Recent Comments


    Ethnic Gold: Exploring San Francisco’s Multicultural Culinary Treasures

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    San Francisco is a goldmine of ethnic culinary discovery. Since the city was founded, we’ve been a polyglot of cultures, mixing up recipes from the homeland that give us distinctive cooking flair. Restaurateurs from hundreds of diverse backgrounds are still making edible magic here.

    I decided to visit two San Francisco relative newcomers—one Mexican/Peruvian (Barrio) and one Russian (Birch & Rye). The tasty results reinforce our reputation as one of America’s most interesting urban areas for distinctive repasts from far-flung parts of the world.


    Barrio at Ghirardelli Square

    The first thing that hits you when entering Latin restaurant Barrio is the view. One is actually gobsmacked and reminded how beautiful our burg is, sitting (as the song says) on the dock of the bay. You have a panoramic view of Aquatic Park, the expansive San Francisco Bay, and Alcatraz, all either from outside on the terrace or inside where Barrio has uncovered floor-to-ceiling windows.

    Owner Billy Riordan (formerly of La Mar) greets you personally, making you feel as if you’re dining in his own home.

    The second thing that hits you is the inventiveness of combining Peruvian and Mexican cuisines. Who would have thought? Chef and co-owner Tim Milejovich is a talent to watch. He honed his skills at La Mar, where he learned and perfected Peruvian cuisine. He then moved to the Yucatan in Mexico, working throughout the peninsula at restaurants and resorts in the region. Clearly, the career and culinary combination has worked in his favor and to our benefit.

    Moving on to the beverages, Bar Director Michael Carlisi (formerly of Comal and Kin Khao) has created some creative cocktails that rise above the norm at Fisherman’s Wharf. Given the south-of-the-border theme, of course we had to try margaritas. My insider’s tip is to order the Cadillac margarita, with Grand Marnier. It’s not as sweet (my flavor profile), but if you prefer sweeter, the top shelf margarita with chili salt might be your thing. We started our repast with the excellent homemade guacamole, and yellow corn chips (also homemade, crispy, and yummy). Also on order were the excellent blue corn tortillas (made from scratch, in-house), served with four very different complementary sauces ranging from luscious to hot: sour cream, green tomatillo, habanero mango, and chipotle.

    Following our promising start, we moved on to a specialty of the house: the Barrio ceviche, a Peruvian classic with fresh halibut, shrimp, avocado, sweet potato, red onion, corn, and leche de tigre (a piquant, citrus-based marinade). It was fresh and perky, with just the right amount of spice. Next, we sampled esquites, an off-the-cob version of elote (grilled yellow Mexican street corn), with chipotle, cotija cheese, and lime. The chipotle had a nice kick to it; this was one of our favorite dishes of the evening.

    Other standouts were: the battered shrimp tacos (perfectly fried) with slaw and pickled onion, complemented by Spanish rice, refried beans, and cotija; and the pork Conchita, another Yucatan specialty that delivered a sweetness offset by pickled onion and served with another homemade blue corn tortilla. Some other inviting menu items that we’ll have to try next time include: Latin fries with huancaina sauce (a traditional Peruvian cheese sauce); chicharron (chicken skin with lime and cotija); and a beef birria taco platter. By the way, Barrio is open not just for dinner, but also for lunch, and brunch, too.

    Service is also highlight at Barrio, especially if you get one of our favorite waitpersons in town, Carla. She used to work at Kaiyo, where we met her. She’s not just welcoming, but knowledgeable, efficient, and most of all, fun.

    There are no desserts at Barrio, but that’s an excuse to go downstairs at the Square and try the Gold Rush white caramel sundae at the renovated Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience (or the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop). Which we did. And those sundaes are still as good as I remember from 40 years ago!

    Birch & Rye

    The buzz around this Russian/California cuisine restaurant at the site of the former Contigo in Noe Valley has been captivating. When they decided to open for Sunday brunch, I thought, “time to check it out!” I’m truly glad I did.


    Russian cuisine conjures up heavy dishes, borscht, caviar, and, of course, vodka. But Birch & Rye’s take on this cuisine is lighter, more innovative, and takes its cue from the bounty and creativity of California. Executive Chef and owner Anya El-Wattar is the brains behind the operation and has been lauded by Eater as San Francisco’s 2022 Chef of the Year. Plus, the cocktail program is inventive and unexpected.

    First, the indoor setting is modern, inviting, airy, and contemporary, with high ceilings that accentuate the expansive views throughout. There’s a jewel of a parklet peppered with succulents out front, where we dined with our pups. They also have a skylit courtyard at the back of the restaurant that’s both green and sunny.

    For dinners, Birch & Rye offers a 5-course regular or vegan menu, à la carte, and caviar service. Brunches are much simpler, making it a great weekend choice.

    We began our brunch with a Bouchard Pere & Fils white burgundy wine, a perfect and clean accompaniment to the meal that would follow. A highlight of the meal (make sure to order it!) was the homemade, dense, and delicious petite rye with “smetana butter,” which is a dairy product produced by souring heavy cream. The combination of rye bread with a crème fraiche type accent works extremely well, offsetting the substantial grain with a creamy, sweet-yet-sour accessory. A velvety duck liver pâté with black currants was a must-try and did not disappoint.

