Photo Apr 13, 9 11 05 AM
Line for cruffins outside of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse on a Monday morning.

The other day, a girlfriend pointed out that San Franciscans (I guess I’m one now) are made fun of because we like to wait in line for things. In fact, we watched this video while we also were waiting in a line.

Compared to my expansive hometown of Los Angeles, San Francisco occupies a tiny space of roughly 49 miles (hence the 7×7 reference), with an ever-growing (hungry) population, looking to sample the best/newest/hippest things. It’s no wonder there’s a line everywhere you turn. In fact, I skipped out on Outerlands today for this sheer reason — I was too hungry, impatient and unprepared to wait. However, to say that this waiting game is played only in SF is a little unfair. The fact is people will go to great lengths for good food, no matter where you live.  

To that end, I made it a point to spend my 10-day staycation doing just that: experience the good food I’d normally have to wait for. Some of these places I’ve frequented, but others I’ve shied away from because of their lines.

Operation Line Hack: Los Angeles

For my roughly 6-day trip home to Los Angeles, I scheduled in quite a few meals to make the most of my trip, planning to beat the line at places that normally would have 30+ mins wait time.

Din Tai Fung at the Americana

Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings
Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings

Din Tai Fung is quite possibly one of the handful of restaurants my dad will wait for. I’ve been to a few locations, and like that this one is adjacent to a mall, so I can spend my time in Nordstrom while I wait my turn. I went with my parents on a Monday afternoon, and we were still met with a roughly 20 minute wait — the lunch crowd — but not as bad as the usual 45+ min wait on a weekend. And for those of you in the Bay Area, no fear! The soup dumpling chain is finally making its way to us, after much anticipation. Get ready to queue up this winter, while you browse the luxury collection in (former client) Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose :).

Verdict: Duh.


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Left: The Fairfax, soft scrambled eggs with chives and cheese, with bacon added, on a brioche bun. Right: The Slut, a specialty coddled egg in a jar with whipped potatoes, with a salad instead of a baguette.

Downtown Los Angeles is certainly making a comeback, and nowhere have I seen this more than in the Grand Central Market – hipsters rejoice! I’ve been itching to try Eggslut for some time now, but the last time I was in LA for a three day weekend, the line was too long to wait for, and we ended up at the equally delicious Sticky Rice for Hainam Chicken Rice (my kryptonite). This time, we were determined. A girlfriend and I stopped by on a Tuesday around 11am. Forgetting about the lunch crowd, we encountered a line that seemed to move pretty fast as we caught up over G&B lattes. The best part of the weekday trip to Eggslut was how easy it was to get a seat at the counter. It really didn’t disappoint, but I think you can’t go wrong with eggs, if you like eggs and breakfast as much as I do. I got the Fairfax sandwich, and added in a slice of bacon — best decision ever.

The next day, I found myself in downtown again with another girlfriend visiting from NYC. We walked past Grand Central Market and saw the empty counter and line-less Eggslut. Thought we just had lunch 2 hours before, we couldn’t resist. This time, I tried the Slut, an interesting take on coddled eggs, mixed with whipped potatoes (and copious amounts of butter, I’d assume). It’s usually served with a baguette, but i got it with a salad instead, having devoured the brioche bun the day before. No wait and still tasty. I’m not sure if I’d wait in a 45 min line for Eggslut — Fred 62 has pretty unbelievable breakfast sandwiches and are open 24 hours — but it was worth the trip.

Verdict: Would wait no more than 30 mins.

Salt and Straw

Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons
Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons

Larchmont Village has always been one of my favorite parts of town, and it’s changed so much since I’ve left, including the addition of this Portland-native ice cream shop. I stopped by on a Wednesday night with two friends after an indulgent meal of truffle pasta at Angelini Osteria. But, as everyone well knows, we women have a separate stomach for desserts 😜. The stantions outside of the ice cream shop indicated that long lines were inevitable, but seeing that we arrived 30 mins before closing, we lucked out on the lines. I’ve patiently stood in the Bi Rite Creamery line time and time again, so waiting for ice cream wouldn’t have been a problem for me. No wait was even better and it really did not disappoint. I got one of the shop’s best-selling flavors, the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, which was a perfect blend of salty sweet. I especially loved the partnerships the shop did with local schools to create ice cream flavors — very clever, though I was not adventurous enough that day to try.

Verdict: Would wait for ice cream.

