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

Get in the Cauldron

It’s the place whose logo is a happy little lamb wearing a bow tie. He looks happy, doesn’t he? He might not be so happy when he gets sliced paper thin and served alongside a cauldron of bubbling, cumin-scented broth. He may not be happy, but you will be.

There’s not just little lambs, but also fish balls, tofu, mushrooms, winter melon, hand-pulled noodles, and a ton of other uncooked items that show up ready for you to cook in that vat of spiced broth. All items are fresh and delicious, says Martin Strell, and the broth itself is a work of art. Actually, there are multiple broths to try, and you can get your hot pot half-and-half, one side full of spicy Sichuan broth, the other full of a milder broth of cumin, garlic, clove, and other spice treasures. Turns out you may not have to go to China for superior hot pot.

Little Lamb Mongolian Hot Pot [East Bay]
34396 Alvarado Niles Rd., at Decoto, Union City
510-675-9919
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Little Lamb Mongolian Hot Pot in Union City

Portobello Mushroom Fritti

Dunkin Donut likes the Lafayette branch of Pizza Antica, both for the goat cheese pizza with a cracker-thin crust, and for the portobello mushroom fritti–like french fries, but made with beautiful strips of portobello mushrooms, served with a great dipping sauce.

The place is packed, so call ahead and put yourself on the wait list.

Pizza Antica [East Bay]

3600 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette

925-299-0500

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Pizza Antica

A Worthy Tamale

Of all the tamales available on the Peninsula, yimster enthusiastically recommends those sold by the lady with the tamale cart who is usually found outside a produce shop called El Mercadito Latino. Her masa is the best around. Go early, because they sell out.

Tamales come in several flavors, including mild and spicy versions of chicken and pork that are spectacular. At $1 each, they’re a bargain, and they’re so good, it’s easy to get carried away. “My brother-in-law once purchase two dozen and ate fourteen of them at one sitting,” says yimster. “I believe he was sick for a couple of days, not from the tamales themselves but from the amount he ate.” You’ve been warned.

Lady with Tamale Cart [Peninsula]

ouside El Mercadito Latino

1726 El Camino Real, Redwood City

650-306-0104

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Tamales in the Peninsula

Le Soleil

For delicious Vietnamese with nice ambience, Le Soleil is a perfect choice. Bodegadawg thinks the mango salad topped with fried shallots is exceptional, and loves the barbecued pork rolls and clams with black beans. makaroon likes the tasty, succulent BBQ chicken, and many hounds recommend the five-spice chicken. Le Soleil is more expensive than your average Vietnamese dive in the area, but it has attractive decor and nice service to make up for it, if you’re into that sort of thing. And the food is actually really good. Even the seafood curry–a dish that sounds like bad imitation Thai–tastes delicious, says Windy.

Le Soleil Authentic Vietnamese [Richmond]

133 Clement St., San Francisco

415-668-4848

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Dinner at Le Soleil on Clement

Japanese Spaghetti

Chika specializes in Japanese Western-style food, like meat sauce pasta. And they do it well. Mushroom (kinoko) pasta is better than any Wendy_san tasted in Japan, with noodles cooked perfectly al dente. More traditional Japanese fare, like tanuki udon, is also excellent.

This place has a more elegant and quiet feel than an izakaya. There’s jazz playing in the background and everything. Dinner for four, plus two pitchers of Sapporo, runs about $130 before tip.

Chika [Sunset]
841 Irving St., San Francisco 94122
415-681-5539
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Chika–San Mateo

El Delphin

El Delphin serves tasty, fresh ceviche and beautifully prepared southern Mexican dishes, says China. Quality is high: caldo de pollo features incredibly rich broth, and it’s chock full of vegetables and stewed chicken, and garnished with cilantro and mint. Order camarones con chile de arbol for a good portion of large prawns, partially butterflied and cooked in a creamy sauce with parsley, garlic, and dried chiles. It comes with fluffy Spanish rice and delicious, partially mashed refried beans, just like the ones you get in Michoacan. Service is really nice, and prices are very reasonable–a plentiful dinner for five plus six beers will run you about $75.

Restaurente El Delphin [Mission]
3066 24th St, at Folsom, San Francisco 94110
415-643-7955
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Delfine Report–24th and Folsom

New Eritrean in Santa Rosa

Injera cravings in Sonoma County should be immediately directed to Café Santa Trata, a new Eritrean restaurant in Santa Rosa. Combination plates are available for about $12, and come with two or three dishes, salad, and a wedge of wonderful injera. jeanlass especially likes their spicy stewed beef, yellow lentils, and a mysterious but tasty spinach dish.

The place is so new, they haven’t printed an Eritrean menu yet, so you order by by pointing to a platter of food on display near the register. No matter–the food is good, and the café is a welcome addition to the area.

Cafe Santa Trata
711 Stony Point Rd., Santa Rosa 95407
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Why Don’t We Eat Here More Often?

If you’re too early or too late for the outstanding rice-stuffed chicken at Ming’s Diner, you should check out one of the lunch specials–specials so tasty they come with the Melanie Wong Parents’ Seal of Approval, and cost like $3.25.

One of the best things is the beef with tender greens. The seared beef is redolent with garlic and wok breath, served over tender, juicy choi sum and bathed in a deliciously complex pan gravy. The house soup that comes free with lunch is a nice brew of pork bones and black mushroom, and it’s warming, if not terribly intense.

Lunch for three, which often entails a heavy bag of leftovers, will set you back about $12. “My mother asked me why we didn’t eat here more often, and I have to say it beats me too,” says Melanie Wong.

Ming’s Diner [Parkside]
2129 Taraval St., San Francisco 94116
415-242-0811
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Beefy Lunch Specials @ Ming’s Diner, SF

Chorizo and Eggs and Pumpkin Pancakes at Nena’s

DaveMP likes the chorizo and eggs at Nena’s Restaurant, with mild Salvadoran chorizo. It comes with queso fresco, crema, refried beans, and inch-thick sopes. And the pumpkin pancakes are really fantastic–they still make them, even though they may not be on the menu. The huge, fluffy pancakes have real pumpkin flavor, but it’s not overpowering.

susaninsf is impressed with the citrus French toast, made from orange bread and topped with fresh orange slices and fresh strawberries. A huge, beautiful portion is $8.25.

Nena’s Restaurant [Mission]
3459 Mission Street, San Francisco
415-285-8985
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Great breakfast at Nena’s (Bernal Heights) and sago at Creations in the Richmond
Report: Vietnamese Chicken at Cordon Bleu and excellent Pumpkin Pancakes at Nena’s

Perbacco

Perbacco is a delicious new choice for upscale Italian, says monday. Try the salumi misti, featuring their house-made finocchiona, which has a soft, lush texture and lovely fennel flavor. Pasta dishes are transcendent, like house-made pasta filled with roasted veal in a simple butter sauce with braised cabbage. The cheese plate, served with chestnut flower honey, marcona almonds, and local muscato grapes, is a nice dish, too.

MorganSF agrees wholeheartedly, and recommends pansotti stuffed with chard, ricotta, herbs, and walnut butter. Or try the pan-roasted chicken with Meyer lemon pan juices and broccoli with anchovy garlic butter. Gelati and other dessert items are extremely good, too. “Only potential embarassment stopped me from licking the plate,” says MorganSF.

Perbacco [Embarcadero]
230 California St., San Francisco
415-955-0663
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Perbacco, go there now!