San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

Intensely Marinated Mexican Roast Chicken

Eat_Nopal loves Lola’s Market—a little treasure trove of a grocery, full of wonderful Mexican treats.

It has spectacular rotisserie chicken ($5.59). Not your typical, mediocre grocery store chicken, says Eat_Nopal—these are high-quality, succulent Rocky Jr. chickens. But the best part is the marinade: tons of garlic, thyme, Mexican oregano, paprika, and citrus. The marinade flavors suffuse the entire chicken. Given the intensity of the flavor and the quality of the skin, Eat_Nopal guesses that the chicken has been brined and marinated for at least a day. And it’s an absurdly low price for a Rocky Jr. chicken, too—some places charge more than that for a raw Rocky Jr. It’s as great as one of the better rotisserie chickens in Mexico.

The very crusty telera rolls (75 cents) are quite good, and perfect for making tortas. Try digging out a bit of the middle and filling it with some of that leftover rotisserie chicken. Delicias de Jalisco brand guava roll ($1.69) is excellent—it has a fairly intense guava taste and goes well with coffee.

Lola’s also carries good cheese. And pretty good bulk yogurt, too.

Lola’s Market [Sonoma County]
1680 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa

Board Link: An Ode to Lola

Crawfish Craze Sweeps into Town

For some reason, Asia’s gone crazy for crawfish. “If you’ve been to Shanghai lately you’ll find that crawfish is more popular than watermelons these days over there, with crawfish restaurants popping up on almost every street corner over the last two years. Beijing is said to have gone through a similar craze,” explains Xiao Yang. In the Asian centers of Los Angeles, we’ve seen a number of Vietnamese-run, Louisiana-style crawfish boil places appearing in the Vietnamese and Chinese parts of the city. They’re very distinct—there is a particular style to a Vietnamese-run, Louisiana-style crawfish boil place, and it’s pretty addictive.

And now it’s come to Northern California. It’s the Vietnamese-run Boiling Crawfish—tasty food, and a great bargain, reports junesix. The shrimp is good, but the crawfish is great.

Boiling Crawfish [Sunset District]
2333 Irving Street, San Francisco

Board Link: Boiling Crawfish (New) Outer Sunset

Wondrous Oddities, Exceptional Main Courses

Golden River is great—surprisingly creative, well-executed Chinese food, says kleungsf. And it’s a good value, too.

The chef here was the opening chef for Mayflower restaurants in San Francisco and Union City. Every main course kleungsf had was exceptional—perfectly steamed whole fresh scallops with scallions and soy sauce, and wonderfully tender stir-fried pork cheeks. Salt-baked chicken is very nice and just the right level of salty.

Desserts are excellent. The default dessert is red bean soup; unlike at most other places, the one here is not overly diluted. There’s house-made black herb jelly. And a wondrous oddity: mochi mixed with bitter melon purée, filled with black sesame paste, deep-fried, and covered with shredded coconut. The bitter melon isn’t overwhelming—it just adds a bit of depth to the whole thing. It’s great.

Golden River [Richmond District]
5827 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco

Board Link: Dinner Review: Golden River Chinese Restaurant (Geary bet 22nd & 23rd Ave)

The Glories of La Mixteca

For your next Napa trip, forget about wine and cheese. Forget about oh-so-fancy big-name restaurants. Where you want to go is La Mixteca, a true Oaxacan restaurant. It’s very different from the Oaxacan places you find in, say, Los Angeles, which typically focus on dishes from the Valley of Oaxaca region. If you order right, what you’ll get will be glorious.

There is duro con ensalada de cueritos. This is a duro (a sandal-shaped fried wheat crisp) topped with salad and cueritos (pickled pork skin). It’s a symphony of contrasting textures and flavors, says kare_raisu. “If you can get beyond the pickled pork skin- and I hope you do–you will be rewarded! Generous slices of avocado, juicy tomato, crisp duro, chewy cuerito, warming jalapeno, rich crema and chopped cabbage.”

“It’s a textural orgie,” says Eat_Nopal. He can’t get over how well the duro and cueritos work together—and his father was an artisan of tostadas and pickled pork skin. (This dish isn’t on the regular menu; there’s a sign on the wall, to the right of the counter.)

There is stunningly good chile ajo de puerco. “If I was alone, I would have licked the plate clean–no joke,” says kare_raisu. “You get about 4 riblets awash in this absolutely sexy deep brick red sauce nuanced with clove and peppercorn.” The dark pork meat is tender and succulent, says Eat_Nopal. And the sauce is addictive—spicy, elegant, balanced, and complex.

There are also killer little suadero tacos. Suadero is beef, magically prepared to taste like chunky, shreddy carnitas. It’s fantastic—tender, and a pleasure to eat.

