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It's Saturday morning, 10 a.m., and the sun streaming into your bedroom is driving a wedge into your brain. Someone put little socks on your teeth while you were sleeping. You smell like a distillery. You failed to follow any of the drunken rules when you stumbled home, pantsless, the night before: You didn't drink a big jug of water and take two ibuprofen, and you didn't make yourself a fried egg sandwich. (You know about that one, right? Grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg and mayo inside — works every time.) You promise yourself you're never going to mix mai tais, margaritas, and merlot again. With a Mary Jane finale.
But if you're up for some real chow (instead of crackers, club soda, and Emergen-C), fortunately you'll find salvation in a number of our city's dining outposts. Since there are cultures that have been dealing with hangovers for many moons longer than our little post–Barbary Coast enclave has, I went on a citywide tour to unearth the best international food cures to help counteract the deleterious effects of knowing a bartender, blacking out at bachelor parties, or just drinking to forget.
A hot bowl of the Vietnamese noodle soup pho (pronounced fuh) comes highly recommended as a restorative by a couple restaurant owners I know, and some bona fide boozehounds. Turtle Tower (631 Larkin, SF. 415-409-3333) in Little Saigon has the best pho in the city, and number nine, the Pho Ga/chicken noodle soup — a steaming bowl of silky, hand-cut rice noodles and some darned good white chicken meat — is your rescue. Since Turtle Tower's pho is considered to be northern, or Hanoi, style, it comes in a light broth with cilantro and a side of lemon and sliced peppers. Order the small size — it's plenty big enough, trust. Back it up with a tangy lemon soda and you are seriously set. Lucky you, they're open early, so you can get your slurp on.
Some other folks wise to the soup-as-hangover-antidote method are those wild ones of the mountains, the Basque. Sheepherders really know how to party. (What else can you do there? Wait, don't answer that — just leave the sheep out of this.) Their classic day-after elixir is garlic soup. Visit Piperade (1015 Battery, SF. 415-391-2555, www.piperade.com ) and order a bowl of hearty soup made with rock shrimp, bacon, bread, garlic, and egg. It covers all the bases. You can eat at the cozy bar, so don't let the white tablecloths scare you.
OK, everyone has heard of the infamous Mexican hangover cure, menudo. (No jokes about the band, please, that's tired.) Menudo is a soup made with beef tripe (yes, it comes from three of a cow's four stomachs), hominy, onion, and spices. Sometimes you'll find some pork knuckles or calf's foot. The Greeks have a version of it; same goes for a number of South American countries, and you'll even find a variant in the Philippines. Menudo is traditionally only available on the weekends, so I made sure I was good and hungover the Sunday I stumbled into Chava's (2839 Mission, SF. 415-282-0283) to try it. How hungover? How about a wedding rehearsal dinner the night prior, with a cavalcade of flutes of sparkling wine, red wine, and a couple French 75s followed by two old-fashioneds? Yeah, I was feeling it.
But, um, here's what I've decided about menudo: On the days when you're so nauseated you need to get sick, come to Chava's, get a bowl of menudo to go, bring it home, and open the lid. Just one whiff, partnered with the sight of the rubbery tripe and animal parts, will inspire a great big Technicolor yawn. No offense to Chava's, but you simply had to grow up with the stuff to be able to eat it, let alone eat it when you're hungover.
Speaking of fatty food: It's supposedly tough on your liver the day after, since it’s already working double time to flush out all those nasty toxins, but I say whatever — if the fat makes you feel good, eat up. This is where el Farolito (2951 24th St., SF. 415-641-0758) lives up to its "little lighthouse" name, especially for those who can't see through their morning-after daze. The doctor is ready to see you now: The super quesadilla suiza is a flour tortilla exploding with a mass of carne asada, cheese, meat, avocado, salsa, and sour cream that you can pick up and hold in your quivering DTs-afflicted hands. It's so huge you can bring the rest of it home for when you're hungry again. (What is it about hangovers that turns everyone into Count Snackula?)
A runner-up in the "Mexican food–bad for you" category are the nachos (and a Pacifico, if you can manage it) at Taqueria Can-Cun (2288 Mission, SF. 415-252-9560). The nachos saved me one afternoon after a bleary night in North Beach with some Italians (don't ask). You'll get a pile of meat, refried beans, avocado, cheese, sour cream, jalapeños, and their lousy grainy chips that actually come to life in the nachos. Spicy too. Feeling more arriba now?
The Irish know a thing or two about hangovers, and you can find a hearty Irish breakfast — sausage, bacon, black-and-white pudding (you might not want to eat it — it's made with blood), baked beans, potatoes, mushrooms, and eggs any style — at the Phoenix Bar and Irish Gathering House (811 Valencia, SF. 415-695-1811, www.phoenixirishbar.com ). The place is nice and dark, even during the day, so you don't have to dine in your sunglasses (unless someone punched you in the eye because you were mouthing off). There are all kinds of brunch dishes and other greasy foods served until late in the day, and you have plenty of options for some hair of the dog at the bar. I'd say they know their clientele.
A partyer pal was kind enough to let his secret out of the (barf) bag for me: the Korean dish bi bim bap from Hahn's Hibachi (1305 Castro, SF. 415-642-8151), a magic combo of chicken, pork, or marinated beef and vegetables on a bed of rice, with a raw egg on top. Throw some hot sauce on and mix it all up in its hot stone bowl so the bits of rice on the edge get crispy and the egg cooks. The name literally means "thrown-together rice," and while there are definitely more authentic places around town, hangover day is never good for serious exploration — you need a sure thing.
The hungover French (well, those from the region of Brittany, anyway) would surely cosign a crepe from Ti Couz (3108 16th St., SF. 415-252-7373). These aren't the finest crepes in the world, but I would say an order of the complete crepe (ham, cheese, and a sunny-side up egg inside) with the Ti Couz mimosa (made with peach schnapps — I know, you thought you were done with schnapps) while sitting out in the sun will get you feeling très bon again.
Lastly, our tour of the culinary landscape of San Francisco wouldn't be complete without a couple classic American burger options. I am not alone in vouching for the wonders of a Whiz Burger (700 S. Van Ness, SF. 415-824-5888) cheeseburger and a root beer freeze. There's even a decent veggie burger, and tasty seasoned waffle fries. But it's hard to beat a giant juicy burger hot off the grill while hanging out on the patio of Zeitgeist (199 Valencia, SF. 415-255-7505) on a Sunday, with an ice-cold beer or one of their Bloody Marys. My badass bartender friend Kenny Meade from Vertigo Bar recommends either a shot of Fernet or, post-Zeitgeist, a Mexican chocolate milkshake from Mitchell's Ice Cream (688 San Jose, SF. 415-648-2300, www.mitchellsicecream.com ). He's gotten me drunk enough times for me to totally trust him on this little piece of advice. SFBG
In between potential Betty Ford benders, Marcia Gagliardi somehow publishes a delicious weekly column about the SF restaurant scene, the Tablehopper, at www.tablehopper.com . Got a favorite foreign hangover cure? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org .