

8. Lunch Special from Sanraku
We have friends that come from far and wide to dig in to the lunch special from Sanraku. It’s served with miso soup, salad and a main that changes every day– such as their spicy tuna roll or Genmai Chirashi (sliced fish over rice). Monday to Friday only. $10. 704 Sutter St.

9. The Gouda Good sandwich from Bite
It is their most popular for a reason: it’s a heavenly combination of their rotisserie chicken with Gouda cheese and special pepperhouse sauces on Dutch crunch. In fact, any sandwich with chicken in it is a sure bet, and they have many to choose from–including a build your own option. Plus they’re open late (2am!) to roll on by while you’re gettin’ your drink on in the neighborhood. $7.99. 912 Sutter St.

10. Breakfast from Golden Coffee
Golden Coffee is known as one of the cheapest and tastiest greasy spoon breakfast places in San Francisco, where you watch your food being made while trying to get over last night’s hangover. Although they have many breakfast options to choose from (and even Chinese food), you can’t go wrong with their classic scrambled eggs with corned beef, hash browns and toast. $5.50, add coffee for $1.35. 901 Sutter St. Cash only.

Photo of Olivo’s pupusas from Coffee Pencil Knife