November 27, 2002



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cheap eats
by Dan Leone


LOOK AT IT this way: if it weren't an easy and cheesy old fluffy old journalistically tired contrivance, then it would never have occurred to me in the first place to bang out this column by just listing things I'm thankful for.

We'll have to wait and see what happens, but I'll try and make at least one of them be about a restaurant, if for no other reason than to have some statistics to put at the bottom.

And we'll leave God out of it, because I don't believe in the Dude (except sometimes when I listen to Joseph Spence records). And we'll leave lucky stars and goodness out of it too, 'cause I don't believe in them anymore either. Santa Claus? Ronald McDonald? Who to thank? ...

I know! Doughnuts. Let's "thank doughnuts," as the new expression goes, for each and all of the following, and let's have bullets – better yet, bullet holes – before each, by way of demarcation and street credibility. Ready? Go.

Thank doughnuts for doughnuts, and for all that they stand for: sweetness, holes, philosophy, and bad-for-you.

Thank doughnuts for chickens, of course, and for all that they stand for: chickens.

Thank doughnuts for turkey. For turkeys. I'm thinking about the 30 or 40 wild ones that have taken over the vineyards where we live. One time my chickens got out of the yard and into the vineyards, and without my asking, the wild turkeys herded them up for me and chased them home.

For beef. And for pork, the other beef. And especially for sausage (and bacon, the other sausage). For breakfast, lunch, and dinner – especially holiday dinners, since they are the only thing that makes any sense about holidays.

Let's see, have I left out any meats? Lamb. Thank doughnuts for lamb, the other meat. And rattlesnakes, alligators, goats, rabbits, wild boar, duck, dove, quail, turducken, deer, elk, etc.

For fire. For smoke.

Fish in general, but especially catfish and crawdads.

For butter, without which toast would be dry and life just barely worth living.

For etc., and ellipses, and exclamation marks, dashes and parentheses, without which life would not be worth writing about.

For sports, without which food would not be worth writing about.

For melody, harmony, poetry, rhythm, cowboy hats, and spoons (without which soup would be a lot harder to eat).

For paper napkins. For long division and longaniza. (I checked, and the new Just for You has the same menu, more or less, and some of the same artwork, same general atmosphere – just more of it. The cornmeal pancakes are still great, and the longaniza is still sweet as doughnuts, only better for you.)

For dreams, in which both dead loved ones and five-pound omelettes from Ann's Cafe can always still appear to you, if nothing else.

For losing and losers. To the winner go the spoils, true. But who wants spoils?

For Sonoma County, where my days are now unofficially numbered, and where I learned that you can take the boy out of the city, but you can't take the country out of the music.

That Merle Haggard wore Birkenstocks at his Jazz Fest concert in Nob Hill. That I found a pair of sunglasses at Potrero Rec. That I didn't lose my wallet.

For failure. For laziness. For being able to shit in public rest rooms, no problem. For easy cheesy old fluffy journalistic contrivances, without which I would never have been able to write three restaurant reviews about two restaurants in one day in order to hop a van for Louisiana for Thanksgiving.

For back roads. For lazy fly balls. For comebackers. For come-from-behind comebacks, and returns-from-the-dead in general.

Other day I was walking up Mission Street for a pre-gig burrito, and I had with me the famous misunderstander of chickens, Wally Guitarlos, and he was swearing by San Jose No. 2, and when we got there we found out that it had turned into another restaurant. Guess which one? Chava's! My favorite Mexican restaurant, dead and cremated at its old 18th Street location, has brushed off the ashes of nonexistence and kicked San Jose No. 2 across Mission Street to San Jose No. 1. It still looks exactly like San Jose No. 2 inside, but it's not. It's Chava's! And that's good news in any language. We didn't eat there, but that doesn't mean you can't.

Chava's. 2839 Mission (at 24th St.), S.F. (415) 282-0283. Daily, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Takeout available. Beer. 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).