I’m a Food Critic From the San Francisco Chronicle Soleil Ho, and This Is How I Eat

Much of the criticism of restaurants is written for the rich and for people who read reviews to validate their food choices and impeccable taste, but Soleil Ho’s reviews are not for them. Just as she did with The Racist Sandwich podcast (currently on hiatus), Soleil brings much-needed thoughtfulness to the world of restaurant criticism, whether it means removing a clumsy star system, redefining the role of luxury in modern dining, or taking on an almighty restaurant. leaf . It might be her job to think and worry about food, but that’s not really something she turns off at the end of the day, which is great news because she was sweet enough to share some of these thoughts and feelings with me.

Location: San Francisco, California

Current gig: Food critic at the San Francisco Chronicle.

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

I usually don’t eat anything for breakfast. Or if I’m feeling a little too cocky – I’m still looking for the perfect San Francisco breakfast sandwich. So maybe once a week I’ll try a new sandwich place for breakfast. So far, it was The Sentinel and the Super Duper Burger and a place called Lou’s Sandwiches, which is actually pretty damn good. Usually it’s just nothing, because I always have a really big lunch or dinner, so I really don’t feel the need to have breakfast.

When you say “the perfect breakfast sandwich,” what are you looking for?

First off, the round bun – the closer it is to the Kaiser roll, the better – non-microwave eggs and good textural contrast. This could mean crispy bacon or, if I’m really lucky, brown potatoes like the ones sold in the freezer, those oval pieces. If it’s in a sandwich? Game over.

Like brown McDonald’s style?


Do you like egg mcMuffin at all?

No, not at all. It’s the same texture all over the place and I just don’t care.

If you don’t have breakfast, do you drink coffee or tea?

Yeah. I shouldn’t drink coffee, but I do. I am drinking coffee now. My psychiatrist says it is harmful for people with anxiety to put more caffeine into their bodies. But you know, I pay her .

And that’s coffee! You are not using cocaine or anything like that.

Right. But I think I am already at the “coffee level” of concern. So if I drink coffee, it looks like I just tried cocaine.

Ouch. How do you usually make coffee?

Black is probably part of the problem – usually hot. If I really feel like it, I will drink the yerba mate that I have at home. There is usually no yerba assistant in a cafe, which is very sad.

This is very bad. Do you have the opportunity to cook a lot at home for yourself?

No no. If I want to make breakfast at home, maybe I’ll do it there, but often I cook about once a week and it’s usually a big thing from random shit like curry. Or I will make fried rice from all the leftovers I have accumulated in restaurants I have eaten. Because you know fried rice is a great leveler.

Fully. Do you have a “normal day” in terms of food, or is it just all over the place?

It’s usually all over the place, although it still feels like a routine. I will probably visit one popup per week and one tasting menu per week, and the rest is sort of a bunch of random things that happen in the Bay Area that I have to check out. The number of kitchens I eat and in fact the amount of food I eat varies greatly from day to day, but there are still these commonalities in the things I try to do.

What do you usually do for lunch if you are not in a restaurant?

I’ll probably go to the food van.

Do you have any favorites?

No, I do not know. I am always trying something new. I never actually brought lunch from home. I have never had this habit because I have always worked in restaurants. Why would you do this? And I’ve never worked in an office. So this habit was never attributed to me.

Are you in the office now?


Are there office snacks or something like that?

There are some office snacks – PR people send me all kinds of nonsense all the time. Like lotus seed puffs or – I don’t know – pepper jelly or just random things, and maybe you can make some snacks out of that.

Do you work with other culinary writers or is it just you?

I’m the one who does restaurant reviews, but we have reporters, and the wine critic sits across from me, and there are other people who have something to eat. So we’re pretty resilient for the newspaper food section.

What’s the craziest thing a PR person has ever sent you?

A framed photoshop image based on the first cover we made for the reviews I wrote. It looked like the side profile of my head. It was illustrated, and then bubbles appeared on it with topics that were in the reviews. But the PR company Photoshow put its brand in thought bubbles. And it was sent in this extremely bright gilded frame, and I thought, “Now I have to deal with this.” But he was big. It was about 20 inches by 30 inches. So, in fact, the weirdest thing was not the food, but it was she. It felt like such a weirdly intimate thing, like a serial killer.

Do you ever put any snacks in your bag?

