San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

Fresh-Made Tortillas, and the Steamed Tacos of the Miner

Sam B made an awesome discovery: El Cactus Tacos, a brand-new taqueria in the teeny-tiny town of Boyes Hot Springs. If you order tacos and you’re lucky, you’ll get gorgeous meats on beautifully fresh tortillas, pressed to order. If you’re unlucky, you’ll get tacos made with commercial tortillas—which are still great, but not quite as great as the fresh.

kare_raisu is completely impressed with the wonderful tacos mineros, or tacos of the miner. This is an oddball specialty, and really hard to find. Traditionally, it’s tacos wrapped in cloth and held over steam for long preservation—a necessity in old mining towns. The only other version she’s ever found was at San Diego’s Mama Testas, and the Mama Testas version “does not even hold a dribbling candle to these guys.” When you order it here, the taquero opens up a steamer pot and pulls forth a little aluminum foil package. The steaming has softened the tacos and melded them together. He opens up the package and ladles in a delicious chile-fortified tomato sauce, then scoops on the usual toppings. For $6, you get five glorious steamed tacos—two filled with a rich pork guisado, another filled with frijolitos and queso, and two with mashed potatoes. This place, she says, is “a cut above other taquerias.”

The tortas are good, but not as great as the tacos.

We don’t have an exact address, but the town is small enough that nobody seems to have any problem finding the place.

El Cactus Tacos [Sonoma]
Address unknown, Boyes Hot Springs
Map

Board Link: El Cactus Tacos–Tacos Mineros?

Hard-Core Fudge Energy

Anita’s Gifts and Things makes seriously, majorly great fudge, says katya. It’s definitely some of the best fudge she’s ever had. Maple pecan fudge is deliriously yummy; it reminds her of the pecan pralines she ate nonstop in New Orleans. Chocolate peanut butter fudge is soft and delectable; and dark chocolate walnut fudge is just great.

Anita’s is currently only open Saturdays, because of a family emergency. “Only being open one day a week and running a fairly empty shop makes me worried about the livelihood of this gem of a store,” says katya. So solve her problems, and go buy some fudge.

Anita’s Gifts and Things [Peninsula]
676 Laurel Street, San Carlos
650-595-8714
Map

Board Link: We Won’t Budge from this Fudge: Anita’s Gifts and Things in San Carlos

Best Chilean Empanadas Outside of Chile

“I spent a year living in Chile (and ate LOTS of empanadas) and I can definitely say these were the best Chilean empanadas I have had outside of Chile. In fact, the only complaint I have is that I thought they were too small! I should have ordered two!” says Dave MP. The baked crust has a nice balance of crunch and softness, and there’s a good crust-to-filling ratio. The filling is ground beef, sweet sautéed onions, and raisins, along with the traditional bit of hard-cooked egg and an olive.

He’s talking about a stand in the Alemany Farmers’ Market. It is not obviously an empanada stand; it’s Guisell’s coffee stand. Just ask for empanadas. She also makes great coffee, and incredible alfajores, says Atomica.

The All Star Tamale stand at the same market has excellent tamales. The sweet tamale is moist and fresh.

Alemany Farmers’ Market [Mission District]
Places info
100 Alemany Boulevard (at the junction of Highways 101 and 280), San Francisco
415-647-9423
Map

Board Link: Alemany Farmers Market: Chilean Empanadas and All Star Tamales

Consomé de Barbacoa

Next to the California Street branch of Mercado Marlen in Mountain View is Taqueria Marlen. It is very, very good, says grinch. His wife adds that it reminds her of her youth in Mexico—it tastes just like the sort of food you get at the in-between spots when you’re traveling from town to town.

They have some magic stuff, including lamb barbacoa tacos and consomé de barbacoa. Barbacoa is meat slow-cooked over an open fire; consomé de barbacoa is the juice runoff from the making of the barbacoa. You sip the consomé as you eat the tacos. I can’t think of a better life experience than that.

