We’ve walked by this place on the corner of Mission and 19th for 10 years, barely giving it a second glance. Valencia Pizza and Pasta? It sounded a little dull… Pizza? We’ve got Serranos, a pretty decent NY style pizzeria right next door. Pasta? Eh, we can make that at home. But every time I walked by, I noticed it was full, and it looked like a real neighborhood haunt. No one was dressed up, no hipsters parked their fixies out front… the crowd was a mixture of young and old, all ethnicities, and there was often a big party, chowing down on massive amounts of food.
We stopped one day and took a look at the menu: they’ve got your spaghetti and meatballs, your chicken parm, your Hawaiian pizza, your chicken wings and fried calamari . . . you know, the basics of any diner-type pasta and pizza joint. But one night, checking out the Yelp reviews (as they don’t have their own website), we noticed there was so much more on offer here – there’s a white board on the wall chock full of classics like pot roast, fried chicken, steamed clams, NY steak with mushroom gravy, lamb shanks, meatloaf, ravioli, salmon filets, prawns and chicken fettucini, grilled catfish, breaded pork chops…. On and on the list went! It’s like Denny’s downsized and moved into the Mission. But a Denny’s owned by a sweet, Chinese-by-way-of-Nicaragua, little woman. And SUPER CHEAP. I don’t think anything was over $16. This is the BF’s kind of place.
There she is, and I didn’t get her name, as she seemed quite shy, though smiley, from her corner. Our young server told us this little lady has owned VP&P for 15 years. Almost any time I’ve passed by, day or night, if the table isn’t occupied by customers, she’s sitting there having a coffee or tea, watching that all the guests’ needs are met, going over the books, or helping out one of the young servers when it gets busy; I believe the cook is her husband, but I’m not sure. In any case, it looks like a totally family-run neighborhood institution.
They serve beer and quite a selection of wine, by the bottle only (no list), as well as a decent house cabernet sauvignon and a house chardonnay by the glass, for like, four bucks. The décor is plain wood tables and chairs, a couple of comfy booths, a few oversized house plants, and a large flowery painting on one wall.
Our first visit, I ordered the linguini alla vongole – clams in white wine, garlic, olive oil or tomato sauce. I opted for the wine sauce, hoping that I’d find a reasonable facsimile of the dish I fell in love with in Northern Italy (a girl can dream, can’t she?) We were both served green salads with blue cheese dressing (our choice), and a basket of nondescript but oddly compelling (aka, we ate the whole thing) garlic bread – white squishy bread rolls brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic powder, then briefly toasted. The salads were actually really good – simple lettuce and tomato, very fresh, with tomato that tasted like real old-school tomatoes, like when you were a kid (if you’re as old as I am), and chunky, creamy, really tasty homemade dressing, served in – just to add to the cafeteria-like setting – a plastic cup on the side.
My linguine and clams, however, were rather a disappointment. The clams were fat ones, but they may have been frozen (and tasted like it), and the white wine sauce was pretty flavorless. Wah. I left most of the dish behind.
The BF had the NY steak with mushroom sauce…
In a word, HUMUNGOUS. In more words, it was served with meaty steak fries, and was definitely bang for the buck. The steak was tasty enough – definitely not the best steak we’ve ever had, but you wouldn’t expect that at a place like this – but cooked a little more medium than medium-rare, better toward the middle, and the mushroom sauce was a bit bland. The veggies were super fresh, flavorful, and perfectly al dente.
The BF deemed his dinner “fine,” and we both agreed that in a pinch, or if we wanted a place to bring his family, some of whom are difficult to please in our foodie-centric, ever-gentrifying neighborhood, this would do great.
I’d heard that they’re busy for breakfast on the weekends, so I thought we had to try, and went at around 11 a.m. on a Saturday. My heart did a little dance, as the specials on the wall now included three or four types of Eggs Benedict, as well as pancakes, French toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. We must have gotten there during a lull as it was pretty empty. Even so, it took a really long time to get our food, and it turned out they were prepping a bunch of breakfasts to go. The only not-great service we received on any of our visits was this day, when they served the BF his toast and then, 15 minutes later, his breakfast. They apologized profusely over the wait, but didn’t offer to replace the cold toast (and the BF doesn’t like to make a stink.)
Three things to note about my breakfast. The salmon and spinach Benedict was only like $7.00. A regular old Canadian bacon Eggs Benedict will set you back at least $10-12 almost anywhere else in this town. The salmon was smoked, and delicious. The spinach – well… I wish it hadn’t been cooked to death, but at least it tasted like spinach (i.e., I could tell it wasn’t canned.) But the hollandaise sauce was very tasty and the eggs were poached right. The second thing to note: The hash browns here are good. Not fantastic, but good. You may not be able to tell by the picture, but the top was crispy enough, and the insides were fluffy and cooked all the way through. Third thing: Yes, that is a whole banana. The BF got one too, with his sausage and eggs. Think of it not as a side of fruit, or a garnish, but as a little memento to take home with you. We did.
We went one more time, for dinner.
The BF ordered the cheese ravioli with sausage this time. We were served the same green salads with our meals, still fresh and tasty, and the same highly unexceptional yet seemingly irresistible garlic bread.
This is so up the BF’s alley. He loves ravioli, he loves a good sausage-based meat sauce, he loves unadorned vegetables. The monster-sized veggies were again super fresh and crispy – really tasty, and there really is nothing on them; maybe some salt. And despite all appearances, I swear that is not rice on the side, but some kind of grated cheese. Because, despite the breakfast banana, even this place is not weird enough to put rice on a plate of pasta. I think.
As for me…
Holeeee side of pork, Batman! The last time we were here for dinner, we asked and were told that one of the most beloved dishes was the breaded pork chops (ahem: they also said the linguini and clams, so I took quite a courageous leap of faith here.) Two breaded, fried, brontosaurus-sized chops and a forest of gigantor brussels sprouts, green beans, broccoli, and carrots set us back $14.00 (yes, including the bread and salad.) I was literally only able to finish half of one pork chop before crying uncle. The side of pasta in a watery tomato sauce was best left behind, and I did. There was a completely tasteless onion/mushroom gravy underneath the chops, which I also ignored. But the pork chops themselves were good, with very crispy, flavorful breading, nice and juicy inside, and gave us enough leftovers for a couple of dinners at home.
They also serve desserts – cheesecake, tiramisu, and the like, but we did not partake. And we never did try their pizza.
This is truly the kind of place that, if you’re not looking for anything fancy, if you just want big portions of decent food at ridiculously low prices, with about 30 entrees to choose from so that you can eat here every day of the week and not repeat a meal in a month, or maybe if you don’t cook yourself but want hearty, home-cooked food to eat with other like-minded souls, or to take to your home (they seem to do a lot of take-out), or to bring your grandparents to, or your old landlady who keeps on giving you a break on the rent, you’d maybe be a regular here.
801 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: (415) 642-1882