Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Eating in the Outer Sunset

Between Sunset Boulevard and the ocean, there are plenty of brunch spots, fish tacos, and third-wave coffee shops.

Blackened grilled fish sandwich (Photo by Eric Pratt)

The Daly City In-N-Out Burger is a shorter drive from Outerlands than the Ferry Building is, but the Outer Sunset brunch spot, famed for dishes like Eggs-in-Jail and a Dutch pancake baked in a cast-iron pan, is much closer in spirit to the latter than the former. It’s the apex predator of the Outer Sunset restaurant scene, clad in weathered wood that will only continue to ripen as it ages — and even when the marine layer is at its most spiteful, wait times can be very long.

Sunset residents were psyched last month when Outerlands (4001 Judah) announced that it planned to take over the former Great Highway Market space — liquor license and all — at 3633 Taraval St., next to The Riptide (3639 Taraval) Both businesses had burned in an August 2015 fire, but that Platonic embodiment of a neighborhood dive bar reopened a year later. This news effectively encloses the entire neighborhood in a vise-like grip of brunchy deliciousness, but between and around those two pins on the map lie all manner of wonderful, quirky eateries clustered in three commercial pockets: Irving and Judah streets, Noriega Street, and Taraval Street. “Lower Taraval,” where The Riptide is and the second Outerlands project will be, is now a proper commercial designation.

Perhaps the most significant of the recent additions is Hook Fish Co., a six-month-old market and restaurant at 4542 Irving St. Organized around the why-didn’t-anyone-think-to-do-this-before conceit of choosing which freshly caught fish you would like made into your fish taco, it’s also got a three-piece fish-and-chips for $17, a burrito with a poke option for $13, and a smoked trout salad for $14 — and when it gets crowded in there, seating spills onto the parklet out front. Just as rosemary is said to grow best within sight of the sea, fish tacos are the ultimate coastal California dish, so you’d be fooling yourself not to entertain the idea of ordering them.

Slightly less haute-Mission in feel are nearby Java Beach Cafe (1396 La Playa) and Beachside Coffee Bar and Kitchen (4300 Judah), which occupy corners of the same block. While Beachside sounds like a hyper-casual place where you’d see people in wetsuits hastily putting on shoes so as not to be denied service, it’s got a Hibernian bent, offering a $16.75 Irish breakfast sandwich with bangers and bacon alongside pour-over coffee and breakfast burritos.

If coffee is the craving, Trouble Coffee is where to alleviate it. While the Bayview location closed earlier this year, the Outer Sunset (and West Oakland) spots are thrumming along. This American Life once profiled owner Giuletta Carrelli, and it might have had something to do with the $4 cinnamon toast. Elsewhere, Andytown Coffee Roasters (3655 Lawton) serves its signature Snowy Plover ($4) — a sort of coffee float or affogato-lite made with iced espresso, simple syrup, Pellegrino, and homemade whipped cream — alongside Irish soda bread. The Irish influence is stronger than you might think over here — doubly so, now that Andytown has opened a second location at 3629 Taraval St.

The Mexican influence has been strong since the early 1960s at Celia’s by the Beach (4019 Judah), a family-owned spot for margaritas — but one that takes agave seriously, offering a “flight school” to educate drinkers on tequila and mezcal. Every one of Northern California’s dozen or so Celia’s operates autonomously, but each one displays the no-nonsense matriarch’s visage, as intense as the raven-haired beauty’s glower on the side of cans of La Morena pickled jalapeños.

If you’d rather have a beer, Woods Outbound (4045 Judah) is the Sunset location of Oakland’s ever-expanding Woods Beer Co. Reminiscent of a mid-century commuter train car in the Northeast, it’s where you’re likely to find at least one or two unusual IPAs on tap, like MateVeza. Made with yerba mate, the stimulating herb Argentines drink out of communal gourds, it goes well with empanadas from El Porteño (which Woods also carries).

In spite of the Sunset’s large Asian-American population, Asian restaurants are far scarcer than on, say, Clement Street in the Richmond. Mango Medley (3911 Judah), a pan-Asian spot with plenty of noodles and a large dessert menu, is among the most well-liked. Toyose (3814 Noriega) is a dinner-only Korean hole-in-the-wall whose food-to-alcohol ratio starts to skew away from seafood pancakes and jok bal and toward soju cocktails as the night progresses — and it does, with the kitchen and bar serving until 2 a.m., every night of the week.

Elsewhere along the relatively small — but food-dense — commercial strip at the western end of Noriega Street, La Playa Taqueria (3817 Noriega) has a reputation for erratic customer service that may or may not extend to giving people the boot at closing, but the fish tacos are righteous. Across the street, you’ll find Noriega Produce (3821 Noriega), owned by the same people who run Gus’s Market in the Mission. One of a smattering of non-Domino’s pizzerias is The Pizza Place (3901 Noriega), but the jewel of the block is Devil’s Teeth Baking Company (3876 Noriega), which has flypaper-sticky cinnamon buns, cheddar bacon beer muffins, and slices of quiche for the protein-starved.

And wherever you eat, don’t forget that Outerlands is a dinner spot, too. Even in high summer, it’s rib-sticking: Think burrata with plums, fennel, tarragon, and sunflower kernels, or a pressed lamb shoulder. Whatever’s blowing off the ocean as you walk out, you know your belly will be warm and full.

Check out more stories in our feature on the Outer Sunset here:

It’s Always Sunny in the Sunset
Fog schmog, one of San Francisco’s loveliest neighborhoods is just blocks from the ocean.

Who Opens an Independent Bookstore in 2017?
Black Bird Books has what it takes to make it work. But who knew the Outer Sunset had this many boutiques?

Unpaving Paradise
More than 113,000 gallons of the neighborhood’s stormwater are diverted through city sewers annually, thanks to the Sunset District’s Front Yard Ambassadors.

A Rejection of ‘Pure Shlock’
A colorful candy dish of castle-like houses hides along several blocks in the Outer Sunset.

Will Teach For Housing
Plans inch closer to converting a 1.25-acre lot in the Outer Sunset to homes for SFUSD professionals.

Surrender to the Sand
The southern end of Ocean Beach may get a facelift.

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