It's Saturday morning, 10 a.m., and the sun streaming into your bedroom is driving a wedge into your brain. Someone put little socks on your teeth while you were sleeping. You smell like a distillery. You failed to follow any of the drunken rules when you stumbled home, pantsless, the night before: You didn't drink a big jug of water and take two ibuprofen, and you didn't make yourself a fried egg sandwich. (You know about that one, right? Grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg and mayo inside — works every time.) You promise yourself you're never going to mix mai tais, margaritas, and merlot again. With a Mary Jane finale.
But if you're up for some real chow (instead of crackers, club soda, and Emergen-C), fortunately you'll find salvation in a number of our city's dining outposts. Since there are cultures that have been dealing with hangovers for many moons longer than our little post–Barbary Coast enclave has, I went on a citywide tour to unearth the best international food cures to help counteract the deleterious effects of knowing a bartender, blacking out at bachelor parties, or just drinking to forget.
A hot bowl of the Vietnamese noodle soup pho (pronounced fuh) comes highly recommended as a restorative by a couple restaurant owners I know, and some bona fide boozehounds. Turtle Tower (631 Larkin, SF. 415-409-3333) in Little Saigon has the best pho in the city, and number nine, the Pho Ga/chicken noodle soup — a steaming bowl of silky, hand-cut rice noodles and some darned good white chicken meat — is your rescue. Since Turtle Tower's pho is considered to be northern, or Hanoi, style, it comes in a light broth with cilantro and a side of lemon and sliced peppers. Order the small size — it's plenty big enough, trust. Back it up with a tangy lemon soda and you are seriously set. Lucky you, they're open early, so you can get your slurp on.
Some other folks wise to the soup-as-hangover-antidote method are those wild ones of the mountains, the Basque. Sheepherders really know how to party. (What else can you do there? Wait, don't answer that — just leave the sheep out of this.) Their classic day-after elixir is garlic soup. Visit Piperade (1015 Battery, SF. 415-391-2555, www.piperade.com) and order a bowl of hearty soup made with rock shrimp, bacon, bread, garlic, and egg. It covers all the bases. You can eat at the cozy bar, so don't let the white tablecloths scare you.
OK, everyone has heard of the infamous Mexican hangover cure, menudo. (No jokes about the band, please, that's tired.) Menudo is a soup made with beef tripe (yes, it comes from three of a cow's four stomachs), hominy, onion, and spices. Sometimes you'll find some pork knuckles or calf's foot. The Greeks have a version of it; same goes for a number of South American countries, and you'll even find a variant in the Philippines. Menudo is traditionally only available on the weekends, so I made sure I was good and hungover the Sunday I stumbled into Chava's (2839 Mission, SF. 415-282-0283) to try it. How hungover? How about a wedding rehearsal dinner the night prior, with a cavalcade of flutes of sparkling wine, red wine, and a couple French 75s followed by two old-fashioneds? Yeah, I was feeling it.
But, um, here's what I've decided about menudo: On the days when you're so nauseated you need to get sick, come to Chava's, get a bowl of menudo to go, bring it home, and open the lid. Just one whiff, partnered with the sight of the rubbery tripe and animal parts, will inspire a great big Technicolor yawn. No offense to Chava's, but you simply had to grow up with the stuff to be able to eat it, let alone eat it when you're hungover.
Speaking of fatty food: It's supposedly tough on your liver the day after, since it’s already working double time to flush out all those nasty toxins, but I say whatever — if the fat makes you feel good, eat up. This is where el Farolito (2951 24th St., SF.