And tostada de tinga is amazing. The tostada is fresh and crisp, and the chicken is glorious. It’s wonderfully juicy and has this elegant, nuanced chipotle thing going on. It’s a little symphony—juicy and warm chicken, crisp tostada, cool crema, salty Cotija, salsa.

Cucumber (pepino) agua fresca is great, too—simple, light, and satisfying. It may seem too sweet at first, but it goes along perfectly with the dishes, says RWCFoodie.

Not everything is tops. Sopes are undercooked; carne asada is sort of limp and sad. A lot of the regular tacos are boring. Go for the specials, and go for the weird-looking Oaxacan stuff.

La Mixteca [Napa Valley]
2580 Jefferson Street, Napa

Board Links: La Mixteca/Napa… how do I love thee!
Eat Nopal & Kare Raisu take on a Block in Napa
Napa Notes & ‘AM La Mixteca’ discovery

Rich, Gamy Goat Roti at Penny’s

There’s a superb goat roti at Penny’s Caribbean Cuisine. The roti itself is layered, flaky, and studded with crumbled chickpeas. And the curried goat is great, says 10foot5. It’s gamy, and bathed in rich curry. The curry tastes very mustardy, but Penny swears there’s no mustard in it—it’s only the flavor of the particular kind of pepper she uses. And it’s clearly been roasted before going into the curry, because it has a nice, crusty exterior. There’s good jerk chicken, too—spicy and tangy.

The roti is a little bigger and pricier than on the actual islands, but the taste is just like real Barbados roti, says Civil Bear. The servings are massive, though. Unlike on the islands, these are tough to eat on the go.

Warning: Penny’s is a one-woman operation, and Penny is not perfectly punctual. The sign says it opens at noon, but sometimes she doesn’t show up until after 1. And her style is pretty unhurried—it can take a while to get your food. 10foot5 recommends calling in your order first, to check that she’s there and cut off some of the wait.

Chicken roti is $7.50, goat roti is $8. It’s very reasonable, given the quality and size of the servings.

Penny’s Caribbean Cuisine [East Bay]
2836 Sacramento Street, Berkeley

Board Link: Goat Roti at Penny’s Caribbean Cafe

Outstanding Burmese and Thai

Pagan is new, and it’s terrific. It offers some of the best Burmese food in the Bay Area, says Dave MP. The owners are Burmese, but they lived in Thailand for many years. They have two menus—one Burmese, one Thai—that feature completely different versions of the same dish. You can order the Burmese green papaya salad and the Thai green papaya salad and compare. It’ll be a scientific experiment. You can be a knowledge voyager. Trust me—it’s cool.

The Burmese dishes are great. Tea leaf salad is mixed up at the table; it’s the spiciest version in town. Mochinga is thin noodles, rich broth, and small chunks of fish, garnished with crispy fried lentils and cilantro. It tastes deliciously fresh. Burmese green papaya salad has shredded papaya, onion, fried garlic, dried shrimp, and peanuts. It also tastes delightfully fresh, and the fried garlic and dried shrimp set it apart from the Thai version.

Pumpkin and shrimp stew is wonderful, with perfectly cooked shrimp. And Burmese-style fish cake curry is fantastic. The fish cakes are some of the best around—light, fluffy, and full of lemongrass. The red curry sauce is beautiful, balancing powerful chiles against sharp tamarind flavors. Banana shwe kyi is a dense banana cake with intense banana flavors.

The place is nice: warm, cozy, and somewhat classy, though the tables are a little close. Service is very good.

Pagan Restaurant [Richmond District]
3199 Clement Street (near 33rd Avenue), San Francisco

Board Link: Pagan Restaurant–New Burmese/Thai in Outer Richmond–Awesome–Report

Waffle Batter Versus Belgian Dough

At the Civic Center farmers’ market, there is a truck run by hard-core artisanal waffle snobs. Really. They’re very friendly, and they hate batter. They import waffle dough from Belgium. pane asked ’em why they don’t use batter. “‘Batter is bullshit,’ opined one of the guys, who told me Americans basically cooked pancake batter in a waffle iron, while a Belgian waffle was an entirely different animal.”

As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Or, perhaps in this case, in the waffle? And the waffle is delicious. “This was different than any waffle I’ve tried: crisp on the outside, chewy and intensely flavorful on the inside. A bit sour, a bit sweet,” describes pane. At $3, it’s one great hand-held snack.