Pok Pok Phat Thai

Pad See Eww with Pork
Pad See Eww with Pork

I’ve been highly fascinated with Chef Andy Ricker for quite some time now. Mainly, because his grasp of the Thai language is pretty excellent, as is his understanding of Thai, particularly Northern Thai cuisine. I have yet to make a trip to his first restaurant in Portland, Pok Pok, so was so glad to see he opened this hawker style/street food Phat Thai place in Chinatown (a neighborhood also going the hipster route). I met up with a few friends on a late Thursday night, around 8pm, and we didn’t have to wait in a line. However, the tables outside were in a wind tunnel, so we did sit in the cold to eat (did not feel like Bangkok). I appreciated Ricker’s attempt for the Thai-style feel: the self-seasoning of dishes, throwback Thai-style decor, and drinks that took me back to Thailand. And perhaps it was my fault for not ordering the namesake Phat Thai (I’m usually not a big fan of Phat Thai) and getting my staple Pad See Eww instead, but I was sadly not enamored. Yes, I believe you should season dishes to your taste before you eat them, but they usually do come seasoned to a degree. It also might be that I’ve just returned from Bangkok, where I had my favorite Pad See Eww of all time at Ma Yord Phak. Good stir fried noodles need to have that wok-burnt charred taste, which this was lacking.

Promisingly, I’ve heard positive things about Pok Pok in Portland and look forward to trying that, which has a wider selection of dishes.

Verdict: Drive a little further into Thai Town. Don’t wait in line.

Operation Line Hack: San Francisco

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?
Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?

Back home for a few days before I embarked on my next career adventure, and i found myself in the line I mentioned at the beginning of this post. A girlfriend thought it’d be a great idea for us to finally try the highly hyped cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. We met at 8am, when the shop had just opened, and proceeded to devour croissants and coffee before getting in the cruffin line. Cruffins came out of the oven at 9am, and there is a 2 per person limit. That day’s cruffins were brownie, so the filling was chocolatey. We were about the third group of people in line, happily filled our pastry boxes, then trekked to Grace Cathedral for a good walk to burn off the previous baked good before devouring another.

Mr. Holmes should get credit for their other baked goods as well. The regular croissant I had was on par with the ones I’ve had in Paris. The California Croissant was an interesting take on smoked salmon sushi in a croissant, and the Ferrero Rocher Choux Bomb was pretty….well, bomb.

The cruffin was indeed tasty, and interesting. The flaky croissant layers enveloping a cream filling was more of a dessert than breakfast to me, with its sugar sprinkled exterior.

Verdict: Try it once, but come back for their other pastries.

4505 Burgers & BBQ

Photo Apr 13, 12 41 54 PM

That same day (yes, after eating all those pastries), my girlfriends and I walked down to 4505 Burgers & BBQ. I hadn’t heard of this place before, but have always joked that if I wasn’t Thai, I’d probably be either Korean or Southern — I love BBQ and Southern food! The four of us got a few different items to try and share. The ribs and brisket were tasty, but I must admit, the burger was surprisingly amazing — juicy and prepared at just the right temperature. The sides were also to die for — the baked beans had pieces of pork in it, the coleslaw was creamy and peppery, and (not pictured) there was a fried mac n’ cheese side dish with hot dog bits that was delicious with some Crystal hot sauce sprinkled a top.

Verdict: How long is this wait, exactly?

Brenda’s French Soul Food

Crawfish Beignets
Crawfish Beignets
Pork Belly and Grits
Pork Belly and Grits (Not pictured: Tums for indigestion post-meal)

I couldn’t let my last day of staycation go to waste. After running a few errands about town, I plotted where I wanted to go eat — it was a toss up between Orenchi Beyond, one of my favorite South Bay ramen spots that just opened in the Mission, or this gem, Brenda’s French Soul Food. I’d heard so many great things about this place – including the inevitable weekend line. On a Tuesday afternoon around 1:30pm, there was no line in sight, so after a (heartracing) walk through the Tenderloin, I plopped myself on the counter to try what all this hype was about. I must’ve looked like a lunatic because in addition to the watermelon sweet tea (delicious) that I ordered, I also got an order of crawfish beignets and the pork belly and grits — enough food for two. (No, I didn’t eat it all, but also doggie bagged it for hubby to try 😉

The crawfish beignets were surprisingly delightful — i’ve never had savory beignets, but the bread was still a slightly sweet cornmeal. You really can’t go wrong with grits and a poached egg, so the pork belly dish was amazing, though a bit heavy for me, given all the fatty pork belly. I need to go back and try the gumbo and shrimp and grits.

