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

Glorious Fresh Pasta for Cheap

There is a glorious fresh pasta place wedged between the luxury car dealerships of Los Gatos. It is called Pastaria & Market (even though there’s actually no market), and the pasta there ranges from pretty good to ungodly spectacular, says katya.

Sausage lasagne is truly great—the experience of it will linger in your mind for months. Lobster ravioli are rich and superyummy; the dish shows up frequently on the specials menu. Butternut squash ravioli are beautiful, though perhaps a little overwhelmed by the tomato cream sauce they’re served in. And the mundane-sounding pasta with meat sauce is surprisingly good. Pastaria’s marinara sauce is a little boring, and its aglio y olio has a little too much olive oil, but that only means they’re just pretty darn good, instead of heavenly.

Don’t worry about how the stuff looks, says djh. His Caesar salad didn’t appear fresh. “The dressing looked a bit too creamy, and I feared a slick mayonaiss-y mess was about to follow. One bite and I was cured. A burst of fresh lemon complemented the well balanced and surprisingly light dressing.” Most of the dishes are like that: They look a little heavy and clumsy, but once you take your first bite, you won’t be able to lift your head up far enough out of your dish to even see your food.

Prices are shockingly low for such great pasta. Spaghetti with meat sauce is $9; the superluxurious lobster ravioli are $16.

Pastaria & Market [South Bay]
49 E. Main Street, Los Gatos
408-399-3477
Map

Board Links: If You See the Luxury Cars You’re Near Pastaria in Los Gatos
Pasteria —Nice Find in Los Gatos

Banana Pudding That Beats Cupcakes

There is wonderful banana pudding at Love at First Bite, says dreamsicle. It is intensely good and intensely banana-y. The vanilla pudding is all creamy, and is thoroughly permeated with banana flavor; the Nilla Wafers are soft and moist.

It’s better than the shop’s cupcakes. It’s great. It’s also $4, but it’s worth it.

Love at First Bite [East Bay]
1510 Walnut Street, #G, Berkeley
510-848-5727
Map

Board Links: Yummy banana pudding at Love at First Bite Cupcakery

Truly Perfect Bay Scallop Fritters

P. Punko wants to rave about the simplest dish in the world. It is a little plate of bay scallops, coated with a thick-but-light, airy batter. The slightly sweet scallops go perfectly with the beautifully fried, ever-so-slightly-sweet batter.

This is at Iberia, a tapas place. It has nice food and terrible service. Tapas are small, and typically between $2.50 and $5. Also excellent: toasted almonds and deviled dates (dates wrapped in thick bacon and stuffed with chorizo).

Iberia [Peninsula]
1026 Alma Street, Menlo Park
650-325-8981
Map

Board Links: Small bite- Bay scallop fritters at Iberia, Menlo Park

A Great Neighborhood Cambodian Spot

Dave MP’s favorite dish at Angkor Borei is ahmohk, a delicate, flavorful fish mousse, full of lemongrass, garlic, and lime. It’s an excellently cool texture—soft mousse with chunks of fish and shrimp.

There’s also delicious fish with sweet and spicy tamarind sauce. Cold noodle appetizer comes with a delicious sauce of coconut milk, fish broth, and curry. Sautéed spinach is cool too, flecked with lots of little brown tasties that may be soybeans. Robert Lauriston recommends stewed ground pork, crispy rice chips, slices of beef, and char toum plang (a.k.a. spicy prawns). The Cambodian crêpe is also great, and rather like a Vietnamese banh xeo, says bernalgirl. She warns, though, that many of the dishes are rather boring; stick to the above, at least on your first visit, if you want to see the charm of Angkor Borei.

Angkor Borei [Bernal Heights]
3471 Mission Street, San Francisco
415-550-8417
Map

Board Links: Brief Angkor Borei Report

Magical Doorway into a Persian Family Kitchen

Woodminster Café is just a sandwich shop. Except on Friday nights, when a little magic door opens up, and the owner’s wife cooks a few Persian dishes. The dishes vary from night to night; there can be lamb kebabs, chicken kebabs, lamb-chicken kebabs. Sometimes there is stew with chicken, pomegranate, and walnut. Sometimes there is stew with lamb and eggplant and lentils in a saffron-infused broth. There’s one stew a night, and if you come back every Friday for a month, you’ll get to taste them all.