Belgian Waffle Truck [Civic Center]

Civic Center farmers’ market
1292 Market Street (between Seventh and Eighth streets), San Francisco

Board Link: Waffle Truck, Larkin Express, Hot Cocoa at Socha

Sushi of the Highest Order

Sushi Monster is on a perpetual quest to eat at every sushi joint on the Peninsula. His latest find: newcomer Jin Sho, which immediately vaults into the Top 10 of his sushi rankings. The chefs are Ichiro Takahashi and Noriomi Kaneko, both direct from the Nobu sushi mother ship in New York City. “Although the 90 percent of the customers ordering spicy tuna and dragon rolls would never notice, both itamae have the superlative knife and presentation skills to immediately place them in the top tier among their much older peers,” he says.

Fish quality is superb. In the Nobu style, there’s a mix of very traditional nigiri, with very Western twists. There’s kanpachi, garnished with razor-thin slices of jalapeño. (That kanpachi “was simply the finest, most buttery and delectable example of the species I’ve ever sampled,” says Sushi Monster.) Hotate, garnished with a tiny dab of yuzu and coarse salt, is another home run. Sweet engawa—one piece served cooked, the other raw—and rich belly hamachi are also standouts. But, really, every single piece of sushi is solid.

These guys, says Sushi Monster, have enormous potential. They’re so cutting edge, and so good, that they could force the rest of the top-tier sushi chefs to step up, and maybe reach for the quality of sushi found in New York and Los Angeles.

The only downside is the price: His lunch, with tip, was $85.

Service from the sushi chefs is outstanding. The rest of the kitchen staff is green, and it shows; hopefully, they’ll improve with time.

Jin Sho [South Bay]
454 California Avenue, Palo Alto

Board Link: Jin Sho—new top-tier sushi in Palo Alto

De Afghanan Moves Up

De Afghanan started as a true hole in the wall in Fremont—a much-beloved hole in the wall, with the best lamb and chicken kebabs that hippopotamus has ever come across. Its most famous dish: chapli (beef) kebabs. It’s opening two new locations, in Berkeley and San Francisco. The Berkeley location is larger, and has a bigger menu. It’s just barely opened, but joyous reports are already pouring in.

The kebabs at the Berkeley location are excellent, as expected. De Afghanan’s best known for its ground beef kebab, but chopped beef kebab is great as well. Also try squash baloni—a squash-filled turnover—with the excellent yogurt sauce. There’s pumpkin stuff, Afghan dumplings, and leek-filled turnovers, all great. The real eye-opener for 10foot5 is shornakhed salad: potatoes, chickpeas, mint, cilantro, and vinegar, all with a subtle bit of cayenne energy in the background.

10foot5 told his server that he was torn between the beef and lamb kebabs; when his order of beef kebabs arrived, it came with two little lamb T-bone chops as a bonus. He’s not sure if these are on the regular menu, but they’re delicious: perfectly done meat, with a nice intense spice rub.

Prices are moderate. “The people could not be nicer or more welcoming, though their English is a bit on the weak side,” says mcchowhound. Go soon; the place is tiny, and as soon as the wider Berkeley community discovers it, it’ll be packed to the gills.

De Afghanan Kabob House [East Bay]
37405 Fremont Boulevard, Fremont

De Afghanan Kabob House [East Bay]
1160 University Avenue, Berkeley

De Afghanan Kabob House [Polk Gulch]
1303 Polk Street, San Francisco

Board Link: De Afghanan from Fremont–now in San Francisco and Berkeley

Beer and Pretzels

Monk’s Kettle is a weird place. Some people think it’s a bar that serves absurdly nice food. Some people think it’s a small, crowded restaurant with a massive beer list. In any case, almost everybody agrees: The prices are high, the beer selection massive, the beers well cared for, and the food damn tasty.

Many a beer snob has been impressed by the selection. The place has a hundred bottles, and 24 beers on draft. There’s Arrogant Bastard. There’s black currant cider. There’s St. Bernardus Abt 12 on tap, which is already reason enough to go, says boozemonkey.

And the food is good. Some people think the prices are ludicrous ($10 for a burger?). But others think it’s worth it. Bruschetta—a La Brea baguette slice with white bean and cheddar purée and wild mushrooms—is wonderful. And the giant pretzel—folks love the giant pretzel. It’s warm, yeasty, and chewy, says Absonot. And it comes with great cheddar ale sauce. “I had no idea that a giant pretzel could be so good,” says Lori SF.

It’s not the be-all, end-all for beers. It isn’t, say some beer-hounds, nearly the beer nerd paradise that Toronado is. And it doesn’t have the Belgian devotion of, say, the Trappist. But Monk’s Kettle does have great beer, and great food.

Monk’s Kettle [Mission District]
3141 16th Street, San Francisco

Toronado [Haight]
547 Haight Street, San Francisco

The Trappist [East Bay]
460 Eighth Street, Oakland

Board Links: Monk’s Kettle
SF (16th/Mission)–100 bottles of beer on the wall, 24 draughts, house-ground Niman Ranch burgers w/Quetzel tomatoes