Verdict: I’d wait patiently for 30-45 mins for this!

I still have about a dozen hyped, line-lingering places to try in San Francisco, but in all, I’d say most of the places I’ve been to have been worth the wait. I’ve waited for food in a few different cities — all with folks who love to eat, so really, it’s not just San Franciscans that “love” waiting in lines. It comes down to how patient you are for the prize 😉


Kin Khao

Kin Khao

To say I have been anticipating the opening of Chez Pim‘s Kin Khao is an understatement. I’d been following Khun Pim (In Thai, Khun, often abbreviated as K. in English, is a formal reference, like Ms.) for quite some time. Her book, The Foodie Handbook, has a permanent spot in my kitchen. I had longed to taste her (or her grandmother’s, as she frequently credits) chili jam, or namprik pao. It’s a traditional Thai chili paste, made with dried chilis — super potent, but delicious, with a hint of sweetness. My favorite way to eat this chili paste is with a squeeze of lime and with chiccarones, or just spread over some toast.  But I digress…

I finally made it to Kin Khao (which literally means “eat rice” – a term Thais use to say “let’s eat”) two weekends ago. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was anticipating traditional Thai flavors that K. Pim frequently mentions, but also playful explorations on Thai dishes. After a truthfully lackluster meal at the highly hyped Night + Market in Los Angeles, I braced myself, but went in with an empty stomach and an open mind.

Kin Khao is adjacent to the Parc 55 in Union Square, a somewhat hidden location, but almost fitting to me in that it reminded me of restaurants adjacent to/ in hotels in Bangkok. The decor is modern, with hints of kitschy Thai memorabilia that delighted my husband and our friend. Each table had a tray with chopsticks in an old pepper tin (vintage, cute!), forks and spoons (the proper Thai way to eat – not with chopsticks as many tend to think), cloth napkins, and the original Sriracha, from the town of Sriracha itself. I’m not talking the rooster from California (although a favorite in my household, too). This is the original for which Huy Fong’s creation was based off of. And it’s extremely hard to find in the Bay Area. The serving trays are stainless steel/tin with floral designs, reminiscent of the ones used each morning when taking packaged foods out to the front of the house to give alms to monks coming by. I loved the little details of home at this place.

We started off with drinks, delicious with hints of Thai flavors and not too overpowering:

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From left to right: Thai Herb Julep, Ladyboy Collins (mine – it changes colors from pink to purple. Get it? ;), and the Chow Suan Gin

Next, some small bites. Left is my friend’s favorite dish growing up, Yum Kai Dao, or Fried Egg Salad. It’s a simple dish, when done right, brings out flavors of home. I thought this was tasty, and especially appreciated the high quality eggs, but it wasn’t my favorite of this bunch. The Pretty Hot Wings, right, were also very tasty. They definitely had a kick and I loved the tamarind flavor in them. And, as crazy as it sounds, they were even tastier with more Sriracha to dip!

The next dish gets its own line because it’s my favorite thing here at Kin Khao (thanks to K. Pim for introducing it!). The Saeng-wah Salad is a modern take on a traditional Thai salad, the Saeng-wah (literally meaning “play-chastise”), which is basically shrimp crudo, made in a Thai style. It’s basically very ceviche-like (and probably why I love ceviche — these are my favorite types of dishes!), with a Thai kick – the red chili peppers are potent, so watch out! This is a traditional Thai dish that I’ve never tried, so I was pleasantly surprised. K. Pim kicks it up by pairing it with another Thai favorite, pla duk foo, or crispy catfish, also typically eaten with a salad of green mango that has the same tangy flavor. Served with raw shallots and red peppers, I could not get enough of this dish. I  basically ate the entire thing myself the second time we visited, as hubby is allergic to shrimp. More for me! I loved that K. Pim brought us over extra chili peppers, which I did make use of with this salad (mouth watering as I type…)

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Another thing I really appreciated about Kin Khao was that the rice, both red (Thai version of brown rice) and white were complimentary. It reminded me of how family style should be.  On to some meatier dishes, we tried the chili jam clams (pictured below), Kua Kling Ribs and Rabbit Green Curry (not pictured – was too busy devouring 🙂

I was really looking forward to trying the chili jam clams, and they didn’t disappoint. They were sweeter than I imagined, but I am also accustomed to the bottled chili jams. What I appreciated most about these were the size of these babies that you would not get at any mom n pop Thai restaurant. These clams rivaled those I purchased for my Asari Shio Ramen I made in the fall. They were huge!

