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Somehow, you don’t think of sushi in the middle of Mill Valley.

OK, we’re wrong.

Samurai serves up sushi as fresh as the freshest in San Francisco… or Tokyo. And as creative. And as tasty. It should. Chef Brian Kim learned his trade from sushi masters and brings that training to Marin.  And that’s not all.  Service: accommodating and smart. Room: Looks like a Japanese sushi house.              Noise level: Moderate. Kid-friendly: Full marks. Price: Excellent value.

In short, Samurai is a find. If you’re in Mill Valley and feel sushi hunger or tempura craving coming on, look no further.

425 Miller Avenue;  (415) 381-3680

 

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A sign. It’s a sign of a good restaurant when, in good times and bad, weekdays and weekends, winter and summer, the joint is full.

At Ozumo, the joint is always full.

Yes, it’s situated between two hotels. Yes, it occupies a prime position between happening Steuart Street and the Embarcadero. Yes, it’s stylishly modern, with walls of wood, steel and glass. But in San Francisco, with more than 3,500 restaurants to choose from, none of that’s enough for continued success.

Ozumo creates success in several ways.

First is fine food. Sushi doesn’t get much better, whether in San Francisco or Tokyo. Their black cod pretty much defines perfection. The desserts approach outstanding.

Second is service. Your waiter knows the menu, knows the sources, knows the sake.

Third is that sake. It’s such a specialty of the house, Ozumo even has its own sake sommelier.

Two more things: (1) Like nearby Boulevard, Ozumo is designed to be a comfortable place to eat on your own. A seat at the lively counter ensures a convivial, hassle-free evening. (2) There’s a second Ozumo in Oakland, but we haven’t tried it.

61 Steuart Street;   (415) 882-1333

www.ozumo.com

 

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K’s Kitchen is sooo San Francisco.

If you’re visiting City College or hiking Glen Park, plan a meal at K’s Kitchen. K, a.k.a. Ken Deng, exemplifies the San Francisco experience. He runs — ran—K’s Kitchen. Though Ken has moved on, K’s continues — a restaurant that serves gnocchi, foie gras & tiramisu… and he, himself, is a Chinese San Franciscan, who’s a “self-learned chef.”

Deng has an excellent palate, the confidence to offer the fruits of that palate to customers, and the boldness to stir French and Italian items into a Japanese menu. The whole thing works — in a bold San Francisco way.

757 Monterey Boulevard between Gennessee St & Ridgewood Ave.

415 333-8500; www.kskitchen-sf.com

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Let’s start with location, location, location. Yuzuki sits on the edge of a micro food zone in the Mission. Across the street, a branch of Tartine, considered by some to be the best bakery in the world. Down 18th Street, San Francisco’s favorite market Bi-Right. Across the street, Bi-Right Dairy, an ice cream dream.

OK, that’s the setting. Inside, Yuzuki is a Japanese cube, roughly as long as it is wide, as high as it is long. It’s not where you’d go for sukiyaki or tempura but for that other Japanese specialty—perfect tastes. Everything at Yuzuki is small, carefully crafted and either made on premises — from fresh tofu to tea ice cream — or locally sourced. Owner Yuko Hayash has brought her native Osaka to San Francisco.

Our favorite dish is a starter—king trumpet mushroom with sesame sauce. Close behind it are the marinated fried chicken and the Hokkaido squid.    Portions are small but not tiny; service is efficient but not overbearing. And for sake lovers, not only is there abundant choice, there’s two sake tasting flights of four samples each.

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 6:00 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. and on Sunday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

(415) 556-9898;  598 Guerrero Street, corner of 18th Street; yuzukisf.com

 

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Shabu Shabu (TR: swish, swish) is a traditional Japanese hot pot. Almost-paper-thin slices of meat are swished through boiling broth and eaten with veggies fresh from the broth. The cooking is usually done by the diner at the table.

Opened in late 2012, Shabuway is a perfect example of a traditional Shabu Shabu restaurant that you’d find in Japan. Warm welcome, beautifully designed simplicity, highest standards of cleanliness, best quality meats. Those meats are raised on vegetarian diets with no antibiotics or growth hormones. It’s bought unfrozen and handled with care and, here, at a price well below what it would cost in Tokyo.

Shabuway looks and tastes and smells like Tokyo. We found it delightful and delicious. It’s ethnic food at good value and off the Tourist Reservation.

Here are some tips for when you go:

Tip 1: The Outer Sunset: Bring your best parking karma. You’ll need it.

Tip 2: Shabuway is just down the street from the unrelated Shabu House. Hey, you’re in Foody City, get used to it.

Tip 3: There’s an all-you-can-eat option for the very hungry.

Tip 4: If you’re new to Shabu Shabu, tell your server. Everyone at Shabuway is kind and helpful.

 

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We rate Louis’ Diner as the best ocean view and American bargain. That’s a winning combo.

