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GOOD Cuban or Jamaican Restaurants in SF/East Bay? Do they exist?

I'm not sure you can get Cuban bread the way it is in Tampa and Miami outside of Tampa and Miami. I'm told that it's actually a specific Cuban-American thing, in fact. (I moved here from Tampa in 2002.)

Occasionally I go on a Cuban sandwich hunt, with very limited success. :) I think the best I've found may be the previously-mentioned Sol Food in San Rafael, although it was a few years. There was also a taco truck, of all places, in San Francisco on Townsend that had a surprisingly good version and one of the few that seemed only mildly overpriced compared to prices in Tampa.

(For making these at home -- as heretical as I suppose it may be -- a good hoagie-style roll that's roughly the right size, shape and thickness works pretty well. The marinade for the pork roast seems to be the most important thing for getting the flavor right.)

Perfect Margarita

To answer skipperr: blanco, reposado and anejo refer to aging. Blanco is "fresh," barely aged tequila; anejo is aged at least a year in oak barrels; reposado ("rested") is aged three months, up to a year. This only applies to 100% agave tequilas; the difference between "silver" and "gold" in brands like Sauza and Margaritavilla is caramel coloring.

Personally, I prefer reposado tequila for margaritas, or a fruitier blanco. I gave a recipe very early on in this discussion, but I've changed my mixing proportions these days: now I like 1.5 oz. tequila, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, 0.5 oz. orange liqueur -- I recommend Patron Citronge -- and a teaspoon (or to taste) of simple syrup or agave nectar. While a margarita shouldn't be alcoholic limeade like Chili's will give you, a touch of sweetener rounds the flavors out nicely.

While antx refers to making a margarita sweeter with key limes, I've never heard a key lime described as sweeter before -- they're more tart than Persian limes. If you use key limes, I'd double the sweetener amount.

And as I mentioned before, if you leave out the orange liqueur as some nouveau bartenders advocate, you're making a tequila daiquiri, not a margarita. :)

May 21, 2009
Chipotle in Recipes

Cuban sandwich

Actually, I'm not sure you can *quite* get the same bread many places outside Tampa and Miami. (I'm told that Cuban bread in Cuba isn't actually quite the same as the Tampa variant, and despite what folks in Miami might want to believe, the first bakery in the U.S. was in Ybor City in Tampa.) It's a bit more like French bread in my recollection, with a thin, slightly papery crust. The closest I recall finding for making my own Cuban sandwiches here a couple times was a sandwich roll at Lunardi's.

I have yet to find a really great Cuban sandwich out here; I liked La Bodeguita del Medio's a few years ago and Sol Food in San Rafael's. I recently tried El Habanero's and was left seriously underwhelmed. (Despite all the attention paid to the bread, I think the roast pork is probably the most important ingredient to get right -- and the easiest to get wrong.)

The prices of the sandwiches here still leave me shell-shocked, though; in Tampa, I'd say $4 is still probably the median price for a good-sized sandwich. Food's more expensive here in general, sure, but not usually 100% more expensive!

Best Tiki Bar?

AFAIK the rest of the staff is still pretty much the same and they should still be making about the same drinks. (Martin didn't make most of the drinks I've had there and they've still been terrific.) I suspect the real "test" will come as the bartenders who worked directly with Martin start moving on and he's not around to train their replacements, but for now I hold out hope.

I've never tried Tiki Tom's, but I'll have to give it a shot sometime. (And I suppose I'll have to visit the Tonga Room out of a sense of tiki history!)

Are you a Cheesecake Factory lover?

I think there's probably more in Walnut Creek than that. I admit when I'm there for lunch I end up at Pyramid Ale House more often than I should -- the food's not amazing, but I like the beer and they have free wifi -- but it looks like there are several other choices downtown I'm shamefully ignoring. Besides the Walnut Creek Yacht Club, which I already know I'm shamefully ignoring.

(I'll confess one thing I do like about the Cheesecake Factory, though: during happy hour, they have a great bar menu.)

Cubano with Falling Apart Roast Pork, not Usual Sliced and Dry?

I lived in Tampa for many years and always read that some Cuban sandwiches were made with salami, but I never actually ran into one made that way. Lettuce and tomato are pretty common in Tampa, though.