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Chili Jam Clams with K. Pim’s signature Nam Prik Pao

The  Khun Yai’s Green Curry with Rabbit was also an interesting take on your traditional green curry. The curry flavors didn’t stand out as much as I had hoped — definitely heavier on the coconut milk side, but the rabbit meatballs were so tasty, and the rabbit meat was not gamey at all.  I imagine the second day for this curry as a leftover would have more intense flavors, as curries only get better the longer you keep.

I’m disappointed I don’t have a photo of the Kua Kling Ribs because they are my husband’s favorite, and the item he ordered again on our second time at Kin Khao. The flavors of the rib tasted like the curry was really homemade — like chopped and pounded with mortar and pestle with love to create this dish. I’ve had this traditional southern Thai dish in many places (including Night + Market and authentic Kua Kling in southern Thailand), and this was pretty close to what I remember eating in Thailand. It wasn’t too soggy, and like many curries. was even more intense as a second meal (as proven by my dinner the following day).

We ended that night trying the dessert on the menu, the Black Rice Pudding Dessert. The first thing I appreciated about this dessert was that she calls it what it is in Thai: Black Rice. It ain’t forbidden – it’s my favorite type of rice. The texture of black rice is a bit heartier, much like brown rice. It’s served paired with coconut milk (a must!) and caramelized palm sugar (yum – so rare), as well as crispy rice flakes. Last weekend when we visited again, my husband lamented that he really wanted to have this again, but we were sadly too full.

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Black Rice Pudding Dessert, served on those aforementioned trays

Our second visit to Kin Khao was primarily to catch the Crab Sen Jan noodles before crab season was over. When we arrived, K. Pim sadly reported that they had already ran out of crab for the season (sad face) but not to fear, she had something else for us to try.

We ordered our favorites: the Saeng-wah Salad and Kua Kling Ribs, and also tried two new items: The Mushroom Hor Mok and Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom.

The Mushroom Hor Mok is a vegetarian take on another traditional Thai dish, made by steaming a paste mixture of fish, coconut milk and curry. I’ve helped my mom make this dish growing up, and remember tasting it raw (and having her chastise me for sticking my finger in the batter). K. Pim’s version of this dish goes the vegetarian route, and combines another Thai favorite, khao tung. A traditional Thai snack/small bites dish, khao tung, the rice crackers seen here, are eaten with a savory mixture of coconut milk, peanuts, caramelized onions and ground pork. The hor mok is served in a pot de creme style, eaten with the khao tung (it’s normally eaten with regular rice).

This was definitely an interesting flavor for me, again, not as intense as a curry, but there was something addictive about the mushroom version. K. Pim explained that they used agar agar (ผงวุ้น in Thai) to thicken the hor mok, since it was vegetarian and the properties that fish provided to the paste could not be achieved. I thought that was so amazing, because I didn’t notice a difference in the texture very much at all. And, like the rest of the curries I tried, the flavors became even more intense on the 2nd-3rd day of this hor mok’s life — delicious!

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Mushroom Hor Mok

Moving on to the northern region of Thailand, another dish I was keen on trying was the Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom. Sai Ua is the sausage, pictured below, made with similar flavors as the Kua Kling (although North and South, we realized the flavors were very similar). The intensity of the herbs comes from the kaffir lime leaves. It’s served paired with another northern favorite, Nam Prik Noom. Traditionally, this is a bright green chili paste made from green peppers finely minced. K. Pim creates a more salsa-like version here with roasted peppers, which give it a unique, albeit still intense flavor. It’s also served paired with homemade chiccarones (need I say more?) and quality, fresh vegetables. I’ve never had butter lettuce with nam prik noom, so I couldn’t stop munching on that!

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Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom

The last item was truly my Ratatouille moment — the dish K. Pim said was a surprise. I have not seen it on the menu yet, so I feel very blessed and fortunate she made it for us! It was a dry version of a chili paste, dry fried with deep fried kaffir lime leaves. Pla Duk Foo Prik King — basically taking the crispy catfish and frying it with the traditional prik king paste. Most chili pastes are eaten paired with salted eggs, so K. Pim brought some of that over, too. We could tell they were homemade — the consistently and level of saltiness reminded me of my mother’s precision in timing how long she wanted to salt eggs. Store bought salted eggs are often too salty and lose the right consistency in the egg yolks. These were perfect. And it all tasted like home. Moreso because I had a similar bottle of this prik king at home from my mother. K. Pim’s version was meatier and sweeter and I nearly shed tears of joy when I ate this all paired together over rice (I really was that happy).

