By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
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By Max A. Cherney
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By Alex Hochman
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Nothing could be worse than bad bento (except, of course, a dose of E. coli). Sushi seemed a better alternative, and the offerings ranged from nigiri to more than 20 special rolls, prepared (in our case) by a young sushi chef who spent most of his time flirting with two females at the end of the bar. The best thing he produced was a decent "JP" Roll -- diced scallop, green onion, tobiko, and lemon juice. The worst was a "Poky" Roll crafted with yellow onion and mushy albacore bathed in a marinade so overwhelmingly spicy we wondered if the previous day's fresh fish was being disguised. For our third selection, I asked him which was better -- the Rainbow Roll or the Dragon Roll.
He suggested the Dragon, but since Alexandra doesn't like unagi (an ingredient in the Dragon Roll) I chose the Rainbow instead. Despite my order, we received a Dragon Roll. It combined lifeless, limp broiled eel with crab, tempura'd shrimp, tobiko, and avocado. With three more places to visit, we asked for to-go boxes. Our rogue chef sneered at us, as if to say, "Yeah, right."
1283 Ninth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122
Region: Sunset (Inner)
Ebisu, located in the food court near the entrance to Boarding Area G, departures (top) level, (650) 588-2549. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Parking: two hours free with purchase of $20 or more (same at all food court locations).
Willow Street Pizza, located in the food court near the entrance to Boarding Area G, (650) 589-3978. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
· Willow Street combination pizza $8.95
Harbor Village, located in the food court near the entrance to Boarding Area A, departures (top) level, (650) 821-8983. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
· Harbor Village Mongolian beef $8.95
Burger Joint, located in the food court near the entrance to Boarding Area A, (650) 583-5863. Open every day from 8:30 a.m. to midnight.
· Burger Joint cheeseburger with fries $5.95
· BJ chocolate shake $3.95
Though a slightly more helpful cashier provided us with to-go boxes, my tuna salad has never given me so much attitude. Given the high prices and disappointing quality at this Ebisu offshoot, the sandwich would have been a welcome alternative.
Now, let's speed things up. We didn't visit Lori's Diner (24-hour breakfast, diner-type fare), Osho Japanese, Fung Lum, Andale Taqueria, or Il Fornaio. But we did stop by Willow Street Pizza, which offers sandwiches, salads, breakfast, even tiramisu, and bakes its pies in an incredibly expensive-looking wood-fired oven. Pizza options include Thai, barbecue chicken, or more standard choices such as the one we picked: a crisp, thin-crust combo, still glowing with heat, topped with Italian sausage, salami, pepperoni, mushrooms, red bell peppers, and olives.
It was, by far, the best pizza I've ever had at an airport -- and it put plenty of non-airport pizzerias to shame. Had I been traveling to the Big Apple, my sandwich and I would have seen the sights before deciding that (duh) San Francisco is better.
I didn't think dim sum and airports would go together, but the satellite of the Embarcadero's highly rated Harbor Village tested my theory with a dim sum sampler. The result was a pair of wretchedly soggy pork dumplings that may have been rejects from Ebisu SFO, a flavorless steamed pork bun, mediocre pot stickers, and feather-light egg rolls that were a bit light on the stuffing. (I take back my earlier proclamation -- bad dim sum is much worse than bad bento, but still better than food poisoning.) We then tried the special of the day: zesty hot and sour soup, tender Mongolian beef with green onion, a scoop of rice, and a side of stir-fried vegetables.
The verdict: Avoid the dim sum, but thanks to the special, had I been traveling internationally, some lucky nation would have received a visit from a real, live American sandwich.
For our final nosh, we dropped by what was, for me, the most promising locale of all -- Burger Joint. Since I live in the Mission and prefer burritos, I don't eat many burgers, but when I do, I eat them at Valencia Street's original BJ. As with the Mission outpost, the burgers take a few minutes to prepare at BJ SFO, and here, too, they are made with superior Niman Ranch beef, then served with mayo, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles. We ordered a cheeseburger with Monterey Jack and received a tangy, deliriously juicy burger with thick, pepper-dusted fries, plus a chocolate shake so decadent it could have provided dessert for 10 people.
Not only did the burger put my sandwich to shame, but it was also better than those on Valencia.
"No!" cried Alexandra, a big fan of the original BJ. OK, I relented: It was exactly as good, and yet another reason to leave my sandwich at home the next time I take to the skies.
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