Things change after midnight. Some streets empty; others fill up. Most people are in bed, but many go out to drink, dance or just to wander. Those that do get hungry. Come explore San Francisco's late night food options with us in our new series, After Midnight.
The first thing I noticed when the door opened at Naan-n-Curry was the cloud of smoke. The curry and spices hung in the air to create a thick haze, which made it look like I had stepped into a restaurant that still allowed smoking, or a bad air day in Los Angeles. But it smelled like success. At 1:30 in the morning, finding non-diner food can be a chore, and I wasn't in the mood for pancakes.
I ended up downtown, solo and sans dinner, thanks to my habit of going to the movies alone. This time it was Superman in the fancy new Metreon (spoiler alert: Superman lifts heavy things and gets the girl). The 3-D left me feeling dizzy and desperate for calories.
There wasn't much happening outside of the Metreon except for a closed Market Street San Francisco Municipal Railway workers in yellow jackets guarded hammering jackhammers, lumbering forklifts, and a truck that beeped incessantly. When I asked one of them what was going on he responded as if I'd asked which way was up.
"They're repaving the streets."
Further up Market the Warfield was dark and the porn star Asa Akira was booked at Crazy Horse. Neither of these would fill my stomach, so Naan-n-Curry on O'Farrell it was. Mason and O'Farrell sits right on the border between tourism and Tenderloin, and you could see them both from outside; men in expensive suits smoked cigarettes next to slow-moving figures hunched over shopping carts.
There was a slight kerfuffle when I placed my order. The two men behind the counter were arguing back and forth in rapid fire Hindi (or what I assumed was Hindi) and one of the men ended the conversation with his head between his hands, slowly shaking it back and forth. But his whole demeanor brightened when I asked how he was doing.
"I'm fine sir. Everything is good," he said with a big smile.
Naan-n-Curry is a no frills type of place -- expect to get your own forks, knives, plates, water, etc. Sometimes you can even pick your own seat. When the man brought my food from the kitchen he plopped it on the table and disappeared before I could say thank you. He was halfway to the kitchen by the time I got the "th" out, my rice dangling perilously close to the edge of the table. I ordered palak paneer with rice, and at $10.88, it was almost $7 cheaper than the nauseating 3-D from Man of Steel.
I expected the food to be undeniably, and almost offensively, just ok, and I wasn't disappointed. I've been to Naan-n-Curry several times, and this is always the case. The chicken tikki masala, the chicken jalfrezi, the garlic, paneer and plain naans -- always just ok; never great, rarely bad. I sometimes wonder if the cooks wake up determined to make passable-yet-mediocre food.
But compared to my other options that late at night, Naan-n-Curry was an oasis of flavor. I'll take cheese cubes, hot, seasoned spinach and free chai over stale coffee and french fries any day.
I was also expecting the place to be crowded and rowdy, but on this point I was surprised. It was mellow enough that I could sprawl out, but not so mellow that I wondered why no one was eating there. At least until 2 a.m. that is, when the come-to-the-city-and-party crowd showed up.
In an instant the restaurant went from couples on dates and friends chatting, to tall sparkling heels, short red skirts, and incoherent rambling. One man kicked my table without so much as a nod, and another man in a slim dress shirt sat down and stuck the numbered placard on the table directly into his mouth. We shared a brief moment of eye contact as the number 17 bent sideways in between his teeth.
Soon there was a line at the counter, and a vibration on my phone -- my cue to go. I felt a bit wistful when I left; things were just getting interesting. The 3-D in real life is always better than the 3-D in the movies. And this was a good air day.
There are three Naan-n-Currys in the city but only two are open late. The Sunset location is on Irving between Sixth and Seventh, and open until 2 a.m. (11 on Sundays). The O'Farrell location is open until 4 a.m., seven days a week.
Do you have a favorite late night food spot? Let us know in the comments or tell Devin on Twitter at @Devinistyping.