Bay Area


Izumiya is a Japanese eatery in the Japantown district of San Francisco, and one I believe we’ve eaten at more than once. It’s located in the Kinokuniya Building, and like so many other San Francisco eateries (and unlike places in Atlanta) there is an outside display of food, so that people can choose what they want to eat. Izumiya has a large menu, with foods to fit almost any preference. They offer a huge variety of sushi rolls, a whole page of appetizers, and combos of various kinds. It’s a mix and match approach to eating, if you want a little something extra. Izumiya seems to be best known, however, for their okonomiyaki, served either Hiroshima or Osaka style. It had the distinct advantage that my mother-in-law, full blooded Japanese, was comfortable here.

Izumiya is proud enough of their okonomiyaki (a kind of omlette or pancake) that they inscribe the name of the dish onto the wrapper of their chopsticks.

Food, once served, was simple in presentation. There is nothing ostentatious in this eatery. This day we had a lot of bento boxes, a fair amount of yakisoba, and I had an okonomiyaki, since I had never eaten one before. The food in general was good, but not mind blowing. My wife was commenting that they used the right kind of yakisoba noodles. She’s not really fond of using ramen noodles instead of the kind she likes. My mother-in-law, I believe, got a bass dish she liked. Croquettes, fried round chunks of potato and other goodness were common on the table. The younger girls were eating curries any chance they could get.

my okonomiyaki is on the left of this plate.

yakisoba noodles plus extras

Service, as I recall, was pretty good. Please note though, this place was packed when we arrived, so the sheer number of customers made sure it wasn’t instant.

Verdict: Good, unpretentious eatery in Japantown, known for its okonomiyaki. Recommended.

Izumiya
1581 Webster Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 441-6867

Izumiya on Urbanspoon

Notes: Foodhoe has some excellent coverage of the various okonomiyaki here.

Koji Osakaya is, I’m told, a chain. My brother-in-law believes there are versions of this chain in Los Angeles and also in Japan. You can find web sites for this restaurant on the Internet, and search engines also turn up a location in Seattle Washington. The web site, though, only mentions restaurants in Oregon. It’s as if a regional portion of the chain has hijacked the website. Like most Japanese restaurants in Japantown, Osakaya has an extensive display of food in glass cases outside.

We came here on a day when finding a place for my mother-in-law to eat was paramount. She skipped a ton of restaurants and settled on this one. It was crowded. There was a line out the door. Most of the people wanting to eat here were Asian.  Once we got inside, the tables were largely set up as booths. There were thin wooden dividers between the booths. Wait staff was divided between helping out customers and working a “take out” window. Walls were yellow and black and there was interesting calligraphy on the walls. The seating felt a little cramped to me, more a Japanese model of how space is used than something out of the American West.

We took a look at the menu and ordered. I had never had yakuniku before, so I ordered that. My wife ordered tempura, my mother-in-law ordered sashimi. The girls (my niece and my daughter) ordered curry. Depending on what people ordered, miso soup or salads would arrive early, so those tended to be shared. The dinner plates arrived last. Many of these came with chirashi sushi along with the entrée.

yakuniku plate.

tempura

sashimi plate.

Curry ; my niece loves this dish.

I enjoyed the yakuniku. My wife wasn’t entirely satisfied with her food; I don’t recall why currently. The sashimi was good. The chirashi sushi was decent, but surely wasn’t as nice as what I’ve had at, say, Bishoku. Overall it was decent, the kind of experience you might expect from a mid range chain from Japan whose purpose was to feed Japanese at a reasonable price.

Verdict: Externally, visually impressive. A little cramped, a little harried, but decent food, and mother-in-law approved. Recommended.

