Arts and Entertainment
by dan leone
I STEPPED OUT of the car onto a chicken bone, which is a good omen, so long as you don't turn an ankle. I didn't. The bone broke into two pieces, and I made two wishes, one for each. Then I made another wish for the tuft of gritty gnawed-off chicken meat stuck to one of them.
You're thinking: what a wishful thinker! And I am, I know. Nobody thinks more wishfully than I do. I wish for everything, and I'll wish on anything: heads-up pennies, ladybugs, and first stars, but also bottle caps, cats, and any other stars I happen to see. You know the ones you get when you conk your head? I wish on those, too. My thinking is, if I make enough wishes, some of them are bound to come true, and some have. (See Yankees not winning the World Series last year.) Most haven't. (See this year.) Yeah, the Indians are off to a hot start, Giants too. But for me to get any satisfaction from this baseball season, the Yankees are going to have to go 10-152, meaning they lose the rest of their games.
But I didn't want to talk about baseball. I wanted to talk about the Mariposa Cafe, which isn't on Mariposa Street. It's on Tennessee and 26th, that stone-sided corner building a block and a block from Third and Army, respectively. Where warehouses and a broken chicken bone are ... you can't miss it.
OK, are you there? Pretty cool, huh? Like a grungy church basement or something, with slapped-together tables, and then those picnic-style ones with cushioned bench seats. Two-tone paneling for walls, entirely unhung with art with all due respect to the one or two no-smoking signs. One of those drop-topped ceilings with built-in fluorescent light panels. Flies buzzing, and one big electric hum coming from the kitchen, by way of aural ambience ... And when I was there, someone was mopping the tile floor the whole time, right around all us eaters "lift your feet" (not really) so my meal was accompanied by the strong smell of bleachy cleaning agents.
If this is not your idea of ideal atmosphere, then get it to go, you candy-ass snob, but get it. You won't find a heaping-er pile of food this side of memory lane R.I.P. Ann's Cafe, I miss you like I miss the Pit: psychotically.
Not that there's any comparison here, really. The Mariposa is mean, for example. And it's Chinese food instead of omelettes.
I ordered the roast pork ($6.50) for there, and I ordered beef wonton noodle soup ($4.50) to go, for Crawdad. Then I accidentally ordered a plate of soy chicken legs ($2.75), to boot. I thought I was ordering a single leg (75¢), but apparently "chicken leg, 75¢" on the wall refers to fried chicken legs (75¢), and they were out of those, and you can't just get one soy chicken leg. This is cafeteria style, you understand, so I could have had the woman dump the plate full of legs back into the bin, but she seemed pissed at me already, and anyway dumping chicken legs, unlike stepping on them, is bad juju, so I just took the plate and shut up.
Which gave me something to get started on while I waited the 45 seconds for my other stuff to come out of the kitchen. And that was when my eyes did that cartoon thing, springing out of their sockets and boinging around on the table like Ping-Pong balls. The plate was bigger than a lot of serving plates, and it was piled high with steamed rice, cabbage, and enough sliced pork to feed two of me. To give you an idea: it was 2 p.m., and all I'd had to eat all day was two slices of toast and an apple (and maybe one or two of those soy chicken legs, which were great, by the way). Still, I ate and ate and ate until I was stuffed, and then I had to eat and eat some more before the leftovers would all fit into one of those big three-part Styrofoam things.
The pork was great, by the way. It was peppery and gravy-y, and tasted fresh enough to have been butchered that morning which, in that neighborhood, who knows?
Anyway, I crawled to the car, laden with leftovers, and I thanked the broken chicken bone on my way by, because one of my wishes had just come true.
Epilogue: Crawdad ate some soup and some pork for lunch, later. That was yesterday. Today, right now, writing this, I ate the rest of the soup for lunch. (It was great, by the way.) For dinner I'll clean up the pork and chicken. Four meals, $13.75.
Mariposa Cafe. 1599 Tennessee (at 26th St.), S.F. (415) 285-5105. Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Takeout available. Credit cards not accepted. Beer. 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).