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

Cooked-to-Perfection Fish Tacos

Día de Pesca has the best fish tacos that kimchee has had in the last four years in the Bay Area.

It’s a quirky little joint—basically a taco truck in a parking lot, but nicer. It’s got cloth awnings, concrete patio tables covered in mosaics, and umbrella-covered benches. You order at a little table set up outside the truck, and then they run your order to the truck and fry you up some serious fish taco excellence.

There are major choices here. You can pick from tilapia, snapper, salmon, halibut, tuna, shrimp, scallops, or crab. It’s a ridiculous variety, says kimchee. And each kind kimchee has tried has been cooked to perfection: “soft & flaky, seasoned well, and a little chargrilled-in goodness.” The tacos are served on pairs of fluffy corn tortillas, with cabbage, pico de gallo, and generous amounts of creamy avocado and chipotle sauce.

Also look for seafood quesadillas. The other patrons seem to dig ’em.

Open daily 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Día de Pesca [South Bay]
55 N. Bascom Avenue, San Jose

Board Link: Best fish tacos in the Bay Area found at Dia de Pesca in San Jose!

Top-Notch Sake Selection in Hayes Valley

The place is True Sake—a dazzling, sake-only shop that probably has the best selection in the United States. It’s an amazing store, says Robert Lauriston. It stocks over 150 sakes, and it imports stuff you won’t find anywhere else. The staff is excellent; artemis came in knowing nothing about sake, asked one of the staff, and got probed gently for information—what she liked about sake, what she was eating that night, what her price range was—and got a recommendation for a sake she loved. The staff is helpful to newbies and experts alike, says chocolateninja.

“What’s great about TS is that they have such a broad and comprehensive stock, including the super-fresh releases, unpasteurized, barrel-aged, and sparkling,” says twocents, who recommends seeking out the female staffer in particular as an information source. Your editor Thi actually spent a very happy two hours here, chatting up this same staffer, who turns out to be a huge fan of whiskey and tea as well. We talked about the souls and feels of the various sakes, with many useful comparisons made to high mountain oolongs, white teas, and bourbons. Her recommendations were spot-on.

What you won’t find here is any California-made sake. Everything is imported from Japan. You also won’t find kasu, the sake by-product used to flavor fish and soup. For that, says david kaplan, you’ll have to go to a market in Japantown.

True Sake [Hayes Valley]
560 Hayes Street, San Francisco

Board Link: Sake only store in SF? Other sake recommendations?

A Lovely Place for a Lazy Breakfast

Café Leila is pretty much the perfect place to have a lazy breakfast or a wrap, or just to hang out and have some excellent tea or coffee, says rworange. It’s everything that’s good about Berkeley, in café form. It’s got an almost entirely organic menu, fair trade organic coffee, and an extensive tea menu. And all the food is fresh and great.

The Greek omelet is delicious—filled with spinach, feta, farm eggs, and scallions. “The fresh dill folded into the egg made this omelet,” says rworange. Home fries are nicely browned, topped with a dollop of sour cream, and sprinkled with chopped green onions. Her omelet also came with tasty watermelon and toast with good raspberry jam.

The place is beautiful, too—“well thought out and inviting,” she says. There’s a patio with greenery and fountains, a nook with nice couches, and music at just the right volume.

Café Leila [East Bay]
1724 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley

Board Link: Berkeley: Lovely Cafe Leila – patio, fountains, organic chow, tea menu, stone-milled matcha

The Key Word Is “Fluffy”

Brenda’s French Soul Food is a specialty we hadn’t heard of around here—French soul food brunches. It’s only open on weekdays, it’s only open for breakfast and lunch, and it serves the most awesomely down-home French breakfast food you could imagine. There are beignets. There are fruit-topped pancakes. There are beignets stuffed with chocolate. There are biscuits and gravy. There are po’ boys. There are fried oysters. There are beignets stuffed with crawfish.

If you’re starting to think that the soul food is actually France-by-way-of-the-bayou—well, it is.