Koji Osakaya
1737 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 922-2728

Osakaya on Urbanspoon

My brother-in-law lives perhaps four blocks from Japantown so we have a tendency to eat there, and eat there a lot. It’s a huge concentration of Japanese eating in a very small area, enough so that Blissful Glutton, in a moment of demographic incompatibility, declared that metro Atlanta had more Japanese eateries than San Francisco did. To note, that’s a comparison of a city of about 750,000 to a greater metropolitan area of around 5.4 million. The two regions are difficult to compare, because they’re not scaled the same at all. But that someone would attempt to compare Japantown, largely, to metro Atlanta speaks to the sheer depth of eating choices there, and the hard core immersion of the experience.

The area of San Francisco’s Japantown is tiny compared to the expanse of Chinatown. A substantial amount of it is within three connected buildings.

The Kinokuniya building is centered around the Kinokuniya bookstore, which surprise surprise surprise, does more than sell manga.

Notable about the Japanese eateries in the Bay area are the outdoor display cases, and the relatively inexpensive lunches. Even Benihana gets in on the act.

Inside the buildings, there are a bewildering array of stores, dealing in everything from fine art to pop culture.

Outside, surrounding the three buildings, are eateries of various kinds. There are Japanese restaurants, to be sure, but also Korean, Chinese, and Hawaiian eateries with a strong Japanese influence.

Mitsuwa Marketplace is a very large Japanese grocery, with five locations across the USA, and so well stocked that my mother-in-law’s friends in New York City know of the place. This grocery is pretty close to where Cupertino and San Jose meet, so much so that when I asked where it was, my brother-in-law said Cupertino. We stopped, in part because my brother-in-law was lusting to shop there, in part to just check the place out.

There are two restaurants, one bakery and a small shop that sells Japanese pickles inside the store. Compared to the setup of a Korean superstore, the produce and meat sections are relatively small. What the meat section does focus on is highly graded beef. The overwhelming majority of the meat offered is prime or Wagyu beef ( Wagyu most often in the form of American Kobe). The lowest grade I could find offered was “certified Angus“, which minimally is better choice or prime. A considerable portion of the meat was already cut for use as shabu-shabu.

Certified Angus or better, Mitsuwa largely sells very high grade beef.

The restaurants were Ramen shops. As is almost universal in the Bay area, the prices were much cheaper than anything Japanese in Atlanta and they all had display cases to advertise their food. From reading various newspaper articles posted in Mitsuwa bulletin boards, the food was pretty well received in the area.

They had alcohols the like of which I had never seen before, some distilled from fermented buckwheat, others from other grains. A couple minutes in Mitsuwa will dispell any notion that Japanese alcohols begin with beer and end with sake.  There are prepared foods, whole bento for those on the go and the bakery, nice as it was, was stripped during the Thanksgiving holidays.

In terms of size, as large as this store was, it could have fit entirely in the produce section of one of the larger Korean marts in Atlanta. The use of space in this store is very efficient, not wasted. The majority of space is reserved for items not requiring refrigeration.

Mitsuwa Marketplace
675 Saratoga Ave
San Jose, CA 95129-2052
(408) 255-6699

Fenton’s Creamery and Restaurant is well over 100 years old, and it maintains its heritage by making its own ice cream on site, keeping quality high and serving size large.  We were taken here by friends in Oakland, though it took a couple trips around the blocks to actually find parking. Once there, the ice cream was rich and memorable, the cream content high, the flavors delectable. Fenton’s is able to handle large groups well, and as we had about twenty kids aged 12 to 72 at our table, we felt well served.

Verdict: Excellent ice cream, good for families and friends. Very Highly recommended.

Fenton's Ice Cream Parlor on Urbanspoon

It’s called The Flea for short, the San Jose Flea Market, and perhaps the “Flea” part needs to be cut off, because it’s just a market, really, a huge one with a parking lot larger than the combined DeKalb Farmer’s Market and parking lot. It’s a bit larger than 4 city blocks, and the best part of it is the aisle of produce. It’s officially called Produce Row, it is quite a sight and alone is worth the trouble of getting there.

