San Francisco Bay Area rss

Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the SF Chowhound community.

Al Pastor, Pineapple on Top

Just last week we featured a place that makes delectable-sounding al pastor with pineapple, but after visiting Los Portales, DezzerSF declares, “This is surely the best Al Pastor in the Tri-City, but I’d put it near the top of my list that I’ve tried.”

Yes, there’s a pineapple atop the spit, and you get a slice with your taco. “The seasoning here is subtle, but complex,” says Dezzer, “with a good bbq flavor from the spit.”

“I also tried the carnitas, which was shredded, nice and crispy outside, but still tender. The pork had very good flavor, not too oily, and their excellent salsa verde complemented the taco.”

There are at least three good salsas—verde, fresca, and chipotle—as well as the usual radishes and peppers. Tacos are on the pricey side, though: $2.20 each.

Taqueria Los Portales [East Bay]
36782 Cedar Boulevard, Newark

Board Link: Tacos Al Pastor @ Los Portales (Newark)

Cantonese Barbecue Pork at Huong Lan

Melanie Wong’s favorite banh mi is at Huong Lan, but now she’s also discovered the restaurant’s cha siu. The San Jose location has a full-on Cantonese barbecue stand, “with hanging ducks and the usual suspects, plus some more Viet-centered steam-table items.”

“My mom bought some of the cha siu (barbecue pork) by the pound and we liked it very much. Not fatty, but still tender and full of flavor. Not surprising, as the bbq pork sandwich is one of our favorite options here.”

manda adds that the marinated, cooked chicken gizzards are a tasty deal: $2.50 for at least a pound.

Huong Lan Sandwiches [South Bay]
1655 Tully Road, San Jose

Board Link: Cha Siu @ Huong Lan #1, San Jose

Cannoli, Filled to Order

It’s awfully rare to find freshly filled cannoli within SF’s city limits, but Melanie Wong says you can get that, Danesi coffee, and free wi-fi at the historic A. Cavalli & Co. bookstore and café in North Beach.

With an expanded menu including panini, salads, and house-made pastries, there isn’t much in the way of books these days, but “I did give in to a filled-to-order cannolo and an iced coffee on a hot day and was very happy,” she says.

Melanie says the other place in San Francisco where you can get a freshly filled cannolo is Vivande. But Robert Lauriston points out, “The cannoli at Pizzeria Delfina are first-rate. I’m not sure they’re piped to order but the shells are perfectly crisp.”

A. Cavalli & Co. [North Beach]
1441 Stockton Street, San Francisco

Vivande Porta Via [Pacific Heights]
2125 Fillmore Street, San Francisco

Pizzeria Delfina [Mission District]
3611 18th Street, San Francisco

Board Link: Cannoli and more @ Cavalli Books & Cafe (SF)

Destination Doughnuts in Los Altos

The new, family-owned Donut du Jour makes light, nongreasy doughnuts that rival those at Stan’s, says Claudette. The glazed old-fashioned, chocolate sprinkled, and “Boston-cream-pieish” varieties all make the grade. Each is only about three bites’ worth, nice for a snack.

buoncibo tried a raspberry-filled one that was “soft and plump, with a good amount of filling,” and also sampled an apple fritter that had “good amounts of cinnamon, but could have used more apples.”

“The early bird gets the coconut cream-filled doughnut rolled in burnt coconut,” notes rworange, who points out that the place opens at 5 a.m. and closes at noon weekdays, or 1 p.m. on weekends.

Just down the street at the new Esther’s German Bakery, the German coffee is nice and strong says Claudette, and “the salted and sesame pretzels were the best pretzels I’d ever had in the U.S., but not nearly as good as the ones I’d had in Germany.” Among the pastries, bee sting cake has a delicious custard filling and caramelized almond topping.

Donut du Jour [South Bay]
108 State Street, Los Altos

Esther’s German Bakery [South Bay]
987 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos

Board Links: Los Altos report: Esther’s, Donut du Jour, Cravery
Los Altos–Breakfast and lunch at Esther’s German Bakery?

Latin Food Crawl in Richmond

The al pastor from Taqueria La Selva’s taco wagon setup is a thing of beauty, reckons rworange. “This is no pre-formed, pre-cut pastor. The irregularly-cut slices in the spit are topped with two golden roasted rings of fresh pineapple,” she says. “It tastes even better than it looks … rich and complex with heat.”

