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Grace: 0; Stinky Tofu: 5 | SPICES Restaurant in San Francisco

Spices Restaurant | SF Food Restaurant Review
Interior of the restaurant with staff basically ignoring us

Up until one recent night, I was convinced–and I mean CONVINCED WITH A CAPITAL C–that I would make a prettier, smarter, and more daring Andrew Zimmern. Not cuter, ’cause the guy is pretty adorable — but overall, I thought I could rival him and not have any food item in the world be too much for me. 

One thing (of many) that convinced me of this was the day he attempted to eat stinky tofu — and failed. Listening to me, you’d have thought I was watching some sort of sport, hollering at the TV, “Aww come on, for real? You can’t eat THAT? Dude, I would pay the Food Network to let me go and swim in that!”

You get the drift… Of course, I have never tried Stinky Tofu, but had heard that a restaurant in San Francisco called Spices Restaurant serves this delicacy on a daily basis.  While I had intended to try it for some time, I would always remember this after we sat down to eat somewhere else.

Spices Restaurant | SF Food Restaurant Review
Numbing spicy tendon

One night, my girl YC joined me for happy hour drinks at 540 Club, located at Clement at 7th Ave in the Richmond district. My favorite Mr. K joined us later on – and after more than enough drinks, it dawned on us that none of us had eaten dinner. No wonder we were already so drunk, we thought, and thought of restaurants nearby where we could walk, when a thought occurred to me:

“STINKY TOFU!” I yelled.
“SPICY TENDON!” YC hollered.
“WHATEVER ~~ I’ll go and eat something else!” chimed in Mr. K.

Spices Restaurant | SF Food Restaurant Review
Spicy fried chicken. So much for adventure!

We walked the block and half to Spices Restaurant, and excitedly sat down and ordered the famous stinky tofu, the “numbing spicy tendon”, the pig intestine casserole, and in order to make sure Mr. K had something to eat, we ordered the spicy fried chicken, too.

We interrupt this program to state the following:

Now keep in mind that I will eat live things, dead things, fermented things, moldy things, and any organ or part of the aforementioned things if it’s known to be a food item and I’m relatively certain it won’t kill me or have me making love to a toilet.

BACK TO THE REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING: The tendon dish at Spices Restaurant came out first. We devoured it, and I even made KK try it. This is one dish definitely worth having at Spices!!  While the spice used is not particularly HOT, it does have a strangely numbing effect on the tongue and mouth.

Then the tofu came out….

Stinky Tofu in San Francisco: Spices Restaurant | SF Food Restaurant Review
Stinky Tofu. At last.

It didn’t just land on the table before our eyes – it made itself known to our nostrils long before it was on my table, and my brain immediately kicked in with an alarm screaming,

“This scent means INEDIBLE! DO NOT EAT!”

But it’s food. All of China eats it. Hell, they devour this stuff. And Zimmern couldn’t do it — which means, if my theory that I would make a better host than him was to stand, I must eat it.

I took one in my chopsticks and put it in my mouth. First, it was damn hot — burning temperature hot. Second, it immediately brings on the gag reflex. Third, you realize that the faster you swallow this, the quicker this will be over, but with the heat and the scent — the throat just closes off and it remains in your mouth way longer than you want.

Willing myself to do it, I swallowed. Unstoppable as I am known to be, I put rice in my mouth and took another piece again and repeated. Swallowed again.

Spices Restaurant | SF Food Restaurant Review
Intestine Casserole

I needed rest.

I ate the casserole which was delicious.  It consists of intestines, gizzards, and the all-important curdled blood, which Spices makes PERFECTLY — smooth as silk. 

If anything, the dish was only a little spoiled due to the stink I could still smell and taste from the tofu.

After two minutes, I took a deep breath and had another tofu. And then I was done. I could have no more. I could not even have it on the table at Spices Restaurant. I couldn’t smell it specifically anymore, as the stench had now enveloped my entire olfactory system and I could smell nothing but the tofu, but I didn’t even want to see it anymore.

Needless to say, Mr. K had no objection to throwing this out, and even YC could not handle it. We finished the rest of our meal, but even as we did so, I was dismayed, disappointed, and utterly drained.

I had failed in a colossal way. I was not a more fit host for Bizarre Foods. The dude can eat fried cockroaches; who am I to compete?

I will try it again but it will be in China, in the right circumstance and surrounding, off a street stand. I have this image in my mind that it’ll be fried, hot, disgusting, vile, and I will down it like a native, loving every bite and planning on buying two or three more.

It could happen. It’s not like I was born liking the intestinal lining of sea cucumbers, or live squid squirming in my mouth — but I love all of it now. One day. Just not this week. Not next month. Maybe in a year.

Spices Restaurant | SF Food Restaurant Review
Stir-fried watercress

In the meantime, I have revisited Spices Restaurant again since my first Stinky Tofu visit.  While my memories from the first visit were entirely too fresh in my mind to try Stinky Tofu again, we did order the tendon and intestine casserole again.  This time, we added the eggplant and watercress dishes and both were good at Spices Restaurant. 

Having said that – I should divulge that this place uses enough oil to call itself OIL rather than SPICES. 

While it’s not the healthiest food, and service is far from stellar — Spices Restaurant is a chill place where friends can gather to have delicious food for a truly economical price.  The menu is vast, and you have order three entrees for $24, all regularly priced at $9 each.

Spices is located at 294 Eight Ave in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco.  They are opened nightly, at least until 11 PM, based on my experience.

Service: 6/10 Ambiance: 5/10 Food: 7/10 for the oysters, excepting the Stinky Tofu Addictive Factor: 6/10
Overall Rating: 6.3/10

Grace Keh

Managing Editor

Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.

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San Francisco Food® has been providing trusted restaurant reviews and recipes since 2009, led by food author Grace Keh & read by food lovers worldwide.

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