Photos and Story by Jeffrey Yip
When I was younger my travelling philosophy was simple: wake up early, see as much as possible during the day, and then return to the hotel late into the night to catch a few hours of sleep before getting up early and doing it all again.
I’m older now, and maybe it’s because of that or maybe I’m just lazier, but I don’t travel that way anymore. My new travel philosophy is just as simple as before: wake up late and have a bunch things in mind that I’d like to do. If I see a couple of them I’m happy and then anything I get to see beyond that is gravy. Oh, and most importantly, make sure that I eat well.Thankfully, my girlfriend and I share the same travel philosophy.
And with that said, we began our first full day in San Francisco (SF). We woke up late and got out of the house around 11:30 am. We headed out through the the Civic Center Plaza, passed city hall and the Supreme Court building on our way to the closest F-Line stop. The F-Line is SF’s light rail street car, not to be confused with the more iconic cable car. The street car runs along Market Street from the Wharf to Castro, our destination. Of course there are faster ways of getting to Castro, but F-Line is the more scenic way to travel. Why were we going to Castro? To Ike’s Place for lunch. V’s friend Jessica and Denny told us this was the best place to go for sandwiches. More importantly, this was where locals went to eat, which in my estimation is always a good sign.
Now, if you plan on going to Ike’s, know that there are a ridiculous number of sandwiches on the menu, something like 50 of them. But my advice to you would be not to check out the menu online before hand. You’ll have plenty of time to peruse the menu while waiting in line. Not a fan of waiting in line for food? I use to be like that, but then my girlfriend showed me the error of my ways and I came to realize that some food is worth waiting for.
Anyways, I love sandwiches so I was quite excited. V on the other hand isn’t so partial to sandwiches. In fact, she could probably go happily through life never eating a sandwich. So, I was a little surprised that she wanted to go. But, she’s good about trying food. And it probably helped that it was recommended by one of her best friends. So, we waited for the F-Line to take us to sandwiches. But, the F-Line never came. Well, at least not in our direction. Three cars went in the opposite direction, but none came to whisk us off to Castro. After 45 minutes of waiting we headed for the closest Muni Metro station, SF’s municipal subway. A little while later we found ourselves in line for sandwiches.
While we waited in line to order, we found out that Ike’s Place was in a legal battle with their neighbours. Seems that Ike’s is so popular that lines of customers both waiting to order and waiting for their order have become a nuisance. So, the local new tv and radio stations were there interviewing Ike and customers trying to get their opinions about the legal troubles. As for ordering sandwiches, I must have changed my mind a hundred times. I finally settled on a sandwich called Change. Thinly sliced rib-eye steak, beer-battered onion rings, bbq sauce, smoked gouda and I added mustard all laid out on a nice French bread. V ordered the Elvis Kieth, which was a halal chicken bread on French bread with Swiss cheese, teriyaki sauce and wasabi mayo. After waiting for a total of about 30 minutes we had our sandwiches and headed off to eat.
We had decided to eat our lunch at a nearby park. The problem was that looking at the map, we seemed to be equidistant to three different parks. So while V went to go pay for lunch, I was put in charge of figuring out which park to go to and how to get there. I don’t remember the name of the park, but I remember I picked it because we had to pass it on the way to our next destination. Seemed like a perfectly logical and rational thing to do. What I didn’t know was that in order to get to this park we’d have to climb a hill. Now that doesn’t sound so bad, but if you’ve ever been to SF you know that a hill could be a seemingly unscalable peak.
So, we headed towards the park. We first walked up a moderate incline. As we crested the hill we found ourselves at the base of the mother of all hills. I could be exaggerating, but the hill seemed to rise at a 45 degree incline. It had warning signs trucks and other vehicles not to go up the hill. So, we gave up on the park. We made our way back down to Market Street and were fortunate enough to find an area to sit across the street from the Castro Metro station.
As I mentioned before, I love sandwiches. There’s just something about the harmony created between bread cradled around well prepared ingredients. It’s magical. So, when a restaurant has a reputation for sandwiches and in this case it’s the only thing they sell, you’d better believe that I had high expectations.
This was part of my reasoning for picking a steak sandwich. A classic amongst sandwiches in my opinion. So, I figured if they could raise the bar on a classic, their claim to sandwich fame would be recognized. It’s not like I was skeptical about their ability to make a good sandwich. Consistent lines of people to the point where you’re getting sued by your neighbours and forced to move can really only mean good food. But, how good?
The messiness of the sandwich was a good indication of deliciousness. That means they didn’t skimp on the bbq sauce, mustard or cheese. This was a brilliant sandwich. I’d have to say that where they raised the bar was the inclusion of the beer-battered onion rings. The French bread was also really nice. I wanted to try this bread they have called Dutch Crunch, but unfortunately they were out.
