to the Taxijazz
There are so many fine restaurants in San Francisco it's hard to choose. Since the price so often seems to be about $30 for a good meal what you really might want to know is what is good, and more affordable. In this review we determine that Lahore Karahi near O'Farrel & Leavenworth is the best restaurant in town.
So many cuisines, and you can't decide what to try, but with things like Ethiopian, and Bangladeshi cuisine; with millions of starving people in those places, I don't want to know. I think they mostly eat rice, a popular staple with Chinese and Mexicans too. So if you're headed for a rice plate where do you go? Chinese restaurants scare me; MSG and all, and you know pigeon really does taste like chicken. If you order Beef Chowmein remember that you don't see too many stray dogs in Chinatown. Be careful not to tell a Chinese cook to walk your dog. But If you have to, you might try Sam Wo on Washington St. in Chinatown for a laugh, and remember; the only thing they know how to make his Won Ton soup. After Chinese food you'll be hungry in an hour anyway, so just order Won Ton soup. Fried rice is out; maybe Tai Chi on Polk Street can do it if Chinese rice must be on the menu. For Mexican food it's pretty hard to screw up tacos, so any place in the Mission District might be OK, but I go to the El Tonayense taco truck at 19th and Harrison and get the same restaurant quality at half the price (call Ben Santana 415-559-0404 for more information). Or La Rondalla at 20th and Valencia for the entertainment (a great place). Among the Chinese and Mexican selections there is also a proliferation of Thai, so many to consider that I'm inclined to mispronounce Phuket (at Haight and Divisadero), but if you're planning to eat rice, be advised that the best rice in the world is Indian Basmati. So for this comparative review we will focus on Punjabi restaurants, commonly referred to as Indian and Pakistani cuisine. These restaurants have seemed to spring up all over town suddenly, and with a low price and quick service they might provide a healthy alternative to fast food. In our survey of Punjabi restaurants we will be comparing the experience of ordering Vegetable Biryani to go at 4 0'clock:
Starting with the worst, there's a place 941 Kearny around Pacific that is really horrible called Tandoori Mahal, If you're in that area you can find something better two blocks away at 533 Jackson St. on the corner of Columbus; Naan n Curry. They also have locations at Eddy & Leavenworth , 7th & Irving; and the location at 336 O'Farrell across the street from the Hilton is open 24 hours. Naan n Curry is like the local McDonald's of Punjabi cuisine, and I say that because the quality and taste seem to be consistent from one restaurant to the next at one time or another. Although that's good, it also makes me a little suspicious, so I relegate it to satisfy my late-night Curry needs, and only visit Naan n Curry at its 24-hour location. Actually, I have to say that Naan n Curry is one of the better choices. That other place at Pacific & Kearny seems to be somehow related to Indian Oven near Haight & Fillmore which I've heard is good, but never tried, and I'm scared after what I tasted at Tandoori Mahal.
Another atrocitiy is near the corner of 3rd & Bryant, Naan n Chutney (not to be confused with Naan n Curry). If you need Punjabi cuisine around that location I'd recommend starving instead. The nearby Chaat at 3rd & Folsom is a nice place to sit down, but I wouldn't want to eat there. So head to another part of town where the rice is nice. If you end up around Haight & Fillmore, and don't want to risk finding out if Indian Oven is as bad as their cousin, or whatever, there are some choices: The Vegetable Biryani at one Haight St. restaurant was pretty good but the price was high, the place stinks, and the service was lousy, and guess what, it's another Naan n Chutney. Half a block away on the corner of Haight & Fillmore there's yet another Indian restaurant; Raja, and I've never been there, but a customer who called for a cab from in front of the place told me that it wasn't very good. So if you're around Haight & Fillmore with three Punjabi restaurants to choose from I'd want to try a fourth; Rotee just a block East down Haight, but they are closed at 4 o'clock. They're all over town, so just go somewhere else.
At 16th & Valencia there is another trio of Punjabi restaurants, the Al Hamra on 16th has about the lowest price of all Punjabi restaurants, and you get what you pay for. Around the corner at 525 Valencia is
Maharaja, and you'll pay to sit in a nice place, and I'd like to ask if I could bring the food from around the corner. On the other side of Valencia down 16th there is Pakwan Restaurant, which, like Naan-n-Curry has several locations, however, their quality is not so consistent. You never know what you're getting get at Pakwan, 3180 16th St., but it's sure to be an adventure. I got something very different than the Vegetable Biryani that I got from their other location at O'Farrell and Jones. One thing that was the same was a Punjabi waiter, an apparently Hispanic cook, and the order was placed in Chinese takeout cartons (a typical phenomena with many Punjabi restaurants).
