Happy sunny days, friends. Spring is finally springin’! It was a hell of a weekend to spend home sick with a nasty virus, however. No, someone did not have a very hoppy Easter—it was more like a coughy Easter. At least I was able to finish bingeing Daisy Jones and the Six (it’s not too mentally taxing, and kind of perfect for unwinding after work) and now I’m missing my 70s shearling-collared (and cuffed) leather jacket like you wouldn’t believe. After a weekend of making rice soups and sleeping a ton (and sis brought me some Gagliardi family lasagna, a definite cold-buster), I am slowly back in action. Which is a good thing, because I have quite the lineup of dining excursions this week, and I plan on having a fun time at The Midway’s whiskey pairing dinner on Saturday.
I was going to send out this month’s edition of The Hopper Notebook last week, but that cold turned my brain to mush, so I’ll be sending it out later this week. This upcoming, subscriber-only feature is about my favorite sushi counters in SF—from the affordable to the high-end—and it’s not just a few flimsy paragraphs (it’s currently clocking in over 3,000 words, hai). As a sneak peek, enjoy a taste of the omakase experience at Akikos that I just posted on Instagram.
Now is a great time to become a supporting subscriber, because there’s some definite insider info in that upcoming piece. With your support, I’m able to write pieces like that one, because they take time and money to do so. (Kind of like this regular weekly column, I’m just sayin’.)
This week’s column includes another “the regular” feature on an SF classic: this time, it’s Henry’s Hunan on Natoma! As you may already know, with this new iteration of my column, I’m revisiting some longtime stalwarts and old-school favorites that make our city great. If you haven’t lived here for more than 10 years, how would you ever know about some of these places? I want to make sure we celebrate them and enjoy them, otherwise, we will continue to say goodbye to them.
Today’s writeup coincides with Liam Mayclem’s interview with me for Foodie Chap on KCBS! A few weeks ago, we had a fantastic day of tablehopping together for the segment. I wanted us to celebrate both new and old spots since we have both been in SF for almost 30 years. We started the day with huevos motuleños and the chilaquiles torta at newcomer Al Carajo in the Mission (you know I am obsessed), followed by lunch at the delicious-as-ever Henry’s Hunan in SoMa, and we ended with dessert at AA Bakery & Cafe in Chinatown (dan tat)! All day, we shared memories of our beloved SF and the places we adore and have deep nostalgia for.
The end of the interview is a fun one—Liam asked me about some of my top spots, like my favorite dive bar, takeout, hole in the wall, fine dining, and late-night dining. (Yup, there’s a shout-out to Krispy Krunchy Chicken.) The full list will be posted soon! Thank you, Liam, for being my comrade in always uplifting the many gems and wonderful people who make SF great.
I want to remind you that you have until 10am tomorrow morning (April 12th) to enter to win the San Francisco Restaurant Week giveaway I’m hosting on Instagram—there will be one lucky winner who will receive two $100 gift certificates (one is to China Live, and the other is to Cassava)! How’s that for a sweep? SFRW begins this Friday April 14th, with over 150 SF restaurants offering special brunch, lunch, and dinner menus through Sunday April 23rd. It’s a great time to go out, show SF restaurants some support, and maybe discover some new favorites.
See you on the town.
Cow Hollow Neighborhood Fixture La Canasta Temporarily Closed While the Family Suffers Heartbreaking Difficulties
Last month, I noticed a distressing post on Nextdoor (aren’t they all) about La Canasta, the adorable little slip of a takeout taqueria from Alberto and LiLi Mier, who have been feeding the people of Cow Hollow from their tiny grill for the past 32 years. The post said that they were going to be closing soon and were getting squeezed out of their location due to issues with their landlord. The phone number hasn’t been working, so I drove over to speak with them, and LiLi said she’d give my card to her husband—when I asked her what was happening and if their Supervisor was helping, she said they were talking and everything was going to be okay. I didn’t hear back and didn’t see any additional posts on Nextdoor or Yelp, so I figured things got sorted with their landlord.
Sadly, no, they didn’t. It ends up there is a GoFundMe that was launched by their son (Alberto Jr.) to help the elderly couple out, who have really fallen on some desperately hard times, it’s heartbreaking to see how much they have been dealing with. The father, Alberto, was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic prostate cancer in late 2021, and he had to retire unexpectedly. LiLi has been trying to keep the business afloat, which we know has been the worst possible time of late to be running a restaurant. As if this wasn’t enough, they also lost their home in a foreclosure fraud case, so they put everything in storage and moved to a family apartment, but fell behind on rent, so they are being evicted. This poor family, the amount of hardship they are dealing with is completely overwhelming.