Taqueria Marlen [Peninsula]
Next to Mercado Marlen
2530 California Street, Mountain View
650-947-9611
Map

Board Link: Mercado and Taqueria Marlen in Mt. View

Home-Style Peruvian in the Mission

Here’s a neat little discovery: real home-style Peruvian, smack-dab in the middle of the Mission District. kare_raisu is excited about the place; on her first lunch, she had escabeche de pescado. There was truly awesome steamed white rice, boring beans, and very nice fried fish. The fish flesh is a little stiffened from long marination in vinegar—whether this is a plus or a minus is up to you.

El Perol Restaurant [Mission District]
2590 Mission Street #7, San Francisco
415-550-8582
Map

Board Link: El Perol–Homestyle Peruvian in the Mission

A Serious Rarity

Now here’s a discovery: pescado zarandeado at Antojitos La Texanita. This is some seriously delicious fish, says kare_raisu. It’s a halved tilapia, shallow-fried, and judiciously sauced with chile and tomato on the flesh side. There is also some mysterious spice energy going on. The spine peels off in one pull; the fish underneath is moist. Put some pieces into a warm tortilla with some slices of perfectly ripe, buttery avocado and a bit of juice from one of the eerily nice limes. It is the perfect fish thing.

There is also the best version of huarache con pollo asado ($6) she has ever had. It’s a multilevel, multiflavor, multitexture construction: Cotija dust, ripe avocado, shredded lettuce, salsa roja, flavorful chicken hunks, refritos, and crisp, warm cornbread. And the best sopecito de picadillo ($2) she’s had—a nice, handcrafted sope with diced zucchini and carrot.

Everything is very homemade: Order a taramindo; you might see a dude shelling tamarind pods for you. One of the cooks is Oaxaqueño; you may be able to talk her into making some Oaxacan food, if you’re nice enough.

This is genuinely glorious food.

Antojitos La Texanita [Sonoma County]
250 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa
707-525-1905
Map

Board Link: Excellent Lunch at Antojitos La Texanita [Santa Rosa]

A Taiwanese Joint with Potential

Yi He is an excellent new Taiwanese restaurant; after a first visit, K K declares that it has tons of potential, and that he’ll definitely be back for more.

Kung fu mein—long flat noodles with minced pork and sauce—is quite delicate and tasty. Noodles are beautifully al dente; they’re good enough that they could be homemade. Chicken soup (yuen zhong ji tang) is absolutely fantastic: The broth is clear, pure chicken nectar, and is in the same range as the holy chicken broth of Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles. There is well-prepared garlic fried ong choy, with light, crunchy stems and soft, juicy leaves.

There is stewed pork belly meat in a clay pot (tung por mahn rou). At $14.50, it’s way pricier than other menu items, but it’s very pleasing. You get the pork belly, some steamed white buns, and a tray of condiments with cilantro, diced peanuts, sauce, and pickled veggies. You basically grab some pork belly and make a little sandwich.

Chinese-language signage outside says that they’re proudest of their braised eel, sticky rice roll, soy milk, fried doughnuts, and a few other things.

Yi He Garden [Peninsula]
420 Broadway, Millbrae
650-692-0258
Map

Board Link: Yi He Garden Millbrae report

A Fabulous Mexican Flea Market

“A trip to this year-old flea market is like going to a Mexican street market … except you don’t need to buy a passport, get frisked by security and hop on a plane to get there,” says rworange about the Richmond Flea Market. There is pretty much everything your heart desires, especially if what your heart desires is Mexican street food. Also, if your heart desires parakeets, tires, lingerie, power tools, or computer-controlled tamale pots, you’ll dig it.

There are taco trucks. There are fish tacos. There is Café Allegra, which sells meat on a stick, spaghetti, pozole, birria, and menudo. There are fresh fruit drinks. There are whole coconuts. And there are excellent chicanos, which are sort of like fresh-made Mexican Cheetos, but without the nasty preservatives and with a strong chile-lime coating.

