Take a tour of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood with Yemeni coffee expert Mukhtar Al-Khanshali

Join us at Tag Along, where local writers, artists, foodies and celebrities lead us to the best food and drinks in their favorite Bay Area neighborhoods.

Climbing up the hill from Tenderloin, where he grew up, then-teenager Mukhtar Al-Khanshali would stare out the enormous glass windows of his Lamborghini dealership (though these days the space is home to Tesla) and see the life he wants. And he succeeded. He launched Port of Mokha Coffee Company and is the first person to sell premium Yemeni coffee at Blue Bottle cafes – at as low as $16 a cup.

Al-Khanshali is a Yemeni American, and when his parents spot him on a rocky road, they are sent to his grandparents’ farm in Yemen to get out of the city frenzy. It was immortalized in Dave Eggers’ book mocha monk Now the planes are working around the world on various projects, providing input on friends’ coffee business, and promoting Yemen’s first national coffee auction with his nonprofit, the Mocha Institute. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like his old neighborhood. “You always get a bad rep,” says Al-Khanshali. “It’s a beautiful, ugly, wonderful, awful, wonderful place. It’s a mixture of these dialectical terms, but to me, it was magical.”

Al-Khanshali with a few of his childhood heroes, members of the International Federation of Local Service Employees Local 87.
Patricia Chang

When considering Tenderloin, Alkhanshali points out that people often overlook the roughly 4,000 kids who live in the neighbourhood. Growing up, his friends were a diverse mix of Vietnamese, Yemenis, and African Americans. He got tips on how to turn a dollar into two from sex workers, nonprofits, and drug dealers alike, and he remembers people who regularly greeted their neighbors. He loved enjoying the strong, dark scents from Angel Café & Deli on Geary – and although he wasn’t drinking coffee at the time, he knew that if and when he did, he wanted to do it there.

But the neighborhood has also been hampered by rampant inequality and still is today; Since December 2021, there have been 48 drug sales quotes in the neighborhood. “We are all products of our environments,” says Al-Khanshali. “But it’s in the United States that I’ve learned that people of color have limited choices.” Al-Khanshali loves to see tenderloin sparkle, especially given its rich Yemeni community, architecture, and impressive murals. On this Tag Along, Eater SF takes six cafés and bakeries, with an honorable nod to Maison Danel – the Parisian-inspired café located in the same building as Alkhanshali. (He says it was a porn store.) Read on for a coffee crawl highlighting local Tenderloin stores, strong coffee, and a commitment to quality.

liquid coffee cooperative

332 Golden Gate Street

Al-Khanshali wanted to start the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace because he says the immigrant business incubator is a sign of the new class of entrepreneurs who are raising the bar for underrepresented communities in San Francisco. Therefore, the liquid coffee cooperative, for Al-Khanshali, is exactly what the city needs – a place where local young makers appear in a big way. JoJo Ty, co-owner and resident of ‘Coffee Daddy’, joined Alkhanshali to discuss the ‘Community College Cocktail’ which they both attended. Tai grew up as a trans child of Filipinos in the Excelsior neighborhood and says he feels less lonely after hearing the story of Al-Khanshali. Co-founder Santana Tapia joined us for a cup too, where Al Khanshali made some Yemeni coffee that he sent via Uber from San Jose. This was the first time this coffee was served in the US, and its taste like apricot, and the acidity and luster ringing on the teeth.

Two people with a tray of pink coffee cups.

Al Khanshali and Gogo Tai, one of the owners of the Fluid Coffee Cooperative, serve up cups of Yemeni coffee.
Patricia Chang

Two people with coffee cups in hand.

JoJo Ty ​​and Santana Tapia discuss the advantages of specialty coffee at the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace.
Patricia Chang

Arsicault

87 McAllister Street

Khenshali couldn’t contain his pride when we walked over to Arskault, overwhelmed by the thought that in good healthA recognized bakery will open on McAllister Street. On the way, he bumped into union leaders from Local Service Employees International Federation 87. “These guys were my heroes growing up,” says Al-Khanshali. At Arsicault, we dug into croissants, raisin-dotted kouign amann, and French-roasted coffee in a well-lit setting filled with the aroma of brown butter. When asked about opening in a neighborhood he often turns down, Arsicault owner Armando Lacayo, who is Nicaraguan and French, said he didn’t want anyone not venturing into Tenderloin to try his creations. (Not a huge problem for Lacayo fans given the original location in the easily accessible Richmond area.) “It’s not an upscale area,” says Lacayo. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t do what you love.”

Two men photographing croissants.

Alkhanshali and Armando Lacayo, owner of Arsicault, get shots for Gram.
Patricia Chang

Cross section of a croissant held with a knife.

Arsicault’s croissants are a favorite of pastry heads across the country.
Patricia Chang

phils

399 Golden Gate Street

No one has walked the San Francisco sidewalk until they’ve walked by with a Philz mint mojito latte. That is the opinion of Khenshali, however, because Philz is an institution in San Francisco; He was started on the mission in 2003 by Phil Jaber, who moved from Palestine to the United States when he was 12 years old and built a coffee empire out of the ground (and milled). “It’s a dessert,” says Al-Khanshali of the iced drink. Compared to some of these McCafe-esque lattes these days, this drink is a refreshing token of sugar and caffeine for $4.50—a creamy mint smudge to make Curry Grant jealous.

A man with a cup of coffee in a cafe.

A decadent mint mojito latte is a back-in-the-day treat for khinali.
Patricia Chang

scullery

687 Jerry Street

Right down the street from Angel Café, Alkhanshali heads to this artisanal café. He wanders the streets and shakes hands with sleepy baristas and drinkers as if he were an ambassador for Tenderloin (and Yemen at one time). Each conversation is an opportunity for him to inform potential Yemeni coffee lovers. Fortunately for him, the team at Scullery, the café that looks like a Scandinavian log cabin popping out of the blue, is very consistent with the concept. The shop is very small, only a few seats and two outdoor seating arrangements, but the coffee makes itself the star of the small theatre. Andre, the bearded barista, seems pretty confident sipping oat milk on a Vietnamese coffee or getting a great shot on a store-made espresso slayer in Seattle. This multi-roaster (a shop that displays other coffees rather than roasting itself) features mother tongue beans from Auckland, makes a mediocre avocado toast, and might just be a Port of Mokha coffee destination one day, if Al Khenchi has anything to do with it. “I never thought I’d see a killer in Tenderloin.” Al-Khanshali sighs.

Two men shake hands in a cafe in Metn.

As friendly as a politician and a million times less controversial, Khenshali shakes hands with a barista in Scoleri.
Patricia Chang

Jane’s bakery

925 Larkin Street

The end of the tour is an emotional experience. We’re delving into our caffeine frenzy, sure, but the bakery gin brought different memories to Khanshali. He grew up running Cedar Street to get produce for his mom and seeing such a colorful and vibrant store next door to where he once picked asparagus is a little trek. Now he can order a spin of elote, oozing from cotija and lime, on the same block he once jumped on. The store houses Equator Coffees—described as California’s first female-owned roastery—and has a sweet, brightly lit dining space filled with laughter and music. Improvement does not appear to be on Khenshali’s mind. He’s too busy smiling and wondering how more people in the neighborhood will get a taste of this uptick in activity. “I’ve seen a lot of violence in these streets,” says Al-Khanshali. “Having bitter moments allows you to enjoy the beautiful moments.”

Man pointing to a bag of coffee.

As he stops at the last leg of the flight, Khenshali hammers out notes on Equateur coffee.
Patricia Chang

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