And now, they could lose their business location. According to the GoFundMe, their longtime landlord is “considering new leasees since we defaulted on one month of rent. Considering we have had this business for almost 36 years, specifically 32 years at this location with the same landlord, the fact he would threaten to evict my parents is very unfair and outrageous.” I spoke with the son, Alberto Jr., who said the landlord has known the Mier family all this time, and is aware of their hard times, but is showing no empathy or flexibility. I looked around and found the listing here, so things are looking pretty bleak.
Alberto Jr. tells me they have a pro bono attorney who has been provided by the city, and their trial is scheduled for April 24th (there is a mandatory settlement conference on April 20th). The family spoke with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani about trying to register La Canasta as a Legacy business, but it was going to take too long since everything else is happening so quickly.
Right now, La Canasta is closed since the Miers couldn’t pay their electrical bill with all the financial issues related to their apartment taking precedence, and the power has been turned off. The fundraiser is to help cover the parents’ living expenses since they don’t have any income and it sounds like they have completely run out of funds. LiLi is considering running a ghost kitchen and cooking her famous carnitas and cochinita pibil as a way to keep going.
What a sad mess—we need to help them, folks. Alberto Jr. is going to keep me posted on the court proceedings. Is anyone well-connected with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, can she talk to the landlord? This place is a city treasure, we can’t lose it like this. I’m going to talk to my attorney pals and see what else we can do, as well as La Cocina. Feel free to email me if you have any ideas or connections. 3006 Buchanan St. at Union.
As a P.S., I want to share this history from their Yelp page: “Established in 1987 by Alberto and LiLi Mier. Alberto came from Torreón, México, to pursue a degree in Chemistry from SFSU. After graduating in 1971, he returned to México. On a vacation to the coastal city of Veracrúz, he met LiLi, who was helping her mother Doña LiLi run a restaurant. He convinced her to join him in San Francisco, and in 1981 LiLi arrived with her family recipes and expertise in the kitchen. Alberto and LiLi worked in catering and restaurant management for several years before deciding to start their own business. What began as a need for a kitchen for their catering enterprise, became the first La Canasta restaurant at the corner of Filbert and Fillmore. The popularity of their authentic home-made cuisine and regional specialties grew, and five years later La Canasta opened its doors at the present location on Buchanan at Union. La Canasta has catered events hosted by a variety of notable San Franciscans including George Lucas, the Aliotos, the Pelosis and Gavin Newsom.”
I want to add that Alberto Jr. is currently studying chemistry at U.C. Berkeley, and is making his father the chemist so proud. I hope this family gets all the support they need.
Coming Soon: Sandy’s to the Haight, Dumpling Home to Pac Heights
Last year, Eater reported on the upcoming opening of Sandy’s in the Upper Haight, after a sudden ending of their muffuletta pop-up out of Maison Corbeaux. According to a recent email, owners-partners Peterson Harter and Moni Frailing are planning to hold the grand opening for their muffuletta shop on 4/20 (Thursday April 20th). There will be their regular meaty muff (I highly recommend requesting it without mayo—I love Duke’s mayo, it’s my preferred mayo over here, but not on a muffuletta) and there’s a vegetarian muff they make with roasted mushrooms, as well as cookies, coleslaw, chips, and drinks. More sandwiches and other items will be added in time, and delivery, too.
Regular hours will be Wed–Sun 11am–5pm. 1457 Haight St. at Ashbury.
Looks like long lines of xiao long bao dumpling fans will be forming in Pacific Heights, when Lily Wong’s amazing Dumpling Home in Hayes Valley opens a second location in the former Fresca on Fillmore (which Eater reports closed in 2020). There isn’t an opening date at this time, stand by. 2114 Fillmore St. at California.
A Firsthand Look at ALLLLL the Pizza at Pizzeria da Laura in Berkeley
A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to attend a pre-opening party and tasting for Pizzeria da Laura, the brand-new Berkeley pizzeria from award-winning pizzaiola, chef, owner, and World Champion Laura Meyer. The first couple weeks have been a busy blur (she says: “I could not have asked for a better reception!”), it was great to be able to catch up with her at the beginning of week three, when she just started offering slices for lunch.
Meyer has been working for and with pizza capo Tony Gemignani since the very beginning of her work life, when she was 17 at Pyzano’s Pizza in Castro Valley. After earning her B.A. (and really falling in love with food and culture while studying abroad in Italy), she moved to San Francisco to be the kitchen manager at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.
