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Impala

Hot scene

  • Impala
    501 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133 (Map)
    415.982.5299, VIP Bottle service: 415 690 6426

Nestled in the bosom between strip joints in North Beach, Impala offers flashy nightlife and a rich food scene. Every detail makes this place into an interesting mix of both modern atmosphere and gallant ornamental structure. Lit by candelabras, the space is relatively dark and moves to the mixed pop music of a DJ in a raised alcove.

The menu, designed by worldly Chef Kerry Simon, is nuevo Latino fusion with a diverse array of dishes. The night begins with a basket of warm, fresh tortilla chips and, if you wish, delicious margaritas. Perhaps the most interesting items on the menu are the various appetizers. They instill creativity into traditional dishes and bring with them bold and intense flavors. The jalepeno rellenos ($8), stuffed with queso fresco and topped off with chipotle aioli, will play with your taste buds and are an incredible, spicy starter. Other creative fusions include roasted vegetable and goat cheese empanadas ($9), and lobster and grapefruit cocktail ($15). There are of course the more traditional options, such as the vegan tortilla soup ($5), which is intense and rests on a strong cilantro flavor.

There are a couple of salads, although they sound a bit more interesting than they taste. While modest in size, the entrees are packed with strong flavor. The seared Ahi Tuna with Salsa Verde ($14) has a nice poblano chile and green salsa addition, and it has a slightly gentler flavor than the various other dishes. The Dungeness Crab and Shrimp Veracruz ($16), on the other hand is served in a fresh, hot and spicy tomato broth and is a great rendition of a typical Mexican dish.

Although the bar area is separated from the restaurant by iron bars, the noise isn't. As the night rolls on, the bar starts to spill over into the restaurant along with the loud conversations trying to compete with the intense DJ-mixed pop music. It's not conducive to a deep conversation, and I found myself shouting to the person sitting across from me. On the other hand, the bar brought in a sleek North Beach crowd, and the premium tequila options are impressive. In addition, Impala has a sleek downstairs lounge with another DJ spinning next to a dance floor.

Nothing in Impala is subtle. It is a great place to go to start off a night on the town and the management can work with large groups. If you're looking for a more romantic night, I would plan for an earlier dinner, or maybe meander over to Impala later for a couple of drinks.

Contemporary Mexican / Nuevo Latino
North Beach
$$$