Now let's go back downtown to O'Farrelll Street. There's the 24 hour Naan n Curry across from the Hilton; then arount the corner at the Mark Twain Hotel on Taylor is a place called Sultan; sorry, not open at 4. A block West is another Pakwan at the corner of Jones, and up Jones is the Shalimar which refused to make me some Vegetable Biryani, so forget them. More competition nearby is at Eddy and Mason (about a block south of the Hilton); Little Delhi on the corner wasn't so good, but I sort of liked the richly colored interior for a place to sit in to eat; except that a Chinese guy decided to paint while I was eating, and I ended up getting in an argument with them about his choice of a bland pastel. Never mind, just across the street is the Punjab Kabab where the Vegetable Biryani rivals the lowest price at only $6.50, but with a little better quality maybe. They also give taxi driver discounts (that did not influence my rating), but I did pick up a good enough plate of rice and number of times, and it was always a pleasant experience. Going West on Eddy Street three blocks there is another Naan n Curry, then two bocks North back to O'Farrell, and around toward Hyde is Lahore Karahi. It seems that the vortex of quality for Punjabi restaurants rests somewhere around Polk St., and Lahore Karahi 2 ? blocks from Polk is definitely within the mix. On Polk at Post there is a romantic looking place that isn't open at 4 o'clock, but further up the street is Darbar at 1412 Polk Street; very nice people, a pleasant place to sit down, and food that's a cut above most of the restaurants mentioned thus far. It gets better a few block further up Polk on the other side of Broadway where Star Of India at 2127 Polk Street made some truly impressive Vegetable Biryani; Well worth $7.95. And the people there are also very nice, so I thought I'd try to see if I could get them to do a delivery all the way across town to the Big Dog City taxi lot (nobody else would). They asked me six times if it was dangerous in the neighborhood. I told them it's not a neighborhood, but I didn't tell them that the taxi company to the West had been raided by armed robberies, and that taxi company to the east got the same treatment; I just told them don't worry we're heavily armed here. The delivery was successful and I anticipate that I will try it again. Star Of India (not to be confused with those fools at Star India out on Geary) gets our rating as best in town for delivery (415 292-4173).
If you're not necessarily looking for a bargain, but just want good food, and something other than rice dishes, then go to the corner of California and Front, and around there you might find Schroeder's Cafe (at 240 Front) which is very good for a steak or something, or Tadich Grill for seafood (on California). Yes, near there at Embarcadero Center is Gaylord, another Indian restaurant, but with Schroeders, Tadich, and The Boulevard a couple of blocks away I never could force myself to try Gaylord (maybe it's the best). And by the way, if you want the best seafood you have to stay away from Fisherman's wharf. Go Tadich, the oldest restaurant in the city, and one of the best; or Sam’s Grill at Bush and Belden. OK, Scomas at the wharf is the best at the Wharf, but if you want a view you won't be disappointed at the Waterfront Restaurant at Pier 7 near Broadway and Embarcadero (better than anything at the Wharf). Or if it doesn't have to be seafood (or Punjabi), and you don't need to be in the Financial District, or around the water, then by all means head to North Beach. The Italian restaurants in North Beach are all pretty good. If this is getting too confusing, just stick to Original Joe's at 144 Taylor, perhaps the most famous forgotten restaurant in the world, copied everywhere, and one of the only places in San Francisco that still has a charcoal boiler. Steaks and chops and Italian food; huge portions with high-quality, and very reasonable prices.
You can invite me to lunch at California Culinary Academy near Turk & Polk, but it's unfair to rate them in this restaurant review. It's a school with some of the best chefs in the world, and shockingly cheap for the most elegant food.
So, after all this, what is the best Punjabi place? Well, Star of India for delivery, and maybe Punjab Kabob for take out, but I have to say the very best Punjabi restaraunt overall is Lahore Karahi. The kind owner is also the chef, head waiter, and cashier, and he serves the best tasting authentic homestyle Punjabi cuisine that we could find in San Francisco. He is genuinely concerned about customer satisfaction, and true to my feeling that I always like to be able to see the cooks in action, he pointed out some things about what you never know what they do in the back room. Serious about quality, integrity, and customer satisfaction.