Restaurant Review: Yats in San Francisco, Potrero Hill

Dive bars are always interesting in the daytime, with their many blemishes on proud display in the bright, open sunlight. Without a throng of regulars to otherwise engage the senses, torn upholstery and grungy walls become the center of attention. Of course, the funk of stale beer never seems quite right in the daytime either, and since the freaks, in theory, are supposed to come out at night, even the sparse clientele remains oddly out of context, sober for the moment, but perhaps not for long.

Jack’s Club, located just east of Potrero on 24th Street, is the quintessential dive bar in many ways. Lurking within the shadows of San Francisco General Hospital, it meets all of the requisite dive-bar criteria: a jukebox loaded with 70s and 80s rock staples, a couple of ancient pinball machines in the back, a pool table, drink specials scrawled on crude handmade signs, and all the right beers on tap. In many ways, it’s about as American as American gets.

Although Jack’s has been slinging booze since 1978, the bar is also the site of a new Cajun lunch-spot — Yats New Orleans Original Po Boys — which occupies the small corner opposite the door. Yats operates from a shoebox-sized kitchen, where the guests order lunch at a small walk-up window, then wait at the bar tables for the food to arrive. Yats — as in, “Where y’at?” — has garnered a very strong word of mouth since opening earlier this February, and for good reason.

Yats offers up an extremely faithful rendition of the shrimp po boy, perhaps as good as any I have tasted here in California. The sandwich rolls themselves are pitch-perfect — airy, light, and not the least bit chewy — which puts this particular item well ahead of the curve. With the right bread, the rest of the sandwich practically takes care of itself: stuff it generously with fried shrimp, dress it with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, and it’s pretty much complete.

Based upon what I’ve read, I was eager to also sample the gumbo at Yats, which is the metric by which all Cajun restaurants should be judged. Unfortunately, since the kitchen was swamped with orders for fried Thanksgiving turkeys, the restaurant was not serving gumbo during my visit. Instead, I ordered the red beans and rice, which was actually the proper thing to do on a Monday anyhow. To my tastes, the red beans were good, but not great. I expected perhaps a little more smoke and a little more spice — something seemed to be lacking — although a healthy dash of Crystal Hot Sauce brought them a bit closer to the mark.

Yats has limited lunch hours, accepts cash only, and is not open on Sundays. Apparently, they frequently run out of many of their more popular items, which is usually symptomatic of a small but growing operation. Eventually, they will have to be more than hit or miss, or their reputation will suffer. But for now, it’s little New Orleans oasis nestled in the corner of a San Francisco dive bar, so you can’t really expect the world.

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