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Pla Duk Foo Prik King with Homemade Salted Eggs

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Thanks to K. Pim for delectable experiences at Kin Khao, complete with the Thai hospitality. I can’t wait to come back!

My husband describes it best when he says Kin Khao isn’t your average Thai place in the States, which seeks to mimic the down-home-comfort flavors at a simple, family-style restaurant (and not to say I don’t love those!). As a Bangkokian (?), Kin Khao is that place you’d go on a Friday night with friends — the hip new place that’s reimagined the flavors you grew up  with into something magical.

Kin Khao: At the Parc 55 hotel in Union Square, San Francisco

Vampire Tendencies

Vampire Tendencies

Trying to get back into a regular cadence of posting. Being on vacation more than a month ago and the curveballs of life have thrown me off from daily routines (including proper diet, sleep and exercise)….

Eating pig parts has never seemed “exotic” or weird to me, as it’s something I grew up with. My mom often says that the Chinese (and those cultures with Chinese-based population, including Thailand) don’t let food go to waste — every part gets used. So when pig ears became popular at new restaurants, I had to chuckle a little bit. They’ve always been a favorite of mine growing up. Something else I grew up eating lots of was pork blood. Eaten in many different forms by many Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, I grew up with it in soups and some curry dishes. One of my favorite comfort foods, often served at breakfast, is a soup with ground pork, pork blood, vegetables and pig parts, usually kidney, stomach, intestine — you name it.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized a popular Northern style noodle dish (not khao soi) used pork blood as well.

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kanom jeen nam ngiew: a Northern style curry noodle dish, with a tomato-based curry containing pork, pork blood and eaten with pickled cabbage and bean sprouts. Here, a homemade version from Mama V 🙂

You’ll be surprised what other Thai favorite dishes contain blood. I mean, how do you think boat noodle soup is that color? Granted, the versions in the US aren’t really heavy on the blood.

As I began exploring other culture’s foods, I was pleasantly surprised to see other countries didn’t waste their food either. Morcilla, or blood sausage, is also a favorite of mine. Somehow, having the blood mixed in with the sausage provides depth and texture to the meat. The Taiwanese have also perfected the culinary art of transforming pork blood into tasty forms by mixing it with rice cakes. I first was introduced to this form by some Taiwanese friends while we were at Taiwanese hot pot (which should never be confused with Japanese hot pot, but is equally delicious). The pork blood is mixed with glutinous rice cake, masking the iron-y taste of the blood but producing a unique flavor that is delicious in hot pot, but equally as tasty in a street food version.

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Tawainese style pork blood cakes, here in a street food version. It’s sprinkled with peanuts and eaten with a thick peanut sauce.

Perhaps my favorite pork blood product is in (surprise) Korean food. I’d first heard of soon dae from Korean dramas, then had to look it up to see what the big deal was about. Made with pork blood, rice and Korean vermicelli noodles, when done correctly, soon dae should be flavorful and not have an overpowering iron-y taste. It’s often served as its own dish, with other porky friends — heart, lungs, intestines, kidney, liver — a soup, or as a spicy noodle dish (soon dae bokkum).  It’s eaten dipped in a Korean sea salt/pepper mixture, with  Korean spicy sauce, and sometimes a Korean shrimp paste.

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A typical soon dae plate. Counter clockwise from right: Soondae, lungs, heart, stomach

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Left: A Korean fermented shrimp paste, eaten with the meats. Right: Korean Salt and Pepper to also eat with the soondae

I’m used to fermented shrimp paste, as Southeast Asians consume a version called kapi. This version was much more pungent and equally as tasty. If it weren’t for it’s saltiness, I’d tried to consume it plain.

One of my Korean friends, Sun, took me to the best soon dae place I’ve ever been to, of course in Los Angeles. Eighth Street Soondae is a mom n’ pop run shop in an unbeknownst area, off the normal beaten path of Koreatown.  And because I can’t always go for soondae while I’m in LA, I’ve finally found a place in the Bay Area to satisfy my cravings (suggestions always welcome for new soon dae places to try!). Obok is located in the small Korean community area of the South Bay. I’ve realized that soon dae restaurants don’t get many reviews on yelp, so I gave this place with only 5 reviews a shot. Gladly, it did not disappoint. Now, I just have to curb my visits here (to get back into the aforementioned diet/exercise routine) for when I really want some comfort food. 🙂