Nearby, outside Central American market Mi Raza, there’s a lady turning out top-notch pupusas on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Hand-patted and cooked on the spot, they are the “least greasy pupusas” rworange has ever had. Loroco pupusa is just what it should be, she says, with the herb’s distinct flavor. The curtido is nice and tangy, with actual bits of puréed tomato in the sauce.

A few vendors can be found in front of St. Mark’s Catholic Church on Sundays while the two Spanish-language Masses are going on (which begin at 9:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.). Look for the one under a shady tree selling tamales, pan de elote, and bags of fresh fruit with chile.

“The pan de elote are wonderful: oblong, griddled and pancake-like filled with fresh corn flavor,” says rworange. “In texture [they’re] somewhere between cornbread and a pancake and about 1/3 inch thick.”

As for the pork tamales, she says, “the pork in the moist masa tasted like it had been roasted rather than stewed. Now why hasn’t anyone else thought of that? There was a rich porky flavor like getting a slice of roast pork out of the oven.”

Taqueria La Selva [East Bay]
1049 23rd Street, Richmond

Mi Raza Market [East Bay]
1045 23rd Street, Richmond

St. Mark’s Catholic Church [East Bay]
159 Harbour Way, Richmond

Board Links: Richmond: After mass street chow at St. Mark’s–pan de elote and pork tamales
Richmond street feast part 2: Taqueria La Selva–the best al pastor tacos vapor in the Bay Area
Richmond street feast part 3: Mi Raza Market’s sidewalk pupusa lady

Anchor & Hope’s East Coast Seafood

Anchor & Hope, the newish fish house opened by the Rosenthal brothers and Doug Washington, does East Coast–style seafood with a twist. Lobster salad involves a “delicious blend of spices” and the classic roll, says Corte Medusa, while eetnsleep appreciates its light, olive oil–type dressing. But at around $30 for the roll, slaw, and fries, notes Xiao Yang, East Coast nostalgia ain’t cheap.

For dessert, Corte Medusa recommends the house-made chocolate cake with salt and nuts on the frosting.

Reports from Anchor’s first week, back in May, were mixed: Absonot found the sea urchin appetizer and the ceviche outstanding. “The Portuguese stew was also wonderful. Really complex flavors in a very satisfying broth.” But the lobster roll underwhelmed.

While not a fan of the restaurateur trio’s other San Francisco ventures, Salt House or Town Hall, goingoutagain liked Anchor more, finding the service friendlier and the place less pretentious.

Anchor & Hope [SOMA]
83 Minna Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Anchor & Hope
Anchor & Hope
Trip report–Anchor & Hope on 83 Minna Street San Francisco

Sonoma County Pizza

One of the best new vendors at the Friday morning farmers’ market in Sonoma is Kashaya’s Brick Oven Pizza, says Melanie Wong, who visited and posted photos. Kashaya’s day job is baking for Whole Foods in Petaluma, and she learned about wood-burning ovens while working at Della Fattoria.

The pizzas are baked to order in a brick oven on a trailer that’s fired up well before the market opens and transported there hot.

“The pizza crust, made with organic flour, is great with the special nuance that wood smoke and high heat add,” says Melanie Wong. “Chewy-tender on the puffy edges, stretched extremely thin in the middle, crisp on the bottom, and full of yeasty goodness.” Melanie ordered hers “scorched,” but it got a little tough when it cooled; the regular well-browned way is probably better.

Spinach, ricotta, and garlic pizza perfectly balances salt and savory against the green leafiness of the baby spinach. Other topping combos include potato, rosemary, and mushroom; and apricot, strawberry, and slivered almonds. Some toppings run out toward the end of the market, so order early. Pizzas are $7 regular size, or $12 large.

Kashaya sells at both the Tuesday and Friday Sonoma markets and the Cotati market on Thursday evenings. She also does catering.

Over in Petaluma, Melanie also tried pizza at a franchise of one of Oregon’s favorite pizzeria chains, Pizzicato. At lunch, two slices with a fountain drink is $6.99 with tax, and costs even less if you order cheese pizza.

“The crust is very thin, well-browned, and crispy-chewy,” she says. “The April special had savory bits of scallions and fresh herbs combined with sweet caramelized red onions and nuggets of prosciutto.”

“Toppings aren’t pedigreed,” she continues, “yet they’re wholesome and fresh and good quality at this price.” The place is located in a strip mall next to Whole Foods, and has “a fast-food feel.”

