San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

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

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

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

Fish Soup Burmese Style

Larkin Express Deli is Dave MP’s favorite new restaurant in San Francisco. Fish noodle soup is amazing: slightly spicy, and supertasty. The brown broth contains bits of ground fish, but it’s not overwhelmingly fishy. And it’s topped with crunchy fried lentils, fried garlic, and cilantro.

Chicken coconut soup is very different—creamy, ever so slightly spicy, and well-flavored. There is tender, dark chicken meat; there is deep, fresh chicken broth. There is balance between the poultry energy and the coconut chi. There is beauty. It comes with the same array of crunchy fried bits.

The owner is sweet, excited, and eager to explain all about Burmese cuisine. Prices are very, very reasonable.

Larkin Express Deli [Tenderloin]
452 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Larkin Express Deli Lunch–Report
Burmese @ Larkin Express Deli

A Little Place for Crêpes

Laurel Street Café is a great budget-priced French place, very Gallic in vibe and very family in feel. Crêpes are truly delicious, says Melanie Wong. She had a daily special—in this case, chicken and mushroom in a chewy, thin buckwheat crêpe, and topped with a squiggle of tangy, grainy mustard sauce. And a delectable bit of carrot flan. The crêpe might not be the prettiest, but it’s about as flavorful as you could hope for.

Crêpes suzette is about as eggy and tender as can be, and comes with a scoop of Ciao Bella gelato.

Laurel Street Café [Peninsula]
741 Laurel Street, San Carlos

Board Links: Sunday Crepes @ Laurel Street Café

Beef Noodle Like in the Streets of Taipei

ASJ has the best niu rou mian—beef noodle—in the Bay Area, says tanspace. And by the best, he means that it’s the closest you’ll find to the kind of beef noodles you can buy from street vendors in the streets of Taipei.

He explains: “Most Chinese restaurants try to have a version of niu rou mian on their menu since it is such an iconic item, especially for people from Taiwan. It is almost on par with what Ramen means in Japan, but most places cannot do a good version even if their life depended on it. Either they use store bought noodles that turn lumpy, or have watered down broth that tastes worse than instant noodle versions, or the meat is so dry or tough that you’d rather eat beef jerky.”

But at ASJ, they’ve perfected all three components—noodle, broth, beef—and bring them together like no other place out here. ASJ even usurps its sister restaurant, A&J. Its beef noodle is on a level with the now-deceased Fortune Garden’s version.

Also great here is the iu rou xian bing (Chinese hamburger) and the open-ended pot stickers, which have a tasty filling and a nice wrap. Avoid the soup dumplings—they’re not a specialty.

ASJ Restaurant [South Bay]
1698 Hostetter Road #D, San Jose

Board Links: Best Beef Noodle (NiuRouMian) at ASJ in San Jose

Stromboli Heaven

Lola’s strombolis are just lovely, says rworange. The owner is a master of the crust. They are beautiful creatures, with a great, cheesy pepperoni filling and crust that’s not at all leaden. No sauce.

Parry’s is a joint right out of the streets of New York. Its stromboli is big, and, well, just a classic New York stromboli. There is sauce on the side. In fact, if you want to get closer to the New York trifecta, you can combine your trip to Parry’s with a trip to Gumbah’s, for a glorious Italian Beef—the best in the East Bay. They’re both worth a long trip, assures rworange.

Lola’s [East Bay]
1585 Solano Avenue, Berkeley

Parry’s Market/Pizzeria [Napa County]
234 American Canyon Road, American Canyon

Gumbah’s Italian Beef [Solano County]
138 Tennessee Street, Vallejo

Board Links: Strombolis and Italian Beef in the East Bay-

A Meat-and-Potatoes Mood

If you’re in a meat-and-potatoes mood and want an obscene amount of food, larochelle recommends the restaurant at the Basque Cultural Center. A Sunday dinner special includes lamb stew AND prime rib, along with salad, cubed fried potatoes, sautéed seasonal veggies, and ice cream, all for $18.95. The prime rib is beautifully rare, and the lamb stew is so good it’s worth mopping up with the excellent bread. Robert Lauriston has had some very good, interesting, and inexpensive Basque wines from their wine list, but if that’s not your thing, corkage is a very reasonable $7.