Pancakes are fluffy, with bananas, walnuts, and peaches cooked into them. Totally yum, says Windy. Sandwich roll with fried oysters and spicy rémoulade is absolutely delicious, with excellent slaw, bread, and butter pickles. Biscuits and gravy is tasty and cool; the biscuits and the gravy come separately, so you can assemble them yourself. Gravy is light brown and a little thick; biscuits are fluffy, like beignets.

Beignets are nicely greaseless. “Not quite as good as the Powderface beignets, but completely respectable,” says Windy. “It’s a sweet little spot on a grimy block.”

Service is nice, though a little rushed: The server is speedy with the clearing action; you have to guard your plate with some vigilance if you’re a slow finisher.

Brenda’s will be opening Saturdays, soon—call ahead to make sure.

Brenda’s French Soul Food [Tenderloin]
652 Polk Street, San Francisco

Powderface [East Bay]
3411 E. 12th Street #134, Oakland

Board Link: Brenda’s French soul food

The Great Kimchee Battle

augustiner tells his story: Back when he first moved to San Francisco, he used to go to Kukje Market on Noriega all the time. “I was quite fond of their kimchi. I thought it was balanced, complex, and I appreciated their addition of oysters in the mix.” But alas, that Kukje, and that kimchee, is gone now. The new Kukje Market, in Daly City, has a completely different kimchee—one that’s a little too sweet, and lacking in complexity.

Luckily, he found salvation at Woo Ri. It may be smaller than Kukje; it may have less selection; but its in-house kimchee is wonderful. “It’s still quite fresh, so there isn’t that pungency that comes from the flavors melding and fermenting, so you can still taste salt, garlic, chili powder, ginger, and the rest fairly distinctly. But it’s good. (Although what constitutes ‘good’ kimchi is intensely personal, and I’m sure that many noses have been broken in drunken brawls starting with, ‘Your mama’s kimchi can kiss my mama’s kimchi’s….’)”

The Woo Ri kimchee isn’t quite as good as the kimchee from the old, sadly departed Noriega Kukje. But it’s the best around right now. “Woori’s just tastes fresher, tangier, more balanced,” says kandagawa. And it makes augustiner so depressed about the big bottle of Kukje kimchee he still owns that he can’t even use it to make kimchee fried rice.

Woo Ri Food Market [Fillmore]
1528 Fillmore Street, San Francisco

Board Link: kimchi: woori vs. kukje?

A Real Chicago Chili Dog

Melanie Wong overheard one of the staff at the Dog House say that their chili was imported from Chicago, and tasted best on a skinless Vienna Beef hot dog. So, good hound that she is, she abandoned all previous dog inclinations and went for it: a Vienna dog ($5), generously topped with chili ($2.50)—which comes with all the fries you can eat.

The chili has a pleasant meatiness, moderate spice, and a distinct tang. It’s excellent dog chili, with a good body, and is well tuned to the spicing of the hot dog.

French fries are sometimes limp. If you get lucky, the batch of fries will cool off and the staff will refry them for you, for extracrunchy, extragreasy fry goodness.

The Dog House [Sonoma County]
537 Highway 1, Bodega Bay

Board Link: Chicago Chili Dog @ The Dog House

Filipino Tour of Destiny

We are going to resist telling you that rworange’s massive eating tour of the Filipino community in Hercules was a Herculean effort—because that joke would, frankly, be really dumb. Instead we are going to tell you that we are completely awed and overwhelmed by the sheer, awesome majesty of her journey—her and her Chowhound compatriots, of course.

Highlights of the travelogue:

RSM Oriental Food Mart makes an excellent breakfast. Fried eggs are perfectly cooked to order—with a beautifully liquid yolk. With good, sticky garlic rice and three sweet, plump, ever-so-slightly garlicky longaniza, it’s five bucks well spent. The people here are the nicest, and they’ll explain anything on the menu. Be sure to dip your longaniza in some vinegar condiment—it’s the greatest. They’ll make stuff fresh to order, too, so you’re not trapped by the steam table.

