Denise Kiernan is a journalist and author whose work and travels have taken her from the undulating and stiletto-crippling cobblestoned streets of Rome to the Great Wall of China and the soccer stadiums of Central America. She is never one to miss a tasty treat along the way. Most recently, she dove headlong into the lives and formerly classified documents of the Manhattan Project for her latest book, the New York Times Bestseller, “The Girls of Atomic City.” Along the way, she has eaten her fair share of delectable treats, and downed cocktails—”atomic” and not.
Sitting just across the bay, Berkeley was home to some well-known Manhattan Project scientists before, during and after World War II. But culinary mecca San Francisco is a hot-spot of blazingly “atomic” foods like wings, Pho, and Szechuan cuisine. “The Girls of Atomic City” author, Denise Kiernan, shares some of the best spicy eats in town, where ”top-secret” probably refers to the sauce and the food is, ahem, “the bomb”.
Hot Sauce and Panko
1545 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
A ton of flavor is packed into just under 400 square feet at this joint. The scaled down menu also features Panko Fried Cod Fish and the Ultra Goliath Chicken Waffle Sandwich, but wings are the main draw here, with sassy sauces such as Old Bay with Caramel Sriracha, Hot Chili Crunch and Korean Fried Chicken (the other KFC). Don’t see a sauce you like on the menu? There are more than 250 of them lining their shelves. (You can sample before purchasing.) The menu changes regularly, so for the most up-to-date offerings check out their fabulous website, and begin to savor the delectable kookiness of this spot.
Lers Ros Thai
730 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
Lers Ros Thai has been making a spicy splash since opening in 2009. The extensive menu can be overwhelming, but there are options for the tame and the adventurous of palate. The latter may wish to dine on the Garlic Frog (a house special), stir-fried alligator or chicken entrails. For those wanting to just dip their toes into this pool of culinary delight, there is always a good ol’ coconut milk curry. With house-made curry and chili pastes, secret sauces—hot, hot if you want it—late hours and reasonable prices, it’s no wonder San Franciscans keep coming back.
801 Bryant St
San Francisco, CA 94103
No list of hot bites is complete with out 1) Mexican food, and 2) a food truck. El Norteño Tacos hits this sweet—rather, spicy—spot dead on, with a variety of traditional, if rarely seen meats. (Beef head, anyone? Tripe, perhaps?) There are also veggie options, quesadillas and other usual taco truck suspects at this popular and highly affordable spot. If it’s sweat-inducing, tongue-scalding spice you seek, hunker down for some Goat (chivo) Tacos. Request a side of spicy salsa, if you dare.
422 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
Pittman Family Farm provides the free-range chickens, and you have free range to try as many sauces as you choose. Feeling atomic? Go for the “Angry Korean” sauce. Still not hot enough? Add some fresh chilies. Once you’ve successfully enraged your taste buds, pacify them in French with a little creme brûlée. Ahhh…oui….
The Pho Bar
1828 Euclid Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
Okay, we had to include Berkeley in here. Not just because Berkeley has its own fab food scene, but because of Ernest Lawrence and his tremendous role in the Manhattan Project. This Vietnamese noodle bar offers sandwiches, salads and sweets, in addition to a variety of custom-made pho (add oxtail or tripe, if you like). Better yet, it is just a stone’s throw from the lab named after the king of the electromagnetic separation process that provided uranium for the first atomic bomb: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab—and Calutron Road. That’s enough to whet any Atomic Girl’s appetite!
Denise Kiernan’s book “The Girls of Atomic City” was published in March 2013 by sister company Simon & Schuster.