Though its name recalls a region of Spain, the commanding corner restaurant's menu of small plates is surprisingly and delightfully global
Photo by Rory McNamara

Before small plates go the way of the brontosaurus and the leisure suit, I thought I should look in on Andalu, which has held down the corner of 16th and Guerrero streets now for the better part of a decade and was one of the progenitors of our much-discussed "global tapas" trend. The restaurant replaced a slightly dodgy taqueria called Maya back in the halcyon dot-com days — this would be two busts ago — and, with its neighbor, Tokyo Go Go, helped bring a luster of money and youth to a neighborhood that was a little lacking in luster of any kind. (Tokyo Go Go's older sibling, Ace Wasabi's Rock'n' Roll Sushi, né Flying Kamikazes, is in the Marina District, to give you some idea of the social flavoring. I wouldn't say the immediate area is Marina South, but I wouldn't say it isn't, either.)

From the beginning, Andalu has enjoyed at least one large basic asset — a surprisingly brick-and-mortar one, considering the restaurant's birth in the age of Internet pixie dust: it isn't just located at the corner of 16th and Guerrero, it's right at the corner. It commands the corner, and it's a busy corner. You can't miss the place, with its distinctive green sign — a big green A with a swoosh, like something from The Jetsons — aglow in the twilight. The restaurant is, in effect, its own billboard.

The name, meanwhile, reminds us of Andalucia, that sunny province in the south of Spain, and the reminder subtly helps set us up for small plates. These will turn out to be wildly variegated, borrowing influences from around the world, but the menu does open in distinctively Iberian style, with several sherries and ports, along with a plate of seriously spicy Andalucian-style green and black olives ($3.25). The olives are marinated with fennel, lemon, chili peppers, and garlic — and it's the last two you notice, since they appear whole, as pod and (peeled) clove.

But after this brief bow to the old country, the world is suddenly our oyster. Unlike nearby Ramblas, which does hew to a certain Spanish authenticity, Andalu's kitchen turns out versions of items as diverse as miso-glazed sea bass and spare ribs braised in Coke. (The menu doesn't offer oysters, incidentally; those inclined to shellfish will have to make do with mussels.)

Since I am perpetually curious about macaroni and cheese ($7.50), I was interested to see what freshening could be given to this most American of dishes. Typical restaurant fancifications involve the use of chic cheese — Gruyère is a frequent choice — but Andalu's menu card described the mac and cheese as "crispy." What could this mean? A particularly heavy fall of buttered bread crumbs over the top — a kind of super-gratin? Whatever I was expecting, I wasn't expecting what came: wedges of what must have been a kind of mac-and-cheese pie, breaded and flash-fried. The wedges themselves reminded me of slices of Brie or a runny triple-cream cheese within an edible rind. The wedges' rigidity made them suitable for dipping in a stainless-steel ramekin — like a giant's thimble — of herbed tomato vinaigrette.

Fish tacos ($10 for four small ones) — a SoCal favorite — were dolled up here with grilled ahi, but mostly they tasted of the mango salsa ladled over their tops. In other words, sweet. Better balanced was a hailbut paillard ($9.50), a thin disk of tissue dressed with a tasty mix of cilantro, ginger, soy, and hot grapeseed oil. The fish was like cooked carpaccio, with the flaw being that it had been cooked right onto the plate, so that eating it was like tearing up a sub-floor.

Who can resist Moroccan lamb cigars ($7.25)? Not me. Flutes of pastry filled with seasoned minced lamb and deep-fried to golden crispiness should have been spectacular — worthy members of the egg roll-flauta family — instead of just very good.

Also from this author

  • The last supper

    Food writer Paul Reidinger bids farewell after more than a decade covering the San Francisco food scene

  • Radish

    Staging well-crafted feats of new all-American, neatly tucked away from the Valencia Street h-words

  • Boxing Room

    A warm Hayes Valley spot that punches up the Cajun trend with lagniappe, mirilton, and po'boys