The Tenderloin is a great place. Some people may not agree; you have to really understand it’s troubles to appreciate the problems that are being shoved in your face. The Tenderloin is home to the LGBTQ movement, which is commonly mistaken as having it’s start in the Castro District; it has a “legacy of artists and activists” and is home to the most dense population of school aged children in San Francisco, among many other things.
The Tenderloin has fought it’s way during the sweeping age of gentrification as the nonprofits and unions that have built up this part of town fight for their space and rights in the richest city. In this part of town, you have some of the richest people walking next to and stepping over some of the poorest, and most distressed individuals. The Tenderloin is also covered in some of the coolest murals next to those in the Mission district, and is the forefront of political marches as crowds of passionate people march from Civic Center to the Embarcaderro; in the Tenderloin, you see it all.
Having lived in the Tenderloin for two years, I loved that I was in the hub of all the weekend festivities: it was just a short walk or bike ride away from meeting up with my friends. On a Friday night, my place was always the pre-game or after party spot as we stumbled from the bars to keep the party going. Not only did living in the Tenderloin allow me to have a more vibrant nightlife, but it’s also introduced me to some of the best cuisines. Here are 5 of my favorite places to eat and spend a Friday (or Saturday) night in the Tenderloin.
#1. Yemen Kitchen
This is the ultimate hole-in-the-wall you will ever find. When people ask what it’s all about, I say that it’s a mix of Indian and Mexican food. Their fava beans hit the spot like refried beans with flavors as bold as Indian food, but without the commitment. What I mean by that is, you’re either in the mood for Indian food, or you’re not… there is no in between, it’s a commitment to the flavor of curry or masala.
Their bread is a cross between a freshly made flour tortilla and a nice hot doughy naan. According to Yelp, they have some of the best-roasted lamb in town. I love that the owner has old and new soccer team photos of himself and what looks like family members. From what I’ve gathered by the news articles posted on the wall, they started out in Brooklyn, then came out to SF, which is why they keep the Brooklyn soccer sign out front, so look out for that, otherwise, you would totally miss this gem.
#2. The Beer Basement
This is the best kind of spot to have around the corner from your house. Great beer on tap, and a speak-easy- like- basement that hosts comedy nights Thursday through Saturday every week. When I lived around the corner, this made it easy on nights where I wanted to be social but didn’t want to go far. I would just plop down in the Beer Basement, drink one of their delicious ciders, and laugh to some of San Francisco’s up and coming comedians.
Tickets run about 15$ but you can get a discount code on funcheapsf.com.
#3. The Black Cat
Speaking of speak-easies, this is a legit one. The signage out front is super discreet and only ones in the know, know. When you walk in, it’s super classy, and trails of live jazz linger up to the front door from the downstairs basement, making it all the more intriguing. There is a cover to dine and sit downstairs so check out their calendar and ticket prices online before you go in, sometimes it fills up fast. This would be the ultimate date night if you need any tricks up your sleeve. I’ll just go ahead and say this now… you’re welcome.
#4. The Tenderloin Museum
If you absolutely detest walking through the Tenderloin, please do me a favor and just visit the museum one time. Take a Lyft if you really must, I get it, wading through people loitering and getting slapped in the face with the sensory overload isn’t for the faint of heart… This museum puts in perspective the shine behind the grime. It will help you see San Francisco and the Tenderloin in a new light, and you will learn a lot! You will learn about the famous people who stayed and worked in the tenderloin – Mohammed Ali, The Grateful Dead, to name a few; and the famous movements and riots that took place here such as the Compton Cafeteria Riot that was a pivotal moment in time for the LGBTQ community.
#5) The Phoenix Hotel
Last, but not the least, is the Phoenix Hotel and Chambers Restaurant. The outside is super sketchy, which makes the contrast of walking into this rock and roll-themed restaurant all the more surprising. Once inside, you feel like your in LA with views of the hotel pool lined with palm trees and brightly colored decor. The inside of the restaurant is dark and mysterious with erotic photos and nostalgic records covering the walls.
The Phoenix hosts summer parties with DJ’s, drinks and the whole bit definitely worth checking out as the Tenderloin is probably the only place in San Francisco that actually has a “summer”.
You can check out their pool party schedule here.
The Tenderloin is a special place. It’s not too far off from Union Square, allowing visitors an experience that has more grit, and quite frankly, more interesting options. Don’t let San Francisco’s problems scare you away, most people just want to be acknowledged, a gesture to remind them that they aren’t invisible.
If you live in San Francisco, I hope this gave you some good recommendations, and if you visit the city, I hope you stop by at one of these places. Other honorable mentions include: