I've always had trouble deciding what my all-time favorite food is. They say that when I was a little kid, my grandmother asked me "Marissa, what is your favorite meal?" and I responded "All three!"
Now that I am living in San Francisco, a city with so much good ethnic food on offer, it's even harder to determine my favorite. However, I recently realized that my three top candidates all fall under the same rubric: "Seasoned Roast Pork in Some Kind of Bread Product."
This unwieldy description covers my three favorite foods of 2008: banh mi sandwiches; char siu bao (Chinese pork buns); and carnitas burritos.
Banh mi: I will always associate this sandwich with San Francisco, despite its hybrid French-Vietnamese origins, because it's what I had for lunch the day after I moved to the city. I was wandering around Chinatown and environs, stumbled into a tiny Vietnamese coffee shop, and decided to try a banh mi for the first time. As soon as I bit into it, I wondered why I'd never had one before: anything that involves roast pork, a French baguette, and lots of cilantro is bound to appeal to my palate! (Though I do pick out the cucumbers--I don't like cucumbers.) This is probably the cheapest, healthiest, best lunch you can get in downtown San Francisco. My top food discovery of 2008.
Char siu bao: These steamed pork buns, especially from Yank Sing, are like biting into heavenly clouds. The lightest, sweetest, fluffiest white dough surrounds a dollop of sweet-sauced barbecued pork; truly, one of the greatest food combinations ever invented. My office is right near one of Yank Sing's outposts, and sometimes at lunch I get their take-out meal consisting of a tangle of chow mein, a potsticker, a springroll, and one precious bao. I always end up eating way too much of the chow mein and feeling sluggish all afternoon. But it's worth it for the bao.
Carnitas Burritos: Unlike banh mi and bao, I knew about carnitas burritos before coming to San Francisco, but the plethora of great taquerias in this city have provided me with more authentic and better-quality burritos than I've had before. Besides, it's not just a food: it's an experience. In this case I must give a shout-out to my neighborhood burrito joint, Ocean Taqueria, on Divisadero Street.
Ocean Taqueria is a very long, narrow space, which feels a little weird, but it's staffed by the nicest guys you could ever meet. I can come in with dirty hair, and speak my horrible Spanish to them (I have to pause after every three words to make sure I don't slip into French), and they will still smile at me and call me amiga or corazon.
They gave me free tortilla chips when I came in in mid-afternoon in September and said "no estoy empleada," they served me and my housemates efficiently on Election Night (I was eating an Ocean Taqueria burrito while watching Obama's acceptance speech), and on Christmas Eve, they made me probably the best carnitas burrito of my life, and wished me "feliz Navidad."
My God, I'm going to miss them when I move to the Inner Sunset next week.