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

The Best Pupusas Are in Ingleside

Taqueria Margoth is a humble, family-owned Salvadoran joint. It has the absolute best pupusas in the city by a long shot, says inmandarin. Chicharrón pupusa is phenomenal—filled with mighty shreds of fried pork, bursting with flavor, and boasting the thinnest, crispiest flour shell of any pupusa you’ve ever seen. It’s a completely different balance of outer shell and doughy innards from your run-of-the-mill pupusa. It may not be authentic, but who cares? It’s delicious!

The masa quality of the tamal pollo ($1.75) blows away every other tamal joint inmandarin has tried. It’s steamy hot, ultragrainy, and wonderfully soft.

If you thought Ingleside was a dead-end neighborhood for food, you are so wrong. Go eat some tamals.

Taqueria Margoth [Ingleside]
300 Plymouth Avenue, San Francisco
415-333-4622

Board Link: taqueria margoth–a hidden gem of ingleside.

Veracruz Wonder

What you learn in the Chowhound game is to take your recommendations wherever you can get them. Students are a good source. Lillian Hsu had a student who once brought in some stunning homemade cheese empanadas, made by her mom. So when the same student dropped by and told Lillian that her parents were opening up a little Veracruz restaurant, Lillian hurried down. What she found was a Veracruz wonder, at a small place called El Rincón Jaracho.

Lamb barbacoa is truly excellent, and comes literally falling off the bone. Their waitress instructed them to add the lamb meat to the red soup, along with diced onions, cilantro, and a few squeezes of lime. What they got was tender meat, with a few choice bits of fat, soaking up the beautiful flavors of the soup. Mole casero is also excellent—rich, flavorful, but not overpowering on tender chicken, with a bit of spicy guacamole.

The Guanabana agua fresca gets high marks, too—it gives El Ojo de Agua’s licuados a run for their money.

El Rincón Jarocho [East Bay]
3851 International Boulevard, Oakland
510-536-4034

Board Link: El Rincon Jarocho: a bit of Veracruz in Fruitvale (Oakland)

Mexican Master in a Mall, with Flan!

Taco Max is a weirdly great Mexican place in a mall. At this teeny joint in the Coddingtown Mall, Arturo—the guy working the grill, and taking orders, and waiting tables, and running the cash register—is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who used to own a Mexican restaurant in Miami. Various problems shut that business down, so now he’s back, gathering investors for another restaurant—and in the meantime, running what’s probably the best mall food stand around. He’s from Cuernavaca, so it’s a rare peek into that region’s cooking.

His food is well and lovingly executed, says Eat_Nopal. Following Arturo’s suggestions, he had cochinita pibil taco with tender, earthy pork and marinated red onions; fish al pastor taco (a beautiful hunk of pan-seared fish in achiote rub); and beautiful chicken vegetable soup. And a truly outstanding flan. It’s a flan napolitano, Cuernavaca style, which puts it somewhere between a normal flan and a cheesecake.

Arturo has dialed into the local farmers, too; he makes specials whenever he can get his hands on seasonal stuff from the area. He’s also very flexible and will do custom meals if you give him enough lead time.

The food is not perfect—it’s one man, and he has to make some compromises, like prefab tortillas. But overall this place is great, and Arturo really cares about his customers.

Taco Max [Sonoma County]
329 Coddingtown Center, Santa Rosa
707-528-3212

Board Link: Taco Max (Santa Rosa)... EN smiles

Rare and Mysterious Japanese Rice

There’s a certain magical aroma and flavor that define a particular form of Japanese fried rice called chahan. A select few are completely addicted to it—and it’s hard to find. When you order fried rice at most Japanese spots you get yakimeshi, which is the fully Japanese version. At a few places you can get chahan, which is closer to the original Chinese flavors but with a hint of Japanese sensibility.

The chahan served at Tanpopo is delicious, says kare_raisu. And peacemeal says, “I just got back from a week in Tokyo where I strived to places that had good chahan, and sad to say, I was not able to find chahan like I had in the old days. I was describing to my traveling companions that the closest thing to what I was seeking was Tampopo’s back in SF.”

That mysterious flavor and aroma come from a combination of smoky pork, sweet egg, and the slight smoky energy of the wok, says kare_raisu. It’s a drug—an addictive, addictive drug.

Tanpopo Japanese Restaurant [Pacific Heights]
1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
415-346-7132

Board Link: Japanese style Fried Rice–Chahan

Great Espresso Plus Milk-Braised Pork

Good espresso is rare in the Bay Area and unheard of in restaurants. All the good espresso is at a few specialty coffee shops and kiosks, right? TopoTail was shocked to discover exemplary espresso at Bar Bambino. It serves beautifully pulled, crema-laden espresso shots and perfect macchiatos. Bambino uses Ecco Caffè’s world-class coffee, and the waiters are all well trained in barista craft.

You get your choice of northern or southern Italian roast. Northern Italian is light, which lets the floral and spicy flavors shine through; southern Italian is darker, smoother, with fewer high notes. Even the decaf espresso drinks are exemplary, which is pretty shocking in and of itself.

Bambino also serves fabulous Italian food—like inventive bruschetta; pork braised in milk with sage and lemon; and eggplant balls with pine nuts, raisins, and tomato sauce.

