The garlic noodles at Sunflower. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken March, 2022.

Annika, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, are out to find the Mission’s most noteworthy noodles.

Hi Annika,

Some noodles ago, you suggested it was impolite to mix politics and food, and asked if no one had ever taught me suburban manners.

Yes. My mother attempted, in vain, to impose a “no-politics-zone” over the dinner table when I was growing up. 

Then one day, 14 years ago, during lunch at Sunflower, she started talking nonstop politics. Suddenly, she was a big fan of Gavin Newsom.

I knew something was wrong. 

And why Sunflower? My mother did not go to the Roxie, nor was she a denizen of Delirium or Dalva.  Accustomed to more age-appropriate venues, what drew her to Sunflower? Was it a picture of garlic noodles on the window?

I can’t remember what we ate that day, but for this reporting job I ordered the garlic noodles with chicken, in her memory.

There’s no pretense at Sunflower. What you see is what you get (no, Ms. Literalist, they don’t give you a photo to eat). Sunflower is the Holiday Inn of local noodle shops.

These are centrist noodles. They’re thick but not too thick, smooth but not too smooth, interesting but not too interesting. They pay attention to the fork, cling easily to each other, and cautiously slide down your throat. Every inch of each noodle is not only coated with, but has proudly absorbed, the sauce.

The garlic sauce is tasty, savory and garlicky. Not rebellious, despite little garlic bits sneaking around. Liberal, but not oily: no oily mess on your face, no oily aftertaste. Unfortunately, there were no onions, no seaweed, no bamboo shoots, no green of any kind. Nothing but noodles, garlic …

And chicken. Hunks of chicken buried in the noodles, coated with sauce, were at first a welcome addition. But then I found the meat a bit too bureaucratic. Taste-wise, they conformed to the rule of the noodle, rather than adding a distinctive fire power. The chicken added unnecessary heft.  

You get a lot of noodles and chicken for your money at Sunflower. 

Some hours later, as the dog took me out for my afternoon walk, I felt I was dragging around a 50-pound weight, and it was not the dog. The noodles that had somehow morphed into a weighted glump in my stomach. But no oily aftertaste.

Despite its Inner Mission location, Sunflower gives off a distinctly suburban strip mall vibe. That must have been what attracted my mother, and I can understand why it might appeal to you and your fellow “What, me worry?” millennials from Foster City.

Politics stimulates the taste buds, awakens all sensory systems, and provides unexpected entertainment with more than a whiff of uncertainty.

Shortly after that lunch spent praising Newsom,  my mother was diagnosed with dementia. 

***************************************************************************************************

Mark:

Dang, Mark. If Sunflower was the spot in your youth, then the restaurant must be even older than I thought! 

So, you mention how I said not to talk about politics over a meal and then proceeded to do it anyway? During International Women’s Month of all months??? … Sounds about right. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. But since I’m polite and you mentioned it, I’ll contribute to the Newsom discussion, if only to say that our governor truly resembles Edward Cullen’s father in Twilight

Now, on to the noodles! Your review notes your frustration about the lack of produce in your garlic noodles. Maybe you don’t know how ordering works, exactly, but a little tip for next time: The menu and picture tells you what ingredients your dish will consist of. See how for the garlic noodles, Sunflower’s menu just says, “pan fried noodles w/egg, garlic. Add mixed vegetables or tofu, $3.” Remember how I asked the waitress to add vegetables, and you asked her to add chicken? And then you got a chicken garlic noodle dish and I got a vegetable one? Cool.  

I pity you, because the colorful vegetable medley really cleansed the palate and diversified the dish. Chewy, light cabbage pieces did wonders to give the dish an alternate texture. Meanwhile, the minimally seasoned bite-sized broccoli and squash (zucchini) tasted subtle and plain, which worked to offset the garlicky, oily experience of the astounding noodles. 

And Sunflower’s dish had oodles of noodles! There was so much, only an irrational person would finish it in one sitting. (Obviously, you polished yours off immediately.) Already $13 garlic noodles isn’t so unreasonable for a Valencia Street meal, but the amount Sunflower supplies truly makes it a sweet deal. 

I can’t blame you too much for scarfing the noodles down, Mark, because they taste addictive. I’m a huge fan of oily noodles, especially those that don’t make you feel ill after inhaling an insane amount. After all, a high garlic ratio is essential to differentiate a “garlic noodle” dish from greasy noodles. Luckily, Sunflower’s recipe may be the most garlicky, and thus best, we’ve tried yet. 

As we ate, you regaled me with tales of drunken youth hanging out near your apartment on the weekends, and I loved one story in particular where a young man mistakenly climbed up on the roof of your house. Maybe I was inspired, because I ended up back on 16th Street that very night and knocked a few beers back at Gestalt. When the night finished, I panicked — I was out of my favorite drunk foods at home. Then I remembered those comforting Sunflower noodles awaiting me in the fridge. I heated them up, and demolished that pristine mix of satiating oily noodles. Golden. 

Sunflower is located at 3111 16th St., near Valencia. 

NoodleMania Scorecard

Annika

Mark

bon, nene

$$

bon, nene

$$

1st

2nd

Flour + Water

$$$

Flour + Water

$$$

3rd

Orenchi

$$

Spice Jar

$$

4th

Burma Love

$$

Orenchi

$$

5th

Sunflower

Sunflower

$$

$$

6th

Yamo

$

Mau

$$

7th

Mau

$$

Burma Love

$$

8th

Bao

$$

Yamo

$

Ushio

9th

$$

Ushio

$$

10th

Spice Jar

$$

Bao

$$

$

= low price

$$$

= high price

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

Mark Rabine has lived in the Mission for over 40 years. "What a long strange trip it's been." He has maintained our Covid tracker through most of the pandemic, taking some breaks with his search for the Mission's best fried-chicken sandwich and now its best noodles. When the Warriors make the playoffs, he writes up his take on the games.

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. Love the tone, more snark please! As someone in age between these two I find myself flip-flopping identity often.

    Please “double-stuff” a future review by tag-teaming Annika/Wachs against Mark/Joe

    Time to bring Chic’n Time into the gauntlet

    1. I can see it now…digs and quips galore! Pleased to be included in such great company, by the way. We’ll see what The Editor thinks 😉

  2. Sunflower is a favorite stop when I’m in town. Thanks for writing up their noodles.

    P.S. Their combos are pretty freaking good, too! 🙂

    1. Hello, Jensen.
      Thanks for reading!
      In case you can’t snag one of those coveted parking spots, you might be able to venture there by bus (many lines go by Valencia and 16th!), BART (16th Station and a short walk) or use the street’s popular bike lane. If you don’t mind the extra walking, there is a garage near 21st Street and Bartlett.
      Best,
      Annika

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.