Tag Archives: food passport

Food Passport: Waraku

The tan tan ramen cooked in a sesame broth and served with ground pork. All photos by Catherine Uy


Waraku, the dimly-lit restaurant run by Shabuway and Men Oh owners, Eiichi Mochizuki and Koji Kikura, is quaint and cozy. Despite its simple aesthetic it really speaks to the idea that good things, or food in this case, are found in the smallest places.

When sitting down, on a date or with a group of friends the setting itself is intimate and demure. It’s a very trendy ambience because of the crowd of people that attend this restaurant as popular music is played throughout the background.

The bowls are a favorable portion size, but worth the price at only $8-$12. Jars of peeled garlic are served table side to add pressed garlic to your bowl of ramen.

The tantan ramen is a hearty portion of soup and noodles, oily and hot, with a little bit of spice. The tonkotsu ramen, which contains a creamy, milk-like broth, is infused with rich slices of pork. The noodles, which are thick and have a springy-texture, have a good consistency.

The tonkotsu ramen cooked in a pork bone broth served with barbecue pork.
The tonkotsu ramen cooked in a pork bone broth served with barbecue pork.

All bowls come with basic toppings such as bamboo shoots, soft, slices of barbecue pork, and green onions. The soft boiled egg has a creamy yolk with a custard like texture. It also has a combination of both smokey and sweet flavors.

The gyoza (potstickers) are nothing special. The dumplings are crispy on the top but overly soft on the bottom. The takoyaki (octopus balls) on the other hand, were perfectly cooked, crispy yet soft.

The only issue is that Waraku’s tonkotsu is not really flavorful. It lacks a heavy pork bone flavor and the pork is either too soft or tough.


The verdict: The smoked egg is creamy and delicious, and the bowls come with a good portion of toppings. However, a rich broth is what really makes a perfect bowl of ramen.

★★★ out of 5

Waraku, 1638 Post Street

Food Passport: El Farolito

A look inside the popular Bay Area Mexican chain restaurant. All photos by Catherine Uy

Located in the outer Mission, just a few blocks from the BART station, a rich aroma of smoke emanates from inside a small Mexican restaurant. Inside you’ll find walls in the colors of the Mexican flag and red tables with wooden booths on each side of the space’s tiled floor. In the background, mariachi music plays as a chef places tortillas on a large skillet.

El Farolito looks like a restaurant straight from the 80s with its fluorescent lighting and festive colors, but its  flavors and dirt cheap prices make up for its decor. It’s the type of place where you can enjoy a quality burrito at 2 a.m. when you need to satisfy the drunchies.

The al pastor burrito is extraordinary, filled with pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and salsa. It’s filled with strong flavors and textures: a slightly crisp tortilla, tender slices of pork and fresh and flavorful vegetables. Compared to other burrito joints the fillings aren’t overly soggy. There’s just the right balance between chewy and crispy textures.

The small restaurant also serves up a variety of authentic Mexican foods, like nachos, enchiladas, and tostadas de ceviche.

Carne asada tacos filled with cilantro and onions.
Carne asada tacos filled with cilantro and onions.


The tacos here are everything you could ask for. The tortillas are rich and buttery, filled with juicy bits of grilled steak. The soft, thin flatbread carries an appetizing medley of diced onions, cotija cheese and cilantro. It has all the elements of the perfect taco: pico de gallo, well seasoned meat, and a chipotle sauce, that’s sweet with just a little bit of spice.

The nachos, however, are nothing special. The chips are topped with mounds of beans, melted cheese, avocado, sour cream, and jalapeños. The tortilla chips have a nice crunch, but are way too salty and greasy. Despite all the toppings, you can’t have good nachos without good chips. It’s a shame though considering the salsa is so damn delicious. Word of advice: try the green sauce.

During the day it’s packed with hungry customers, but the service is quick and friendly. The food is mouthwatering and delicious, but the restaurant loses points for cleanliness. Some of the tables have remnants of food or trash from its previous eaters.

The verdict:  Craving a good burrito? Need to satisfy the drunchies? El Farolito is the place to go.

★★★ ★out of 5

El Farolito, 4817 Mission Street San Francisco

Food Passport: Koja Kitchen

Kamikazi fries, one of Koja Kitchen’s most popular items. These crisscut fries are topped with bulgogi meat, sautéed onions, kimchi, green onions, a secret spicy sauce and Japanese mayo. All photos by Catherine Uy


It’s a dangerous situation, taking a bite from its delicate rice buns, hoping it won’t fall apart and spill its generous filling of bulgogi beef. The hand toasted garlic rice buns, which are crisp on the outside, have an overly soft and mushy interior, making it a challenge to eat. Take a bite from the top, and the overloaded burger begins its inevitable crumble, spilling a mixture of Siracha-like sauce and Japanese mayo. Things fall apart, and that’s ok. Sometimes all you need is a fork and napkins.