Bar Bambino [Mission]
2931 16th Street, San Francisco
415-701-8466

Board Link: Bar Bambino: Fabulous Espresso Drinks

A Spicy, Dense Bowl of Pho

daveena’s new favorite pho is the number 26 at the 10th Street branch of Pho Hoa Lao. It’s pho bo kho—a spicier, oilier, dense soup that’s pretty much nothing like your usual clear bowl of pho. It’s got tender, delicious beef and a red slick of spicy oil. The beef has the texture of pork shoulder after it’s been slow-roasted for eight hours—it’s absurdly tender, with lots of lovely gelatinous bits. And you can get it with either the standard skinny rice noodles (called pho noodles), or egg noodles (called mi).

Some folks think the 10th Street branch is slightly better than the International Boulevard branch; others think they’re about the same.

twocents is a huge pho bo kho fan. In his book, Pho Hoa Lao is quite good, but his favorites are Kang Nam and Kim Huong. Kang Nam’s version is rich and turmeric-y, with a great deal of body. Kim Huong’s version is similar. “I am a fool for beef stew noodles,” he says.

Pho Hoa Lao [East Bay]
333 10th Street, Oakland
510-763-8296

Pho Hoa Lao [East Bay]
720 International Boulevard, Oakland
510-451-6888

Kang Nam Pho [East Bay]
4419 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
510-985-0900

Kim Huong [East Bay]
304 10th Street, Oakland
510-836-3139

Board Link: #26 at Pho Hoa Lao (Oakland)–my new favorite pho

Like Pumpkin Pie, but in Beer Form

Wunder Brewing Company’s pumpkin beer is everything that rworange had always hoped a pumpkin beer would be but that all pumpkin beers had failed to be. It’s a “boozy pumpkin pie in a glass–lovely spicy pumpkin bouquet, pretty pumpkin color and nice pumpkin and spice taste.” It’s great with the sweet potato fries, which come in a massive, salty, parsley-covered portion ($4 during happy hour).

Wunder makes real beers—flavorful and complex. A $9 sampler lets you try all seven, including a smoky porter, a chewy stout, and an habanero-flavored chile beer that, surprisingly, is actually pretty darn good.

Wunder Brewing Company [Sunset]
1326 Ninth Avenue, San Francisco
415-681-2337

Board Link: SF: Wonder Brewery–sweet potato fries and wunder-ful draft pumpkin beer

All Hail Caesar! And His Carbonara!

SPQR serves Roman cuisine “as best as it can be done in California,” says DavidT. The menu changes often—sometimes daily—as the ingredients change. If you get there early, you may have to wait for the menu to finish printing. And the food? Fresh, delicious, and soul-nourishing.

chaddict loves, loves, loves this place. It serves the best carbonara he has ever had in his life. “Pasta was perfectly salted, perfect ratio of guanciale, black pepper, and pecorino.”

It’s hard to give recommendations because of the frequent menu changes, but among the dishes Chowhounds have loved in the past is perfectly fried suppli al telefono with a light outer coating, perfectly cooked riso, and melty, gooey cheese. House-made pork sausage with farro, mint, and cucumber is seasoned perfectly. “This is why God invented the pig!” says chaddict. Roast chanterelles with sunchokes and pancetta is absolutely delicious and a perfect fall dish, says cortez. Other great stuff: stewed shelling beans with eggs that have been soft-cooked, covered in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried; polenta and ricotta pancake; and grilled zucchini stuffed with ricotta.

The place is small and unpretentious, with very knowledgeable servers.

SPQR [Pacific Heights]
1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco
415-771-7779

Board Links: SPQR
Any one tried SPQR yesterday?

Real Peking Duck

In Beijing, the way they prepare Peking duck is not the way most of us have had Peking duck. The skin isn’t wrapped in a big, soft, fluffy white bun. It is instead wrapped in a thin, yeasty pancake. So what’s the best place for truly Beijing-style Peking duck? Chowhounds agree: It’s Great China Restaurant. The duck comes with thin pancakes, and it’s really, really, really good, says Kitchen Imp.

elainew concurs that Great China has the best Peking duck in the Bay Area. When her relatives come to town, they always ask to go there. They once had three whole ducks for 10 people—they just couldn’t stop eating the stuff.

Great China Restaurant [East Bay]
2115 Kittredge Street, Berkeley
510-843-7996

Board Link: Best Peking Duch with pancakes not buns

Cantonese Clay Pot Glory

Nancy Berry is all over Au’s Kitchen, an awesome new Cantonese place. Especially great: clay pot dishes, especially the one with chicken feet, spareribs, and rice.

“This is the real deal—it takes 20 minutes to prepare, but the delicious crispy rice crust in the clay pot makes it worth every minute.” At dinnertime only, you can have the waiter pour delicious broth into your clay pot at the end of your meal, making a neat little digestif.

Also great: a-choi with preserved bean curd (look for “sauté lettuce with preserved bean curd” on the menu), eggplant and catfish on a sizzling platter (with a nice hoisin garlic flavor), and dry-fried green beans with fabulous spicy minced pork sauce.

It has great lunch specials, too—generous amounts of entrée, with spring roll, soup, and rice, for $6 to $8.

Avoid the deep-fried squid. Also, says RWCFoodie, an attempt to meet the tastes of the unadventurous ended in failure. Chow mein is tasteless; eggplant with garlic sauce is gloppy and gross. So stay away from any of the vaguely American Chinese dishes, and go straight for the pure Cantonese stuff.

Au’s Kitchen [Peninsula]
851 Cherry Avenue, San Bruno
650-873-2329

Board Link: Au’s Kitchen—New Cantonese in San Bruno