Basque Cultural Center [South San Francisco]
599 Railroad Avenue, South San Francisco

Board Links: Basque Cultural Center–big meal heaven

Extremely Greasy Doughnuts at O’Henry

The doughnuts at O’Henry have so much promise—a crisp exterior, a pillowy and fluffy interior, and a smooth glaze. Unfortunately, they’re beyond greasy. “I think I could have easily used the chocolate twist to wax my whole car,” says withalonge. It’s too bad, because it’s lovely to watch the doughnut-makers rolling and cutting fresh doughnuts while you wait in line. However, if you’re into greasy doughnuts, this might be just the spot.

O’Henry Donuts [East Bay]
13501 San Pablo Avenue #F, San Pablo

Board Links: o’henrys donuts… greasy, oh so greasy

Saigon-style Pho at Pho Tan Hoa

Pho Tan Hoa, the new name for the erstwhile Pho Hoa, serves excellent Saigon-style pho, says grocerytrekker. The rich broth is much darker than the northern version, but it’s not at all murky. There is just a hint of star anise and ginger. A “small” bowl of steaming hot pho (number 16) is a generous portion of pho served with thin, completely pink beef slices on top, and plenty of tendon underneath. Zeldog thinks that the quality of the rare beef here sets it apart from other Tenderloin pho shops.

Pho Tan Hoa [Tenderloin]
431 Jones Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Pho Tan Hoa

Delicious in a Painful Way

If you enjoy food so hot that it makes you convulse, order “spicy” from Ruen Pair—especially the larb. It’s delicious in a painful way, says lmnopm, and it’s especially painful the next day on the salida, if you know what I mean. People who like their Mexican food really hot and eat raw jalapeños often wimp out when presented with food from Ruen Pair.

Chowhounds recommend the famous “Plate O’ Death” at Old Mandarin Islamic. It’s number 29 on the menu, officially called the Pepper Plate. “I eat Thai chili peppers since my family is from Southeast Asia,” says sylphi, “but the Plate O’ Death had me sweating and drinking a lot of water!” Old Mandarin’s “extremely hot pepper” is indeed extremely hot.

Do not mess with the spicy food at the Irving Street branch of Marnee Thai, says Sushi Monster. If you order the chicken wings “really hot” you will likely experience shortness of breath, hyperventilation, profuse sweating, face-flushing, and a slight melting of earwax.

The habanero salsa at Yucatasia has nearly blinded many an intrepid Chowhound. The salsa de barbacoa at El Huarache Azteca is also insanely spicy. It’s served only with the barbacoa (made only on weekends) or by request. “Tastes like habaneros to me,” says Robert Lauriston.

The food at both locations of Thai House Express is some of the spiciest around, the kind you eat just to prove you can. The tom yum soup is probably the spiciest thing, says lucymom, and since it’s soup, it will permeate every nerve in your mouth, rendering it completely numb to any other flavors. Other hounds label the spice level of the food here “scary.”

The “extra extra spicy” level at Osha Thai Noodle Café is labeled “XXX” on the menu, and for good reason. It’s as spicy as anything wanderlust21 had in Thailand. Some may find it inedible. Enjoy!

Ruen Pair [East Bay]
1045 San Pablo Avenue, Albany

Old Mandarin Islamic a.k.a. Old Mandarin Restaurant [Sunset]
3132 Vicente Street, San Francisco

Marnee Thai [Sunset]
2225 Irving Street, San Francisco

Yucatasia [Mission]
2164 Mission Street, San Francisco

El Huarache Azteca [East Bay]
3842 International Boulevard, Oakland

Thai House Express [Tenderloin]
901 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Thai House Express [Castro]
599 Castro Street, San Francisco

Osha Thai Noodle Café [Tenderloin]
696 Geary Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Ultra-spicey?