Lillian Hsu followed the owner’s recommendation and got a bowl of beautiful lamb stew. “The tender lamb shank meat pulled beautifully off the bone and came with a lovely fragrant broth and a whole roasted tomato, which the owner’s daughter said they grew in their own backyard. We found out from the chef—the owner’s wife—that it was parsley, chives, a ‘spicy vegetable’ whose name she couldn’t tell us, as well as pinto beans. At the end of our meal, the owner’s daughter brought us a complimentary plate of crispy rice remains topped with dribbles of stew.”

The family is absurdly friendly. They will talk you up, give you recommendations, talk about what went into the dishes, tell you what they’re making next week. It is a well-cooked meal, served with love, in pleasant, simple surroundings.

Friday dinners are from 5 to 8 p.m.

Oh, and during the day, they serve the best chicken salad sandwiches in California, says ChewChewChew.

Woodminster Café [East Bay]
5020 Woodminster Lane, Oakland
510-530-1661
Map

Board Links: Woodminster Cafe
Woodminster Cafe–Home cooked Persian food in the Oakland Hills!

Ultrarare Burmese Fermented Tea Leaves, To Go

Good Luck Yogurt is a little yogurt shop in a mall food court, next to a Mervyns, in Newpark Mall. It serves yogurt. And Burmese pickled tea leaves, to go. In regular or spicy.

This is a serious rarity. The process of making this stuff involves fermenting tea leaves in running water for months. Most Chowhounds can only get it by ordering a tea leaf salad at a Burmese restaurant. Some Chowhounds have tried to find out where to get pickled tea leaves for home use by asking their Burmese restaurateur; they have been told that it takes “family connections.” Except here, at Good Luck Yogurt.

A generous package of pickled tea leaves runs you $5, and includes some crispy mix-ins, and plenty of fermented, pickled tea leaves. The counter lady advised Melanie Wong to add fresh lemon juice, dried shrimp, a bit of fish sauce, and chile flakes, if she wanted more of a kick. You can buy house-made balachung (dried shrimp, garlic, and chile condiment) for $4 a half pint.

This stuff is pretty concentrated and powerful; unlike what you might get at a restaurant, it’s pretty much pure tea leaf. You may want to cut it with leafy greens and other veggies. One package of it is about the equivalent of four orders of tea leaf salad at a restaurant.

Good Luck Yogurt [East Bay]
2217 Newpark Mall, Newark
510-745-7788
Map

Board Links: Burmese Packaged Foods @ Good Luck Yogurt

Szechuan, Numb and Tingly

P. Punko’s two favorite Szechuan joints are Zone 88 and South Legend.

South Legend’s menu has some standard items, and some exotica. There is Szechuan pickled vegetable—the perfect appetizer. It’s just a bunch of supercrunchy mixed pickled vegetables in a chile oil. There is spectacular Chongqing fish—pieces of light, white fish, battered and fried to a perfect, greaseless crisp, with a huge mound of red chile pepper and some sort of magic Szechuan fairy flavor dust.

There is shredded pork with fermented fish flavor, with a nice, pronounced, unsweet tang. There are excellent Szechuan cold noodles, with sesame paste and just the slightest tingle of Szechuan peppercorn. There’s a superior version of dry fried green beans. And there is Szechuan-style beef jerky—the only dish at South Legend where the numbing, tingling flavor of Szechuan peppercorns is in abundance.

Zone 88 has more insane exotica, and more brutal use of Szechuan peppercorns. There are Chongqing spicy chicken wings, which are like South Legend’s Chongqing fish, but, unbelievably, even better. Bits of superjuicy, perfectly fried chicken—slightly sweet, very savory, quite numb-tingly, and superhot. It is the world’s best bar food. There is also similarly fried spicy squid—just a pile of crunchy tentacles dusted in magic fairy Szechuan flavor dust.

The Szechuan cold noodles here are less numb-tingly, but spicier than South Legend’s, and also quite good. And there are great wontons in chile oil, with clear numb-tingly notes.

South Legend [South Bay]
1720 N. Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas
408-934-3970
Map

Zone 88 [Portola]
2428 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco
415-468-6488
Map

Board Links: Sichuan Excursions: Hangen (Mountain View), South Legend (Milpitas), Zone 88

Perfect Pho

At Turtle Tower, there is perfect pho, says Dave MP. It has genuinely fresh rice noodles and delicious broth—all gingery and beefy, just like Grandma would make if Grandma were from Saigon.