Choko’s Cuisine is the nicest-looking restaurant in the area. The chicken salad is the best in the East Bay, with nice cubes of white chicken, macaroni, and bits of raisin, pineapple, carrots, and celery. Halo-halo is light and refreshing, with the usual beans, tapioca, crushed ice, ice cream, and some excellent crunchy-fried rice bits. There’s some crazy purple ube jam, too, with a dense, fudgy texture and a nice coconut flavor. Pork sinigang (rib meat) and ampalaya (bitter melon) is pretty delish, says AntarcticWidow, with a pleasantly sour broth. And there’s good dinuguan (chocolate blood) and nice sweet sautéed bitter lemon, says juan07delacruz1966. The place is, says rworange, excellent, and second only to Marylou’s—though the dining area is larger and nicer.

Marylou’s seems to be the standard for all Hercules visitors—and rightly so, says rworange: “Marylou is the queen of local Filipino food. The quality is high and the food is delicious.” Catfish steak will actually fall off the bone and become catfish stew in your mouth. Kebabs are wonderfully sweet and charred. The Filipino chicken macaroni salad is almost as good as Choko’s—homier, less creamy, with more stuff in it (like bits of ham and crunchy apple), and bigger chunks of everything. Turnover is higher at Marylou’s, and you’re more likely to get something fresh from the kitchen, instead of from the steam table. On weekends, there are fresh baked goods, which are the best in the area.

At Sunflower Bakery, the best thing is the Filipino cream puff, for $1, says rworange. It has a thin, crackly glaze—biting into one is like biting into a candy apple. The caramel cake is also great, light, airy, and not too sweet. Another popular item is the turon (banana egg roll), a bite of relatively bland plantain surrounded by a sweet, shattering lumpia wrapper.

There is also a surprisingly good sushi joint in Hercules: Shinsen Sushi.

And Hercules has a great farmers’ market, too, with good barbecue brisket sandwiches from Shaw’s BBQ truck, and amazing barbecue oysters on the half shell. Plus a bouncy-bounce castle for the kids.

RSM Oriental Food Mart [East Bay]
1500 Sycamore Avenue, Hercules

Choko’s Cuisine [East Bay]
1511 Sycamore Avenue, Hercules

Marylou’s Homemade Delights [East Bay]
1572 Sycamore Avenue Suite F, Hercules

Sunflower Bakery [East Bay]
1500 Sycamore Avenue Suite B3, Hercules

Shinsen Sushi [East Bay]
Creekside Center
1581 Sycamore Avenue Suite 8, Hercules

Hercules Farmers’ Market [East Bay]
Turquoise and Sycamore, Hercules

Board Links: Hercules Recap … or is that hub?
Hercules – Filipino breakfast at Rsm Oriental Food Mart and Restaurant
Hercules: Choko’s Cuisine–Filipino food and the best chicken salad in the East Bay
Hercules: Marylou’s Homemade Delights … Filipino macaroni salad
Hercules Little Philippines–Marylou’s Homemade Delights
Hercules: Sunflower Bakery–Cream puffs, caramel cake and Filipino baked goods
Hercules Farmers Market – A rock band, dancing in the street, classic cars, margaritas and BBQ… gotta get some hot stuff

A Real Labor of Love

FataMagistra thinks Café Les Junelles is pretty much the perfect little chef-owned restaurant—a real labor of love. For breakfast, there are perfect poached eggs, excellent chicken fried steak, and very sweet service from the chef and his children. Kathleen M loves the place too—for those eggs, and for the best corned beef ever. Dinner is just as good as breakfast, she says, and shows an equal level of care. Take the Caesar salad: whole, pale inner leaves of romaine, with fresh grated Parmesan, olive tapenade, and a single crouton. She was particularly happy to see the chef emulsify the dressing moments before it was served.

They do wonderful things with potatoes, too. At both dinner and brunch, you can find beautiful little potato cakes—fluffy inside, lightly crisp outside, and a pleasingly buttery taste throughout.

