Eating Your Way Down San Bruno Avenue

From Four Barrel to loco moco, the Portola's commercial strip is extremely diverse.

Ferment Drink Repeat (Photo by Mira Laing)

San Bruno Avenue runs in several discontinuous sections from the end of Ninth Street in the southernmost edge of SoMa, nearly to the city line (with an especially large gap south of Potrero Hill.) Portola’s main drag, a six-block stretch of San Bruno Avenue between Silver Avenue and Woolsey Street, is home to more than a couple chains, like Subway and Round Table Pizza. But the wide array of eating and drinking options mirrors the working-class neighborhood’s ethnic diversity. (There are even two La Loma Produces within a few blocks of each other, Nos. 7 and 10.)

Cinco de Mayo Taqueria (2426 San Bruno) and a Vietnamese restaurant called Golden Saigon (2428 San Bruno) effectively bookend the northern end of the strip, but it’s Jim Georgie’s Donuts (2468 San Bruno) that keeps its real with $5 tuna melts, six-for-$1 doughnut holes, and orange-lipped decaf coffee pots sitting on the countertop.

Across the street at 2499 San Bruno is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which isn’t named for the Truman Capote novel about the effervescent Miss Holly Golightly, but because a woman named Tiffany and her uncle own it. (A neighborhood icon for decades, it flatlined in 2013-14 when its long-time owner died.) If you’re in the market for a Hungry Man-style breakfast, the Tiffany’s Classic comes with hash browns, English muffins, three eggs, and four(!) bacon slices.

For steamed buns and other delicacies, there’s Dim Sum Kitchen (2520 San Bruno), but if you prefer the full teahouse treatment, lazy susans and all, Imperial Garden Seafood (2626 San Bruno) one block away has what you need. Excellent under-$5 pork sandwiches can be had at the no-nonsense Banh Mi House (2701 San Bruno), while if you want fresh pastries that might not be familiar to native-born Americans — think “worm-style bread” or durian buns — the racks at Fancy Wheat Field Bakery (2668 San Bruno) has in mind all the desires you didn’t yet know you had.

It’s definitely not a drive-in, a drive-through, or an inn, but one of the Bay Area’s four Hawaiian Drive-Inn locations can be found at 2600 San Bruno, serving Kalua pig plates with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad, or loco moco with plenty of gravy.

Slightly more artisanal is the second of San Francisco’s three Four Barrel Coffee locations (2 Burrows), tucked hard by the Highway 101 embankment just off San Bruno Avenue. With solar panels, a reclaimed redwood ceiling, and a compost toilet, it’s 1,000 square feet of Third Wave caffeination — yet, surprisingly, it hasn’t been a germ seed for rapacious gentrification since opening in late 2013. Quite the contrary, the pocket park immediately outside has become a community touchstone, and it’s set to expand after CalTrans unloaded some marginal, highway-adjacent land to the Portola Urban Greening Committee.

As bars go, there’s New Judnich’s (2888 San Bruno) at the southern end of things, with all the usual trappings of a neighborhood dive like a pool table and a jukebox. (Be warned: It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays.) A dance floor, a house band, and karaoke Wednesdays keep El Toro Nightclub (2470 San Bruno) popping from mid-morning until closing, six days a week.

But the jewel of mid-2010s Portola is the year-old microbrewery Ferment Drink Repeat (2636 San Bruno), which makes the most of its initials’ applicability to a certain president who saved America from the Depression and the Nazis. Set up to assist homebrewers in their passion projects, F.D.R. also full of whimsically named beers like the Mango Unchained kettle sour and a yeasty, chocolate stout called Orange Is the New Black.

If you still manage to walk up and down the block unsatiated, mid-summer is wild blackberry season at the abandoned greenhouses on the block bordered by Bowdoin, Wayland, Hamilton, and Woolsey streets. Should you be shorter than five-foot-eight or so, it might be a little tough to pick more than a few off the thorny vines, but you shouldn’t let it go fallow this season. A developer called Group I has eyed the 2.2-acre parcel, with the intent to build up to 60 single-family dwellings. Once known as San Francisco’s Garden District, Portola would lose the last connection to its horticultural past — and urban foragers would cede a genuine bounty.

Check out more stories from our Portola issue:
Neon Revival: Portola’s Avenue Theater Returns
After a quarter million dollars in grants and community fundraising, the neon sign at Avenue Theater will finally be turned back on.
Cutty Bang: The Real San Francisco Treat
It’s a DIY alcohol adventure with a hip-hop sensibility.
Eating Your Way Down San Bruno Avenue
From Four Barrel to loco moco, the Portola’s commercial strip is extremely diverse.
Urban Agriculture or More Housing?
One block of greenhouses is all that remains of Portola’s garden industry, and its future is uncertain.
Portola’s Pronunciation Quandary
This neighborhood’s name is at the center of an oratorical debate.
Reimagining (Tiny) Vacant Lots
Through grants for public artwork and landscaping, Portola brings new life to empty land near the highway. 
McLaren Park Wants to Step Out of Golden Gate Park’s Shadow
And it will do Sunday, Aug. 6, for Jerry Day. And it will do Sunday, Aug. 6, for Jerry Day. 

 

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