Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the SF Chowhound community.
Ngu Binh is a new Vietnamese restaurant that appears to be focusing on central Vietnamese food, like the kind of stuff they serve in Hue, rather than Saigon or Hanoi. This place is only a few weeks old, and they’re still sorting out the menu, but hounds say it’s promising. zippo is charmed by the delicate bahn nam, little tiny dishes filled with a layer of soft, custardy rice cake, topped with chopped shrimp, chives, and croutons ($4.75). Ruth Lafler likes the thin, lacey crust of the bahn xeo ($6.45), with its distinct coconut flavor, but thinks the filling-to-pancake ratio is off. And Melanie Wong finds the bun bo hue much more delicate (“a better word might be ‘watery’”) than versions she’s used to. Those seeking the funky, fishy flavors and unctuous textures of hardcore Vietnamese food may be disappointed. However, all the hounds who have tried it plan on going back. Catch a late breakfast–they open at 8:30 a.m.
Ngu Binh (Dac Biet Bun Bo Hue) [Tenderloin]
formerly Hung Ky
337 Jones St., between Ellis and Eddy, San Francisco
Ngu Binh–new Vietnamese @337 Jones, SF
Where can you get the best Italian rum cake in the Bay Area? For once, there’s no debate–just go to Dianda’s. It’s the only Italian bakery that comes close to the great ones in Brooklyn and the Bronx, says sfoperalover. Robert Lauriston and RWCFoodie agree. Note that Dianda’s has two locations, one in San Francisco, one in San Mateo.
Dianda’s Italian American Pastry Co. [Mission]
2883 Mission St., San Francisco
Dianda’s Italian American Pastry Co. [Peninsula]
117 De Anza Blvd., San Mateo
BEST Italian rum cake in the Bay Area
Check out the gingerbread at Semifreddi’s Bakery, says Alexandra Eisler. It’s a small, old-fashioned tea loaf, very highly spiced with ginger and molasses, and very moist. It’s baked in a cute little decorative paper container.
Morton the Mousse and wally direct you to the gingerbread at Sketch. It’s one of their best cakes, and their cakes are transcendent. The gingerbread has great flavor and texture, and comes in a single-serving portion about the size of a large muffin. Enjoy.
Semifreddi’s Bakery [East Bay]
372 Colusa Ave., Kensington
Sketch Ice Cream [East Bay]
1809A Fourth St., Berkeley
Gingerbread at Semifreddi’s
Kushi-age, Japanese deep-fried skewers, are a favorite in Japan, but at many places in the Bay Area they tend to come out excessively heavy, with oil soaking through the crust in an unappetizing way. Enter Sushi Yoshi. It’s surprising that deep-fried items at a sushi restaurant would be so good, marvels yamada3, but these have the perfect combination of crunch, body, and light crispiness in the breading. The juices from each bite of chicken blend beautifully with the faint sweetness of the oil. Have a Kirin Ichiban to go with them–these kushi-age are the bar food of the gods.
Ebi-furai (deep-fried jumbo shrimp) are also incredible–“better than many ebi-furai in my hometown of Nagoya, which is famous for ebi-furai,” says yamada3.
Sushi Yoshi [East Bay]
39261 Cedar Blvd., Newark
The Andhran dishes at Southern Spice Bistro shine with a fiery heat and brightness, says Melanie Wong. Complimentary rasam is refreshingly zippy and packed with flavor, but still light, an excellent palate cleanser for the meal to come. For appetizers, cut mirchi pakora–battered, deep-fried whole yellow wax peppers ($4.95)–are tasty, with the full medium hotness of the chili peppers coming through. Special biryanis, served on weekends, are a good bet. In chicken dum biryani ($9.95), beautiful, loosely packed long grains of fragrant basmati, stained yellow with aromatic spices, surround succulent pieces of chicken. It comes with a cooling raita and a mirchi salan full of deadly hot whole green chilis.
Andhra-style food is known throughout India for being spicy, and this place does not disappoint. It’s not one-note heat, though–the spicing is fascinatingly complex, suitable for spice-loving hounds who aren’t into just sitting around licking a habanero.
