San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Cheesesteak on the West Coast

pane went with a friend to the Divisadero branch of the Cheese Steak Shop; it is “definitely the best cheese steak either of us had tried on the West Coast.” Says Jack, “I’m no expert on Philly Cheese Steaks but I’ve never had a better one than at the Cheese Steak Shop.” And for Agent 510, nothing else on either coast does it as well for him.

The Cheese Steak Shop is a simple, shabby sort of place, with pasted-up maps of Philadelphia. It “reminded me a lot of sub-type shops in the blue collar New England town where I grew up,” says pane. The cheesesteak comes with cooked onions chopped into the meat, melted American cheese, and peppers piled on top. And the bun is perfect, with just the right amount of give.

The shop also has Tastykakes in the fridge: chocolate, butterscotch, and crumb cake.

It’s tough during lunch—there’s only one dude running the line, phone orders, and pickups, and it’s mobbed. It took pane half an hour to order, even though he was only fifth in line. If you’re in any sort of a hurry, you probably want to phone in your order.

Prices are ridiculously cheap; on Wednesday, sides are half off.

This is a chain, with shops in Berkeley, Concord, and Alameda, among other locations.

Cheese Steak Shop [Western Addition]
1716 Divisadero Street, San Francisco

Board Link: The Cheese Steak Shop: Report

Caramelized Catfish Clay Pot

david kaplan had a really excellent version of ca kho to—Vietnamese catfish in a clay pot—at Golden Flower Vietnamese. “Ca kho to is a simple dish: fish is simmered in a sauce of liquid caramel, fish sauce, and ground black pepper, then sprinkled with green onions. The trick is the freshness of the fish and the consistency and balance of the sauce. Golden Flower gets it just right for me. Their catfish is very fresh and delicate, and the sauce is slightly numbing from the salty fish sauce and the pepper without being too sweet. Generous portion, too, for $7.”

Dave MP has had Pagolac’s version. He isn’t particularly impressed by Pagolac in general but likes its ca kho to better than anything else he tried.

Golden Flower Vietnamese [Chinatown]
667 Jackson Street, San Francisco

Pagolac [Tenderloin]
655 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Board Link: ca kho to (catfish claypot) at Golden Flower

Hyperaddictive Fried Rice Cracker

Santa Rosa’s Bangkok Villa makes little packs of Asian rice crackers. They are approximately as addictive as crack cocaine. They’re shaped like thick wafers, crackly-crisp, and just a little bit sweet. “Not your styrofoam, tasteless, negative calorie rice cakes, instead these have the empty calories of deep-frying and sugar that make them addictive,” says Melanie Wong.

They’re available at Asia Mart and Asian Market.

Bangkok Villa [Sonoma County]
1169 Yulupa Avenue, Santa Rosa

Asia Mart [Sonoma County]
2481 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa

Asian Market [Sonoma County]
1110 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa

Board Link: Bangkok Villa’s Asian Rice Crackers

New Afghan Kebab Joint

De Afghanan Kabob House makes a great kebab. Chapli kebab is the house special—two beef patties with green onions mixed inside. It’s delicious and absolutely brimming with flavor, says Fig Newton. Good bread, too. An order of kebab is about $10.

This brand new restaurant has taken over the Mediterranean Spirit space on Polk. It’s been repainted, and it’s a lot more comfortable and warm than the old space.

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

Board Link: De Afghanan Kabob House, San Francisco

Pig of Sky and Water

augustiner is a huge fan of smoked duck from the Willie Bird store in Santa Rosa. It’s remarkably reminiscent of ham, making one realize that duck is truly the pig of the sky and the waters of the Earth, as augustiner puts it. The flesh is as pink as ham, and it’s just as salty, tender, and rich. The smokiness doesn’t overwhelm the natural flavor of the duck. It’s beautiful on its own (a hot plate of smoked duck tends to disappear in minutes when served to Chowhounds), in sandwiches, or shredded over noodles. The bones make a wonderfully smoky broth or jook, so don’t even think about throwing them away.

