San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

The Double-Secret Andhra of Dublin

On the outside, Tabla Flavors looks like a Taco Bell. Here is the first secret: It’s not a Taco Bell. It’s an Indian restaurant.

On the inside, Tabla Flavors looks like your usual South Indian restaurant, with all the staples—dosai and whatnot. Here’s the second secret: The cooks are all from Andhra Pradesh. So when Melanie Wong started asking if some of the menu specialties were actually Andhra dishes, the cashier—who was utterly surprised, and very pleased by all this questioning—pointed out all the best Andhra dishes hidden in the menu.

Cut mirchi is a spectacular appetizer. These are fresh green jalapeños fried in flaky chickpea batter and sprinkled with spiced salt, freshly cut sweet onion, and cilantro. These are perfectly, wildly addictive—especially dunked in coconut chutney.

The lamb curry on the specials board that day was actually Andhra pepper-fry, semiwet style, with lots of gravy. And it will be hot, if you ask for it hot. Spring dosa is beautiful, covered in a fine sheen of oil yet not greasy. It’s as thin and crispy as a dosa gets. And it’s filled with fresh green beans, scallions, carrots, and cauliflower, all lightly spiced, making it an unusually delicate dosa.

Tabla Flavors [East Bay]
6830 Village Parkway, Dublin
925-829-7944

Board Link: South Indian @ Tabla Flavors in Dublin

It’s All Good … Really

Everybody goes completely, dancingly, clappingly wild for It’s All Good Bakery. Its most famed dish—sweet potato pie—makes legions of Chowhounds swoon. But don’t forget to try the other stuff, because, just like the name says, it’s actually all good. And it’s all buttery. This place is sort of a black-hole implosion of butterfat.

Pecan pie classic delights rworange with the perfection of its pecan energy. There are small, whole toasted pecans; a nice filling; a buttery, crisp crust. “It reminds me how good pecan pie can be.” Also: not toothachingly sweet. The peanut butter cookie is glorious—large, moist, and crumbly. “These $1.35 cookies are scads better than cookies two to three times the price (I’m talking to you Teacakes).”

Yellow cake is excellent: extremely light and moist. And rworange’s favorite cake? The coconut. And we mean, it’s her favorite cake in the whole Bay Area. With a pineapple filling, too.

It’s All Good Bakery [East Bay]
5622 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland
510-597-9700

Board Link: Oakland and Vallejo: It’s All Good Bakery – warm sweet potato pie

Coleslaw with Pickled Pork Skin!

There’s a tamale truck in the parking lot of the Dutton Avenue Lola’s Market. It has good tamales—dense but moist. Better still, there is a massive jar of coleslaw with cueritos—pickled pork skin—in it. For $2, you can get a big serving of cueritos coleslaw with cheese sprinkled on top. It’s a good combination—crispy slaw, chewy pork skin, and cheese. How awesome is that? Be the first on your block to have pickled pork skin slaw! Be the first on your block to be able to say “pickled pork skin slaw” five times fast!

No one tells you there’s cueritos in the coleslaw. Imagine what it’s like, says rworange, to be sitting in a dark car, chowing on what you think is perfectly ordinary coleslaw, and then you hit a chewy batch of skin that’s like a gummy worm, but porky. It’d freak you out. Luckily, she’s done the research for you—you can be forewarned, and forearmed. Be ready for the pork skin.

Tamale truck in the Lola’s parking lot [Sonoma County]
440 Dutton Avenue #17, Santa Rosa

Board Link: Santa Rosa–Tamale Truck at Lola’s with cueritos cole slaw

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