San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

A Superb Ginseng Game Hen Soup

There is a truly superb soup at the San Mateo branch of Myung Dong Tofu Cabin, says K K. The waitress recommended it to him—she even made a Popeye gesture and told him it would make men very strong. This convinced him, and boy is he glad he caved. The soup is beautiful, a pot with a whole game hen inside, and full of pure, intense poultry and ginseng flavors. There are also chunks of crispy rice cakes, of the sort that you sometimes find in Chinese soups. The game hen meat actually falls off of the bone.

As is the custom in many Korean soup joints, the soup comes undersalted. Salt is provided at the table; use it.

Panchan here is excellent, too.

Myung Dong Tofu Cabin [South Bay]
1484 Halford Avenue, Santa Clara

Myung Dong Tofu Cabin [Peninsula]
In the Marina Supermarket
2968 S. Norfolk Street, San Mateo

Board Links: Superb Korean game hen soup with ginseng–MDTC San Mateo/Foster City

New Hue-Style Vietnamese in Oakland

Hue is sort of the culinary center of central Vietnam—known for such delicacies as gently steamed glutinous rice cakes. There’s a brand-new Hue restaurant in town, Kim Huong, and it’s damn tasty.

After only a few weeks, there’s already a big line at lunch. That’s ’cause the food is good, says zippo, like a delicate, tasty bun bo hue—the traditional Hue noodle soup of thick noodles, pork blood hunks, pork trotter hunks, and meatballs.

Mi bo kho—vermicelli noodles with beef stew—is excellent, with a bit more body and more complexity to the seasoning than most competitors, says twocents. Perhaps Pho Ao Sen’s version has a broth with a little more body, but they don’t have the fine touch with the seasoning that Kim Huong has.

This is a small, family-run operation, by first-time proprietors.

Kim Huong [East Bay]
304 10th Street, Oakland

Pho Ao Sen [East Bay]
200 International Boulevard, Oakland

Board Links: Kim Huong, Hue-style Vietnamese, opens 3/22 in Oakland Chinatown

You Have to Try These Pupusas

The pupusas at Pupuseria El Capulin are an absolutely deadly must-try, says hhc. For those of you who don’t know, pupusas are sort of thickish masa-based flat breads, stuffed with fillings, and then griddled up to crispiness. At their worst, they’re soggy balls of corn flour and grease. At their best, they’re little essays in texture—hot, crispy, scorched masa on the outside; softer masa on the inside; leading to sweetly oozing cheese or pork—sort of like chocolate falling down cake written in Latin American savory staples.

El Capulin’s are the good kind: made fresh to order, chewy and crispy in the shell, with beautifully blended fillings. They’re $2 apiece, and they’re awesome.

Carne asada tacos are also recommended.

Pupuseria El Capulin [East Bay]
7036 Thornton Avenue, Newark

Board Links: Pupuseria El Capulin, Newark report w/ pics–great pupusas & $1 tacos

Better than the Fatted Calf?!?!

This is the first time we’ve heard such a claim. For years now, the Fatted Calf has been the single most beloved, most lauded, most recommended charcuterie in the Bay Area. Hell, it’s probably the single most recommended place of any genre for the whole of Chowhound, San Francisco. But, says rworange, there’s better.

Better is Columbus Salame’s crespone—a coarse-ground, country-style salami. It’s amazing. She’s had Fra’ Mani’s salami, she’s had Fatted Calf’s, and they don’t touch this crespone. It’s made from fresh pork flavored with pepper, garlic, and wine.

While Columbus salami is available at various locales, including Costco, all of the big praise we’ve heard only comes from the stuff purchased from Vella Cheese. Vella, says rworange, is her dream of a wine country cheese shop—not fancy, just good. While you’re there, try the absurdly cheap bags of grated aged jack, and the good, nutty, sweet four-year-old Asagio. And superb butter—good enough that she actually drove out to Sonoma just for some more butter.