At Koja Kitchen, Chef Alan Tsai fuses together Korean and Japanese foods with a menu of Korean barbecue burgers, rice bowls and fries topped with seaweed flakes and kimchi.

The popular Asian-fusion restaurant started out as a food truck on the streets of San Francisco back in 2011. Though food truck ventures still happen with the occasional Off the Grid visits, this one found a permanent home in Berkeley two years ago on Telegraph Avenue.

A look inside the Berkeley fusion restaurant on Telegraph Avenue.
A look inside the Berkeley fusion restaurant, Koja Kitchen, on Telegraph Avenue.

When you enter, you’ll find a siracha bottle sitting on every table. The small space is filled with yellow walls and minimal decor, like flat screens displaying close-up shots of their own food-porn, and a few Japanese-inspired wall scrolls.

Be warned though, there aren’t many seats and most of the space is taken up with lines of customers. But the service here is fast and friendly, so you won’t be waiting anything more than ten minutes.

Beef koja served with a side of koja fries.

Their most popular side, kamikaze fries, are basically carne asada fries with an Asian twist. It’s made up of crisp crisscut fries drizzled in a sweet and tangy sauce, garnished with tender bits of slightly spicy kalbi-style beef, kimchi and green onions. Though all of this is delicious and full of umami flavors, the excessive amount of sauces make the fries soft and soggy.

Kamikaze fries could be a meal itself, but if you can’t handle them, there’s a lighter option dressed with spicy red sauce, Japanese mayo and seaweed flakes. The taste is similar to that of takoyaki, a Japanese street food made up octopus balls.

Kojas, on the other hand, are a whole different story. The restaurant’s main item, kojas, are barbecue burgers sandwiched between two lightly seasoned garlic rice buns. They come in three variations: barbecue chicken, bulgogi beef and portobello mushroom.

The mini burgers look like light snacks, but they’re actually quite filling. Their chicken koja is sweet and salty, as it’s served with a large caramelized pineapple slice and pieces of sesame vinaigrette lettuce. And their beef koja contains juicy strips of bulgogi in a sweet marinade served with sautéed onions. However, the rice buns aren’t firm enough to hold the meat and fillings together, though there’s a rice bowl option to remedy the messy eating.

The verdict: If you’re looking for a savory meal at an affordable price, Koja Kitchen is open till 9 p.m.

★★★★ out of 5

Koja Kitchen, 2395 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley

Food Passport: Yamo serves up Burmese classics

Stir fried egg noodles mixed with fried garlic, green onions, cilantro and beef from Yamo. The Mission restaurant serves meals with flavors influenced by Burmese cuisine. All photos by Catherine Uy


At the corner of 18th and Mission, lies a tiny restaurant, tucked between a beauty salon and smoke shop. Red paint peels and cracks off the surface of its tiled walls, some of which appear to be missing or broken. Below the window is a faded image of cats eating noodles with chopsticks from bright orange bowls.

Yamo is the kind of place you could easily miss if you walked by because of its run-down appearance, but its pungent aroma of garlic and spices are enough to lure you in. The hole-in-the wall Burmese restaurant serves a variety of dishes for takeout or dine-in. There’s sautéed tofu with black beans and mixed vegetables, samusas and chicken noodle soup cooked with a coconut milk base.

On weekdays, long lines of customers wait for their takeout or a chance to dine inside the tiny joint that serves hearty meals for under $10.

Expect to wait at least fifteen minutes for a seat, and a few more minutes for a chance to order. Don’t even think about going inside to check for empty seats. An elderly woman at the counter will squint her eyes, give you a mean glare and shoo you away.

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  • The scene in front of Yamo, a small Burmese restaurant located at the corner of 18th and Mission.
  • Inside the tiny space, a chef prepares noodle dishes for takeout in a cramped open kitchen.
  • Tea leaf salad (cabbage, tomato, onions, dried shrimp, fried bean, nuts and sesame seeds) at Yamo.

The wait can be annoying, especially since the restaurant only seats about ten people. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat, you’ll find rows of Viet Huong fish sauce bottles set against the window and a sign that reads: “Cash Only.”

You’ll be welcomed by a gray-haired woman, who won’t say anything at all. She’ll throw a paper placemat and menu on the counter where you sit and leave to tend to other diners. After a few minutes, she’ll visit you again, with an intense gaze, yelling to ask what you want. It’s like eating with your least favorite aunt.

A rich aroma of smoke, spices and meat fills the small rectangular space. There are no tables,  just a long counter offering an up-close view of the women prepping and cooking thanks to its open kitchen. The bar stools are arranged so close together that you’re basically bumping elbows with the person next to you. Behind the counter are two women, one taking orders and prepping meals, and another in a maroon apron cooking.

The women behind Yamo don’t seem to care about the dining experience, it’s all about the food.

The vegetable egg rolls while crisp and flakey, needs more seasoning. Portion wise, their popular tea-leaf salad is not enough, but it still packs a burst of flavors and textures. It’s sweet and sour, and tastes as if it were doused in a citrus dressing. The sesame seeds and fried beans give it a nice crunch, while the onions create this bitter bite. The only issue was that there were more cabbage than tea leaves.

