Aria Korean American Snack Bar: Hidden in Plain Sight

I'm taking a deep breath as I write this, because if there is one hole-in-the-wall in San Francisco that I genuinely (and completely selfishly) don't want to become popular, it's Aria. This tiny, ugly, clumsily laid out, two-table "Korean American Snack Bar" run by a sweet, late-middle-age couple on a gross stretch of Larkin Street is unfailingly delicious, yet I've never once had to wait for a table to open up.

And now they've doubled the size of the menu, so I feel compelled to share as I eat my way through it. Both types of Korean fried chicken are always excellent — as is the dukboggi, a hot and spicy rice cake that comes swimming in a sauce that's like a hot, seasoned tomato soup. (They have a strangely enchanting density we've been assured is somewhat challenging to pull off.) Kalguksu, or knife-cut noodles, might not be the exact same thing as ramen, but they're good for what ails you. I'm as excited by the japchae (a dish of sweet potato noodles with stir-fried vegetables) as I am by the sundae (which would be panfried Korean sausage, not ice cream). Even the oyster and mushroom porridge calls out to me, to be kept in mind for the next cold snap.

The spicy squid, served on a hot skillet, was not only a flavor bomb but had a fascinating texture: firm and chewy, but not rubbery. As Aria serves street food and not formal Korean cuisine, you don't get bowl after bowl of banchan to accompany your order — although panfried fish cake, daikon kimchi, and the like are available à la carte — but thus far there has not been a single misstep.

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