My colleague and I had an early Monday morning meeting at the San Francisco office, so we took the flight from Chicago on Sunday morning and arrived in the afternoon. We had some time to burn, and rather than just spending it cooped up in our hotel rooms, we took advantage of the small window of opportunity to check out downtown San Francisco.
There were two destinations that we had to visit, the first one was Chinatown, because my colleague loves Chinese food, and second was Japantown, because we both were craving west coast sushi. Aside from those particular destinations, everything else was up for grabs.
We hopped onto the BART from SFO airport and made our way to the Powell Street Station. We were appalled at how much a one-way ticket cost. C’mon San Fran, I’m not made of money here. As we made our way up the stairs to Powell, I noticed a crowd around the corner. They were all waiting for the arrival of the quintessential San Francisco icon, the trolley.
The funny thing was, hardly anyone got on, they all just took pictures of it and walked away right after…exactly the same thing I was doing. There was some fool who was chasing down the trolley as it made it’s way down the hill, he eventually caught up to it and jumped on. Maybe he was re-enacting a movie moment.
We did our best to avoid walking up the steep hills. I was regretting not packing sneakers, dress shoes can take a toll on the feet, and by the end of the day, my feet were quite sore. Eventually, we found our way to Chinatown, thanks iPhone GPS!
San Francisco’s Chinatown is much better than I had ever imagined. The last time I visited was about twenty-three years ago, so my return trip might as well have been my first. I always tend to compare other cities’ Chinatowns to the ones in Manhattan and Flushing in New York. San Francisco’s Chinatown felt like Chinatown. It was crowded, loud, and shop owners were hawking their goods at the pedestrians. Chicago’s Chinatown on the other hand, feels like a strip mall.
First deal of business was to find a place to eat. We decided on the R&G Lounge for some MSG-loaded Cantonese cuisine. My colleague is accustomed to Americanized-Chinese food, so I had to take him to a place that served more authentic Cantonese cuisine. Today, there would be no General Tso’s on the table. Surprisingly, he wanted seafood, and I knew exactly what to start out with…Salt Baked Squid and Clams in Black Bean Sauce.
We had also ordered the Beef Brisket and Turnip Clay Pot, but our server forgot to mention that the brisket had sold out. Points off for that. With our sodium and cholesterol count off the charts, we made our way outside to explore what Chinatown had to offer…for the most part, lots of useless stuff.
Every grocery store was pushing cherries. I noticed the first few stores were selling them at around $.79 a pound, but as I made my way through the streets, the prices got lower and lower, eventually finding a place that sold them for $.29 a pound. Leave it to Chinatown to find the best prices on groceries.
We stopped by a small park where all the old Chinese folk congregated. I could see my grandma chilling there, playing cards with her peeps and yelling at random folks as they walked by. From playing cards to Chinese chess, it was a really chill afternoon in that area. Shortly after, we had trekked outside of Chinatown and stumbled upon a small festival of sorts. Oh man, more food!
Something was going on, and the aroma of food in the air smelled delicious. Where else can you get Greek gyros, corn cakes, garlic French fries, fish & chips, and BBQ Oysters all from one place?!? Maybe I should’ve eaten a lighter meal.
My colleague couldn’t resist and bought a cup of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with ice. It was $4.00 with ice and $5.00 without ice. He was finished with it in no time…might have been a better idea to have spent the extra $1.00.
As we left the festival, we walked by a bunch artists chalking up the street with portraits and illustrations. Good thing that the weather held up, it would have sucked if it started raining. The next stop was Japantown, and it was about a mile and a half west from where we were. My feet were going to be in for a real treat.
The walk towards Japantown was arduous. It was uphill, then downhill, then uphill, then downhill…you get the idea. We eventually found our way to our destination and I think I had burned up all the calories from lunch by that time.
It was quiet when we arrived. No, quiet was an understatement, it was dead. Where was everyone? As we explored the area, we didn’t see many people. Was it because it was a Sunday? Was it because we scared them off? As it turned out, most of the people that day were inside the Japanese mall. There were many food options inside of the mall, but I already had my sights on Sushi Aka Tombo.
6pm had come around and it was time for dinner. After pounding my feet on the pavement for what seemed like an eternity, I was ready to sit down and relax with a bit of sashimi and seasoned rice. As usual, I ordered the Chirashi (scattered pieces of raw seafood over seasoned rice). I’ve been going around the Chicago area trying out chirashi at each Japanese restaurant and none of those places even came close to what I had that night. The fish was so fresh and plentiful, by far the best chirashi I’ve had to date. This just set a new set of standards of which to base all other chirashi’s on. To say the least, I ate slowly so that I could savor every single bite.
My colleague on the other hand, is a tuna addict. Naturally, he went ahead and ordered the Tekka Don (raw tuna over seasoned rice). That blew him away as well. He told me that it was the best he’d ever had. The price for what we ordered was rather decent too, priced at $18.50 each, it was worth every penny.
With full stomachs in tow, we made our way back to the nearest BART station and headed back to our hotel. I only wish we had more time to see other areas of the city. All in all, not a bad accomplishment in 5 hours time.