I do not snack because it seems to me that there is an unnecessary amount of food when my life is to eat. I often chew gum if I’m feeling a little hungry, simply because I’m most likely going to eat something ridiculous that day. Since I got this job, food has taken on a very interesting shape.

Ever dreamed of something simple and homey like stewed vegetables?

Yes, I mean I usually do it at home anyway. But there are also ways to order this, especially in California. You can buy a stew at a restaurant because everyone, you know, is … fucking hippies. I appreciate the simplicity of Californian cuisine because when I feel a little burnt I just order asparagus and that’s what you can do here.

You lived in Portland for a while. How would you compare the Portland culinary scene to the Bay Area culinary scene?

The Bay Area culinary scene is more than just gourmet food. I find there are a lot more bundles here, whereas Portland has a pretty solid sweet spot. When it comes to restaurants, you can get pretty good food – you don’t have to rack your brains. Whereas here the choice becomes more rigid; it is either gourmet cuisine, something that can cost $ 60 per person, or fast service.

If you have the opportunity to cook at home, what do you usually cook for dinner?

I usually cook some Asian food, mostly Chinese or Japanese. I guess it’s just because of the area I live in, which has a bunch of Chinese food, and that’s what I have in my pantry. So I’ll do dashi, rice and vegetables, or stir fry, or noodles, or curry – like Japanese curry. It’s just the easiest thing to put together. And it’s tricky because I don’t have that many fresh vegetables – and curries are best for frozen vegetables – simply because they go bad, because I don’t eat them right away.

What condiments are usually kept in your refrigerator or pantry?

Good question. So I usually have chili oil, reserve is Lao Gang Ma . And I also have Fly By Jing chili oil , which is a super trendy version of this. It is really tasty and toasted. And of course sriracha. I’m trying to figure out what else we have there. A ton of pickles. We live near a Polish deli, so we have endless cans of pickled cucumbers, beets, cabbage and everything else.

Could you estimate how many different types of pickles you have?

Probably five. Six if you count kimchi as an additional fermented vegetable.

For hot sauces, is it pretty much sriracha?

That is pretty much sriracha. I have another rather old bottle of Secret Aardvark in the fridge. Every time I go through the PDX, I take one.

How’s the pizza in the Bay Area?

Neapolitan pizzas and wood-fired pizzas are easiest to find. But there are other really interesting pizzas here too. There are places where sourdough pizza is made, which makes sense. And then there were a couple of stains – a few Detroit-style ones – like pizza in a frying pan. There is a good variety.

Is there a New York-style pizza?

Yes there is a bit. but I don’t need it.

Isn’t that your favorite thing?

This is why. If you know what I mean? I’m not going to pretend it’s the same. Is not. And that’s okay.

You’ve probably never tried Bell tacos or anything like that?

No. Although the last time I was in Taco Bell was quite recently, simply because I wanted to see the legendary Pacifica Taco Bell .

How it was?

This was beautiful. I think this is a really picturesque place. But I realized that I hadn’t been to Taco Bell for a long time, so I thought, “Do they have screens?” and “do they have chicken?” They just dumped me. I think the last time I ate Taco Bell was in high school.

Wow. There have been so many innovations.

Aha! I had a Doritos Locos taco and I thought, “Yeah. Okay. I see now. “But to be honest, I’ve never really been into fast food. If I wanted something like that, I would just eat rice and an egg with Maggi and chili, and it was like my fast food.

Do you like a good burger?

I do that sometimes when I have my period, of course.

For iron?

Yeah. I am anemic, so during my period I have a tremendous craving for meat. And burgers have all sorts of crap, so it’s really nice to eat.

Do you like thin patties or thicker burgers?

I love a good burger. As I said about breakfast sandwiches, I love texture, especially in sandwiches. I love crunchy things in between breads.

What are your favorite ways to add texture to the sandwich you make at home?

So my favorite potato chips are Sweet Maui Onion Chips . Do you know Hawaiian? I’ll throw them in a sandwich. Of course, pickles lend a really tasty texture. I hate putting salad in sandwiches because of how limited their ability to add anything substantial is. In fact, when I was a kid – I can trace this back to that – I was in high school and I remember taking money for lunch, and instead of buying a hot lunch or anything substantial, I was buying a bagel. which came with margarine and a packet of Doritos and I just squeezed the Doritos between slices of bagel and ate it like a sandwich. It was just amazing for me.