If, after sampling San Francisco’s myriad ethnic eateries, yer jonesing for great American burgers and shakes, look no farther than Louis’ Restaurant. And speaking of looking, the view from Louis’ is an astonishment. As you dip your fries in ketchup, that’s the rocky shore of the Pacific Ocean right outside the window. It’s yours for the price of a burger. A darned good burger, a thick shake, sassy-diner service, and thou. Expect lines. You won’t be disappointed.

Three things you should know:
1. Don’t let the name fool you; Louis’ is a classic diner, not a restaurant.
2. If you don’t want to sound like you’re from Kansas, say Looies. not Lewis’.
3. Bring cash; Louis doesn’t do plastic.

902 Pt Lobos Avenue, Outer Richmond; 415 387-6330

 

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If you’re at the Moscone Center or in one of San Francisco’s museum districts (Third and Mission is flanked by SFMOMA, Museum of the African Diaspora and the Contemporary Jewish) and you want to eat where museumites eat, enter the mini-food zone of Yerba Buena Lane next to the big cube of the Contemporary Jewish, and stroll on in to Tropisueño.  It’s actually two restaurants in one.

By day, Tropisueño is a taqueria, a place for freshly made tacos, tostados and flautas at super-reasonable prices. When night falls, there’s a transformation into a full-service Mexican restaurant.

Like most of the museum staff, we’ve only eaten there by day. It’s impressive. Cheerful, speedy service. Friendly chef/assemblers. Tasty dishes. Big portions. And low, low prices. All in a seriously attractive room.

415 243-0299;   75 Yerba Buena Lane;  


www.tropisueno.com

 

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Brunch in San Francisco may be a wee bit different from the last time you took Mum brunching on Mother’s Day. This one is called Sunday’s a Drag. It’s in a 1930’s-style supper club called Harry Denton’s Starlight Room on the 21st floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. The room, the setting, the atmosphere are all drag-queen elegant: cut-glass chandeliers, major mirrors, bronze ceilings, too-sweet drinks and spectacular views of Union Square. The hostesses are all tall, thin, attractive young women in black, body-hugging, full-length dresses.

The brunch, itself, is hotel-standard: pretty good, if a bit under-seasoned. But never mind — you’re not here for the food. Who’s here with you? Locals and tourists. Gays and straights. Birthday boys and anniversary couples. Singles and families, teens and elders — in short, somebody just like you.

On a given Sunday, four performers strut their stuff: Donna Sachet, Kendra Monroe, Lady Tia and Cassandra Cass. Donna is the emcee. She handles the crowd with consummate skill, teasing the rubes but never ridiculing them. Kendra appears as Superwoman — big, bold and kinda scary. Lady Tia — well, she fooled me. During her first act, she was all Donna Summers; in her next, pure Whitney Houston. As for Cassandra, she’s a triumphal monument to modern surgery, a dancing definition of trompe d’oeil.

The crowd loved it, and if you’re up for gender bending on a Sunday morn, odds are you will too.

450 Powell Street; 415 392-7755; www.sirfrancisdrake.com

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Rápido y Delicioso

The knock on Mexican food in American restaurants is that every dish tastes the same. Tostados, burritos, tacos — the texture is different, but your taste buds will strain to tell one from the other.

That’s not the case at Papito Hayes, a small, skinny place in the culinary free-fire zone of Hayes Valley, close to the opera, ballet and symphony. Each dish here tastes distinctly different which may be the beneficial effect of a French chef-co-owner designing Mexican meals.

Ingredients are seasonal, local and organic — that’s become the norm in San Francisco, though not yet in many Mexican restaurants.

The sangria is moreish, the portions are generous, the price is reasonable. Service ranges from fast-but-pleasant to the Whatever Shrug.

Let’s run through those tastes…

Homemade guacamole: fresh, bold, a bit oniony. Beet salad: pomegranate, jicama, cantaloupe add distinctive flavors. Ceviche Papito: Best in San Francisco—roasted pineapple lifts it above the others. Tacos: Each one distinctly different from the others. Don’t miss the shrimp tempura taco. Arroz con leche: rice pudding made zesty with fruit.

425A Hayes Street (near Gough) 415.554.0541; Monday-Friday 11:30am-10pm. Saturday & Sunday 11am-10pm; http://www.papitohayessf.com

 

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I know it seems impossible, but in famously expensive San Francisco, you get delicious Cal-Asian Fusion food, an all-drag-queen show and a waitress you’ll never forget, all at a bargain price.

Where? AsiaSF, a so-San Francisco delight. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but once you walk in, va-va-voom!

We take out-of-town friends here without telling them where we’re going or what they’re about to experience. Not a one has been disappointed. AsiaSF — it’s an Older fave. Go, San Francisco!

http://www.asiasf.com 9th Street & Howard

 

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