Guardian Guide: Comfort food and joy

Warm and hearty fare to keep you cozy through the season


Wintertime has descended, which means it's high time for wonderfully unhealthy, heavy eating (a food coma is as close to hibernation as you can get). The chilly nights practically demand that you keep yourself in extra cuddly form, but at least you can hide your pale, flabby body under coats and sweaters. As we know, San Francisco's Victorian and Edwardian apartments can be hella drafty, so when your fingers feel like frozen Vienna sausages and you need a break from wrapping presents, here are some hot spots around town guaranteed to warm you — and fill you — right up.

Nothing gets you toasty like a big bowl of soup, so count your lucky stars there are Vietnamese pho joints all over this foggy, damp city. The finest of them all is Turtle Tower, where you get some of the best pho in the city, and it's ridiculously cheap. At the first sign of a cold, get yourself a bowl of their pho ga (chicken noodle) soup — you'll score a pore-cleaning blast of steam as you slurp the delicate hand-cut noodles. You can really sweat a cold out with a bowl of the beef soup, like the pho soc vang — and feel free to go nuts adding some spicy, sinus-clearing sriracha to it.
631 Larkin, SF. (415) 409-3333

The Japanese have turned noodles into an art form (it's right up there with bonsai), but it's a shame so few eateries in our Japanophilic town give them much respect. One place that knows how to rock the ramen right is Suzu, nestled in the bottom of the Japantown Kinokuniya complex. It's a small space, but the options for bowls of tender udon and silky ramen are varied and numerous. Some swear by the chicken kara-age (fried chicken), but the mabo ramen is the truly irresistible choice: tofu and ground pork in a somewhat spiced broth. Slurp.
1581 Webster, suite 105, SF. (415) 346-5083

The only snow we tend to get is in the bathrooms at the clubs, but you can still make like Hans and Heidi and head over to this quirky chalet for a winter wonderland night of fondue. Take your pick from a variety of cheese and beef fondues and start dunking chunks of baguette (carbs and calories be damned). You can even choose extra sides for dipping, such as apple, sausage, and mushrooms. But a ticket to ride to this alpine fantasy comes at a price — not quite a Swiss bank withdrawal, but still: cheese fondue is $34 for two, beef is $44 for two, and sides are $4 each — and if you have your heart set on some chocolate fondue for dessert, you’ll pay $16 for two. ("Edelweiss" not included.)
2323 Van Ness, SF. (415) 885-6116

The French have it down with soupe a l'oignon gratinée. Really, what's not to love about crusty bread, sweet golden-brown onions, chicken and beef broth, a whisper of brandy, fresh thyme, and melted Gruyère cheese? It's the original meal in a cup, or bowl for that matter. And one of the better bowls of this wonder stuff can be had at Absinthe, working a très charmant brasserie environment to accompany a menu of Frenchie classics. Finish or, heck, bookend dinner with some primo cocktails from the bar, and you'll leave toasty and a little toasted.
398 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-1590,

The Germans practically invented hefty food, and if there is ever a time to scarf down some schnitzel or sauerbraten, these cold-ass months are it. Two East Berlin lasses run this homey neighborhood joint and will ensure you are well fed without totally lightening your wallet (entrées clock in at less than $15). And vegetarians, achtung! Now is the time in Sprockets when you eat, since there are a rather tasty vegetarian schnitzel and a meatless cabbage roulade on the menu, both served in generous portions with mashed potatoes. Bonus: this place is always warm and packed with friendly bodies, partially due to the seriously legit beers on tap. Prost!
381 S.

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