It was very similar to my high school atmosphere.

Yes, I think about it sometimes. I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t know how far I will fall from now on.

I also like that it’s a bagel. This is so good.

I know. I know. What about margarine? Disgusting.

I love it. Speaking of cheap cooking tricks, do you have any quick recipes for ramen?

I do not know if this is a hack. I don’t think it fits the Lifehacker brand. I think you have higher and higher standards than I do for what constitutes a “hack”. But in my family we love mi goreng – noodles from Indonesia. It tastes so good. Oh my God. So good. We just cook them with shit. It’s supposed to be fried noodles, so we add boiled shrimp and an egg on the sunny side, followed by chili oil and extra fried shallots to make the soup savory.

Do you have a favorite movie theater snack?

In fact, yes. So one of my favorite things to do – do you know at Costco where there is sriracha salt or sriracha spices? I love putting this in and putting it in the popcorn, it’s so spicy that you shouldn’t touch your eyes after eating it, but it’s so delicious. I used to work in a movie theater – well, as a volunteer – and my favorite thing was bringing spices and herbs to work and convincing people to try them on my popcorn. And they were very skeptical all the time, because they were like “what the fuck?” And we didn’t have a powdered ranch or cheddar because we were just, you know, very arrogant people. So, I brought in a mix of Ethiopian spices, nutritional yeast, za’atar, and the like.

Popcorn is a great blank canvas to experiment with.

Popcorn is indeed the rice of the West.

Do you cook it at home?

No, we don’t have a microwave. So if it’s at my place, it’s in my bag.

Merchant Joe has pickled popcorn. Do you go to Trader Joe at all?

I was there last night because he’s near our gym. We usually don’t buy finished products. We have to do this, but I always get the feeling – especially Trader Joe – that it’s ridiculous when I look at something and think, “Oh, I could just do this,” but of course I never would. because I don’t have time anymore. But that’s why I don’t buy bread or simple things, because I say, “Oh, I’ll just do it.” And a lot of what Trader Joe has prepared, like frozen bullshit, seems to be truly achievable for someone with a basic knowledge of cooking.

Do you like their condiments or their weird products specially made for Trader Joe?

I didn’t go into this too deeply because the spices and accessories I prefer are easy to find in Korean, Chinese and Polish grocery stores near my home.

Trader Joe’s seasonings are actually terrible. They have wasabi mayonnaise and I thought, “Oh, that’s good,” but then I thought, “Or could I just add wasabi powder to regular mayonnaise?”

Yeah. That’s a lot of wasabi mayonnaise.

Is there anything you just refuse to do or don’t like to cook?

This is a good question. There are definitely things I don’t want to do because I think my husband could just do it himself, like lentils. In fact, the more basic something is, the more – and this I am very cynical about myself – the lower I feel the creation of this object.

No, I like it and I fully support it. Why would you waste time making lentils? It’s so boring.

Yes, right. If I’m going to do something, I’ll do it, damn it.

Fully. So do you love baking and cooking?

Yeah. I do. In particular, I really enjoy baking cookies.

Which cookie do you make – drip or cut?

Sliced ​​biscuit. I am using my recipe. I used to be a big fan of the Ratio app – Michael Roelman’s app – and so I have a ratio that I saved on it and that I continued to use over the years. Because, you know, if I want to bake a dozen cookies, or if I bake six, or make 30, I can do it.

Do you use a lot of other people’s recipes?

Yes and no. Like anyone like me, I have a fairly large collection of cookbooks, so I’ll dig around for ideas and improvise. I don’t really use recipes.

Returning to grocery stores in your area. You said there are Chinese, Polish and Korean?

There are definitely several of them, because I live in an area called Richmond in San Francisco, and this is where many immigrants from Eastern Europe, Russia, East Asia ended up.

Do they each have a favorite item that you can’t get anywhere else?

Yeah. So for Koreans, definitely mandu – frozen dumplings – and of course kimchi. And the restaurant next door has all kinds of kimchi, not just Napa kimchi, but also garlic kimchi and daikon kimchi, and any other kinds of banchans that they rotate from the fridge. And then, in Chinese places, usually the biggest thing for me is chili oil, because it goes with everything. And of course, canned fish, which I’m a big fan too, because you just stir it with rice, you know? And that’s great. Mackerel or fried dace are good too.

