San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

The Best Ethiopian in the South Bay

Why is there a good Ethiopian restaurant in San Jose’s Japantown? How did this happen? We don’t know, but we do know it’s great—certainly the best Ethiopian in the area, says maigre. The place is Rehoboth, and it’s unusual among local Ethiopian joints for using high-quality, organic ingredients. The cooking is lively, and beautifully balanced.

Gomen (collard greens) are tender, lively, and delicious. The yedoro tibs (sautéed chicken) is the best version of this dish maigre has ever tried. Red lentils are truly tasty, with great texture and a perfect balance of spices.

Rehoboth Ethiopian Cafe & Restaurant [South Bay]
655 N. Sixth Street, San Jose
408-947-1717

Board Link: Ethiopian at Cafe Rehoboth in San Jose’s Japantown

Cabarnet Caramel and Chinese Five-Spice Hot Chocolate

Christopher Elbow’s artisanal chocolate shop is impressive. “His chocolates are hella pretty,” says hhc. His strength is definitely caramels, says Windy. Orange citrus caramel and Cabernet caramel are both lovely. Also delicious: fleur de sel turtle, and chocolate-coated raspberry pâte de fruit. Not as good: Persian with marzipan, and Russian tea truffles.

He has a wild and massive hot chocolate menu, too, with your choice of American style (with milk), European style (with water), and lots of oddball flavors, such as hot chocolate with Chinese five-spice (CHOW has a version of this too), hot chocolate with coconut curry, and hot chocolate with ginger caramel. Spicy Mexican hot chocolate is very good, reports kleungsf.

The shop doesn’t do samples—which is understandable, given the quality of the chocolate.

Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates [Hayes Valley]
401 Hayes Street, San Francisco
415-355-1105

Board Link: Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate shop SF, report w/ pics

Flames, Chicken, and Jalapeño

There’s something “elemental and almost primal” about slabs of ribs and little chickens turning on a spit, licked by flames, says rworange. What elevates the $4.99 chicken at El Campesino Market is the jalapeños and whole onions skewered with it. Have a bite of charred jalapeño, a bite of rich, melting onion, and a bite of bird—it’s very, very nice. “The warmth of fire, passionate music, roasted meat … comfort to the stomach and soul … what’s not to like?” says rworange.

El Campesino Market [East Bay]
232 23rd Street, Richmond
510-965-0817

Board Link: Richmond: El Campesino Market … Flame-kissed chicken and ribs plus live music

Chicago Dogs and Italian Beef

Chicago Blues Café does Chicago food, and does it right. The Italian beef sandwich is made with Vienna Beef brand and served dipped in jus. You can get the jus on the side, if you wish. “This version of Italian Beef is definitely standard Chicago style and properly prepared,” says P. Punko. Giardiniera—hot pepper and vegetable mix—is an extra 50 cents.

The Vienna Beef dogs ($4) also are served in the Chicago style—steamed, on a poppy seed bun, with green relish, tomato, onion, peppers, and your choice of mustard. “All the Chicago stuff is prepared exactly as it should be with good quality Vienna Beef brand components shipped from Chicago,” says P. Punko.

Chicago Blues Café compares favorably to another Chowhound favorite Italian beef joint, West Side Café, formerly known as Gumbah’s. West Side Café tends toward homemade stuff—Italian beef, giardiniera—while Chicago Blues Café tends toward importing local brands, like Vienna Beef. “In terms of authenticity, I think they are about equal. Chicagoans would probably be more used to the super thin Vienna Beef mass produced product than the homemade Gumbah’s,” says P. Punko.

It has barbecue, too. It’s definitely not for those who want to savor the flavor of carefully smoked ’cue, with the sauce on the side. It’s long-smoked, but with no discernable smoke flavor, and served swimming in sweetish sauce. It’s good, but it won’t suit a certain kind of barbecue purist.

There are plans for deep-dish pizza soon, too.

Chicago Blues Café [East Bay]
13802 East 14th Street, San Leandro
510-927-8510

West Side Café (formerly Gumbah’s) [Solano County]
138 Tennessee Street, Vallejo
707-648-1100

Board Link: Chicago Blues Cafe in San Leandro has Italian Beef Sandwiches

A Great New York Slice in San Jose?

Rosie’s New York Pizza is constantly mobbed; it can take an hour to get a pizza. Why? “Probably because it’s a really really good pie, the likes of which have not been seen in these provincial parts,” says Ken Hoffman. The dough—hand-tossed and everything—makes a nearly perfect crust: sturdy, supple, awesome. The toppings are generous, fresh, and well proportioned. The pizza is also gigantic—“big enough to feed your hyper family driven mad by the wait,” says Ken. Rosie’s sells by the slice, too.

It’s been open only a couple of weeks, and already half the neon sign is burnt out. Just like New York.

Rosie’s New York Pizza [South Bay]
1285 The Alameda, San Jose
408-292-6767

Board Link: Rosie’s New York Pizza Downtown San Jose

The Perfect Morning Bun for People Who Don’t Like Morning Buns

“I’m not a fan of most morning buns, even La Farine’s. Morning buns are usually too something … crispy, sweet, sugared, intense,” says rworange. But she’s finally found the perfect morning bun for her taste, at Hopkins Street Bakery. It’s a very balanced bun—soft yet flaky, yeasty, and with “a delicate dusting of sugar and cinnamon.” You can get it with or without cranberries, and with or without heat. All variations are wonderful.

Some folks don’t like the bombolini, but meemster loves ’em. They’re very fresh tasting, with spongy doughnut dough and tender custard. Also great: pumpkin muffins with chocolate chips.

