3 San Francisco Ethnic Eateries

You can find good Vietnamese food in Paris, and there are a couple of nice addresses for Chinese food as well, but if there’s a good Korean bbq in the City of Light, that kalbi has yet to singe my lips.

When I come back to San Francisco, people ask me if I’m interested in trying the newest, hottest, most au courant restaurants in town. In general, I bypass those places and make a beeline for the ethnic joints when in town. And one of the best Korean bbq’s in San Francisco is located across from the Japan Center: Korea House.

Korea House

Hike upstairs into a large dining room, and slide into a booth equipped with a coal-fired grill. Seconds after you place your order, the waitress reappears with a multitude of tiny bowls filled with everything from spicy-red kimchi to cubes of quivering agar-agar jelly. I’ve learned if you have any Korean friends, it’s definitely good to invite them along, since you’re liable to get a few extra banchan that you might not normally be offered.

Sake

I love Vietnamese food perhaps most of all foods in the world. The flavors and ingredients are lively and fresh, and there aren’t gloppy sauces. In Paris, Le Bambou is the best of the lot, and in San Francisco, I can’t get enough of Pho Phu Quoc.

The first thing I order immediately when I sit down is a Vietnamese coffee. A tall glass filled with ice and a pour of sweetened condensed milk and a little filter of hot coffee dripping alongside into a thermal stainless-steel cup is brought out. Since it takes quite a bit of time to drip, ordering it right away is essential. Once that important task is brewing, I dig into a bo bun, a big bowl of cold rice noodles, grated cucumbers, lots of fresh mint leaves, slices of nems (Imperial rolls) and perfectly-bronzed slabs of the most succulent chicken you’ll likely to find anywhere.

Another places that I like to hit is San Jalisco in the Mission. The food, frankly, isn’t all that great. You won’t find any blue corn-soy tortilla chips or huitlacoche on the linoleum-topped tables, but the atmosphere is terrific. The very friendly staff keeps you plied with hot corn tortillas (especially important when your dining companion helps himself to the stack meant for you) and there’s lots of chips and salsa to binge on while waiting for your chicken mole or platter of roast pork carnitas to arrive.

Or you can start with a salad of nopales cactus with pickled jalapenos or Quesadilla Arturo, a piping-hot corn tortilla stuffed with melted Monterey Jack cheese, or Platanos Fritos—hot fried plantains with a cooling dollop of rich sour cream.

Korea House
1640 Post Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 563-1388

(UPDATE: Korea House is now closed)

Pho Phu Quoc
1816 Irving Street (at 19th Avenue)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 661-8869

San Jalisco
901 South Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA (at 20th Street)
(415) 648-8383

Note: This post was updated in June of 2010 to reflect the name change of San Jalisco, which was previously called Los Jarritos.

15 comments

  • Have you been to that Korean place in Place Saint Catherine? When I visited a friend in the Marais last year, I remember walking by and that it smelled really good.

  • Hi Connie: No, I haven’t been there but I’ve heard not-so-encouraging reports. I did eat at a place near rue St. Anne that was passable, but was still disappointing. The best Korean bbq I’ve ever had was in Los Angeles. Wow!..was are those places good…

  • hi, your site is great. i was wondering where i can find the tiny coconut you had in a flikr photo, thanks! leigh

  • Those are called ‘coquitos‘ and are available from Freida’s, which has lots of other really interesting fruits and vegetables too.

  • Now Korean food is one thing New York does have!
    Just visit 32nd street and eat your way from 5th avenue to 6th avenue.
    That we have..if only I liked it…

  • WAIT!
    There are 3 Le Bambous in Paris!
    Which one it the good one..on my…

  • I love the clear, chilled soup served at the end of a Korean BBQ meal. It calms your fire-tongue and seems to rub your belly, saying, “its ok, my soothing soup will help you transition back to reality.”

  • You should visit San Francisco more often–I’m getting several tips! (Tried the burrito you mentioned–I enjoyed it but do remain committed to La Taqueria.) Fair’s fair, so if you like noodle dishes consider wandering a little bit further out Irving Street and try So.

  • I used to work for the South Korean delegation to UNESCO many moons ago, and recall their favorite restaurant was on rue Miollis across from the office. While my aging memory doesn’t allow me to remember whether their BBQ was up to par, I do recall they had very good bi-bim-bop.

  • We visited a place called Korea House while in South Korea. Apparently, it was a place for foreign dignitaries to visit for a view (and taste) of historic Korea without having to go out on the town. I believe they made the ubiquitous kimchi out back (though perhaps that was just for show).

  • When you are in Seattle, try Green Leaf for amazing Vietnamese food. It is the best!

  • SF’s Pho Phu Quoc is “PPQ” to those of us who eat there weekly… next time try one of the “special grills.” They bring out dried rice paper, hot water, and all the fixins for a DIY spring roll, including succulent charred skewers of meat. Delicious! I’m glad to know others appreciate this place.

  • Next time you are in SF, try Bodega Bistro or Turtle Tower in the Tenderloin. The soup is amazing. I work by there in the Civic Center and can meet you!!;)

  • Next time you are in SF, try Bodega Bistro or Turtle Tower in the Tenderloin for pho. The soup is amazing. I work by there in the Civic Center and can meet you!!;)

  • I used to go to PPQ for pho until I discovered Loi’s not too far away at 2228 Irving St. Best Saigon-style pho in the City. The bun rieu (tomato based soup with noodles and lots of flavorful crab and shrimp paste) is also delicious.