On to V and her unholy hatred of sandwiches. And while I jest, I do understand her indifference to sandwiches. It’s one of those cultural things. Long story short, I grew up here eating sandwiches and bread, she grew up in Hong Kong eating rice and noodles. With that said, you can imagine my surprise when she was even more impressed with her sandwich than I was with mine. She was so impressed that she said that she would happily come back to Ike’s for another sandwich. When a sandwich can convert you to believe in it’s gospel, there’s only one word to describe that: biblical. It was a very good sandwich. The chicken was grilled nicely and the interplay of the two sauces was perfectly executed.
With our bellies happy and full we headed off to our next destination: Exploratorium. House in the Palace of Fine Arts near the northeast edge of an area called Presidio. Exploratorium is similar to Science World except, it’s probably five times bigger and much more interactive. We caught a bus that took us most of the way there and then proceeded the rest of the way on foot. We walked under the shade of palm trees surrounded by narrow, two-story pastel-coloured houses all with immaculate kept postage stamp sized front yards, some with nicely manicured lawns others with Asian inspired rock garden.
We emerged out of that suburban wonderland to find ourselves staring at what I can only describe as a palace. I don’t know anything about architecture, but needless to say there were a lot of columns and carved statues of naked people. Thankfully I have a picture and you can see for yourself. Unfortunately, the whole building is under going some sort of restoration so we weren’t able to get very close.
Exploratorium. If you like science you’ll have fun there. It’s not your average science museum. There’s a secondary paid section there called the Tactile Dome. The idea being that you use your sense of touch to guide you through a maze, while in total darkness. I thought the idea of groping around in the dark through a maze was kinda weird, but if you do decide to go through the dome get there early or make reservations, cause it sells out fast. If Exploratorium is your thing in general, you should probably go early anyways. We got there around 2 pm, were there till closing at 5 pm and didn’t see everything.
With time to kill before dinner we decided to do the touristy thing and go to Fisherman’s Wharf. After a couple of bus rides and a short walk, we found ourselves at the edge of the wharf. We walked around for a little while before we realized that we had only about 20 minutes to get back to Castro to meet up with Jessica and Frances for dinner. Not the worse thing in the world to be late, but we didn’t want them waiting too long for us, so we let them know we were going to be late.
The fastest way back to Castro was to take the F-Line back down to Market Street and then catch the Muni out to Castro. After a few minutes of searching, we found the F-Line’s terminus station at the wharf. The line up for the F-Line seemed to be a hundred people deep and it didn’t seem likely that we would get on the next car. But, for some reason the streetcar didn’t come to the stop but instead stopped across the street which meant that those of us who were last in line, were now first in line.
As the streetcar began to fill with people our conductor wanted to try to get as many people onto the car as possible so in his own funny quirky way he began yelling to try to get people to move and fill up all of the empty space on the car.
“You’re all going to learn a new word today: compress! That’s right everyone compress, squeeze to the back and get cozy with your neighbour,” the conductor said.
Once everyone was sufficiently compressed, our perilous adventure began. For whatever reason, our conductor decided that he would drive the streetcar with near reckless abandon. Driving at, what seemed to be, unsafe speeds, the conductor would then periodically brake sharply causing the passengers to smash into each other. V was smashed in the back pretty badly one time by a large lady beside her. V confirmed that the human spine only bends one way and being smashed from behind was not it.
At one point, the conductor stopped the streetcar, got up and informed everyone that he would be right back, he just needed to use the bathroom. The funniest part of the ride was that while he was speeding down the tracks, our conductor had this random commentary going. Nothing really intelligible, but in retrospect, I question now if he was really a streetcar conductor or just a crazy man who took us all for a ride. We arrived relatively unscathed at the Muni station and after about 40 minutes we had come full circle and arrived back in Castro, this time for dinner at Poesia, an Italian restaurant.
Jessica and Frances had been there for a while and were enjoying some appetizers and drinks. V and I settled in and ordered our own drinks and began to look over the menu. Whenever I go out for Italian food, I like to order things that I can’t make myself. So, I ordered the Risotto Nero, squid ink risotto with scallops and lobster reduction. I don’t remember what anyone else ordered, but I do remember that my meal was pretty good. The risotto was creamy, the scallops were cooked perfectly and the lobster reduction was lobstery. After dinner we went for ice cream, but not just any ice cream, soft ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery. It was a Friday night, so we all got the balsamic strawberry and vanilla. It was very good ice cream. And so concluded our day in SF. We packed up our stuff and head out with Frances to her home in San Jose to spend the night there, cause the following day she was taking us to Gilroy for some shopping.