    Birch & Rye’s Buckwheat Nest

    The next dish was something I’ve never had before: a “Fabergé Egg,” with Osetra caviar, cauliflower foam, and brioche. The surprise is that it’s served room temperature! The mouthwatering Birch & Rye omelet is cooked French-style (how do they always make it so light and fluffy?) and is filled with tvorog (a type of farmer’s cheese), Kaluga caviar, and chives. My only complaint of the meal was that the caviar tasted a bit fishy to me. When dessert arrived, we split a “syrniki” (lightly fried Russian cheese pancake), a rich, flavorful, and not-too-sweet ricotta cake with strawberry and mint. A perfect ending to a marvelous meal!

    Momofuku Ko at Nari

    Well, it’s not a San Francisco-based restaurant, but I was pleased to recently try the cuisine of two-Michelin-star, New York-based restaurant Momofuku Ko. American Express Gold Card presented “Momofuku Ko on Tour (powered by Resy)” in several cities, including San Francisco. Here, the night was hosted by contemporary Japantown Thai restaurant Nari (awarded one Michelin star) and its celebrated chef Pim Techamuanvivit. This peek into Momofuku Ko and Executive Chef Esther Ha’s “break away from conventional” Japanese kaiseki cuisine makes me want to reserve right away for my next New York trip (and I hear that this popular eatery is an extremely hard reservation to snag).

    The appetizers astounded. To start, Momofuku’s cold fried chicken is legendary; there’s a reason for that. It’s served as a starter, is cooked perfectly, and is accompanied by amped up spicy bread and butter pickles. Yum. The cornmeal crusted oyster with corn and chili served in an oyster shell followed, paired beside a sweet uni in a flaky pastry tart with chickpea puree. A crudo course was next, which included Boston mackerel with confit pepper sauce and lemon zest, as well as a bass tartare with dashi jelly and shiso—a modern take on crudo that tantalized the tastebuds.

    A lobster course with mint and yogurt and paprika followed (flavorful and not chewy), and the moist pork shoulder was the main course, rubbed in koji mustard and roasted. To finish? A lovely pecan pie that “landed at the bar” of Momofuku during the pandemic—and what I liked best about it was that it provided a flourishing finish to the meal without being too sweet. So, put Momofuku Ko on your “to-do” dining list, but book early for your next trip to the Big Apple.

    Bits and Bites

    I was lucky enough to catch the final brunch performance of my esteemed colleague Donna Sachet’s Sunday’s a Drag, now re-located to the Club Fugazi in North Beach. What a treat! Not only did the drag performers showcase some of the greats (Judy, Ella, and Eartha), but the Broadway-quality production also gave us an entertaining lesson in the history of drag in San Francisco. Plus, whenever Donna is hosting, you know you’ll have a good time: she’s funny, and quick-witted, and her rendition of “We Can Be Kind” by David Friedman is one for the ages. And a shout out to the brunch offerings from Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza (bagels with cream cheese; eggs, bacon, sausage, and roasted potatoes; and cherry chocolate pudding). That and a wide selection of champagnes, beer, wines (and unlimited mimosas) make for a great way to celebrate a Sunday. Rumor is the show might be coming back in 2024, so stay tuned!

    I also recently sampled San Francisco’s iconic Zanze’s cheesecake, which is now available at Little Original Joe’s in West Portal (and soon to arrive at Original Joe’s in North Beach and Westlake). It’s the honest-to-good authentic recipe from Sam Zanze, now perfected by the chefs at Original Joe’s. It’s lighter than a normal New York cheesecake without the typical crust. It’s creamy, and a real treat.

    The San Francisco Chinatown Merchants Association is preparing for the 33rd Annual Graton Resort & Casino Autumn Moon Festival. This event takes place September 23 from 11 am to 5 pm and September 24 from 10 am to 5 pm. The festival is held on Grant Avenue between California and Broadway, where attendees are treated to a variety of activities, including arts and crafts vendors, delicious food stalls, live music, local contemporary entertainment, mooncakes, lion dancing, and more.

    Naschmarkt Restaurant is an Austrian culinary gem that recently opened in the heart of Palo Alto. Following a decade at their Campbell location, the family-owned establishment brings the essence of authentic central European influences to Silicon Valley. Named after Vienna’s renowned open-air produce market, Naschmarkt offers an array of regional specialties and homemade dishes, such as a soft pretzel with double-smoked bacon and beer cheese sauce, and classic Wiener schnitzel served alongside lingonberry sauce and Austrian potato salad. Guests can also enjoy a handpicked selection of more than 30 specialty wines from the region, as well as a diverse offering of German and Austrian beers.

    Birch & Rye:
    Momofuku Ko:
    Sunday’s A Drag:
    Tony’s Pizza:
    Little Original Joe’s:
    33rd annual Graton Resort & Casino Autumn Moon Festival:
    Naschmarkt Restaurant Palo Alto:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on September 21, 2023