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A Grinch Guide to Grub

Lhasa Moon
David Fortin

Tasty Tibetan Food: Co-owners Tsering Wangmo and Youlo Kelsang of Lhasa Moon, the city's only Tibetan eatery, serve their speciality, steamed dumplings with dipping sauce.

How to eat well on Dec. 25 without having to endure a family-style sit-down dinner

By Paul Adams

San Francisco may not be as focused on Christmas as, say, Vatican City, but it can still be pretty hard to find a meal here on Dec. 24 or 25 that's untainted by the holiday spirit. Many restaurants are closed, and the vast majority of the rest offer some kind of baked-ham-prix-fixe deal or hire live carolers, ruining what could otherwise be an ordinary everyday pleasant meal out.

While the best guarantee against running into any unwanted merrymaking is to stay indoors (with videos and a home-cooked meal), this is not a realistic choice for everyone. So, for those who prefer to venture out, here's a brief guide to peaceful dining on Christmas.

The proprietor of Chun Kang Ten Thousand Buddhas, when asked if the restaurant is planning anything special for Christmas, says "Special? Why?" Just like every other day, Chun Kang offers a mind-bending array of vegetarian and Southeast Asian dishes, in a comfortingly no-frills setting. To avoid last-minute shoppers, sappy carolers, and a mobbed ice rink, be sure not to approach the restaurant from Union Square. Chun Kang Ten Thousand Buddhas, downtown, 608 Geary St., 928-2178, $.

What could be finer on a dismal afternoon in December than a whole smoked whitefish, Dr. Brown's Black Cherry soda, and maybe some kasha? Shenson's closes at 5:45pm, so get your dinner to go, or enjoy the deli's minimal atmosphere for lunch. Also available: knishes (potato and kasha), blintzes (blueberry and cheese), cold meats, and all manner of yesterday's and today's kosher canned goods. They have terrific frozen (kosher) soups too. While you're in the neighborhood, walk up a block to House of Bagels, where they have a pretty good idea of what a bagel really is. (I'll turn a blind eye to the "chocolate" and "cranberry" options, because they also have a damn good rye bread.) Shenson's Delicatessen Richmond, 5120 Geary St., 751-4699 $$.

Haight Street is most likely the most navigable on Christmas, and Axum Cafe has promised that business is as usual at their establishment on Christmas Eve and Day. Axum slowly but surely serves up hearty, utilitarian Ethiopian food. Recommended is the combination dinner serving from one person to however many nonfestive friends you can manage to bring. You can generally get out for under $10 a head, stuffed. Axum Cafe, Lower Haight, 698 Haight St., 252-7912 $.

If you can get yourself safely up to Motel Row (Lombard St.), highly recommended is Lhasa Moon, the only Tibetan restaurant in the city. If you haven't had Tibetan food, it's definitely worth trying, and their peaceful Buddhist way of life is a delicious antidote to Christmas' frenzy. The unquestioned stars at Lhasa Moon are the momo, which are beautifully sculpted, firm steamed dumplings, supreme in the dumpling realm, served with two excellent dipping sauces. The handmade pastas and breads are also marvelously textured, but the stews can be lackluster. Lhasa Moon, Marina, 2420 Lombard St., 674-9898 $$.

Good luck!

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From the December 1997 issue of the Metropolitan.

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