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cheap eats
by dan leone

The smiths

MY FRIEND BIKKETS is one of the best freelance editors in the world. Nobody can make a novel into a novella, or a novella into a short story, or a short story into a prose poem, or a prose poem into a pithy saying, or a pithy saying into a meaningful look, like she can.

In this case she was helping me make a novella into ... well, all exaggeration aside, a novellini. For which I was and am and always will be super grateful. I love getting edited. Really. I'm not one of those ridiculo-cantankerous wordsmiths who can't stand to see their alphabetic birthlings wasted by a red pen or blue pen or even red or blue pencils, ruthlessly cut down and x-ed out before their prime, like so many thinned-out cabbage seedlings, and with cold-hearted if level-headed disregard for the hours of painful photosynthesis – or, check that, in the words' case, that would be hours of authorial sweat and tears and all-around smithing ... with which, um, they were smithed. [Note to the editor: if you so much as breathe on that last sentence, I'll come after you with a nine iron.]

Anyways, I guessed since Bikkets wasn't charging me much for her work, I'd let her pick the restaurant. And she picked a great one: Cafe Lola, her new favorite eating hole, and it would be mine, too, if it weren't that Gravy's still exists. But they're two different ballparks, of course, Gravy's being soul food and Lola being burgers and sandwiches and soups and salads and specials and all-day breakfast and such in an almost coffeehouseish atmosphere.

Consummating the editorial act over lunch turned out to work real well, too, because when her red pen ran out of ink she just started pouring ketchup all over everything.

I'm kidding.

I'm serious about Lola though. You've got to go there. It's in Hunters Point on Innes all the way down by the water. You'll know you've arrived when you see a dog in a low-cut dress and high-heeled shoes holding up a big burger over the doorway, and, in the window, the alternatingly neon-lit words: "HO" and "MADE." So, see? I ain't the only one needs a editor.

Now, inside – but wait, I forgot to mention the two-ton headless giraffe across the street at the corner of Innes and Earl. At least Bikkets thought it was a giraffe; hard to tell, without the head. Between which headlessness and Lola, the sign-swung waitressperson dog, Earl Street downhills to the bay and a beautiful view of Oakland across the water.

So it's an interesting and somewhat scenic location for a restaurant, and inside's pretty interesting and scenic too. There are great homemade tabletops embossed with leaf collages, elegant chandeliers, real nice real big windows, glittery stools at the wraparound counter, and – I'm saving the best for last – paintings of lesbian love acts disguised as flying appliances and kitchen stuff!

Oh, and go to the bathroom, even if you don't have to go to the bathroom, because I think it may take the title away from the forever funky Park Bench Cafe john-boy. There's a presidential penis chart, for example, and a toilet-side ruler for measuring your own, if you're so inclined. There's a film strip viewer in there, and all sorts of other general colorfulness.

But all that's neither here nor there nor food. For food we're talking big, juicy, burgers grilled before your eyes (if you're smart enough to sit at the counter) by a crisscrossed-fork-and-knife-tattooed dude with a burger flipper in one hand and a can of Bud in the other. Now that's not only good atmosphere but also good all-around juju.

And to prove it, the burgers are great. I got a bacon cheeseburger ($7.50), fries included, and it was about a half-pound of meat, rare just exactly like I wanted it, with good bacon and choose-a-cheese. American, for my money. Bikkets tried to edit that choice to cheddar, or provolone, or Swiss, but I stuck to my guns. Those kinds of cheese are all well and good, but if it's going on a burger, if you'll pardon my patriotism, it's got to be American.

The french fries were fine.

I didn't taste Bikkets's ham Reuben ($6.75), salad included, on account of its condimentation, so you'll have to take her word for it ... which I can't remember, exactly, but you gotta figure it was something concise like "lovely" or "huge" or "best ever," Lola being her new favorite restaurant. This being Cheap Eats and not the real world (or fiction), let me get my red pen and cross that all out and say, for the sake of turnabout, that Bikkets found the ham Reuben, in her words, "Mysteriostupendishistical. Zowie!"

Cafe Lola. 702 Innes (at Earl), S.F. (415) 282-8091. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Takeout available. Credit cards not accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).