There’s a Don Pandos churro cart—$1.50 for long, hot churros rolled in cinnamon and sugar.

Admission to this market is free on Saturdays. On Sundays, kids and seniors are still free; others must pay a whole dollar to get in.

It is, explains rworange, “located just off 580 on the Richmond Parkway in a location even God would abandon. It is next to an auto parts lot with a fence of old truck trailers and cars. In the not too far distance are the Richmond refineries.”

Richmond Flea Market [East Bay]
716 W. Gertrude Avenue, Richmond
Open Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Map

Board Link: Richmond Flea Market–A major fiesta addresses taco trucks, sanitation, and authenticity

Huge Basque Madness

If you want enough food to break your skull, go to the Basque Cultural Center. This, says larochelle, is big-meal heaven. Twenty or so dollars gets you an excellent entrée, fried potatoes, veggies, soup of the day, salad, and ice cream.

Magré de canard au poivre vert (duck breast) is fantastic—not overcooked, not too fatty, but just right. The Sunday special is lamb stew and prime rib, for a mere $19. Prime rib is rare and pretty good; lamb stew is completely delicious.

They’ve got very good, inexpensive Basque wines, too, says Robert Lauriston.

Basque Cultural Center [Peninsula]
599 Railroad Avenue, South San Francisco
650-583-8091
Map

Board Link: Basque Cultural Center–big meal heaven

The Best of Nigeria and the British Empire, Together Again

Lagosia is a complete and utter treasure. It’s pretty much the only spot for an upscale presentation of genuinely great Nigerian food. If you like Nigerian, you will love Lagosia. If you think you do not like Nigerian, you will love Lagosia, says rworange. If you’re British and you long for British food experiences, you will love Lagosia.

The restaurant interior is gorgeous; the food presentation very pretty. And the manager and chef are both absurdly friendly. There’s a lot of chef-coming-out-of-the-kitchen-to-chat-up-the-diners action going on.

Black bean soup is one of the best marlon has ever tried. It’s sweet and smoky, and has been stewed for six hours. Pepper soup is very tasty, and not too spicy. Groundnut stew is a thick tomato and peanut stew with delicious chunks of perfectly poached chicken breast. It’s milder than the versions that Food_Dude is used to, but quite tasty nevertheless.

There is the bizarre and beautiful Scotch egg—a hard-cooked egg that’s been breaded and deep-fried. There is suya—West African kebabs seasoned with an excellently tasty spicy peanut rub, and served with raw red onions. And mustard.

An order of plain puff-puff yields four tennis-ball-size beignets rolled in powdered sugar and topped with raspberry and chocolate sauces. rworange recommends chocolate puff-puff, which are plain puff-puffs stuffed with hunks of chocolate. The interior chocolate gets all melty, like a warm chocolate cookie. ksully415 says she’s related to the executive chef, and has been eating her cooking at family parties for years. She says you absolutely must get these puff-puffs, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Slice the puff-puff, put the ice cream inside, and eat the whole thing together.

There are a good number of Nigerians at the restaurant, but also a bunch of non-Nigerians who have, according to the chef, been complaining about the spice level. The chef has been thinking about toning down the flavors. Be sure to try to persuade your server to give you the full, un-Californianized Nigerian spice experience. In fact, says rworange, just try to persuade the chef to keep the food un–dumbed down. It’s your obligation as a Chowhound to preserve a gem like this in its full, unblanded glory.

There’s also a good mixture of British and Euro items. There’s spaghetti. They’re planning on offering real British meat pies soon, and other British baked goods.

Lagosia West African Cuisine [East Bay]
1725 University Avenue, Berkeley
510-540-8833
Map

Board Links: Lagosia–Nigerian in Berkeley
Berkeley: Lagosia – Stylish, modern, upscale British and Nigerian cuisine … go, please, go