Daly City and South San Francisco, the closest neighborhoods to the Cow Palace, are the blue-collar backbones of the Bay Area. They aren't exactly highlighted as tourist "hot spots" - in fact, one tourism book infamously declared, "If Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, then he left his spleen in Daly City."
But if you happen to be attending a convention at the historic Cow Palace, and you need a quick bite to eat, there are several Hawaiian and Filipino eateries well-worth checking out. Daly City has one of the largest Filipino communities in the entire U.S., so Filipino food restaurants like Nick's Kitchen serve the real deal.
And this area has more to offer than just quick bites, too. If you're in an adventurous spirit - maybe even a little sick and tired of Mission hipsters or the crush of downtown techies that have swamped San Francisco - then take some time to explore these neighborhoods rich with old-school San Francisco charms. If you happen to be in town before January 2014, then make sure you stop by historic Joe's of Westlake, a South Peninsula institution that will be closed for most of 2014 for a complete remodel by its new owners. Many of these restaurants could easily be bought out and replaced by hipper -and more expensive - menus, so be sure to catch them while you can.
Known for its excellent hardwood grilled steaks, chops and seafood, Birk's became a South Bay institution the moment it opened its doors in 1989. If you're interested in the Silicon Valley crowd, a little different than the average football fan, you should check out Birk's. In their own words, Birk's serves the "Silicon Valley's business professionals, travelers, deal makers, mavericks and culinary aficionados."
The Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence has been awarded to Birk's for nine consecutive years, so it's definitely a great choice for those who love wine.
Birk's also opens at 10 am on 49er Game Day, so it's a great choice for a pre-game meal. (408-980-6400)
Simplicity and authenticity reign at this small, popular restaurant. Zinc tabletops and exotic hardwoods bear this out, as does the incomparable Italian fare with its top-notch ingredients. Treat yourself with grilled calamari salad, braised rabbit, steak frites, roasted chicken, or salmon with fresh vegetables. Although Delfina has garnered much acclaim since it premiered, the trattoria still delights with casual ambience, friendly service and satisfyingly reasonable prices – all boons to dining aficionados. Delfina is highly regarded not just locally but nationally, so if you have time for only one Italian meal on your trip, you can't go wrong with Delfina. (415-552-4055)
Nopa defies categorization as either old or new because it has some of both. Although it's only been around since 2006, chef Laurence Jossel worked at several traditional and popular restaurants before Nopa and brings professionalism and expertise to every dish. But tradition bends to experimentation, and that wonderful blend creates some of Nopa's most famous dishes, such as Moroccan vegetable tangine and wood-roasted king salmon. What's more, as one of the more popular restaurants in the city, Nopa makes a concerted effort to be a friendly, active, and concerned neighbor. If you want to experience the ultimate San Francisco "foodie" menu, head to Nopa's. (415-864-8643)
Henry's Hunan Restaurant
Henry's Hunan Restaurant, owned and run by chef Henry Chung, specializes in hot, spicy Hunan cuisine, and regulars can't get enough of the addictive fare. Folks hold Henry in high esteem, not only because of his food but the large servings (you'll likely leave with a bundle of leftovers) and fair prices. Among the options you'll find are house-smoked duck (and other meats), fried onion cakes, hot shredded pork, and kung pao chicken. For those in town for a convention at the Cow Palace, the Mission location off of Alemany Boulevard is a short cab ride away. It's the best Chinese food you'll find near the Cow Palace. (415-956-7727)
South Pacific Island Restaurant
Geneva Avenue, the main strip closest to the Cow Palace, is dotted with authentic but somewhat hole-in-the wallsy restaurants. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the authentic ones from the holes-in-the-wall, but South Pacific Island definitely deserves to be in the former. What it loses in atmosphere, it makes up in dishes that are tasty and affordable. This place is heavy on the Samoan influence, including the size of the portions. The combo plate is definitely enough for two, especially if you're here for lunch and have three hours of afternoon presentations ahead of you that you shouldn't sleep through while your boss is watching. ((415) 467-1870)
El Super Burrito Mexican Grill
Let's face it - sometimes only a great big platter of Mexican food will do. If you're near the Cow Palace and want some authentic Mexican cuisine - and don't feel like fighting the uber-hip crowds of the Mission to get a decent burrito - head down classic El Camino Boulevard on the peninsula to El Super Burrito. If you really want a sense of the 50's-style atmosphere that makes up a lot of the neighborhoods surrounding the Cow Palace, the ride down EL Camino alone is worth the trip. And El Super Burrito lives up to its name, offering big burritos bursting with flavor, including the enormous and enormously satisfying "Bay Area Burrito." (650-583-0487)
If you've tried the grab-and-go fare up and down Geneva Avenue for lunch during your Cow Palace convention and need a fancier, sit-down meal for dinner (even a romantic date), try Limon Rotisserie. Although there are three locations of this popular Peruvian-style restaurant in San Francisco, the 21st Avenue/ Van Ness location is the closest to the Cow Palace. Executive Chef Martin Castillo has worked hard to create an authentic Peruvian-style dinner, including a brightly decorated dining area area with Latin lounge music. If you can't decide, the prix fixe menu that includes tartare, ceviche and chicharron - Limon's signature charred chicken - is both modestly priced and completely satisfying. (4158212134)
If you're in the mood for an inexpensive meal, and you don't give a hoot about ambiance or your daily requirement of fruits and vegetables, then head to Superstar for a big steaming plate of "silog." Silog is a Filipino tradition that usually includes fried rice, eggs and meat; Superstar excels at this gastronomical marvel. You can choose which meat goes with the plate, including pork chop (porkchopsilog), bacon (baconsilog), fish (tuyosilog), and spam (spamsilog). Other than the sad, lonely tomato that comes with most dishes, this is not the place for vegetarians. But you can't beat the prices, and this is authentic Filipino with some Chinese flair. ((415) 585-4360)
If you're in the neighborhood of the Cow Palace and don't want to fight the crowds of Northbeach in downtown San Francisco to get some good Italian food, consider Sodini's in South San Francisco. This place has all the authenticity and warmth of the North Beach Italian eateries without the overwhelming crowds and worries about parking. The Bertolucci family founded this restaurant in 1928, and it was originally a boarding house where Mama Bertolucci cooked family-style meals for hordes of hungry steel workers. How much more authentic can you get than that? If your Power Point presentation at your conference at the Cow Palace has worked up a steel-worker appetite, treat yourself to a big mound of meatballs and pasta at Sodini's. (6505881625)
If you want an authentic taste of what Daly City is all about, head to Nick's Cafe. Daly City has one of the largest Filipino populations in all of the U.S., so their clientele is very picky about this cuisine. Nick's delivers. If this is your first time eating Filipino, be warned: this is tough territory for vegetarians, with many meat-heavy dishes. The atmosphere is very simple, almost like a living room, which the faithful of Nick's describe as "very Filipino." A great choice if you're attending a conference at the near-by Cow Palace, especially as a grab-and-go option if you have a short lunch break. ((415) 349-8370)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.
Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. His journalism has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, and 7x7. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
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