Revisiting Suppenküche in San Francisco

Two years ago, I met a friend of a friend while travelling in San Francisco after a work trip. He’d suggested grabbing lunch at a German beer hall and restaurant in Hayes Valley. We had a great conversation, good food, nice beer before going on a short photowalk nearby. Later during that same trip, I’d wanted to bring a couple of friends who stopped over on the same work trip to the place but unfortunately, it was closed on the day we returned and I’ve been ruing that missed opportunity ever since.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I made certain that I would return to this German restaurant and not be disappointed by a rookie mistake. Back in San Francisco for a weekend on our way back from CES, the boss and I drove to Hayes Valley for brunch. Thankful to find a nearby parking lot by the curb, we walked through the door of Suppenküche and seated ourselves at one of their long wooden tables.

The bar at Suppenküche
The bar at Suppenküche

Located on the corner of Hayes and Laguna, Suppenküche emphasises simple, honest and traditional Bavarian cooking. Had my friend not suggested the place two years ago, I wouldn’t have known about it. Its signage isn’t particularly the most obvious either, and I had to rely on my faint memory of the streets to be sure we were at the right place. Indeed we were, because I instantly recognised the interior as I walked through the entrance. Not much has changed, if at all – the walls and ceiling are still white, and the beer taps still look as congested as before.

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Interesting details in the ceiling
Interesting details in the ceiling

“Traditional” and “German” are definitely adjectives that will come to mind when regarding Suppenküche’s interior setup. There were countless hooks inserted into the ceiling for reasons unknown to me, but I could otherwise easily imagine the beer hall packed to the rafters with beer lovers celebrating Oktoberfest. It’s really that sort of place you’d feel comfortable enjoying a beer into the evening.

But enough about the place! I came back for the food, and a specific item on the menu in particular.

Kassler vom Grill mit Sauerkraut and Kartoffelbrei (US$15.50)
Kassler vom Grill mit Sauerkraut and Kartoffelbrei (US$15.50)

This was the order my friend had when I first ate here, and the one that I’ve been craving ever since I sampled it. Translated from German, it’s grilled cured pork chop with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Suppenküche isn’t about re-invention – it’s about getting the basics right and serving food that your German nanny would be proud of (I think). Don’t expect fancy Michelin-star types of elaborate food presentation here. You can immediately identify everything on the plate and you know what you’re getting.

Despite the picture-perfect grill marks across the pork, the meat remained very moist and easy to chew. Although pork doesn’t feature frequently in my meals, my boss told me that this has a very strong and distinct pork-y flavour. I’m not the best person to describe it and I won’t even try, but I reckon people who’ve been put off by that might have their resistance weakened with this. Paired with simple and traditional ingredients, this is a great reminder that delicious food needn’t be complicated.

Anticipation and expectation can often cause disappointment, but this visit that was two years in the making was every bit as satisfying as I had hoped it to be. I would gladly recommend it to anyone in need of a change of heart about pork, or anyone in search of a simple, hearty and very memorable meal. It was too early in the day when we visited to have a beer (I was driving too so responsibility and safety were greater priorities) but drop in in the afternoon or evening and I can’t imagine a better food and beverage pairing at this price point.

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