At the pre-opening party, Tony was there with his family, and he told me a funny story about what a natural-born competitor she is, and mentioned a sandwich contest she won at TOGO’s. It ends up she was working at both TOGO’s and Pyzano’s in the very beginning, and won $50 at a sandwich-making competition, her first win. She would go on in 2013 to win first place at her first competition in Parma, Italy, becoming the first woman and first American to win the Pizza in Teglia category. The following year, she won Best Non-Traditional Pizza at Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. In 2019, she won first place at the Caputo Cup in Naples, Italy, for Best American-Style Pizza, once again becoming the first—this time winning in a newly created category in one of Italy’s oldest pizza competitions. Eye of the tiger!
She explained: “I come from a competitive family, I have been surrounded with sports all my life. There was no question about it, I wanted to participate in pizza competitions. It’s the thrill of the fight! It’s like getting ready for your best vacation, all the planning and thinking ahead…” (I had to chuckle over the vacation comment.)
After almost 20 years of working closely with Gemignani in many capacities (she noted: “He opened the door for me, and let me decide if I wanted to run through it.”), Meyer is spreading her wings with this unique and ambitious pizzeria, and knowing what a contender she is, it’s only going to continue to expand and evolve.
The menu features four styles of pizza: Detroit, Sicilian, Grandma (all pan-style), and New York, with 11 kinds of creative toppings and combinations. It can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but you just need to decide what kind of pizza you’re craving: do you want the thin and crisp crust (with a slight chew) of the rectangular Grandma, or the fluffy and crisp crust with a cheesy frico edge of the Detroit? The New York is a bit thicker than an iconic New York slice—it has more substance. The Sicilian will have the fluffiest dough and give the fullest taste and smell of bread. If you love crispy, start with a Grandma (which has been a huge hit so far) or New York, and you can make your way from there.
Meyer mentioned there have been large groups of people coming in so they can share and taste their way through the menu together. If you’re doing takeout, she says the Sicilian travels the best and stays moist when you reheat it.
My favorite was...
But then there’s the RAY J (tomato, mozzarella, thin pepperoni, thick pepperoni, basil, burrata, fermented honey, shaved Parm)—this pie had such complex flavor and textures. What the menu doesn’t mention is it’s actually stracciatella, the sweet and creamy center of burrata, and it will make your eyes roll back in your head. Meyer also noted how honey can work like lemon and make things pop when paired with cheese. Try the RAY J as a New York for a lighter experience, or as a Detroit for more of a heavy hitter.
You’ll see her award-winning LA REGINA (tomato, mozzarella, arugula, soppressata, prosciutto, shaved Parm, EVOO), which was fantastic as a Sicilian, and it’s also the most expensive one ($37) with that imported proshoot (LOL, sorry). I can’t wait to return for the LIL’ONE (vodka cream sauce, mozzarella, garlic, basil, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano).
Her ingredient sourcing is both local (Columbus, Molinari, Central Milling, Stanislaus tomatoes, Corto olive oil) and international (she uses imported guanciale, prosciutto, and Parmigiano Reggiano), and she really values the personal relationships she has with her vendors. Meyer mentioned her customers are currently split on ordering meaty or vegetarian pies (that’s Berkeley for you).
The menu includes starters like arancini, meatballs, roasted garlic focaccia (a nod to her Focaccia da Laura pop-up during the pandemic), and more, plus salads (Caesar, chopped, arugula). There’s also a section of house-extruded pastas (including bucatini amatriciana, spaghetti with Dad’s ragù, vodka cream rigatoni, and eggplant with ricotta and bucatini), although people are mostly coming for the pizza for now—repeat customers are starting to check out the pasta. Look for some specials in the future, and she mentioned items like truffle arancini.
Slices ($5.50–$6.50) are available as cheese, pep, combo meat, or veg for lunch only (for now).
The wine list (assembled by Morgan Harris, Master Sommelier and wine consultant with New Deal Hospitality, also behind Le Fantastique’s list) is full of Italian selections, along with a few Italian varieties grown in California, and features women-led wineries; the beer list features six on draft, and you’ll also find four Italian-inspired, low-ABV cocktails and two no-ABV options (developed by bar consultant Christopher Presutti).
Fortunately, it’s a spacious location, with two levels that can accommodate groups, families, packs of students, and all ages. I loved the geometric, Deco-inspired murals by Carlos Sumang, which echo the style of the Deco corner building on Shattuck Square. Hours (to start) are Wed–Sun 11:30am–4:30pm and 5pm–9pm. 2049 Shattuck Ave. at Addison, Berkeley.
