Modern Izakaya with Michael Mina at Pabu

After reading about Pabu, Michael Mina’s newest San Francisco venture with Chef Ken Tominaga back in April, I couldn’t wait to try it! It just so happened that I was able to score a reservation for my (then) upcoming August trip through OpenTable before they opened on July 1st. Just in that month, I had heard such great things about the location, service, ambience, and cuisine. It was probably a little risky choosing a new and hyped restaurant for my birthday dinner, instead of an old favorite, but I’m sure glad I did!

We started out with their classic Kaiso Seaweed Salad served with hand-ground sweet sesame dressing. Sometimes, an Izakaya-take on seaweed salad means that they serve several kinds of seaweed. While I like the variety, I was glad that they chose to stick to the classic seaweed and sesame flavors.

Fortunately for us, there was room at the sushi bar, so we got to enjoy seeing the sushi chefs prepare the Tasting Menu for others. We didn’t do this because I wanted to try other options, but I have heard rave reviews and witnessed the artistry that goes into crafting each and every course. It was an experience in it of itself to witness. To get our sashimi fix, we ordered the 10 Fish Sashimi Platter. The presentation was gorgeous and the selection was delectable. From Tuna to Amberjack to Mackerel, we had a nice balance of flavors and consistencies.

Next, and my favorite dish of the evening, we enjoyed the Monterey Squid Okonomiyaki. This was one of the Hot Small Plates on the Dinner menu. The pork belly and squid patty was topped with a sunny-side up egg and bonito. If I could eat this day, I would be one happy gal. The combination of flavors was absolutely amazing and the best example of “everything is better with an egg on it.”

Steven and I don’t usually get sushi rolls that have any “cooked” or “baked” aspect to them. We made an exception at the urging of our waitress and ordered the Crispy Spicy Roll. Filled with yellowtail, amberjack, scallions, and tobiko, the warmth of the roll and the spiciness of the sauce was a great combination.

Lastly, we finished off our meal with a classic Spider Roll. Filled with soft shell crab, kaiware, tobiko, and spicy mayo, this was the best Spider Roll I have ever had. The crab was cooked to perfection and provided the perfect crunch in each oversized bite.

I can’t wait to visit SF again, so I can try their luxurious Tasting Menu and more of their Izakaya options. With mentions on and, Michael Mina has another winner on his hands. Pabu is quickly becoming FiDi staple and the praises will continue to roll in! Be sure to visit Mina’s The Ramen Bar directly next door to check out Chef Ken’s signature Tokyo-style ramen recipes.
For more information on Pabu, visit

Nopalito: So Much More Than a “Little Cactus”

Since it’s Thursday, I wanted to do a “throwback” post highlighting a restaurant I visited a couple weeks ago when I was in San Francisco. This post has nothing to do with the fact that I miss San Francisco desperately and want to go back every second of every day.

My boyfriend lived in San Francisco for two years, so we were no strangers to the amazing food scene, but it takes a lifetime to try all of the amazing dining options. It’s hard not to stick to the favorites, but we try and explore our options when we go back up to visit. I’m so glad we finally tried Nopalito. With two locations, it just so happens we were staying within walking distance to the Inner Sunset location. We ventured out on one of our last nights in the city and were able to be seated right away. It is a medium size space with a fresh green color scheme and light wood tables. The wall between the kitchen and dining room is low and has a glass display, so you can look in on the chefs preparing the colorful meals from scratch, including the tortillas. Their website boasts that they are a “vibrant neighborhood Mexican kitchen celebrating the traditional cookery of Mexico with the philosophy of purchasing local, organic and sustainable ingredients.” This description could not be any more true. From the decor, to the service, to the food, everything was very clean and fresh with a locals only feel.

To start, they bring complimentary roasted garbanzo beans to the table. I love garbanzo beans, but have never had them so roasted or so spicy. The combination was addicting and definitely more fun than starting off with bread or chips.

We both indulged in their housemade horchata. Steven got the traditional Almond Horchata while I opted for the Strawberry-Almond Horchata. I won. Steven’s was delicious, but mine was colorful, beautiful, and a bit sweeter because of the fresh strawberry puree-like juice on top.

We chose the Quesadilla Roja con Chicharron as one of our appetizers to share. We had seen photos of this amazing dish on Instagram and, although drool-worty, did not do the dish justice. The chile-corn tortilla was filled with crispy pork belly, salsa, jack cheese, queso fresco, onions and cilantro. The chicharrones were light and added the perfect crunch to every bite. This is easily the best quesadilla I have ever had.

Our next shared plate was the Empanada con Deshebrada de Res. We had seen at least 20 of them come out to the other tables, so we knew it was a must-try. We were not disappointed. The fried masa pastry was filled with grass-fed beef, tomato, jalapeno, and cabbage. It was topped with avocado, queso fresco and salsa frita de guajillo. We ate it too quickly for a picture, so I snagged this one from Nopalito’s Instagram. Between this and the quesadilla, we could’ve been done with our meal and left completely satisfied. Both were filling and perfect to share.

