It's time for another installation of Who Goes There?, that regular feature wherein Laurel May cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring San Francisco restaurants—unsung, curious mainstays with the dusty, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.
[Photo: Laurel May, Yelp]
Imagine Chef Boyardee and Mama Celeste had a love child. They swaddled him in a sticky red-and-white checkered plastic tablecloth and taught him to cook hearty, unexciting Italian food just like a Midwestern farmer's wife. Eventually, they turned him out to ply his trade smack dab in the middle of the 'Loin.
That bambino would have grown up to be Little Henry's.
I'll tell you who goes here: cops. Great big, meaty, motorcycle cops. I now have a theory that explains why SF's motorcycle-riding police are nicer than the squad car-driving type -- and much easier to run from. They are loaded up with Little Henry’s marinara-shellacked carbs.
Case in point: on a recent Tuesday night, Little Henry's contained no less than six motorcycle driving officers. There actually could have been more people with badges lurking around. Rumors that the place is a favored jump-off for undercover cops trickle around town quite often. Honestly, I wasn't looking that hard. I have a strict policy of avoiding eye contact with anyone possessing the authority to put me in a jail, so let's just leave it at that.
Little Henry's is comfortable the same way Elk's Lodge or Moose's used to be “comfortable.” There are a few sun-bleached, framed posters scattered around and an old TV above the counter shows baseball when the Giants are playing. The service is super fast, the bread is free and for those craving a dish ending in “etti,” “oli” or “ini,” by all means, grab a chair and belly up with the fuzz. This place should hit the spot.
As it so happened, while perusing the clip-art-laden menu, trying to decide which type of frozen meat to accompany an order of super reasonably-priced pasta, I noticed strange sounds coming from a neighboring table. It was the sound of people speaking Italian. There were real live Italian people from Italy eating at Little Henry's. For a second, I thought maybe the restaurant had somehow acquired word-of-mouth status amongst Italian visitors to the US. “Hey Roberto, I heard you're going to San Francisco. You have got to check out this incredible little place in the Tenderloin!”
No such luck. Oh, they were real Italians all right -- visiting from Milan -- but they had only wandered in because they were homesick and saw the words “Italian Food," screaming loudly on the sign out front. When asked how Little Henry's cuisine compared to that of their homeland, they graciously pronounced it, “similar but different.” Mostly, they were just shocked at the size of the portions.
And the size of our cops.