For me the roast pork really makes the sandwich -- many people in Tampa will say it's the bread, and it's true that you can't get Cuban bread here, but the flavor punch comes from the roast pork's mojo marinade. I had a couple Cubans when I was back in Tampa over the holidays and was a little surprised to find that the Cuban sandwich at La Bodeguita del Medio in Palo Alto is awfully competitive for flavor -- although at nearly three times the price. I haven't had a Cuban sandwich anywhere else out here other than Sol Food in San Rafael, which I recall as also being pretty good.

Milagro's Cantina, Redwood City

I've never been to Rick Bayless's restaurants (I'm told the little taqueria outpost he has in San Francisco is abysmal), but I have been to Milagro's -- I thought it was pleasant enough, but it seemed to be more like the sort of midline family Mexican places I've been to like Hola! in Belmont and La Pinata in Alameda.

I did see you're among the Chowhounds who aren't impressed with Maya, but its menu has always been consistently more, well, interesting than other Mexican restaurants in the Bay Area I've tried -- perhaps they don't execute consistently and I've just been lucky, or perhaps I'm too prone to give restaurants points for ambition, I don't know. But I can only think of a handful of places that even try to be in the same league: Mexico DF, Dona Tomas, and the various Resmex incarnations (Conseula in San Jose, Zazil and Colibri in SF). El Rincon in Morgan Hill is actually up there, too, despite being a hole in the wall. Of those, Of those, Mexico DF tends to get the most props, but I've only been there once as part of "Dine About Town," which gave me: carnitas. It was a great carnitas plate, but it was a carnitas plate, you know? I'm not kidding when I say I've seen more ambitious specials at an El Torito. So far my favorite may be Zazil.

At any rate, maybe I'll check out Milagro's again when I can.

Red Mango opening in San Carlos?

Just a frozen yogurt shop. It does have a "milk flavor," I suppose, but apparently I like that -- I think it's a richer flavor than most of the others I've tried, although I think I'd really have to try both it and Fraiche in the same afternoon to decide which one I liked more. (Harmony, the one Shane mentions below, just isn't a favorite for me; I know they use Straus Creamery yogurt and it almost certainly is higher quality, but it didn't seem to be quite as good as Culture yogurt in Palo Alto, another Straus-using chain, and Harmony skimps on the toppings compared to either Culture or Red Mango.)

Coconuts, Palo Alto

While I'm talking to myself here, I ended up going to Coconuts for dinner tonight with friends. It *is* the chef from Back-A-Yard; the manager I talked to briefly said they "stole him" away, although it sounded like he was pretty willing to be stolen: it's a much bigger, nicer space with a full bar.

I had the jerk chicken dinner, which was awfully reminiscent of what I'd had at BAY, not surprisingly, including the coconut rice. The grilled vegetable side was new, I think, and just as good as everything else. They asked if I wanted the jerk mild or spicy; I had spicy ("mild jerk" are two words that just shouldn't go together), and it definitely had a kick but it wasn't daredevil stunt seasoning. I think I liked the jerk a little more here than what I remember at BAY, actually. The presentation was nicer, and at $13.50, the price was still reasonable.

Coconuts, Palo Alto

(Trying to make it actually link the place I created earlier...)

642 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Coconuts, Palo Alto

Does anyone have any info on this restaurant? Evidently it took the place of Hukilau; while Dan Pitt's site referred to it as "Hukilau Hawaiian-style Caribbean" (?), the menu looks quite Jamaican -- and the chef appears to be the same guy who runs Back-A-Yard in Menlo Park.

Saigon Cuisine at Tanforan in San Bruno- great place for a quick lunch before heading to the airport

The Grape Leaf, a Mediterranean place, has also gotten discussion here:

I've been there once and thought it was remarkably good.

Yan Can in Santa Clara

There were two in the South Bay and one closed, although I can't remember which one. "Highly uninspired" is a good way of putting it. There are some chains, even quick service ones, I do like (including the one that shares my handle, although I was using that name before I knew about them!), but I try to be careful mentioning that, lest people inundate me with impassioned "but there's so much better!" responses. (Sometimes you're not *near* anything better, even here in the Bay Area. And I moved out here from Tampa Bay, where P.F. Chang's, oft-maligned by 'hounds as it is, was a marked improvement over all but a couple Chinese restaurants in a fifty-mile radius. ...but I digress.)

Yan Can in Santa Clara

I'm not sure there's a lot to update. Yan Can was a prototype for a "premium counter service" style restaurant, positioning itself against Panda Express the way Chipotle, Wahoo, et. al. position themselves against Taco Bell. Since it's so far failed to actually become a chain (there's only two locations, the other one in Pleasant Hill) it still qualifies as a Bay Area local restaurant, I suppose. And I think they succeed in being better than Panda Express. But that's not a very high bar, and not very "chowish."

