Nibbles and drinks while Shopping
One of my favorite holiday traditions is my partner and I stealing the time to spoil ourselves a little with nibbles and drinks that we normally wouldn’t splurge on. It’s kind of our holiday gift to ourselves. I recently mentioned some the local places we love to shop around town. Here are the local places we’ve found that have spectacular treats for mid-shopping breaks. Downtown Cheap, but Excellent! Mehfil, near Market and 2nd, is a bit out of the way of the main shopping districts in town but not by much. During the week, they have some of the cheapest prices on some of the best carryout Indian food in town. Their menu vaires, but our favorite, that’s available every day, is chicken tikka masala. All the specials cost around $7 cash. Naan will cost another $2. They’re super kid friendly! By kid friendly, I don’t mean that they have a ball pit, or blow-up animals, or coloring books, or a ferret. I mean we usually send the kids, (7, 5, and 3 years old), in to handle our entire order. They cruise to the carryout counter in the back, make their order, put the food in a bag, take it to the cashier, pay, and head back out to find a place outdoors to eat with us. Uncle Vito’s, 700 Bush St., is our other standby for cheap, excellent food downtown. You’ll have to walk two blocks up the hill from Union Square on Powell to get to it, but it’s worth it. The pizza is excellent, but also think about trying their lunch specials. Most of them are big enough to split. My partner and I usually share a Caesar salad and whatever their pasta special is for the day. If you’d like to have a drink, or two, or three, (seriously, the public transit around here is liberating!), they have a house red that was $2.75 a glass at the time of our last visit. Midlevel price If you head out to shop at or near Gumps, (they’re closing forever on the 23rd of December, so this year is your last chance, and at this point almost everything is 60% off), there are two places you should stop to eat, depending on whether or not you have the kids with you. If you’re with children, head to the Irish Bank, 10 Mark Lane. It’s got seating in an alley that gives kids a place to run around and blow off steam. They also have really good, (although slightly pricey), slow-burn carbs like cheese fries and mac ‘n cheese. If you’d like to try their Irish fare, it’s delicious. My personal suggestion would be the Shepherd’s Pie. Another of my favorites when I’m lucky enough to get their on early on the weekends is the Irish Breakfast featuring Bangers and Mash, Blood Pudding, and Beans. Yum! If you’re looking for something a bit more fancy, you know, because you don’t have the kids with you, then head for Herlen Place just at the other end of the alley at 334 Grant Ave. This establishment has changed names a few times over the years, but it’s always basically the same, a cozy little place where you can get a glass of wine, and some food. The food is OK. It’s the atmosphere that usually brings us here. If I need a place where I can quietly collect my thoughts or review my shopping list, I head for Herlen. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass or the bottle, and serve fun charcuterie and cheese plates. If you want to take the kids, it could be a bit pricier because of the food, but it’ll be fun. There are couches to sit in, and it feels fancy. If you have kids that like the Fancy Nancy books, this is just the place. Once your done here, think about walking through the Chinatown gates only a few yards away to pick up stocking stuffers at all the kitschy little stores there. Pricier but Worth it I’ll start with the priciest on the list, and the most amazing. If you’re in the mood for a dish you might want to share—because of the price—everything, and I mean everything, (including the brussel sprouts), at Scala’s, 432 Powell is delicious. Their prices are a bit up there; expect appetizers in the $15 to $25 range. This is a place we’ve only taken the kids once. Kids are more than welcome, but this is kind of our hangout where we have ‘alone’ time. The service is phenomenal, the atmosphere is casual but swank. You’ll feel like a grown-up again. Their cocktails are similarly expensive in the $12 to $18 range, but they’re so yummy! If you have the time, and the cash, (we only hit here a few times a year), Scala’s rocks! If you’re shopping takes you to the Metron or the Westfield Mall, keep the nearby Keystone Social House, 68 4th St., in mind. The bar usually has a few stools open. The cocktails are excellent. The food is small, but tasty. There are several nearby liquor stores. I mention this because when we were shopping for a new bottle of Bourbon for the kids grandfather, in between our two cocktails, the bartender gave us terrific advice on what brand might work the best, and let us sample a few sips. Clearly super-nice folks! Almost as expensive but not nearly as cush is The Tadich Grill, 240 California St. If you want to see the blustery, blow-and-go world of the downtown financial market while you’re shopping, this is the place. Be prepared to sit at the bar. If you get their during peak hours—say noon—be prepared to wait to sit at the bar. The atmosphere is intense, but purposeful. I feel important every time I go there, at least I enjoy watching all the other people who obviously feel important. The calamari is delicious and comes in at $14. Their cocktails are stiff, but yummy. I’d go for a Manhattan, (the straight up version may in fact just be a glass of bourbon), or an Anchor Steam, our local beer. They’ll serve you an Irish Coffee, but don’t do that here, save that for the Buena Vista. Which brings us, of course, to the Buena Vista, 2765 Hyde St. The cocktails are cheaper than Scala’s although this place is way out of the area I’d normally suggest shopping in; for me it’s more of a reward destination for having completed my shopping. If you‘d like to get their easily pickup the 30 near Sutter and Stockton. If you’d like a bit more adventure, pick up the Powell-Hyde cable car. (If you’re a local, and you have a clipper card, try walking one stop up the hill from the Powell and Market turnaround, noncahlantly hold your clipper card in your hand, make eye contact with the driver, and wave. There are usually a few seats left, and you can skip the line.) Getting back to the Buena Vista, the cocktails are $9. I know this number so exactly because there’s only one cocktail you should have here, ever. The Irish Coffee is to die for. Legend has it, and I believe it, that this is the restaurant that brought Irish Coffee to San Francisco, (if not all of America). The food is good, but pricey for what you get. Don’t feel guilty about just sticking to Irish Coffee. If you bring the kids here, the French Toast is a favorite with our gang. It’s cut into triangles that are easy for kids to pick up and dip in the little bucket of syrup that comes with the dish. West Portal If you’ve hit the comic book store, toy store, and multiple nic-nak stores on West Portal, Mozzarella Di Bufala on 69 West Portal, is a great place to grab lunch and a beer on your way home on one of the MUNI trains that zip in and out of the neary tunnel. They have good pizza, and cushy booths to sit in. We frequently stop here to read our funny books after a trip to Two Cats Comics down the street. The staff is really friendly. The atmosphere is calm. If you’re just not in the mood for pizza or pasta, try Tsing’s, (361 West Portal), at the other end of West Portal from the MUNI station. The atmosphere isn’t as cush, but the air’s warm and full of the aroma of Chinese cooking. The staff is friendly, there’s always semi-calm musac playing, the egg-drop soup is excellent, and the bathrooms are clean and easy to find at the top of the stairs in the back. I'll add more to the list as they come to me. What are your favoriate holiday shopping hangouts?