There is of course, more than  just produce. There are places to buy clothes, places to buy dolls and purses, used video games and inexpensive electronics. I saw two bands when I was there, playing music. There were a couple barber shops, places to get new audio in your car, art of various kinds. Places to eat were plentiful, but as we didn’t eat there, I’m not in a position to review them.

The Flea (San Jose Flea Market)
1590 Berryessa Road
San Jose, CA 95113

San Wang is a Chinese restaurant in the general vicinity of Japantown, in the Pacific Heights portion of San Francisco. My brother-in-law describes it as the food from a province of China close to Korea, so the food has Korean influences (i.e. Northeast Chinese cuisine). Others have described it as San Tung cuisine,  Shandong cuisine, or a mix between Shandong cuisine and the hybrid cuisine Korean-Chinese. Whatever it may be, they serve kimchi as an appetizer (or is it suan cai?), and have a large exotic menu. They are also noted for making their own noodles, enough so they’ve been featured in the local newspapers.

We came on an evening when we needed to feed several people, and were soon seated at a circular table with a carousel. There was a lot of back and forth about what to eat, so most people were given the opportunity to suggest one dish. San Wang clams and dry fried chicken were evidently San Wang’s best known dishes, according to my relatives, so we did order the clams. We deleted one dish from the suggestions, because it seemed like too much food. As it turned it, it was too much food anyway, but to start, we had wonton soup.

We ordered San Wang clams, and we also ordered dry fried crab. My daughter and my niece ordered a shrimp curry – my niece is beyond picky, but curries are the one thing in Asian cuisines she’ll eat. There was San Wang’s version of pea leaves, beef with broccoli and a small serving of Peking duck. The rice we were originally given was some kind of fried rice I believe, but after a while my wife and my mother-in-law ordered plain steamed rice.

The Peking duck came with crepes, a dark hoisin sauce, and a pale green vegetable that you were supposed to combine (duck + veggie in crepes with sauce). It wasn’t bad, even if I had never had the dish before. No, I had no clue what I was doing so I improvised.

The crab would have been better if we could have gotten something to crack the shells with. The shells were already cracked but incompletely so. The meat was tasty when you could get to it. The clams were excellent, as good as their reputation, and most everything else fell into the “pretty good” category.

Service was a bit hit or miss. Like many Chinese restaurants they paid more attention to us before we had our food. Service afterwards was there when the staff had time. I felt as if there were one or two waitstaff that knew what they were doing and the rest were seemingly in training, and that must have affected quality in general.

In summary, Lolia S. of Yelp captured my thoughts when she said it was a three star restaurant with a couple five star dishes.  Their portions are indeed generous. If I were to go back, I’d order less food in general and try to concentrate on the good stuff. I think I’d try to get a noodle dish as well, which seems to be part of their “good stuff”.

Other notes: when we initially arrived, almost everyone in the restaurant was Asian. That changed as we continued to eat, becoming an ethnic mix by the end of the meal.

Verdict: Good food in general, with a couple superior dishes. Service just okay. Recommended in general, highly recommended for the San Wang clams.

San Wang
1682 Post St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 921-1453

San Wang on Urbanspoon

Pizza Orgasmica was something of a compromise on a day when we couldn’t figure out what to eat. We knew my mother-in-law wanted pizza, though, and so we ended up at this Richmond eatery. The name, of course, creates a theme that they use repeatedly, even down to Pizza Orgasmica’s version of the Adam and Eve story.

It’s cute inside. The walls are covered in art, the tables are often painted pretty and bright colors. Some of the art is suggestive, as you might expect with a name like Pizza Orgasmica. It was casual, but it was also fairly loud. This isn’t a place where you can whisper a conversation.

We ordered three thin crust pizzas when we were there, a pizza called the latin lover, one called the hot mama, and my wife asked for a pepperoni, black olive and mushroom pizza. It didn’t take long, and pizzas soon arrived.

Latin lover pizza.

Hot mama pizza. More sweet than spicy.

