December 18, 2002

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cheap eats
by dan leone

Space invader

THERE'S A THING that happens. Tell me if you have this: you'll be in a car, driving from one point in the city to another point in the city. The important thing is that you are in the city. You are not on the open road. There are cars, pedestrians, liquor stores, and a lack of parking spaces. Let's say, for the sake of clarity, that you are in the Sunset District, aiming toward a Hawaiian restaurant without a sign or a name, exactly, but you know where it is. And let's say, for even clearer clarity, that "you" are "me."

Here's what happens if you're me: You see a particularly inviting parking spot, nowhere near your destination (in some cases not even in the same neighborhood), and, for the same reason that some people climb mountains, you take it. You park, smile smugly to yourself, get out, and start walking, often not even in the direction of your destination. What do you care? You have a parking spot.

The Hawaiian restaurant of which I speak (and which I'll have to review some other time) is on the corner of Judah and 32nd Avenue. I came out of Golden Gate Park on 25th Avenue, crossed Lincoln, and turned right on Irving. Big mistake. There was a line of cars waiting to turn right on 26th Avenue in order to turn right again into a parking lot that didn't have a lot of parking – in fact, none. And on the other side of the street, three cars were waiting for two cars to back out of two spaces. There was going to be a fight. For now their blinkers were doing all the talking. But traffic was balled up in both directions.

I looked around and couldn't figure out what was going on, attractionwise. There was a bank. There was a chiropractor's office. Couple of restaurants. A produce market. A burger joint. A lot of people walking around, a lot of cars, no parking. I couldn't figure it out, but eventually, without pissing off too many people, I swerved, juked, and jimmied my way to the intersection. The line of cars turning right to turn right again into the parkingless lot wasn't moving at all. Here's what I did: I turned left. It was dark and quiet and clear sailing ... except that not even halfway down the block there was a big fat juicy parking space, just sitting there, and I'd be damned if I was going to pass it up. I was within walking distance of 32nd and Judah, I guess, but that wasn't why I'd parked.

I walked back to Irving to see what the buzz was. There was a Chinese joint with ducks and other animals hanging in the window and a line of people and other animals all the way out the door – getting it to go, I know, 'cause there were empty tables in there. I'd never heard of the place, myself, but I did what I always do when I come across a bustling little hot spot that everyone in the neighborhood, if not the world, seems to love. I ducked into the restaurant next door, which was utterly empty.

Ha's, it's called, and its claim to fame is having been voted "best takeout" by Bay Guardian readers this year. Their takeout is so good that nobody bothers eating in. But between them and whatever the name of that place was next door ... well, I'm not a traffic analyst, so let me see what I can say about the food.

It was good. I enjoyed it. Um ...

I can't recommend the "paper wrapped chicken" appetizer ($5.75), on account of false advertising. It wasn't wrapped in paper; it was wrapped in tinfoil. Tinfoil! Who in their right mind would pay good money to eat chicken wrapped in tinfoil? I admit, it's not impossible to imagine a similar sort of objection to paper, but don't forget that I'm a writer. I had a pen, but I didn't have anything to write on (which is just one of my many problems with cloth napkins). That's why I ordered paper wrapped chicken: in case I was going to be moved by my meal to jot down anything of value, and it wouldn't have been the first time my notes were saturated with chicken grease.

As it is, I have no notes. Only fond and fleeting memories of something else that was pretty good. Beef and tender greens, or something like that, for somewhere between six and seven bucks. I also have some house special chow mein I took to go, hoping to find out around lunchtime today (i.e., now) what the big fuss was, takeoutwise. But, as often happens around here, Crawdad has beaten me to the refrigerator for the good parts – the shrimps and chickens and beefs – and here I sit with basically a big bowl of noodles.

Ha's. 2333 Irving (at 26th Avenue), S.F. (415) 665-6033. Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer. Takeout available. MasterCard, Visa. 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). 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).