Southern Spice Bistro [Peninsula]
2700 West El Camino Real, Mountain View
Southern Spice Bistro, Mountain View
When you have a deep need for a solid hit of roe, but don’t require the delicate aesthetic heights of fine caviar, dip into some Greek cod roe–it’s cheap and tasty in the best way, says Robert Lauriston, at about $4 for an 8-ounce jar. Try Hellenic American Imports in San Francisco or Greek Imports in Daly City.
Salmon roe is also excellent–European market sells it by the half-pint and full pint for between $12 and $20 a pound, with price depending on the degree of intactness of the eggs. And 99 Ranch Market in Richmond usually carries bulk salmon eggs, tobiko, and other roe.
Hellenic American Imports [Mission]
2365 Mission St., between 19th and 20th Sts., San Francisco
Greek Imports [Peninsula]
6524 Mission St., Daly City
European Market [Richmond]
3038 Clement Street, at 35th Street, San Francisco
99 Ranch Market [East Bay]
3288 Pierce St., in Pacific East Mall, Richmond
Caviar and Roe
Even if you just got off the plane from Shanghai, the xiaolong bao at Shanghai House will not disappoint, says Gary Soup. They’re almost, but not quite, the equal of the dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling King or Shanghai Restaurant, but at $4.95 for 10 dumplings, he’s willing to cut them some slack.
Some other dishes are a little weird, like a tofu and seafood hot pot that seems overwhelmed by too many ingredients. All of it’s fresh, though, and cooked just the right amount. Think of it as Chinese cioppino.
Don’t miss the savory soy milk (yan doujiang), some of the best in San Francisco. It even has proper Shanghainese brine shrimp with their proper teeny little eyes sticking out.
3641 Balboa Street, San Francisco
Shanghai Dumpling House/Dumpling King [Richmond]
3319 Balboa St., San Francisco
Shanghai Restaurant/Shanghai Xiao Chi [Chinatown]
930 Webster St., Oakland
A quick take on Shanghai House
Le Bistro Elephant serves very good small plates at a good value, says A Amore, like thick-cut, buttermilk-battered onion rings, dusted with melted cotija cheese and accompanied by a ketchup doctored with powdered chilis. Lamb sliders, duck tacos, and barely seared three-day-boat scallops are also recommended. Food and drinks for two, including tax and tip, will run you about $58.
Le Bistro Elephant [East Bay]
2134 Oxford St., Berkeley
Le Bistro Elephant–Berkeley
Pizza margherita–straight-up pizza that’s just a crust with tomato, cheese, and some basil–is excellent at Bucci’s, says TopoTail. Another contender is Cugini, though they put fresh tomato slices on the pizza even when it’s not tomato season. The rest of the pizza is perfect, though.
wchane likes the pizza margherita at the Lafayette branch of Pizza Antica. And Robert Lauriston is partial to the version at Pizzaiolo.
All of the restaurants above have wood ovens except Bucci’s.
Bucci’s [East Bay]
6121 Hollis St., Emeryville
Cugini [East Bay]
1556 Solano Ave., Albany
Pizza Antica [East Bay]
3600 Mt Diablo Blvd, at Dewing Ave., Lafayette
5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Margherita Pizza in East Bay
NETO, says Ken Hoffman, is a Hebrew acronym that means something like the English acronym WYSIWYG. And Neto Caffe’s additive-free yummies, with no coconut oil or shortening or anything unpleasant, stand up to repeated tastings. The giant rugulach has a buttery, soft, flaky crust–not the usual piece of sweet concrete–and turns one’s mind to the bustling bodegas of Tel Aviv. Soft, chewy house-made pita and hummus that reeks of garlic cannot be put down.
Some hounds balk at the prices–$10-12 for a sandwich, $7.25 for yogurt and granola. Others, like sally r., are very enthusiastic and find the prices reasonable for the quality.
They also serve shnitzel.
Neto Caffe [Peninsula]
135 Castro Street (across from the Mountain View train station), Mountain View
Neto Caffe in Mountain View
Neto Caffe in Mountain View