These pizzas have a crust thicker than napolitano style ( 5-7 mm versus 1-2 mm for a napolitano), and it’s heavy enough and crisp enough you can hold a slice easily. In all honesty I wish the Atlanta “NY style” eateries would give up their fascination with razor thin neapolitan crusts and make them more this thickness. You don’t have the “watery crust in the middle” syndrome that strikes even the best neapolitan slices.

In terms of taste of pizza, the latin lover was good and my wife said it reminded her of nachos. The pepperoni was quite good. The hot mama was a good pizza, but a bit too much like a hawaiian (dessert) pizza for my tastes. I thought it would be spicier but the sweet of the pineapple tended to dominate the flavor of the hot mama.

Also, to note, Pizza Orgasmica has what they call a beer tower, which really is a long tube (think graduated cylinder on steroids) with a tap at the bottom. It holds 2.5 liters of beer, and so is a clever way to get beer for a crowd.

Service was good until the end. Our waitress went off shift after she served our pizzas and everything went downhill from there.  There just wasn’t any pass off to her replacement. It took 15 minutes and repeated attempts to get waitstaff attention to actually get a bill.

Verdict: Clever premise, good pizzas. Staff needs to learn to cooperate better. Recommended in general, highly recommended for the food.

Pizza Orgasmica
823 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 386-6000

Pizza Orgasmica on Urbanspoon

Kumako Ramen is a small neat eatery in San Jose’s Japantown, and after the drive from San Francisco to San Jose one day, my brother-in-law recommended we try this place. It’s a spare simple eatery with a straightforward menu and few frills.

We ate there. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law had shoyu ramen, my wife had miso ramen, and I had a spicy alternative called tan-tan ramen.  My brother-in-law had the clam ramen, which had clams but had a heavy Italian component to the ramen he ate. We also had edamame and gyoza as appetizers. The gyoza were nicely grilled and especially good.

Shoyu ramen

Miso ramen

Miso ramen

Tan-tan ramen

I liked the tan-tan ramen, the peppers and the ground pork added to the mix, the nicely regulated heat. There is very little staff in Kumako, just a waitress and two guys behind the counter but it works well, runs well, and I was grateful to be able to try this place.

Verdict: Inexpensive and good, this plate is a terrific little noodle house. Highly recommended.

Kumako Ramen
211 Jackson St
San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 286-2111

Kumako on Urbanspoon

New Sun Hong Kong is located at a series of crossroads. It’s formally classed as being in the North Beach district, but it’s a block at most from Chinatown. It’s a block or two from a number of  Italian eateries in the town, and just across the street from the series of strip clubs whose neon lights have provided background images for police movies over the past forty years. A block or so away is the City Lights bookstore, mecca for beat writers and poets, and where I’ve prowled on many of my San Francisco trips.

We arrived late to San Francisco and my brother-in-law was suggesting this place as an excellent late night eatery. As he was driving we didn’t have a lot of choice. Given the size of our party we were rapidly seated at a table, one with a rotating carousel, which eases the task of sharing food immensely.

Wonton soup on a carousel

We ordered a number of dishes, but I don’t have pictures of all of them. Some of them were:

Pea sprouts

Pea sprouts.

Fried tofu.

Fried tofu.

Baked clams with black bean sauce.

The pea sprouts were something I’d not encountered (or perhaps I had, but had no name for them), and they were delicious. The best dish we had that night were the baked clams, which ended up opposite me on the carousel and which half disappeared by the time they rotated my way. I think most everyone liked what they ate here, but the hour we ate (perhaps midnight local time, around 3am ET), left some of us who traveled with issues. However, my brother-in-law was right, this is quite a nice eatery if you need to eat late at night, and the service was about as good as any I’ve had in a Chinese restaurant.

Verdict: Great place if you have late night munchies. Excellent service in our visit. Highly recommended.

New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant
606 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 956-3338

New Sun Hong Kong on Urbanspoon

Notes: The blogger Food Hoe has done a series of articles on New Sun, the last of which is a really good read.

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