There’s some underrated dining on the south side of the city, from the burgers and bakeries of Ocean Avenue to the pupusas and silog of Excelsior. And now, this writer would like to humbly submit that the Stonestown Galleria is one of the hottest date night destinations in San Francisco. Hear me out — sure, the sprawling mall may have lost its Nordstrom, but it’s still an attraction: There’s always plenty of parking. It feels more suburban than the state-of-emergency downtown these days. It’s got a clean new movie theater with smell-o-vision, if you want to catch a flick. Plus, it’s got the last Uniqlo in the city, if you’re in the market for some fresh work-from-home leisure.
And in recent years, Stonestown has evolved into a surprisingly fun food destination. Admittedly, we’re talking chains, but destination chains — way more than Panda Express. And so, before or after a movie or a stroll around the shops, here’s where to treat your honey.
Because you know what’s hot? Popcorn shrimp sushi, jiggly souffle pancakes, and brown sugar boba, that’s what.
Kura Revolving Sushi Bar
Kura serves up conveyor belt sushi, motoring into this location in fall 2021. Most plates are $3.50, and for every 15 plates, diners are rewarded with a prize that pops out like a Pokemon-style ball. Would we say this is the finest sushi you’ll ever eat in your life? Obviously not. But is it as good as the conveyor belt and bullet train spots in Japantown? At least — or better. A lot of the rolls seem to rely on the same filling of shrimp and avocado, but they’re tricked out with toppings like popcorn shrimp, and there are options for real crab gunkan and steak nigiri.
Marugame drew long lines when it opened in 2017, welcoming shoppers with big bowls of slurp-worthy noodles. This was only the second location in the U.S. for the popular Japanese chain, following an outpost in Los Angeles. The way you order, it’s like a build-a-bowl workshop, choosing between hot or cold udon and toppings such as tempura or a poached egg.
Gram Cafe & Pancakes
Jiggly Japanese pancakes landed in spring 2019 and reverberated with so much dessert hype. Gram Cafe is a Japanese chain with locations from Thailand to Australia, but this was the first spot in the U.S. The pancakes are airy from whipped egg whites, stacked in a tower, and topped with strawberries or chocolate. And while the hot pancakes do take half an hour, there are “cool” takeout options, stuffed with salted egg cream.
Crisp and pleasantly chewy mochi doughnuts joined the lineup in fall 2021. At least this one is a local mini-chain, as Mochill now has locations across the Bay from Japantown to Oakland. Unlike some dense mochi desserts, these doughnuts are known for a light texture and beaded segments, and flavors from black sesame and matcha to colorful Fruity Pebbles.
Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea
This wildly popular Taiwanese boba shop has locations around the world, and it’s a favorite even in the competitive boba scene in San Jose. The founding family originally grew pineapples and made jam. Yi Fang is still known for its fresh fruit drinks, but it’s also crushing the brown sugar boba obsession. Tea lovers line up at the small kiosk to order on an iPad; stand warned that popular flavors do occasionally run out.