Saturday, September 23, 2006

Stanley Roberts Restaurant Tour

At Backroads, we love to eat ? from exotic ethnic dishes to all-American comfort food and just about everything in between. Over the years we?ve sampled wonderful dishes in dozens and dozens of restaurants in Northern California.
Today, we?re going to try a few more. And we?re going to do it in the company of a terrific guy who does not just eat to live, he lives to eat!
Stanley Roberts loves good food. He loves seafood, ice cream, pancakes and cheese steaks, just to name a few. Stanley loves food so much he?s created a web site to help other people find exceptional eateries.
The site, ?,? has thousands of reviews written by real people, rather than paid critics.
?Word of mouth is king,? Stanley explains. ?If you don?t like something, you?ll tell a million people.
If you like something, you?ll tell one person. We8there, we?re trying to change that. If you like something we want you to tell you a million people.?
Since 1980, Stanley has been working up a big appetite as a photojournalist. Today, he?s taking a day off to show us four of his favorite places to eat in San Francisco.
Our first stop is on the Embarcadero. Java House serves breakfast and lunch all day, every day. The hamburgers and pancakes are popular, as are the prices. We have hearty helpings of pancakes, eggs and nice crisp bacon. The food sure is good and so is the friendly atmosphere.
Owner Phillip Papadopoulos, his wife Susie and their daughter Maria treat customers like extended members of their family. The Papadopoulos family has owned Java House since 1983, but the restaurant has been here since 1912, when the area was a busy, working waterfront. I ask Maria why the restaurant has endured so long.
?It?s because it?s the last part of what was the great history of San Francisco,? she says. ?We try to retain that part of the character of the waterfront.?
With the fun characters and the good food, it?s tempting to stay at Java House right through lunch. But Stanley has something else in mind ? a taste of Philadelphia. We got to Lower Pacific Heights and a little restaurant that serves up big, sloppy sandwiches. It?s called the Cheese Steak Shop and for Stanley, who grew up in Philadelphia, coming here is like coming home.
?I go on a mission,? Stanley says. ?My mission in life is to find the best Philly cheese steak places outside of Philadelphia.?
Stanley says these cheese steaks are the best ones you can get in San Francisco. They?re loaded with chopped meat, chopped grilled onions, and American cheese. It?s a tasty combination and an authentic one. The rolls are flown in from Philadelphia and the restaurant offers both sweet and hot peppers, just like they do ?back East.? Next, we try a ?hoagie,? a Philadelphia specialty that is loaded with Italian meat, cheese, lettuce and onions and oil. But my favorite is the ?cheese hoagie? with provolone and American almost an inch thick. I?m getting full, but Stanley has one more hometown treat for us.
?I cannot have the Philadelphia experience unless we include Tastykake,? Stanley says, as he unwraps some of the baked goods. They?re hard to find in California, but they?re worth the search. They are very flavorful, but not too sweet.
Our next stop is full of sweet indulgences. Mitchell?s Ice Cream, on the edge of the Mission, is one of San Francisco?s finest dessert destinations. People come from all over to taste the rich ice cream and unique flavors that are made here daily. Linda Mitchell helps run the shop that her father Larry opened back in 1953. Linda and Larry tell me mango has been the most popular flavor over the years, ?hands down.? Stanley and I sample the best-seller and we can?t resist trying a few other flavors ? including vanilla, egg nog, and rum raisin ? as long as we?re here. All the flavors are delicious and creamy. The secret is 16 percent butterfat!
Our final stop sits deep in the Sunset. Thanh Long is believed to be San Francisco?s oldest Vietnamese restaurant; it opened in 1971. Although Thanh Long has a full menu, many people come here just to get the restaurant?s two signature dishes ? roasted Dungeness crab and garlic noodles. The two recipes are closely guarded by the An family, which owns Thanh Long. In fact, the Ans built a second kitchen, sealed off to everyone but family members who prepare the dishes and push them out a hole in the wall. Just a taste reveals that these are secrets we?d love to learn! The crab and the noodles are alive with flavor. They?re buttery, but not too buttery and garlicky but not overwhelming.
After dinner, we meet co-owner Hannah An, one of the few people who knows exactly what happens inside that secret kitchen. Hannah?s grandmother brought the secret recipes with her went she left Vietnam in the 1970?s. And Hannah?s not about the spill the secrets. We?ll just have to come back to Thanh Long the next time we crave roasted crab.

For more information about dining at Thanh Long, call 415-665-1146 or visit the An?s website: .
For more information about Mitchell?s Ice Cream, call 415-648-2300 or log on to .
The Cheese Steak Shop has several locations in the Bay Area. You can find them online at or by calling 510-724-7100. You can reach Java House by calling 415-495-7260. For thousands of restaurant reviews written by ?real people,? check out Stanley Roberts? website: .