It’s mid-to-late summer, and romance is in the air. There’s no better time in San Francisco for lazy Sunday afternoon picnics and happy hour buzzes with friends and lovers than when the weather is only going to get nicer. If you’re looking for a great date spot with a little character, I’ve got just the place for you: a tiny Korean restaurant in the Inner Sunset that will make you fall in love all over again.
On the corner of Irving Street and 10th Avenue, Manna serves some of the homiest Korean food in the city. Only seating about 24 people, it’s cozy, with small two-tops all squeezed right next to one another. And the eating begins before you even have a chance to order: Manna’s generous selection of banchan comes out immediately, stacked with fish cakes, broccoli, bean sprouts, sliced potatoes, and the standout, homemade kimchi. You haven’t lived until you’ve started a full-fledged feast with funky, spicy, crunchy, fermented cabbage.
The experience only amplifies once you peruse the menu, which lies beneath a sheet of glass at each table. Everything is moderately priced, so just order a ton of dishes and take home whatever’s left over. Start with something familiar, like the sweet-and-spicy chicken wings ($10.99). The meat is tender and juicy, with a sticky, crackling skin that’s drizzled with sesame seeds and scallions. (They sort of resemble the world famous San Tung wings from down the street, except you don’t have to wait in line four hours to give them a try.) The fried dumplings (or mandu, $7.99) are also a great place to start. Similar in shape to potstickers, these are deep fried and full of beef or veggies, with lovely little air bubbles in the crispy wrapper.
Next, move on to something a little more traditional. The seafood pancake, or pajeon ($10.99), is a must. The size of a small pizza, this pancake is made from a batter of eggs, wheat flour, rice flour, and scallions mixed with scallops, baby octopus, squid, and shrimp. It’s savory and oniony, sweet and fishy, and it’s a crime these puppies aren’t served on every street corner. Pajeon is one of those well-rounded dishes that would be good at breakfast, perfect during happy hour, heavenly at 2 a.m. after a night out, and possibly life-saving the morning after.
Some of Manna’s other standouts include jabchae (bouncy glass noodles with beef and vegetables), bibimbap (beef and assorted vegetables over rice topped with a fried egg), and the soft tofu soup, each for $10.99. Bottom line: Manna is fantastic, and whatever tickles your fancy will most likely be a great choice. The whole experience resembles Thanksgiving at a relative’s house, the dining room tight and loud, and smelling of sweet-and-salty fermented flavors. Bring that special someone for an experience that’s new and a little different, but sure to make everyone feel right at home.
Manna, 845 Irving St., 415-665-5969, mannasanfrancisco.com