But when your beef house noodles finally come, you’ll realize that the attitude and wait are worth it. The noodles are soft and warm, and garnished with crunchy bits of fried garlic. It’s mixed with green onions and minced cilantro served with thin slices of soft, tender beef. It’s incredibly greasy, but delicious, nonetheless.

The verdict: If you don’t mind smelling like smoke afterwards, dine in at Yamo. Otherwise order takeout.

★★★ out of 5

Yamo3406 18th StSan Francisco








SF State’s Vista Room offers fine dining on a budget

The oven roasted lamb chops (bottom) and eggplant parm tower (right) served at the Vista Room, SF State’s only on-campus fine dining experience. Photo by Martin Bustamante 


Double doors open to reveal a large dining room where each table is set with a glass of red roses. The decor is a bit outdated, with its white walls, black marble columns and long turquoise curtains. Yet the room still has a feel of sophistication. Soothing sounds of violins and cellos play in the background as two hosts kindly greet a group of eaters and walk them to their table. A sweet and savory aroma of freshly baked bread greets one’s nose at the door.

On the fourth floor of Burk Hall lies the Vista Room, SF State’s most elegant hidden gem. The fine dining restaurant, managed by hospitality students, offers a weekly three-course menu and unlimited drinks for just $17.

The Vista Room was started two decades ago by former Hospitality Department Chair, Janet Sim, as a hands-on lab for hospitality students in food service. Each meal is prepped and served by students under the supervision of its new chef, Shelly Rapaport. The menu features three meals (appetizer, entree, dessert) with menus changing every week.

Unlike a traditional fine dining establishment, the Vista Room exudes a nice casual ambiance despite its polished setting. There’s no defined dress code so you won’t feel out of place in jeans and a T-shirt. Most of their diners are casually dressed students or faculty in business attire.

Service: The service is excellent, and the staff is incredibly friendly and attentive. Many seem to anticipate your every need before asking, refilling your water every two minutes or constantly checking up on you. Yet none were ever intrusive or annoying. The tables were bussed quickly, but entrees took awhile to arrive. The taste, however, made up for the delay.

The corn chowder soup with bacon bits and potatoes. Photo by Martin Bustamante
The corn chowder soup with bacon bits and potatoes. Photo by Martin Bustamante

Appetizers: Diners are welcomed with a variety of bread rolls. My group and I started our lunch with golden-brown Parmesan bread. The texture was light and flaky, and had the perfect blend of Parmesan cheese.

Appetizers included your choice of soup or salad. I opted for the corn chowder soup with bacon bits and potatoes. It was garnished with corn fritters – deep fried cakes made of corn. As soon I took the first bite, I was in heaven. I immediately wondered how I went twenty-two years without ever eating corn fritters. They tasted like fluffy pancakes. The soup was rich, creamy and had a thick consistency. It had this summery, sweet corn taste that worked well with the bacon, which gave off a subtle smokey flavor.

Entrees: I’ll be honest, I started planning my return right after I took a bite of the oven roasted lamb chops. The meat was cooked perfectly as it was soft, tender and juicy. It was served over a bed of couscous in a red wine reduction sauce. The sauce brought out this sweet and tangy flavor. My companions, on the other hand, enjoyed the eggplant Parmesan and the seasonal catch (petral sole) over polenta with asparagus.

The lemon meringue pie served at the Vista Room. Photo by Martin Bustamante

Dessert: The lemon meringue pie was more like a lemon meringue bite as they were baked in tiny pie shells. These were difficult to eat because the crust was too hard. The lemon custard filling was silky and rich, while the meringue topping was fluffy and sweet. It was unfortunate because the crust would have brought the whole dessert together.

The verdict: With its great service and gourmet meals, the Vista Room is the place to eat. The portions are just right and you get more than what you pay for. I mean, where else can you get a delicious three-course meal on a college student budget?


Vista Room, Burk Hall 1600 Holloway Ave, 4th Floor,  San Francisco


Food Passport: exploring Bay Area cuisines

Graphic created by Caty McCarthy

Ask my friends what my reaction to food is, and they’ll usually imitate me playing with my hair and saying “you know what sounds really good right now?” I get excited about grocery shopping, and I spend my time and energy on Yelp searching for new restaurants to try. I also have this problem of watching the Food Network while eating dinner. Oh, and I’m that girl, the one who Instagrams what she’s eating.

Hi, hello, I’m Catherine Uy, a 22-year-old journalism student with a passion for food. I’m just a small-town girl lookin’ for the meal of her life. For the next few months, I’ll be exploring all the diverse foods that the Bay Area has to offer. I’ll be writing features and reviews on a different cuisine every other week.

Food Passport is a column dedicated to celebrating food. I’ll be writing restaurant reviews every now and then, but it’s not about the stories of me eating. Every restaurant and meal has a story. My goal is to share with you the story behind what and where eat.