FWIW, I think they could do a lot better even in the limited context they're operating in, i.e., Chipotle and Wahoo's are better than Taco Bell by a much bigger margin than Yan Can is better than Panda Express. Martin Yan sticking his name on their food is a lot like Tyler Florence sticking his name on stuff at Applebee's. Whether or not the recipes may have once been interesting, what ends up on the plate in front of you is pretty much all Applebee's, you know?

Looking for best Bloody Mary

Just seeing if people have opinions on this. It's a potentially complex enough recipe that I'd imagine there's some variations on the theme.

For the record, I don't have an opinion on this yet -- I'm a cocktail aficionado, but many years ago I tried spicy V8, hated it, and associated it strongly with Bloody Marys as that's the way my grandmother made them! Since then I've grown to like both spicy food and tomatoes, so I'm looking to give one a try... but I'd like to try a *good* one, so I can be reasonably sure that if I still don't like it, it's not because it was prepared badly. :)

SF- Does the Emperor have no Chowhound clothes?

For me the question comes down to whether the excellent food is something I can get locally. I *live* in Foster City and frankly there's not a whole lot here. :) This isn't to say that there aren't some good "chowhound" type places nearby (Sweet Basil Thai and Tai Wu, for example, virtually within walking distance of my apartment, and of course all of San Mateo a few miles away), and there's a fair number of less chowhoundy but still acceptable places within a mile or two.

But if I really, really want a good Cuban dish, I'm gonna be driving a while. And maybe that's quintessentially Chowhound -- I'm interested in the Big Name Destination restaurants, to be sure, but I'm willing to travel an arguably ridiculous distance to get a truly good Cuban sandwich or Chicago hot dog at a "neighborhood place" that doesn't have any analogue in a neighborhood close by.

E Is for Eh at Jack’s Brewing Company in Fremont

Hm. I haven't been there in a couple years -- when I was working in Milpitas I had a tendency to drive, well, as far afield as Fremont to just see what various places are like, and I'm nearly always up for trying a new brewpub. I went to Jack's twice and remember it as being a rock solid "not so bad." They did at least get my requested-medium burger to me as medium, and the "Black Jack" burger was fairly tasty (not truly blackened, but to be fair there don't seem to be many places that really *mean* blackened when they say it). The next time was a chicken sandwich. I think. Or something with chicken. Even looking at the menu doesn't bring it back.

I seem to recall both their beer and root beer were good, but again, nothing special. "Eh" is probably a good summation -- were I living or working close to Jack's I'd probably still drop by occasionally, but now that I live in Foster City, the Steelhead Brewery up in Burlingame amply fits the role of unimaginative but amiable brewpub.

Tad's Steak House....??

I went there a few years ago, when I was attending a Macworld and looking for something quick and not too expensive, but marginally real (instead of fast food), to have. I'm gonna stick up for Tad's -- at least to a degree. :)

When I looked in and figured out their shtick -- cafeteria line, essentially, with you putting your order for your steak in at the start and getting it at the cash register at the end, what I immediately thought was, "This is what Ponderosa is pretending to be." Frankly, I don't like Ponderosa, so that made me dubious, but I was a little desperate and have a sort of perverse affection for dive diners.

And you know? For what it is, I thought it was pretty good. I knew going in that a steak, baked potato, salad and roll for what I think was $12.50 at the time ($13.50 now, I understand) was, well... let's just say I expected it would have some limitations. :) I've had markedly better steak, but I've also had markedly worse -- sometimes at higher prices.

Need crushed ice for my Kentucky Derby party's mint juleps

While this is not a direct answer to your question, I ended up just buying a Waring IC70 ice crusher for drinks. (Which, uh, I'm sure you can get in San Francisco, or close by.)

The Refuge in San Carlos: REAL Pastrami and more!

According to the waitress, it had onions and a bit of brown sugar pressed into it. Despite my complaints about it being a bit overcooked, it was still a good burger - it ended up with a slightly oniony caramelized crust on it. Next time I get it, I'll order it medium rare, though. (Although next time I'm at the Refuge, I'll probably get something with pastrami!)

SF - Rogue Ales Public House - Snake River burgers, haute dogs, Kurobuta ham and 40+ beers on tap?