Avoid the beef stew in wine sauce: The wine sauce tastes like cheap red wine, and it’s gloppy.

Good fresh lemonade.

Turtle Tower [Tenderloin]
631 Larkin Street, San Francisco
415-409-3333
Map

Turtle Tower [Richmond]
AKA Vietnamese Restaurant
5716 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco
415-221-9890
Map

Board Links: Turtle Tower Report

The Best Sandwich in the World

Hungry Hippo loves the new sandwich at Sea Salt: a beautiful banh mi baby made from big, fatty, oily pieces of fried eel, packed with the usual pickled Vietnamese sandwich condiments, and stuffed into the same buttery role used for the lobster sandwich. We’re talking pan-fried eel here, big, half-inch-thick hunks of eel, unbattered, unbreaded, and glorious. It has, he says, even surpassed Sea Salt’s trout BLT in his heart of hearts.

It is $12, warns rworange, but totally and completely worth it. It is the only eel she’s tolerated in her life, with the most wonderful silky texture. Packed into the soft sub roll, it is pure “pillowy seafood sandwich satisfaction.”

It is completely addictive. Morton the Mousse has had six of them in the past two months. It is, far and away, the best dish he’s ever had at a Krikorian establishment.

Sea Salt [East Bay]
2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley
510-883-1720
Map

Board Links: Eel banh mi at Sea Salt

Our Spectacular Tour of Pacific East Mall

There is something special about Pacific East Mall. It’s a big Asian mall in the middle of a big Taiwanese community; all sorts of little Taiwanese and other Chinese goodies are scattered throughout the mall.

The most impressive shop in the whole place is Tw Bestway Foods, says rworange. It’s an insanely cool snack shop—where snack includes Taiwanese preserved fruits, pork jerky, and hot jelly drinks. There are a dozen kinds of preserved plums: licorice plums, oolong plums, mint plums, cherry plums, wine plums. There is plum-flavored star fruit, honey sweet potatoes, and licorice lemon with mint. There is bright green sweet and sour mango that’s sticky and crunchy and tangy. There is also beautiful cold plum jelly. It is a sensuous delight—juicy, delicate, and soft. It’s salty, it’s sweet, and it’s a little smoky. It’s jarring, but appealing.

There are bagged flower teas. They also make milk teas with those flower teas—sometimes with hot grass jelly. And it all looks stellarly fresh. Some of it is seriously weird, but if you’re brave and willing, go for it. Some of this stuff is extremely tangy, or bitter, or salty. You might love it. You might retch. Who knows? They’ll let you mix lots of different teas in one bag. Be a palate adventurer.

J&S Coffee & Tea House is the hippest place in the mall, and it sells very good boba drinks, says Sophia C. It’s got the yummiest milk tea, and boasts the most satisfyingly chewy boba. Coconut-pandan-sesame waffles and egg puffs are way yummy, says lj2899. Banh mi, on the other hand, aren’t so good. Neither are the spring rolls, or the sushi.

Sheng Kee Bakery has very good banh mi sandwiches, in all the usual varieties. Its boba tea is good, but the boba itself is less satisfyingly chewy than J&S’s.

Restaurant 168 is definitely a Taiwanese place. Avoid xiao long bau and other non-Taiwanese dishes. Go for stuff like salt crispy chicken with basil, turnip cakes, pot stickers, smoked chicken, three cup chicken, dan dan noodles, seaweed salad, stinky tofu, and single-serving “healthy” soups—they’re all fairly good, says OnceUponABite.

There is an excellent Chinese chestnut cart. Right now is peak season for these, so get them. They are tiny, hazelnut-size chestnuts, imported from China. They are good hot or cold, but you get more flavor nuances cold.

Pacific East Mall [East Bay]
3288 Pierce Street, Richmond
510-527-3000
Map

Board Links:
Richmond – Pacific East Mall–Tw Bestway Foods – Saving the best for last … Taiwanese preserved fruit, pork jerky, hot jelly drinks
Richmond – Pacific East Mall–168 Restaurant, stinky tofu & Taiwanese buns
Richmond – Pacific East Mall–J & S Coffee & Tea House – Ham, pork ear & pork patty sandwich
Richmond–Pacific East Mall–Chinese chestnut cart