What about a Polish store? Do you have any regular products that you buy there?

Oh yes, pickles. Pickles and juice. I also have a bunch of Hunter’s sausages in my freezer.

What sausage?

Hunting sausage. There are a lot of animals, and they smoke it, which is damn good.

Do you know which animals or is it a surprise every time?

You know, I don’t remember. Whatever they are, they are really good with eggs.

The details of which animals they are not important! Can we take a look at your refrigerator?


Besides bread and biscuits, do you like to bake any sweets?

No, not at all. My husband doesn’t really like desserts, and neither do I. If I want something sweet, I’ll just eat the fruit.

Well that’s good.

[Laughs] Yeah. I think in this sense I am really from Southeast Asia. We usually ate an orange for dessert.

Do you like cocktails, beer or wine more?

I like cocktails more, although I am much more fond of wine, although “into it” kind of stretches. I just understand that there are differences between wines. [Laughs] I’m working on it. But usually – and this is probably from my cooking days – I just really loved beer. Items with a high alcohol content. IPA. And maybe it’s also from the Portland days, when I really loved hop hops, which went well with many of the dishes I ate. I love it.

Do you have a favorite alcoholic drink?

I don’t really have a loved one. I try a lot of different things, and when I lived in Mexico, I really got carried away with mezcal and racilla , which are simply impossible to break away from here.

What’s this?

This is something like a moonshine drink made from agave. This is really good. But a lot of the ones I had weren’t named brands or anything like that. They were just made by the locals and it was damn good. They’re just bottles with no labels from that guy down the road and you just want to say, “Oh, yeah.”

So this is not the aged spirit of the agave?

Yes, it’s definitely rougher.

Do you like martini?

No, not really. I keep trying and recalibrating them, and it seems to me, “No, I still hate this.”

Is there any food that causes you problems as a food critic because you just don’t like it?

I am very ashamed that I cannot get into durian. It’s also one of those things I just try once a year to be sure. I really don’t like it, but you know this is my legacy as Vietnamese, but I just can’t.

I haven’t tried it yet, because I don’t want to cook myself.

Well, you can try ice cream, it also comes in popsicle form. But it still is. No I can not.

Do you have any other frozen convenience foods besides dumplings and sausages?

Oh yeah. Frozen spinach is really a big part of my diet. Because you can just stir it into whatever you want. And frozen peas. And then I usually just throw the sliced ​​bread in the freezer because I don’t eat much of it.

Do you have any other canned food besides fish?

Canned tomatoes, just to eat, are always nice. Funnily enough, I just packed my earthquake bag and has all my canned fish in it, so I need to stock up again. Because, you know, it’s good for a couple of days.

What other food is in your bag after the earthquake?

I actually wrote a story about camping food, and this company sent me samples, so I have steel oats that you just add water to and bibimbap that is just in the bag. I think it is freeze-dried, so you just add hot water and then it becomes like this. May be. Let’s see.

Haven’t tried it yet?

No. I tried their clam chowder – it was actually corn chowder. It was okay. He was very … rich in nutrients. It was really intense.

I’m glad it was corn chowder, not clam chowder.

Yeah. It would be difficult.

If you could choose only one source of salt, one source of fat, and one source of acid for cooking, what would you choose for each category?

Good! The salt will be the fish sauce. Thick? Probably olive oil. And the acid? It’s tricky, but I guess … pickled or fermented greens. I find that kimchi juice, for example, is a really tasty flavor enhancer. Historically, when I did Bloody Mary, I also threw a bunch of kimchi juice at them.

Let’s talk about soft drinks. Do you drink a lot of water? Do you like soda? Do you drink juice?

I drink mostly water. I can drink soda every couple of months. Usually, if I eat especially pork dim sum or Korean BBQ, I say, “Oh, Coke would be great with that.” I rarely go to the soda front. I don’t need much, but in fact we always have kombucha at home. My husband is obsessed.

Are you making your own?

I used to drink, but he drank too fast. And so I thought, “Fuck this.” It’s not worth it. Because it would take me a week or so to get the bottles, and he just sucked them out.

This is frustrating.

Yeah. A person who loves kombucha too much.

It is one thing to have a male partner by your side. You put a lot of effort into something, or it takes time to perfect something, and then they just breathe it in. It’s funny that he does it with kombucha.

Yes, he is a special boy.


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