Soul Food

In times of war, sickness, breakups, breakdowns, shorter days and colder nights, we crave the familiarity of good times that only comfort foods can bring. It’s the drug we all reach for in times of inclement weather and stress. In San Francisco, a city of expatriates, Mom’s not always around to conjure up her special feel-good chicken soup. There are, however, special places where you can find a little gastronomical solace.

Need to recover from a cold-hearted break-up by eating something absolutely wicked? Warm up at the chalet-esque Suppenküche (601 Hayes Street at Laguna, 252-9289), where sin is definitely in with their blissful cheese spaetzle. Some say it’s a dumpling. Some call it a noodle. Either way, this dish will be the best mac ‘n cheese you’ll ever experience. Tossed in a creamy onion butter sauce and melted Swiss cheese, the tiny dumplings/noodles are so tender, one bite and you’ll forget what’s-his/her name and be sweet-whispering to your fork, “Ich liebe Dich.”

State of the world got you down? Think “chicken tikka masala” – one of those delectable melding of two cultures – Indian and British. It’s been said that in order to appease English palates, Indian cooks were requested to add sauce to their beloved tandoori chicken, thus the chicken tikka masala was born. Tasty Curry (1375 9th Avenue near Judah, 753-5122) will help you restore your faith in world peace. Watch the friendly storefront cooks prepare the boneless chunks of succulent chicken, swimming in a slightly spicy but rich tomato cream sauce as you take in the aromas of cardamom, ginger, cumin, and garlic. Don’t forget to order a side of the freshly made garlic naan, perfect for wiping the plate with.

Illin’ but starvin’? To say the least, San Francisco is devoid of good, hearty delis but thank goodness there happens to be a standout in the outskirts of the Polk Gulch – Miller’s East Coast West Delicatessen (1725 Polk Street near Sacramento, 563-3542). One look at their sweeping menu and you’ll be renaming East Coast West Deli to Comfort Food Central. Their therapeutic matzo ball soup is just how your Bubbe used to make it – heavenly gluttonous globes plunged in a sea of chicken soup. Their lean pastrami sandwich, albeit not as substantial as the ones you used to get at Katz’s (but what is?), is just as luscious and the onion rings are super crispy. What better way to cure your ills by washing it all down with a crisp Dr. Brown’s Cel Rey tonic?

Looking for something warm to soothe your soul on a cold night? Red meat is the drug most of us have reached for at one time or another and what could be a more satisfying opiate than a good old-fashioned cheeseburger? Add buttery sautéed mushrooms, grilled Bermuda onions and your choice of cheese and you’ve got the deliciously juicy Don’s Burger (named after the owner) at Bill’s Place (2315 Clement Street near 24th, 221-5262). This iconic mom and pop Outer Richmond burger joint has been serving up Americana (check out their Presidential plate collection) since 1959, and features over 25 different burger combinations, pipin’ hot chili cheese fries and Dreyers fountain drinks.

Linus once said, “Happiness is a warm blanket.” If it were Snoopy talking, he would have said, “Happiness is warm dinner on a dark and stormy night.” I wonder if dogs like matzo ball soup?

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