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By Jim Christie
Storetrek is a regular feature of the Voice profiling new shops, cafes, and other businesses in the neighborhood. This month we feature five newcomers that just happen to typify the Noe Valley of the '90s: three restaurants, a coffee shop, and a nail salon.
Tip Top Nails
1547 Church St. (at Duncan)
A new place to indulge your manicure, pedicure, and waxing needs opened in mid-December in "uptown" Noe Valley. It's Tip Top Nails at the corner of Church and Duncan streets.
The shop is managed by Lynn Lieu, who has more than 10 years of experience at other San Francisco nail salons, most recently at Angel's Nails a couple of blocks away.
Tip Top Nails offers a full range of nail care for both men and women, as well as waxing and tinting services. A look at the price list reveals that women's manicures are $6 and men's are $7; women's and men's pedicures are $12 and $13 respectively; and both combined are discounted to $15 and $18 respectively. (Lieu claims that working on men takes more effort!)
Full leg waxing costs $23, while half leg costs $12. Bikini waxing is $10, and eyebrow waxing is $7. Eyebrow and eyelash tinting are $8 each. Tip Top also offers Therafin and Therabath hot wax treatments for hands and feet from $1 to $2.
All these activities takes place in a bright and airy high-ceilinged room with brand new "service stations." There's also a large color TV for customers who don't want to miss their favorite shows.
Lynn Lieu has been a San Francisco resident since emigrating from Vietnam 20 years ago. She lives with her husband and children in the Richmond District. Her position at Tip Top represents her first managerial job. Lieu sends out a hearty "thank you" to all those customers who have supported her over the years, and she hopes to see you soon.
Tip Top Nails is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
3917 24th St. (near Sanchez)
You might have noticed that the old La Casona restaurant on 24th Street has a new look (mentioned in the Rumors section in the December-January Voice). Yes, Casa Mexicana is officially open for business, and many of the changes promised by new owners (and brothers) Victor and Juan Carlos Juarez are already in place.
The Mexican taqueria's new name is emblazoned over the front door, and the interior has been spruced up with new paint and artwork, inlaid tile tables, and a streamlined counter arrangement.
If you guessed that the Juarez brothers are not new to the restaurant business, you'd be right. Casa Mexicana is one of four taquerias they operate in San Francisco. Their first, Azteca Taqueria (at Church and Market), opened 12 years ago. The other two are Maya Taqueria at 16th and Guerrero, and Casa Mexicana (#2) at Church and Duboce.
The Juarezes, who originally hail from Mexico City, have developed a new, expanded menu in Noe Valley, one that will soon be offered in all their taquerias. Mixed in with the usual Mexican fare are such novelties as salmon and shrimp tacos and burritos.
Juan Carlos Juarez says all the food is prepared fresh each day, and the restaurant uses no lard in its vegetarian meals. Tacos and quesadillas (a Casa Mexicana specialty) are priced around $3, meat burritos are around $5, and veggie burritos are about $4. Dinners average $6, and there is a children's menu with selections from $1.50 to $2. Soft drinks start at $1.25, and beers at $2.25.
Customers still move along the counter and choose which ingredients they would like added to their orders, including several styles of tortillas, beans, meats, salsas, and other toppings.
Upcoming changes? The Juarez brothers are set to refurbish the restaurant's back deck (still famous from the Acme Metal Spinning Works Cafe days) so that customers can enjoy their meals outside by the time the weather turns warm. They're also planning to display the work of local Latin artists.
Casa Mexicana is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
1708 Church St. (near 29th)
The area of Church Street between 27th and 30th streets continues to develop into a village in its own right. A recent addition is Cafe J, named after the J-Church line that runs past its door. The cafe opened in late November, in the space formerly occupied by Gibraltar Realty near 29th.
The cafe's interior has a warm, welcoming atmosphere, with lacquered wood beams, halogen lighting suspended from high ceilings, and soft yellow walls adorned with colorful artwork. Wood tables and chairs fill the central area, and taller tables and bar stools line one wall. The cafe also features a wheelchair-accessible backyard patio with seating for about 15, as well as sidewalk tables out front.