More East Bay Updates: Señor Sisig Opens a New Location in Oakland, Bisou Chocolate Opening a Storefront in Berkeley
Over in Oakland, Señor Sisig is opening their first cantina and bar on Friday April 14th (it will take the place of their original Oakland location across the street). Owners Evan Kidera and chef Gil Payumo started their Filipino-Mexican food truck in 2013, and now they have created a punchy space designed to celebrate the Town—a place for people to hang out, have a drink, watch a game, and tuck into the menu of Señor Sisig classic tacos and burritos, plus...
Opening hours are Sun–Thu 11am–9pm, Fri–Sat 11am–10pm. 330 17th St. at Webster, Oakland.
I know I haven’t been reporting on much Berkeley and Oakland news lately—I can barely keep up with all the SF news—but you can check out all the March openings in this Nosh post, and here’s a recent post with the latest updates.
An exciting piece of news is boutique chocolate maker Bisou Chocolate is going to be opening their first shop in Berkeley (near Berkeley Bowl West) around the end of June or so. (Thank you to tablehopper media researcher and diehard Bisou fanatic Rebecca Kinney for the intel.) They’ll be offering their meticulously sourced, bean-to-bar, vegan, and handmade chocolates and drinks to go.
Chocolatier Tracey Britton and Eli Curtis offer small-batch chocolates that are low in sugar and made from single-origin batches that highlight cacao from select regions with unique flavor profiles—you can taste all kinds of chocolate bars, from Brazil to Haiti to Ghana. They are also known for their hand-rolled truffles, dragonfruit dragées (candied California marcona almonds roasted in EVOO and sea salt, then coated in their Silk 78% chocolate, and dusted in dragonfruit powder!), and pecan turtles. They often highlight California fruits as well, like dates and citrus. Stand by for more soon. 2929 9th St. at Potter, Berkeley.
Closures and Changes
SF Standard dropped the bomb of news that the family behind longtime Tommaso’s Ristorante Italiano in North Beach (the Crottis) are looking to retire and pass the torch to the right buyer. Ooooof. (I literally just bought a vintage menu of Lupo’s, which brought the first wood-fired pizza oven to the neighborhood in this location in 1935.) See you there. 1042 Kearny St. at Broadway.
Broke-Ass Stuart reported on the unfortunate and permanent closure of neighborhood bar The Wooden Nickel, which couldn’t recover and reopen after the extensive damage from the New Year’s flooding in the area. 1900 Folsom St. at 15th St.
Enter to Win a 2023 San Francisco Wine Passport
Step into a world of adventure with the 2023 SF Wine Passport! There’s no better way to explore San Francisco than to literally drink it in.
You get 2-for-1 glasses of wine at 23 of SF’s finest locally owned bars and restaurants! It honestly doesn’t get much better than that. And after the past couple years, you really deserve some wine.
How does the San Francisco Wine Passport work? You start by buying one here. Then inside are coupons to 23 different bars and restaurants. Take the coupon to the bar and get two glasses of wine for the price of one! It’s like magic!
Just look at this lineup of bars and restaurants:
Waterfront Restaurant – CreoLa Bistro – The Barrel Room – Gratta Wines – Hotel Biron – Fig & Thistle – Cantina Los Mayas – El Lopo – BrewVino – The Bella Cora – Decant SF – Blush Wine Bar – Millay – ESSI – The Patio SF – El Chato – Buddy – Slate – Asiento – Arcana – & More!
You can also enter to win an SF Wine Passport right here.
Bubbles and More
Looking for a fancy Friday? This Friday April 14th, Hilda and Jesse will host a Champagne dinner with...
Funkify Your 4/20
Do you have your 4/20 plans lined up? Sure, Hippie Hill is fired back up once again, but if you want something a little less smoked out, I highly recommend seeing one of my favorite local bands for some extremely hellavated listening: The Seshen. I have been following their live shows since 2018, and am thrilled they’re going to be playing at my neighborhood venue, The Independent, which is where I saw them the very first time.
This dreamy, groovy, funky, electro-soul band is definitely one you want to see live, whether you partake in the herb or not. Lead singer Lalin St. Juste is so soulful and sensuous and I dig her dynamic rapport with the talented and lively six-piece band—they’re gonna make you dance and shake those hips to some trippy synths and galloping percussion. I honestly don’t understand why they haven’t blown the eff up, but I’m glad I’m always front and center for their local shows.