Melanie Wong likes the smoked duck breast, an alternative to buying a whole smoked duck. It’s a wonderful thing to have in the fridge or freezer for a spur-of-the-moment appetizer when you have unexpected guests. Slice very thinly and serve cold or at room temperature—think of it as duck prosciutto. “And the best part is to yank off the whole strip of smoked skin (which isn’t good cold anyway) and save it for yourself to make cracklings … these taste like duck bacon!” she says.

Also excellent: the turkey spread, smoky and smooth, without the gloppiness of too much mayonnaise.

Willie Bird Turkeys [Sonoma County]
5350 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa

Board Link: willie bird- pig of sky and water

Thai Contenders

Ton Yong Thai Café is a new Thai restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s extremely worthwhile, so check it out. The ingredients are fresh, and the cooks aren’t afraid to make dishes spicy when asked, says david kaplan. One of the unusual things about this place is that the dishes, while otherwise very well balanced, are strangely undersweetened—but this can be easily remedied by adding sugar. It’s vastly preferable to the much more common problem of oversweetened dishes.

One of the interesting items served here is macaroni kee mao, a relative of the more familiar pad kee mao. Apparently, it’s common in Thailand to find kee mao made with dried Italian pasta instead of wide fresh rice noodles. Ton Yong actually uses fusilli. david kaplan prefers the pad kee mao but appreciates the variety of spiral noodles. Also try the khao soi, a yellow curry soup with thin fresh egg noodles. The creamy, spicy soup is delectable—adding a little bit of sugar brings out the coconut flavor of the thick broth. It’s light on toppings, with only meat, bean sprouts, and scallion, but the noodles are perfectly cooked.

Another new Thai contender is Green Papaya Deli in Oakland. The menu is tiny, which can be seen as an advantage—it’s easy to order a mediocre dish from a place with an unnecessarily sprawling menu. Lao-style papaya salad is made with pounded, shredded papaya and delicious fermented crab paste. Larb is intensely flavored, with a great balance of sweet, salty, and spicy. twocents likes the sausage, spicy and course-textured, with delicious chunks of meat and fat.

Two dishes, plus three orders of sticky rice, are plenty for three people and come to about $5 per person. The staff will ask you how many peppers you’d like. Five is what daveena orders, which is about a two or three on the five-point scale at Oakland’s Champa Garden. But many spice fanatics order their food with 15 peppers, and daveena has seen people order as many as 40.

Ton Yong Thai Café [Chinatown]
901 Kearny Street (at Jackson), San Francisco

Green Papaya Deli [East Bay]
207 International Boulevard (at Second Avenue), Oakland

Board Links: TonYong Thai Cafe (SF Chinatown) report
Green Papaya Deli–Lao-Thai in Oakland

Primal Smear

Berkeley Bagel sells a good water-boiled bagel, says rworange, with a satisfying chew and a nice bagel skin. The toppings are also extremely satisfying. Everything is well balanced here; they put just the right amount of smear on each bagel, and what lovely smears they are. The green and black olive smear, with the right ratio of chopped olives to cream cheese, is excellent on the specialty olive bagels, made only on the weekends. Chile cilantro smear is great on a jalapeño cheese bagel (get it toasted to bring out the jalapeño flavor). Also try the honey raisin walnut smear on a super cinnamon raisin bagel. Or have some Acme whitefish spread on your bagel. Or be adventurous and order a kauche, which costs 99 cents and somehow involves a minifrank.

Coffee is inexpensive and good. There are lots of options for vegans here, including vegan smears and three flavors of Tofutti. Bagels are $7.25 for a baker’s dozen. Order at the counter, and when your order is complete, pay at the register. Enjoy.

Berkeley Bagel [East Bay]
1281 Gilman Street, Albany

Board Link: Albany: Berkeley Bagel on Gilman – Thai Iced tea, Vietnamese coffee, kalauchee, vegan smears, hummus and Acme whitefish spread