Tekka, a longtime sushi restaurant run by an old Japanese couple, is one of those places people don’t want to talk about that often – because they don’t want the word to get out and bring more crowds to the popular inner Richmond spot.
With only 11 seats, this indiscreet hole-in-the-wall has so many rules that dining here has become legendary. For example, insiders know that this no-reservations spot means arriving sometime after 5:30 p.m. to be first in line when doors open around 7 p.m. (Those who don’t make the cut try to get on the 9 p.m. wait list.)
Other major rules to remember:
- No credit cards – it’s cash only
- No weekends
- If the old couple doesn’t arrive for a long while after 7 p.m., they may be on vacation. Tough luck.
A lover of sushi, I’ve been dying to try this San Francisco place for years but was always intimidated by all the rules. But recently I finally went with my friend Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging, also a sushi lover. Sandy was able to be the first in line so the signs were good that we’d probably be seated that night. When the owners finally arrived, they counted off heads and told the others to go home. A girl in the back commented amusingly, “This is like the ‘Hunger Games.’ ” So funny and yet so true.
It’s not always a guarantee that you’d get a seat just by being the first 11 in line. That’s because the owners have a “velvet rope” for their best customers and friends. For example, on the night we dined, we were told only 9 people could enter the first seating. That’s because two seats were reserved (despite the no-reservations rule) for a couple who arrived right at 7 p.m. and were the first to be seated.
When we were seated at the sushi bar, I noticed the “official” Top 10 rules posted on the wall, and here are some of the more interesting ones:
- No forks, no soda.
- No tempura, no teriyaki.
- No complaining
- No rush service
- No to go
Reading this you might think you’re dining at the sushi Nazi, and it might seem that way except the owner and sushi chef seems super nice, albeit quiet.
There’s no denying that the fish is fresh, and probably Tekka is popular because of the generous portions for the price.
Sandy and I wanted to experience the chef’s talent, so we requested omakase, which in a Japanese sushi restaurant is similar to chef’s choice or tasting menu. Unfortunately, omakase is offered when the chef feels like it, and that night he didn’t offer omakase.
Reading some of the reviews, I knew the sushi platter for two is among the popular item to order. And it’s good I read ahead because other than the board of fresh fish of the day, there’s really no menu. The chef’s wife just comes and ask for your order, and most people ended up just requesting things they’d typically get at a sushi place (just no tempura or teriyaki) and see what they had.
For example, ankimo (or monkfish liver) wasn’t on the board, but I knew to ask. The large platter ($10.50) offered up the creamy liver like pate but elevated with a sauce similar to a vinaigrette and some fish roe and green onions.
An order of clam soup ($12) was not so much soup but just steamed clams, but they were presented simply and had a lot of natural flavors. While the sashimi platter was huge and beautifully plated, the actual sushi seemed rough and poorly executed.
For example, the spicy tuna roll ($9.75) was uneven, with loose rice here and there. The spicy tuna itself was chunky, spiced up simply by adding Siracha sauce. It wasn’t anything special.
Still, if you just dined on the sashimi platter, you’d be happy. Sandy and I loved the sweet raw scallops and the generous portions of maguro (tuna) and hamachi (yellow tail). I even liked the dollop of seaweed salad and cucumbers that accentuated the plate.
The Last Bite
Tekka and its cute old couple is a darling neighborhood gem. And despite all the rules and limitations, you feel comfortable and the fish is quality stuff even though the sushi can be straight-forward and plain. It’s probably because of the rules that I won’t go back too often, and that probably makes die-hard sushi lovers in the neighborhood happy because that just means fewer competition for the rare 11 seats.
Tekka, 537 Balboa St. (at Sixth), San Francisco. PH: 415.221.8455. Open weekdays from 7 p.m. No reservations. Cash only.
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