Vella Cheese [Sonoma County]
315 Second Street E., Sonoma

Board Links: Sonoma–Vella Cheese & Columbus Crespone artisan salami

Hard-core Thai Boat Noodle Quest

Boat noodle is a Thai specialty that is … well, it’s not for the easily frightened. True boat noodle is deeply beefy, funky, with hard assaults of tang, sourness, spice, sweet, and good. You’ll see two forms of this: beef stew style, which is a nice soup, and boat noodle style. Boat noodle style gets its characteristic cloudy appearance and extrafunky flavor from its primary thickener, beef blood. But once you’ve had it funky, you can’t go back to the clean stuff. You’re dirty forever.

Boat noodle soup, if you can’t guess, is one of Your Editor Thi’s primo obessions. It’s kind of like sucking nectar directly from the mouth of the goddess of the Thai: Everything that’s great about Thai food—the intense, searing flavors; the constant balance between almost mind-shattering levels of spice, sour, sweet, and salt—it’s all there in its unfiltered form.

twocents has been on a serious Thai boat noodle jag. He’s eaten boat noodles everywhere he can find them. His three current favorites are:

Ruen Pair boat noodle soup. Medium spicy here is quite spicy. It’s good tanginess, and comes with sliced beef, stewed beef, beef ball, and sometimes tripe. $8.

Sa-Wooei beef stew soup. This includes beef ball, sliced beef, stewed beef, and tendony bits. The broth is noticeabley sweet. $5.25 at lunch—an excellent value.

Thai Noodle boat noodle soup. This has stewed beef in large slices, beef ball, and sliced beef.

These three places all serve superior soup, and you should try all of them.

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

Sa-Wooei Thai Cuisine [East Bay]
10621 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito

Thai Noodle [East Bay]
1936 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Board Links: Thai Beef/Boat Noodle in East Bay

Almond Croissant Taste Test

Some of our dedicated Chowhounds have hit up every pastry joint they could find, in search of the most perfect almond croissant in the Bay Area. Their favorites:

Bay Bread is dreamsicle’s favorite. Catch ’em while they’re still slightly warm—somewhere between the crisp shell and the almost liquidy filling is the tiniest gateway to heaven. You’ll find it, too, if you look. In comparison, she says, Delanghe’s famed croissant seems just stale and heavy.

cafecreme agrees that Bay Bread makes a beautiful almond croissant; there is, though, one that she thinks is even better. This is the almond croissant from DeLessio’s. The croissant is actually crispier, while still being delectably flaky and buttery. The filling is the real deal-maker—beautifully colored, beautifully textured, with the slightest hint of lemon.

Anya L also rates Bay Bread and DeLessio’s in her top five. The other top choices: Citizen Cake’s very buttery croissant with a chewier filling; Tartine’s enormous, deeply browned croissant; and Blissful Bite’s small, dark, delightfully chewy version.

Boulangerie Bay Bread [Fillmore]
2325 Pine Street, San Francisco

DeLessio Market and Bakery [Duboce Triangle]
1695 Market Street, San Francisco

Citizen Cake [Hayes Valley]
399 Grove Street, San Francisco

Tartine Bakery [Mission]
600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco

Blissful Bites [Richmond]
397 Arguello Boulevard, San Francisco

Board Links: Almond croissant taste test

South Italian Pastries, a Hidden Wonder

Sfoglia may look like an anonymous Italian bakery, but it is most definitely not. It’s packed full of southern Italian gems–cannolis, tarts, pizzettas, and more. And, report Chowhounds, everything there is at least very good; some items are spectacular.

rworange’s favorite item is the savory tart ($2.75)—a tasty, buttery tart shell, topped with a little cheese and a lot of veggies, including some tasty portobellos and truly excellent roasted peppers. Pizzettas come with excellent meat and veggie toppings, on top of a pillowy, yeasty crust.

There are also cannoli ($3), freshly fried, wonderfully crisp, and filled to order with lightly sweetened, orange-zested ricotta. They shatter perfectly with each bite, says Melanie Wong.

And there’s beautiful, golden brown sfogliatelle ($2.50). The thin, hand-pulled layers of pastry have that distinctive brittle crispness; the filling is like the cannoli’s, but with an extra, eggy richness. The cheese makes it a little soggy in the middle, which is the only thing that prevents this treat from achieving the balanced perfection of the cannoli.

The folks are friendly; atmosphere is open, airy, sunny, and distinctly Mediterranean.

Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Cafe [Sonoma County]
At the Sebastopol Antique Society
2661 Gravenstein Highway, Suite H, Sebastopol

Board Links: Sebastopol–Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Café – Easter Pannetone & La Colomba
Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Café

A Glorious Bowl of Lamb Tendon

As each batch of customers arrives at Deezi Café, the manager rushes up, greets them, and rings a big bell. The bell signals the kitchen to fire a fresh batch of flat bread in the tandoor. The bread shows up in a few minutes—a huge, dinner-plate-sized, charred wonder of crunchiness and chew.

The unexpected glory at Deezi Café, though, is the kaleh pacheh, a gorgeously gelatinous bowl of boiled lamb tongue, tendon, and cheeks, in its own broth. “Imagine an earthy lamb version of bollito misto with a heavier, more gelatin-rich stock base or perhaps pot au feu meets consumé de borrego and this would be it,” explains Melanie Wong. “Each morsel was the optimal texture—softened tendon with just enough resistance to the bite, fork-tender whole tongue, and slightly firm cheek meat with a bit of chew to it.” The broth is perfect—just a big bowl of purified lamb essence.

Other good stuff: mirzaghasemi, a very likable mash of softly creamy eggplant with a bit of citrus, a bit of tomato tang, and hard-cooked egg yolk. Excellent koubideh, too—if you order it medium rare, it’ll come perfect—fully charred on the outside, yet beautifully rare on the inside.

Atmosphere is festive and noisy; there is occasionally music. Service is swift and friendly. Dinner will run about $25 a person.

Deezi Café [South Bay]
1740 S. Winchester Boulevard, Campbell

Board Links: Deezi Café — Persian in Campbell

Extreme Dessert Tasting

Slave to sweet chow Sailorbuoys pushed herself through the cruelest mission possible: sampling desserts from five restaurants, carefully selected with advice from fellow Chowhounds.

Sailorbuoys reports: the best desserts were at Oliveto, Delfina, and Bar Tartine. Second best: Ame (conservative), Lalime’s and Rubicon (wild). And the worst? Campton Place and Salt House.

The dessert spread at Oliveto is “clean, simple, and perfect.” The cocoa nib panna cotta is silky smooth, with all the flavor of chocolate but none of the fatty weight. Bar Tartine scores with an excellent creamy, clean beet ice cream with chocolate cake.

The wrapup: “SF likes to follow trends,” says Sailorbuoys. “Chocolate mousse, doughnuts and attempts at odd pairings appear to be all the rage. Seasonality still has a long way to travel, even in our organic-local-farmers’ market driven city.” Rworange points out, “at least they are over the huckleberry thing.”

Ame [SOMA]
689 Mission Street, San Francisco


Bar Tartine [Mission]
561 Valencia Street, San Francisco


Delfina Restaurant [Mission]
3621 18th Street, San Francisco

Lalime’s [East Bay]
1329 Gilman Street, Berkeley

Oliveto Café and Restaurant [Rockridge]
5655 College Avenue, Oakland

Pizzeria Delfina [Mission]
3611 18th Street, San Francisco

Range [Mission]
842 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Rubicon [Financial District]
558 Sacramento Street, San Francisco

Salt House [SOMA]
545 Mission Street, San Francisco


Board links: Bay Area Dessert Tour: A Very Long Report
Dessert Only: SF Restaurants

Indian Curry Meets Texas BBQ

The thing to get at Old Town Café is beef rendang. It is, says Ozumo, like the beautiful hapa child of an Indian curry and a Texas BBQ. It’s smoky, sweet, with tons of cloves and a decent amount of heat. And it’s cooked for long enough that parts will melt in your mouth, while other parts will have achieved that magical long-cooked crispiness.

yimster’s favorite dish here is Old Town Catfish; Hainanese chicken is done perfectly, with no hint of overcooking—certainly the best version in the Bay Area, says dolcetto.

The laksa is worthy, too, as is their milk tea. Others enjoy their okra lady fingers and satay chicken.

Old Town Café
4288 Dublin Boulevard, Unit 109, Dublin

Board Links: Dublin–Old Town Cafe Singaporean Cafe–Pulled Tea
Singapore Old Town Cafe in Dublin