Cafe J's co-owner, Erik Alexanderson, calls his establishment "a coffee shop with food," and the menu bears him out. There are green salads, pasta salads, soups, and sandwich specials, ranging from $4.50 to $6.50. Bottled beer and glasses of wine start at $2.75, and juices, Italian sodas, mineral water, and coffee drinks (and pastries) run from $1 to $2.50.
Alexanderson's partners in the venture are his wife Linnea, and Denise Philibosian and her husband Harry, who has owned Gibraltar Realty for over 20 years. Both families are longtime Noe Valley residents.
Alexanderson is quite pleased with Cafe J's results so far. "We wanted to open a friendly place where people from the neighborhood could come and relax," he says, "and we've succeeded beyond all our expectations."
Cafe J is open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weekends from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
4042 24th St. (between Noe and Castro)
There's a new "authentic Mexican food" restaurant on 24th Street. La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill opened in late November after a quick renovation of the space formerly occupied by WrapWorks.
The small interior boasts a patterned silver ceiling, yellow and white walls, and suspended lighting. For diners, there are tall stools fronting a long countertop, and -- if you haven't quite woken up yet -- bright orange tables that seat three to four people each. The restaurant also offers a fresh salsa bar.
La Salsa's menu, which is displayed across the wall behind the cash register, features gourmet burritos, taco baskets, combination plates, and "La Salsa Favorites." Vegetarian specialties are easily recognized by prices listed in green.
While the restaurant has a set menu, the staff accommodates individualized orders. Food is prepared on an open grill and a traditional Mexican "plancha" (flat steel surface) in the kitchen in back, and is brought to customers at their tables.
The general manager of the 24th Street La Salsa is Wendi Williams, who brings experience from four other San Francisco locations. (La Salsa is a Los Angeles based chain of around 100 restaurants. More info is available at their web site: www.lasalsa.com.)
Williams says that all the food at La Salsa is prepared fresh daily, and that only canola oil is used for deep-fried foods. A prominently displayed company slogan backs her up: "No Lard, No Can Openers, No Microwaves." (The web site adds "No Freezers" to the list.)
Williams points to the self-service salsa bar, which features five types of salsa, made daily. The salsas range in spiciness from cool and mild to "hot and wild." She adds that the restaurant's specialty is the fish taco basket, which is $5.45 for two tacos plus chips. (There are two choices, both filled with grilled Mahi Mahi: the "Baha" includes avocado and ranch dressing, while the "Sonora" includes tomatoes, spicy hot sauce, and lime slices.)
Meat burritos are $4.25 and $4.95, while bean and cheese are $2.95. Combination plates range from $5 to $7, and quesadillas, nachos, and other specials go for $4 to $8. There's also a selection for kids under 12 for $2.35.
La Salsa is open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Regent Thai Restaurant
1700 Church St. (at 29th)
In the late spring of '98, Regent Thai opened its second San Francisco restaurant on the corner of 29th and Church streets, in the old Stellings Market location. (Stellings moved next door to share space with Drewes Meat Market.)
The Voice has been meaning to include Regent Thai in Storetrek for some time, but without offering excuses, let's just say "better late than never."
If you visit the restaurant and open the menu, you might think we've spent the last eight months reading it. There are no less than 89 main selections listed, and another 35 lunch specials. Not included in those figures are the numerous side orders, beverages, and desserts. Suffice it to say that Regent Thai's friendly staff won't let you go away hungry.
Here's a brief rundown: Appetizers such as deep-fried fish cakes and vegetarian egg rolls range from $5 to $6. Soups and salads run $5 to $7. The chef's specials, such as jumbo prawns in curry with pasta and vegetables, or double-cooked roast duck in garlic, are $8 to $9.
Vegetarian curry dishes and a variety of poultry, beef, and pork dishes range from $6 to $7, while seafood combinations are $8 to $9. There are also many rice, noodle, barbecue, and "Healthy Vegetarian" plates, for $6 to $9.
Patrons dine in a relaxed and well-lighted atmosphere at tables with linen tablecloths and napkins. (The tables are also placed far enough apart to prevent the elbow bumping endured at overcrowded restaurants.)
Regent Thai is open seven days a week. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Regent Thai's other location is at 757 Monterey Blvd.)