This will be the first show in their spring 2023 tour across California; Dani Offline and Spacemoth will be the openers. Tickets on sale now: $20 in advance, $25 at the door. 7:30pm doors, 8pm show time. 628 Divisadero at Grove.
When I worked in advertising in the mid-90s, one of the three partners of the ad agency where I worked (Goldberg Moser O’Neill) was crazy for Henry’s Hunan, and would sometimes take the creative team out to lunch there. I was just a traffic manager then, but Brian O’Neill and I got along, and he knew how much I loved food (I was good at ordering delivery for the many nights we’d work late), so I was invited to join the lunch crew one time.
I didn’t know we were going to get into a spice battle royale, but soon after we sat down, he started ordering dishes extra-spicy, and the competition got started: who could eat the spiciest food? It eventually came down to the two of us, and I recall we arrived at a draw, all sweaty and bleary-eyed and red-cheeked, but with another scoop of the house chile oil, my table declared I was the winner. Whatever, we were both dying from the inside for the next 24 hours.
It was a fiery introduction to Henry’s Hunan, but this place was one of my steady loves for lunch when I worked downtown, and for takeout for the past twenty-plus years. It started as Hunan Restaurant in 1974, from husband-and-wife Henry and Diana Chung, who really put Hunanese-style cuisine on the map (look at their New Yorker article below from 1976, proclaiming Henry’s Hunan “the best Chinese restaurant in the world.”). Their popular restaurant grew to six locations around the city (all family-run), but the pandemic and time have cruelly whittled their locations down to two: Natoma (since 1996) and Noe Valley. Honestly, I have never visited the Noe Valley restaurant, so I can’t compare them (but Noe is open daily, which can come in handy). The Natoma location is run by Henry’s friendly and kind grandson, Frank, who will greet you and say goodbye when you head out with your bag of leftovers.
It’s a great spot for lunch (a tough thing to find in SoMa these days), and if you can get three or four people together, you’ll really have a proper feast. After ordering takeout during the pandemic, it was wonderful to be able to return to dine in the restaurant—especially to be able to enjoy the classic Diana’s meat pie, fresh and hot outta the kitchen. It’s an iconic SF dish that any Henry’s regular knows well: two crisp, puffy, fried golden flour discs of their onion pancake (also listed on the menu) contain a super-savory filling of ground pork with onion, garlic, ginger, and hot bean paste that is topped with a layer of shredded lettuce, and, here’s the kicker: Parmesan cheese! It gets cut into triangular slices and looks like a Taco Bell Hunan-Mexican Pizza, I’m not kidding. (It’s like the Chinese American cousin to Northern Chinese xian bing.) You gotta order it on-site to fully appreciate the different textures and temperatures, it doesn’t shine as takeout.
A dish that the fire-eating O’Neill turned me on to that I always order is...
(It’s not listed on the menu at Natoma.)
Pretty much anything hot and sour here is fantastic: the fish, the beef, the chicken. And I have always enjoyed their hot and sour soup, especially when I’m sick (bring on the pickled cabbage).
Classics like dry sautéed green beans, garlicky eggplant, and kung pao chicken are next level—even the combo fried rice is notable (it’s loaded with plump shrimp). Order the cold chicken salad with peanut sauce and vermicelli to keep your palate cool (it’s such a perfect dish on a hot day). If you’re into bean curd, here’s your spot—they have multiple variations. On a recent visit, my friend and I tried the shredded pork, celery, and bamboo strips in spicy hot sauce, yet another fantastic dish.
You’ll notice the excellent knife work on the vegetables, the generous portions (most main dishes are just $15–$17), and once you become a regular, you’ll appreciate the consistency here, too. There’s a reason this place is an institution (hello, yellowed pic of Don Johnson, and Henry Chung on the cover of San Francisco magazine with Alice Waters and René Verdon in 1981 on the wall of fame at the entrance). If you haven’t been to Henry’s Hunan before, check it out in person if you can—this place is a true SF treasure. Just writing up this blurb makes me want to go back soon...
...and I need to pick up a reprint of their cookbook to add to my collection (they have it at the restaurant). Just no spice competition, okay?
110 Natoma St. at 2nd St.
Mon–Fri 11am–3pm and 5:30pm–9pm
I mentioned Henry’s Hunan in a chapter in my book: The Tablehopper's Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion (Ten Speed Press). Who knew I’d be referencing my own book in this section? Ha! My book dates back to 2010, and my recommended dishes haven’t really changed, so here you go!