The only (food) thing I had there was the burger, sometime last year. I liked it, although I didn't like it as much as I felt like I was supposed to, if you see what I mean. :) The patty gave me the impression of being machine-formed rather than hand-formed, but I couldn't swear to that -- it just had a suspiciously uniform shape, flatness, and density.

I recall having a better meal at the Rogue in Portland, Oregon, but unfortunately I can't remember what I had there (it's been a few years). The beer, in either place, is definitely worth checking out, though.

The Refuge in San Carlos: REAL Pastrami and more!

I may have seen you there, or at least been shouting in the same room. :)

Our server was a woman, so we had a different one than you did, and she did seem fairly knowledgeable, able to explain to to me what the menu meant by "sweet meat blend" for one burger and why one beer was singled out as a "food beer."

I did have that burger and it was good, but slightly overcooked for a medium burger -- although I recalled afterward that kobe beef (even the American wagyu) doesn't seem to hold up well when you push it past rare, so I may try again. But the pastrami I had on my first visit definitely seems to be the star attraction. My dining companion had a pizza cheese steak -- which he reported was very good, and it *looked* very good, although I admit with Jersey's pretty close by I wouldn't have been tempted to try the Refuge's more expensive one.

Peninsula Coffee Bars

I do like Caffe del Doge from my visits there; the baristas seem to know how to do a good espresso. The bean quality isn't up to par with the Bay Area's fresh roasters, but I expected that going in.

I may have to check out Fraiche on general principle, at least. :)

Top Five Restaurants in San Mateo

I haven't been to Round Table in a while, although I recall liking them more than I thought I would the last visit. I'm not sure I'd have considered North Beach Pizza "California style," although I'm not sure entirely what I would, either. (I think sort of Wolfgang Puck-ish woodburning ovens, flatbread kind of crust and slightly weird toppings, possibly?)

I haven't been to the one Tacone I know of in Redwood City, because it never looked particularly interesting. This doesn't lead me to reconsider that. :)

Peninsula Coffee Bars

I think they do show up in other places, yes, although the coffee at their store seems to be fresher.

Having said that, it seems that fairly recently, Barefoot switched to 12 ounce bags rather than pound bags for their coffees, without changing the prices -- effectively increasing the prices by 25%. They used to be a pretty amazing deal for the coffee quality that they had, but now their prices are more in line with Blue Bottle -- and more expensive, by and large, than Ritual. I still love them, but they're testing my loyalty a bit these days. :)

need restaurant in or near palo alto

It's at least worth noting in passing that Fleming's is a chain steakhouse, owned by Outback. Nothing necessarily wrong with that (I've been to more than one independent steakhouse that wasn't really the equal of Outback, let alone Ruth's Chris), but it might reduce the interest factor a little.

Looking for orange bitters

Yes, I did find some at Beltramo's recently. That's actually a really dangerous place for a home cocktail aficionado -- they have a great selection of relatively hard to find spirits and ingredients, and their prices often tend to beat BevMo's.

Top Five Restaurants in San Mateo

The "even for a chain" ding for Amici's is a little odd after a recommendation for Pizza A Go Go / Pizza My Heart, given that the latter is four times the size of the former. :)

Do you not like North Beach Pizza? They seemed to be pretty reasonable the one time I've been. Not to knock Pizza My Heart, which I also like -- although Speederia in San Carlos has won me over for that NY-style thin crust style.

(And Chipotle's always been better to me than the other "fresh mex" chains out there. While my handle isn't actually a reference to them, at times I feel obligated to stick up for 'em, even though they wouldn't be where I'd send anyone looking for a taqueria.)

"Hole in the wall" Chinese on Peninsula?

The day I posted this I found the Tai Wu by the Ranch 99 and Chipotle* and liked it. I'll have to look up some of the other ones. I admit I'm faintly intimidated by the "best if you have someone with you who speaks Chinese" descriptions of some, since neither I nor my roommate qualify, but I'll see if I can muddle through.

*No, my handle here is not a reference to the burrito chain, just to be clear!

"Hole in the wall" Chinese on Peninsula?

My roommate's looking for the sorts of neighborhood Chinese joints you could get a good -- maybe not amazing, but good -- lunch at inexpensively. We live in Foster City, so Foster City itself and San Mateo would be ideal, but places nearby might be good to know about as well. While we've been in the Bay Area for over five years now, we've just moved here from the South Bay, so neither of us knows the area too well yet.