San Francisco Reviews, Part 1
I have lived in San Francisco, the City That Sleeps Fitfully, for just over three weeks now. Periodically, I will review various things I encounter in the big city, as both a guide and a cautionary tale to loyal readers of Zembla located in more remote, less idyllic places than my home, San Francisco, Baghdad-by-the-Bay-Without-All-The Bombing-And-Poverty-And-Imperialist-Bechtel-Overlords.
Review One: Axum Cafe:
Axum Cafe is an Ethiopian restaurant located at 698 Haight Street. There is another Axum Cafe on Polk Street, which is large, fancy, and features live music. This Axum Cafe is smaller, cheaper, and features no music at all, save the rumbling of one's belly in anticipation of tasty injera (flat bread). There are a lot of apparently unaffiliated places in San Francisco that have the exact same name. Some are more general, like the three different Thai Houses I have seen, two of them within a quarter mile of my apartment. I have seen three taquerias named El Castillito as well. I don't know if any of these are such great names as to inspire a host of imitators, but I don't know from Ethiopia.
Anyway, Axum Cafe. The food is extremely cheap, and you get a lot of it. What you don't get is utensils. Or smiles from the wait staff. Although a vegetarian entree could be as cheap as $3.75, a can of Coca-Cola was $1.50, I think, which either reflects a bold grab for carbonated sugar water profit, or perhaps a subtle discouragement of Coca-Cola products in solidarity with slain Third World union organizers. I had an Anchor Steam. I shared a big sampler dish with a friend that contained all of the potential veggie options. All of it tends to look like baby food, and you compound that impression by eating with your hands, but it was quite good. I liked the dish made with garbanzo beans and the one with potatoes the best. Our more carnivorous dining companion seem less than enthused with his meat-based dish, but Ethiopian food and the expand-in-your-stomach bread is an acquired taste, so it may not be a comment on that particular dish. Anything vegetarian is a safe bet, says I.
The weirdest moment in our dinner experience came after I went to pay the check. None of us had sufficiently small bills to split up the check, so I went up to pay the bill and change a twenty at the same time. The waitress handed me two tens in return. I said, "That's just not going to do it," and eventually got some fives and ones.
Grade: B. Food is delicious, corners are cut.
Review Two: Memphis Minnie's BBQ Joint
I didn't actually go into this place and eat, but the marquee outside features a pig in a chef's hat. Even though the place serves various pork dishes, the pig looks so happy. The joyous expression says to passerby, "Come on in and eat my porcine brethren! We're delicious!" Also, the pig's hat says "Bone Appetit."
Review Three: Walking around everywhere
After I returned my car, Shakes, back to my parents' home in Pleasant Hill, I didn't enter a car for the next two weeks. My monthly MUNI pass (criminally going up $10/month on September 1) and my own two feet have been enough for me to commute back and forth to work, and explore the Mission, the Castro, and Nob Hill (so far).
One thing that one notices when traversing San Francisco on foot is how much geography determines distinctions between neighborhoods. Gene Wood noticed similar things, on a much larger scale, while exploring America on his motorcycle. Neighborhoods in San Francisco are generally divided by parks and enormous hills. I wish that topography were more emphasized on maps and in education.
The only downside I find in walking many miles every day is still being fat afterward. We'll see how that goes.
Review Four: People jaywalking while pushing baby carriages
This happens quite a bit in the City. I haven't seen anyone get hit, or even have a near miss, except this one time when an old homeless woman was jaywalking and this bus came through an intersection at over 50 MPH and totally smacked the baby carriage and I was like oh shit but then the carriage turned out to be full of aluminum cans and I was like whew.
Drivers are more skillful in San Francisco as compared to Berkeley, but they're also a lot more reckless, so it's probably an even tradeoff. I personally jaywalk a lot less than I did back in Berkeley, mainly because streets are wider. The wild card element to the eternal pedestrian-motorist struggle in San Francisco is the new pedestrian signals, which count down how many seconds a pedestrian has left to cross the street. Though these are intended to promote safety, the unintended consequence is that drivers, seeing the countdown, can anticipate the light change better, which often leads to drivers hitting speeds of 45-50 MPH to try and beat the yellow.
Review Five: Cheap Burritos at Church and Market
There's two burrito places on Church Street and Market, right by the N Judah stop and across the street from the giant "cruisey" Safeway (I have shopped there a few times and not been cruised yet, unless I didn't realize it). One of them is the aforementioned El Castillito (other ones are in the Mission). That place offers a veggie burrito for $3.25, though carnivorous burritos are extra. They also charge extra for a minimal amount of chips. I had an el pastor burrito. Alright, but nothing wonderful.
The second place is better. They have tastier meat, nicer counter staff, and chips at no extra charge. Look, for cheap burritos, I want to be able to pay with a five, and this place gets it done for $4.65, including tax. I have gone twice, getting chicken burritos each time, once with "spicy" red sauce, and the other time with a milder green sauce. Both were good, and even traveled well. I think a burrito that survives a jaunt from Church Street all the way to Pac Bell Park with its flavor intact is a burrito that earns my respect and endorsement.
Grade: El Castillito, B-. Other place, A-