Kashaya’s Brick Oven Pizza [Sonoma County]
Sonoma and Cotati farmers’ markets

Pizzicato [Sonoma County]
615 E. Washington Street, Petaluma

Board Links: Kashaya’s Brick Oven Pizza (Sonoma, Cotati, Santa Rosa)
Pizzicato’s Two Slice Lunch Deal (Petaluma)

Thai Chefs Defect to the East (Bay)

The former chef at Thai House Express in San Francisco has left, along with his sous-chef, and opened Chai Thai Noodles in Oakland, says DezzerSF. It has about 10 nicely spaced four-tops and a flat-screen TV on the wall.

The new place has all the atmosphere of an institutional shower room, complains Robert Lauriston, who doesn’t like the bright fluorescent lights and white tile. However, the squid salad is “stellar,” and he also liked the Dungeness crab noodles despite a paucity of the promised crab.

The menu is basically the same as at Thai House Express, minus a few items, say hounds. The much-loved pork leg stew is there, almost as good as ever, says pastryqueen, whose only quibble is that the rice seems to be regular long-grain, not jasmine.

Catfish salad (yum pla dook foo) is “more like an airy batter with catfish bits mixed in, served over a bed of shredded lettuce, and topped with cashews and red bell pepper,” says DezzerSF. It’s served with a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, red onions, and cilantro.

The finely textured, lemongrass-scented fried sausage is nicely browned, with “an addictive snap,” says daveena, who adds that another catfish dish, this time deep-fried pieces of fish with vegetables, is also really tasty, with a similar sauce as the salad.

Back in SF, Thai House Express doesn’t seem to have suffered. The pork leg stew is still juicy and tender, reports DaveMP. “One of the best meals you can get for $8 in San Francisco,” he says, even though here, too, the rice now seems to be long-grain.

Chai Thai Noodles [East Bay]
545B International Boulevard, Oakland

Thai House Express [Tenderloin]
901 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Chai Thai Noodles (Oakland) Thai House Express chef alert
Quick Thai House Express Report

Viet-Style Crab Salad

“The crab salad at Jasmine Garden has soared to the top of my SF Fave List,” says Cynsa. “A whole cold crab is marinated in a delectable dressing, garnished with mint and slices of hot red chilies, and presented in shell, with picks, shell crackers, and cloth napkins. Messy fingers to lick are a delight.”

As a grand opening special, the crab salad is just $19.95. And a side order of garlic noodles is subtle and delicious, neither too buttery nor too garlicky.

“Service is friendly and welcoming; the décor is modern and artful,” adds Cynsa.

Jasmine Garden [Duboce Triangle]
708 14th Street, San Francisco

Board Link: Grand Opening Crab Special–Jasmine Garden

Duck Soup in Oakland

Having thoroughly explored the duck noodle soup options in Oakland’s Chinatown (or at least tried all the places with a duck hanging in the window), daveena has concluded that the best of the bunch is Gum Wah.

Tender duck meat that comes easily off the bone with no fat; springy, skinny wheat noodles; and broth that tastes “like it came from roasted duck carcasses” makes this place a winner for daveena.

Ying Kee Noodle House is a runner-up thanks to its tender duck with a little fat, slightly soft noodles, and rich broth that tastes like a chicken-duck combo. You can get veggies as an add-in; the noodles are also extra. The whole roast duck, though, is awfully salty.

At New Gold Medal, daveena had duck that was “flavorful but tough.” The skinny wheat noodles had great texture, and daveena also liked the home-style scrambled eggs with bitter melon: “The squash was barely bitter, super silky, really delicious.”

Gum Kuo is “wildly inconsistent, even within a single bowl,” reports daveena. But the noodles are good, and the chicken-duck broth is fairly rich.

The duck at Café 88 has a strong star anise flavor, but is slightly tough. It’s served separately from the excellent broth and noodles. Rice vermicelli is standard here, and wheat noodles are an option, although daveena reports receiving a “fairly skimpy portion” on one visit.

Gum Wah [East Bay]
345 Eighth Street, Oakland

Ying Kee Noodle House [East Bay]
387 Ninth Street, Oakland

New Gold Medal [East Bay]
389 Eighth Street, Oakland

Gum Kuo [East Bay]
388 Ninth Street #182, Oakland

Café 88 [East Bay]
388 Ninth Street #181, Oakland

Board Link: My Tuesday Project: Oakland Chinatown Duck Noodle Soup Roundup