(415) 440-1718, www.tajinerestaurant.com
I'll give Pakwan, the ridiculously inexpensive Indian and Pakistani favorite in the Mission, this over Shalimar: it has seating right outside. Which, on a sunny Mission day with a six-pack of beer from the liquor store across the street, has a certain allure. And ... sigh ... I must give Pakwan its due for having tandoori fish on the menu. (But Shalimar has brains! Brains masala!) Pakwan also does justice to Indian standards like saab gosht (lamb curry), bhengan bartha (eggplant), and aloo palak (spinach and potatoes). And its garlic naan gives Shalimar's a run for its money. But, I keep reminding myself, it's not a competition if both are supporting the common cause cheap food and cheaper liquor.
Pairing: The recommendations for Shalimar will work here, but if you're going with the tandoori fish, try the citrusy notes of a muscadet.
3180 16th St., SF. (415)215-2440, www.pakwanrestaurant.com
Two reasons to take the bus to this Inner Richmond favorite: parking is notoriously sparse and, two bottles of wine in, you probably shouldn't be driving anyway. Tawan's Thai is named after the owners' son, whose childhood drawings decorate its walls. On the front of the menu, Tawan (meaning little sun) warns that his mom's food is "the best, just be sure not to order it too hot unless you can handle it" and he's right. Consider yourself warned. Start with the thung thong appetizer chicken, potatoes, and spices fried in rice paper. Then share the tom yung gung soup, a spicy, sour chicken soup flavored with lemongrass and lime. The gaeng khiaw-warn chicken, beef, or pork simmered in green curry and coconut milk with bamboo shoots, bell pepper, and basil also is divine. And for you insane people who don't like spicy food, you can never go wrong with pad thai.
Pairing: An Alsatian wine, like a Gewürztraminer or Riesling, goes nicely with Thai food. A reliable alternative is a Thai beer like Singha, Phuket Lager, or Chang Lager.
4403 Geary, SF. (415)751-5175
CORDON BLEU VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT
Don't come to Cordon Bleu expecting its namesake cuisine. Don't come expecting French food at all. Instead, expect to gorge on this Vietnamese BBQ joint's highly touted five-spice chicken. Seven bucks will get you half a chicken (not half a breast or leg, half a bird) rubbed with spice and grilled until its blackened, spicy, crisp skin seals in the juicy, tender meat. That comes with "salad," a deep-fried imperial roll, and another delicious enigma a meat sauce (ingredients unknown, but who cares when it's this freaking good?) poured over rice. Suggestions: ask for extra meat sauce and lock your valuables in your trunk.
Pairing: Cordon Bleu's meat-centric delectability needs beer; wine is just not going to cut through the greasy vittles. Try a regional beer such as Singha, Red Horse Dark or San Miguel Dark from the Philippines, or Singapore's Tiger Gold Medal Lager.
1574 California, SF. (415)673-5167. Not wheelchair accessible.
DE AFGHANAN KEBAB HOUSE
The number one reason I could never be a vegetarian: kebabs, those seasoned, juicy, sizzling, glistening, dripping, perfect little skewered morsels of meat rotating hypnotically in restaurant windows, expelling wafts of their spicy, meaty aroma. (Try to wax that poetic about soysages.) If you too hold the kebab in high esteem, count on De Afghanan Kebab House to do it justice. There also are veggie options, like the borani badenjan (eggplant sautéed with tomato, garlic, peppers, and topped with yogurt) or the borani kadoo (pumpkin sautéed with garlic, peppers, and also topped with yogurt).
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