I ordered the Pescado a la Veracruzana, a seared white fish with tomato, jalapeno, green olives, capers, pickled chile guero, cilantro and saffron rice. I love fish Veracruz style, and this didn’t disappoint. The tomato sauce wasn’t spicy enough for Steven’s liking, but if you took a bite of jalapeno with it, it was the perfect spice level for me. The fish was fresh and juicy, not at all dry, and the saffron rice paired well with the sauce.

I loved my dish, but I will be completely honest: Steven won for best entree. I have had a lot of carnitas in my day, Nopalito had to be the best. He got the Carnitas entree which consisted of the braised pork, orange bay leaf, milk, cinnamon, beer Cabbage salad, pickled jalapeno and salsa de tomatillo. The carnitas were perfectly cooked and not oily, but so tender and juicy. We took some carnitas, cabbage, and the heavenly green sauce and put it all in a small tortilla. The combination was a party in my mouth.

The best part is that this restaurant is an offshoot of Nopa, an urban rustic restaurant that specializes in organic wood-fired cuisine, located north of the Panhandle. This place is always bustling and I was lucky enough to celebrate my 21st birthday there two years ago. Once we found out that owners Allyson and Laurence Jossel opened another restaurant, and that restaurant would be serving traditional Mexican fare, we were intrigued. I’m so glad we were finally able to go.
The food was delicious and the service was impeccable. The only complaint I have is that I was too full for dessert! If you are ever in the Inner Sunset or Lower Haight areas, I highly recommend popping in to either of their locations. You won’t regret it.

Outside Lands Day Three

Day 3 of Outside Lands can be summed up in two words: trucks and lands. We ate from so many food trucks and frequented Wine Lands, Beer Lands, Cheese Lands, and Choco Lands the entire day.

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There were so many food trucks to choose from, but we narrowed it down to Bacon Bacon, Del Popolo, Senor Sisig, The Rib Whip, and The Fabulous Frickle Brothers.

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Last year, Those Fabulous Frickle Brothers paired up with their festival neighbor, Bacon Bacon, to add their Fabulous Fried Pickles to Bacon Bacon’s Bacon Burger. It was a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, their location didn’t allow that to happen this year, but it inspired me to try something besides their amazing pickles. We went the dessert route and tried their Fabulous Fried Apples with a Vanilla Coconut sauce on top. The breading created a nice sweet and savory mashup with cinnamon and sugar sweet apples. I’m not a huge fan of coconut, but they added the perfect amount to the vanilla sauce on top.

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The Rib Whip was serving Pulled Pork BBQ Bowls and while there was a bit too much lettuce for my liking, the meat was cooked perfectly.

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The California Sisig Burrito, from Senor Sisig, has to be one of the best California burritos I have ever had. The french fries were crispy, not soggy, and the sour cream wasn’t overwhelming. They use pork shoulder as their main meat, and I must say that it is absolutely decadent. This award-winning truck has also been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

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Del Popolo had the longest line at Outside Lands for the duration of the festival. I mean, how can you not when you’re serving whole wood-fired Margherita Pizzas? The crust was cooked to a dark brown crisp with generous chunks of mozzarella to balance out the sauce. Their setup is pretty cool too; go to their website and take a look at more pictures of their truck, you’ll be glad you did.

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I have a soft spot for all things bacon, so I was definitely looking forward to what the Bacon Bacon truck had to offer. Their BBQ Pork Sandwich and Chocolate Covered Bacon definitely fulfilled my porky cravings.

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Now, onto the lands. Choco Lands was one of my favorite lands because I have a pretty big sweet tooth. In addition to Humphrey Slocombe’s special edition flavor, Kara’s Cupcakes, Sharona’s Chocolate Shop, and more were serving up delicious chocolate treats! Cheese Lands consisted of platters full of assorted cheeses and charcuterie from Long Meadow Ranch. Bacon Land was serving up $10 bacon flights.

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Wine Lands is an expansive tent full of different wineries and packed to the brim with people. I have had most of the options at previous tastings or events, so it was nice to see some familiar names including, Ghost Pines, Hess Collection, J.Lohr, Menage A Trois, and Roth Estate. The tent also featured Summer of Riesling which included a full crash course on different styles of Riesling and fun temporary tattoos.

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Beer Lands was more of an open area, in comparison to Wine Lands. Featuring over 30 different breweries, Beer Lands had something for everyone. Similar to Wine Lands, I have had many of these beers before, so I already knew what I was getting myself into. Overall, I think the lineup was a good one with selections from Ace Cider, Drake’s Brewing, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Golden Road Brewing, Lost Coast Brewery, Magnolia Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., and Stone Brewing Co..

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Another addition to this year’s festival was the Gastro Magic stage. Each day, the stage featured different acclaimed chefs and gourmet restaurants, and paired them with a comedian or DJ to create a unique multi-sensory culinary experience. There were too many shows to see, so refer to the Gastro Magic page for a more specific description of each show.

As for the last day of music, we enjoyed Paolo Nutini, Jenny Lewis, Spoon, Ben Howard, The Flaming Lips, Ray LaMontagne, and The Killers. The Killers put on the best show of the day and the best show of the festival. I have never been a huge fan of theirs, but seeing them live definitely changed my mind.