“I love Hopkins–I think there’s something about the combination of the aroma and the old-fashioned screen door that always takes me back to the bakery of my childhood,” says Nina.

Hopkins Street Bakery [East Bay]
1584 Hopkins Street, Berkeley
510-526-8188

Board Link: Berkeley–Hopkins Street Bakery’s morning buns and more

Hidden Garlic Land

The actual name for this hidden wonderland is Gourmet Express, which is pretty much the worst, most vague name ever, says katya. The alternate name on the signs is Garlic Land. Now there’s a good name, especially considering what you get: glorious, superflavorful, garlicky chicken. “This is the kind of place that tastes pretty good the first time and even better the next time. Now I’m addicted. What do they put in that hummus?” she says.

The platter is the way to go here. For $9, you get a big old pile of meat. A garlic chicken platter gets you shredded chicken, garlic sauce, pita, and four sides of your choice. The garlic sauce is very, very, wonderfully garlicky. Some of the sides are also satisfying: Be sure to get the very good hummus, great baba ghanoush, and addictive lemon-garlic potatoes. The other sides are only so-so.

Gourmet Express [South Bay]
463 Valley Way, Milpitas
408-263-8388

Board Link: Bland Name Hides Super Flavorful and Garlicky Middle Eastern Food at Gourmet Express in Milpitas

Spicy Korean Beef and Tofu Stew

The search for great kimchee jjigae is finally over, says 10foot5. He was blown away by the kimchee jjigae—spicy stew with beef, tofu, and kimchee—at Jong Ga House. “The flavors are intense and complex. And addictive.”

They have a great banchan selection, and really nice folks, says Hunicsz. They actually tout themselves as mushroom specialists. Their mushroom dishes are indeed excellent, but so is much of the rest of their menu. The real standout mushroom dish, though, is a wonderful stew of pork belly with at least four kinds of mushrooms. “The different textures of the mushrooms combined with the unctuous, melting pork belly and the incredible earthy depth of flavor made this dish out of this world.”

Kimchee bok um bap (kimchee fried rice) and kimchee jun (kimchee pancake) are both good but lack the spicy punch of that glorious kimchee jjigae, says 10foot5.

Jong Ga House [East Bay]
372 Grand Avenue, Oakland
510-444-7658

Board Links: Kim Chee Jjige at Jong Ga House

The Best Flavor in Xiao Long Bao

Dave MP really, really knows his Shanghai dumplings, and he thinks that the xiao long bao—soup-filled Shanghai dumplings—at Shanghai House are really good. These dumplings have improved: They are, says Dave MP, probably the best he’s had in the Bay Area, flavor-wise. The wrapper has a nice consistency, and the pork filling is sweet and delicious. He didn’t even dip the dumplings in sauce; their naked flavor is amazing enough.

Veggie dumplings are also really good: small, but filled with a tasty mix of mushrooms, greens, and veggies. Vegetarian duck is great, with a crispy outer bean-curd skin and gently flavored mushroom filling. Claypot with satay and clear noodles is a favorite, with a subtle satay flavor and tender hunks of beef.

SteveG always likes drunken prawns—shrimp cooked in rice wine sauce. Hand-cut noodles are also reliably tasty, with good wok energy.

And, a special secret: Xian doujiang—savory soy milk soup—is the best that Xiao Yang has had outside of Shanghai.

Rice cakes with chicken are not so good: flavorless except for a distinct taste of char.

Xiao Yang warns that, if you’re looking for orthodox Shanghai food, stick with appetizers, like dumplings and cold dishes. He dislikes the way the chef-owner takes “liberties with the Shanghainese canon, using a brown stock where a white one would be traditional, or pushing a sweet-spicy sauce too far to the sweet end of the spectrum. They may work well as Chinese food, but come off a little awkward if you are expecting orthodox Shanghainese food.” But for those of you who don’t care about orthodoxy, order anything you like.

Shanghai House is also a good deal, maybe a little over $10 a person. The service is pretty slow, though. It can take two hours to get through your meal. So go with an open evening, and pleasant friends.

Shanghai House [Richmond District]
3641 Balboa Street, San Francisco
415-831-9288

Board Link: Shanghai House in Outer Richmond–Report

Two Favorite Turkish Joints

katya has two favorite Turkish restaurants: Café Artemis and New Kapadokia.

Café Artemis has excellent lamb kofte—a patty of spices and ground lamb—though it’s perhaps too lamb-y for some. The kofte is by far the best of any of the restaurant’s kebabs. They have great hummus, excellent dolmades, and nice, crisp, moist falafel. Tzatziki is a little heavy. Good lentil kofte, too. “We ended our meal with the warm chocolate ouzo torte ($5.95) since we read a compelling review on Yelp by someone who wanted to, in Britney Spears’ slurred words, ‘Eat it, lick it, snort it, f**k it’. The ouzo torte was definitely f**kable,” says katya. They are sometimes a little erratic with the toppings and add-ons that come with the torte; on one occasion they substituted coconut gelato for chocolate gelato, and added pomegranate seeds, neither of which went well. Still, the torte itself—fantastic.

New Kapadokia has fantastic beef kofte, and katya’s favorite lentil kofte in town. It’s a spicy red lentil soup, with a fabulous zing. Add a squeeze of lemon for tangy perfection. Their bread is fabulously addictive. The folks here are fabulously friendly, too.

Café Artemis [South Bay]
1875 S. Bascom Avenue, Campbell
408-626-8100

New Kapadokia [Peninsula]
2399 Broadway Street, Redwood City
650-368-5500

Board Link: Turkish Food at Café Artemis in Campbell… But Is it Better than Redwood City’s New Kapadokia?