Also great is the equally small, equally charming, and equally chef-owned Rendezvous Inn, with fabulous wild boar terrine, impeccable pork loin, and an impressively talkative, sweet chef. Both Café Les Junelles and Rendezvous Inn “showed off the chefs’ background/training/experience in top-flight restaurants, but—perhaps sometimes just as, if not more, importantly—highlighted the passion, dedication and craft that these men and their partners brought to the profession,” says FataMagistra.

Café Les Junelles [Sonoma County]
20391 Highway 116, Monte Rio

Rendezvous Inn & Restaurant [Sonoma County]
647 North Main Street, Fort Bragg

Board Link: 2 great little chef-owned/operated restaurants: Cafe Des Jumelles (Monte Rio) & Rendezvous Inn

An Odd Beast

El Metate’s burrito with bistec a la mexicana is an odd beast.

First of all, you have to wait a long time for it. “I have to say that I have never had to wait so long for a burrito and I was starting to get a little discouraged and was hoping that the burrito was worth the wait. And surprisingly enough, it was,” says jupiter. It was completely unlike any burrito he’d had before. It tasted like it’d been stuffed with lomo saltado—fresh grilled steak, pan-seared onions, tomatoes, and fresh jalapeños. It was a fantastic combination, and, fortunately, not overstuffed with beans and rice. The burrito with chips is six bucks, and enormous.

The only other mention of El Metate is a three-year-old report in which we learn that the fish tacos and chile verde tacos are very good—at least, they were three years ago.

El Metate [Mission District]
2406 Bryant Street, San Francisco

Board Links: el metate–bistec a la mexicana
el metate and new taco truck

Gob-Smackingly Perfect Beef

Morton the Mousse hates feedlot beef—not just for the ethics of the practice, but because “the flavor is boring and one dimensional, and the texture is like baby food.” Niman Ranch beef is decent, especially when aged, but the base flavor is uninteresting. The same goes for Western Grasslands, Creekstone, and the other large-scale natural beef distributors around here: Their ethics are fine, but their beef is uninteresting. The smaller ranches, on the other hand, practice good animal husbandry, but because they lack the facilities to process their own animals, they often freeze the meat, and rarely age it right. The result: tough beef without a fully ripened flavor profile.

But now, Morton has found Prather Ranch, which is completely different from every other Bay Area beef he’s tried. “The first day I bought beef from Prather Ranch it was like the clouds parted, and God himself handed me a pound of oxtails,” he says. “Here, you have meat that is the perfect balance of ethical and hound worthy. Not only am I proud to support this fine rancher, their meat is simply the best beef I have ever eaten.”

They use steers from a closed crop of cattle bred for ideal flavor and texture. The beef is slow grown on grass, and finished on hay, barley, and rice.

So far, Morton’s tried: oxtails, top sirloin, rib-eye, chuck, hanger, and a truly magnificent standing rib roast. “Every bite has been phenomenal. The top sirloin is so good that I’ve had it three times. … This is the standard by which I will judge all other beef.”

“For those who are used to eating dry aged corn fed beef, the texture and flavor of Prather will seem off,” says Amy G. “Prather has a fuller flavor with strong minerality. For those who have been eating pure grass fed beef, e.g. Marin Sun, etc., the texture and flavor of Prather will be much better. For me, pure grass fed beef has a slight fishy taste like flax seed which is probably proof that it is better for you, but I am not keen on the taste and the tougher leaner texture.”

It’s pricier than supermarket beef, but comparable to other locally available natural beefs—an excellent value. Prather takes special orders for pretty much anything: offal, bones, whatever.

The ranch sells most of its stuff through its various farmers’ market stands; it also has a standing butcher’s shop at the Ferry Building. Keep in mind that the Ferry Building shop gets restocked on Thursdays—so Tuesdays and Wednesdays can be slim pickings, says maigre. All of the staff seem very knowledgeable and trustworthy, too.

Prather Ranch [Embarcadero]
One Ferry Building, Shop #32, San Francisco

Board Link: Prather Ranch has the Best Beef in the Bay Area