Food: Just Won Ton serves the ultimate in comfort food 

Comfort food happens. Like love, it cannot be controlled.

Culinary affinities start early with dishes a child associates with pleasure and well-being. Other food passions develop along with personal identity — self-discovered and all the more satisfying for it. And some just sneak up on you over the years, until one day you realize that they have a powerful effect on your psyche.

The following chain of events actually happened. I was at a recital, actually a memorial for a great lover and patron of classical music. Her grown-up children all play, and one of them, a professional pianist who had just flown in from Pittsburgh, told me that whenever she arrives in San Francisco, she heads straight for Just Won Ton, a tiny mom-and-pop operation in the Sunset district that has been preparing won ton soup and a few other homey dishes for 17 years.

“I think about having a bowl of won ton soup and brisket during the whole plane ride.” she said.

Shortly after this conversation, I too landed at SFO after a long trip, and almost unconsciously ended up at Just Won Ton in front of a big bowl of won ton and dumpling soup ($5.05).

The broth was flavorful and salty, just the way I like it. (I’m a salt freak. I admit it.)

Small, plump won tons filled with sweet shrimp seasoned with a whisper of toasted, pulverized dried fish (which gives them a background nuttiness) vied for space in the bowl with larger, crescent-shaped dumplings with a savory pork and shrimp filling. A few tiny heads of baby bok choy floated on top.

This was just the kind of dish that makes me feel human again, especially when served in an immaculate, almost quaint little restaurant with all of eight tables covered in blue-and-white checked oil cloth.

The other dish I adore here is also a home-style dish: shrimp and soft egg on ho fun noodles ($7.85).

Small shrimp are stir-fried for a second with ginger and scallion and topped with barely set beaten eggs, which act as a rich, unctuous sauce. The egg firms up as as it sits on thick, chewy, white rice noodles, smoky from the wok.

Just Won Ton’s braised brisket ($6.75) with tendon and other texture-conferring bits attached, may not appeal to everyone, but it speaks to me because the meat has absorbed a perfectly balanced cooking liquid of rock sugar, rice wine, star anise and soy sauce.

Fat-free yet succulent and meaty, the brisket is best eaten by itself, piece by piece from a bowl because the juices get lost when spooned over rice or noodles.

This ultra-neighborhood place where a couple cook as if they were feeding their family (they sent two kids to college feeding us), might not be a beacon for most people, but for me, Just Won Ton signifies pure comfort.

Patricia Unterman is the author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.


Just Won Ton

Location: 1241 Vicente St. (between 23rd and 24th avenues), San Francisco

Contact: (415) 681-2999

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m.Tuesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Price range: Inexpensive

Recommended dishes: Won Ton and dumpling soup; soft egg with shrimp; salt fish and chicken fried rice; braised brisket

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Reservations: No; take-out available

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Patricia Unterman

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