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The Best Things Eater Editors Ate This Week

Mining the latest dining gems SF has to offer

Mourad
Patricia Chang

The Bay Area is such an exciting place to eat, yet night after night so many of us wind up falling back on the same sad sandwich shop or mediocre noodle joint down the street. Fortunately, the Eater editors eat out all the time, and we take seriously our responsibility to steer you toward a better meal. We report all of our most exciting findings here, so check back each week to find out what you should be eating too.

February 18

For a refreshing beginning: Berkeley Thai restaurant Funky Elephant has mostly stuck to the same tight menu since it first opened about a year ago. I love the tiny restaurant’s robust curries, but I tried a newer dish on my last visit and definitely don’t regret it: the fried egg salad. Two crispy, runny eggs get topped with grilled shrimp, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and lots of fish sauce and lime for a tart, funky, yet rich salad that’s so much more than the word “salad” suggests. Split between two, it’s a great appetizer before the main event arrives. 1313 Ninth Street, Suite 120, Berkeley Janelle Bitker

For classic Italian sweets: Playing tourist in North Beach is one of my absolute favorite activities, and anytime I’m within striking distance, I’ve got to hit up Stella Pastry and Cafe for their old-school Italian pastries. Their cannoli is my favorite, and I’m not alone — when I was there sucking delicious, creamy ricotta filling out of a crispy, bubbly pastry shell, a duo of Alcatraz cruise line workers were there doing roughly the same. 446 Columbus Ave, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

For incredible Moroccan-tinted fine dining: It’s been nearly ten years since I had been to Aziza, and the impressions I took away from the meal were pretty darn positive. Especially because LA, where I live, doesn’t really offer anything like it. With Mourad Lahlou now helming a his flagship restaurant, Mourad, in a more central part of San Francisco’s Downtown, I was able to walk over from my hotel a few blocks away. The meal starts out humble, from elegant oysters laced with preserved lemon and marash pepper to a gorgeous roast salmon with curry and romanesco strewn to the side. Dinner quickly ramps up into luxurious bites like the caviar with saffron creme to an almost ridiculous Hokkaido uni-covered brown butter cous cous. But the family-style short rib, slow cooked and kissed with smoke, coupled with pickled fresno chiles and a trio of sides, is the show-stopping entree I needed on a cold winter night. 140 New Montgomery St, San Francisco Matt Kang, Eater LA Editor

For the best ice cream in Parkside (and maybe the city): The whole Parkside neighborhood knows where they’re getting dessert after dinner on Taraval: Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream, a favorite for its Asian-inflected flavors like black sesame, Thai tea, durian, and taro, since 1982. Every choice is thick and rich — Italian Ice cream appears to be code for gelato — and for Parkside interlopers like me, the whole experience is a sort of time-traveling delight, a trip to an older, chiller San Francisco, courtesy of classic signage and kind, no-fuss service. 1447 Taraval St, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

February 1

For easy, no-fuss sushi: It often feels like sushi restaurants in the Bay Area focus on one of two areas: an upscale omakase experience or Americanized rolls. That’s why I particularly like Kamado Sushi in North Berkeley. It’s a low-key neighborhood spot, but the chef is an absolute traditionalist. Skip the rolls and order nigiri off of the the seasonal specials board — or just ask what’s good that day. Earlier this week, I stopped by for lunch and feasted on creamy firefly trout, ridiculously buttery ocean trout, and sayori, with the fish’s slender beak and bones fried until crunchy. (And yes, you can also order omakase here.) 1400 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley Janelle Bitker

For a hefty work lunch: Amawele’s South African Kitchen, a Rincon Center food court lunch counter, is a tempting place to fill up on on cuisine with insanely diverse influences from English, Indian, Dutch, Malaysian, and Native African cooking traditions. I got the Durban chicken curry roti wrap, which was huge and messy and nicely spicy on buttery roti. Amawele means twins, and it’s indeed run by twin sisters Pam and Wendy, who grew up in Durban, South Africa. I’ll be back to try the “Bunny Chow,” basically a curry bread bowl — when I’m hungry again, which might not be for a few days. 101 Spear Street, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

For a casual weekend breakfast: Brunch is such an event these days, with bottomless drinks, decadent benedicts, and all kinds of gravy-topped creations. That’s all well and good, but sometimes a low-key breakfast is the choice for a leisurely weekend morning. Standard Fare, the West Berkeley weekday breakfast and lunch spot from a Chez Panisse alum, only serves brunch on Saturday, so plan ahead to snag items like a sourdough waffle with brown butter-apple compote, or rice porridge with soy eggs and bacon. There’s also a plethora of excellent baked goods, jams, pickles, fermented hot sauce, and other staples to take home. 2701 Eighth Street, Berkeley Ellen Fort

For dips galore: It was a sad day when chef Nick Balla concluded his restaurant-within-a-restaurant set-up at the Perennial, where he’d been operating his pop-up Smokebread last fall. Now, he’s back just a few blocks away, with a kiosk at the Market on Market in the bottom of the Twitter building. For a dip fan like myself, it’s an ideal lunch or snack destination, with smoked potato bread and veggies for dunking into a variety of smooth or chunky veggie concoctions. An underlying detail: Balla uses a ton of B grade produce, utilizing delicious but less attractive good that otherwise might go to waste. I highly recommend them all, but the carrot dip with yogurt, onions, and dill is a favorite. 1355 Market St Suite 100, SF — Ellen Fort

January 18

For damp, dreary nights: The intense rains earlier this week brought me back into Pyeongchang Tofu House, easily my favorite Korean restaurant in the East Bay. Is there anything better than a gurgling bowl of piping hot, fiery red tofu soup on a cold, wet evening? My go-to order is the soybean tofu soup, which gets an extra boost of umami from doenjang, fermented soybean paste. Mussels, clams, and squid mingle with the silken tofu, awaiting the crack of a raw egg. For me, it’s always life-affirming. 4701 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland Janelle Bitker

For a quick trip to Montreal: Lex Gopnik-Lewinski has carved out a slice of Canada in West Berkeley with his one-year-old deli operation Augie’s Montreal Deli and Tap Room. The smoke meat sandwich on rye — a cross between pastrami and brisket — channels Montreal’s best like Shwartz’s and Smoke Meat Pete, whose recipe Augie’s follows. And a real live French Canadian who was there when I was said the poutine was legit — their fries are covered in gravy from Canadian chicken chain St-Hubert and squeaky local cheese curds from Oakdale cheese. 875 Potter Street, Berkeley — Caleb Pershan

For when the line at Z&Y Restaurant is just too long: I saw it at a distance — the huge crowd pouring out of Barack Obama’s favorite Chinatown destination, Z&Y Restaurant. Dinner at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night was so not happening. But I was able to sidle up to the bar at Z&Y Bistro across the street with no wait, and many of Z&Y’s most popular dishes — including the chicken with explosive chili and mapo tofu — are also available in the cozy, modern space. For something different and bistro-specific, try the Lanzhou noodles (called ramen on the menu, but ignore the nomenclature), with a rich but clear beef broth, shaved slices of beef, and chewy fresh noodles. 606 Jackson Street, San Francisco Janelle Bitker

For a low-key daytime omakase: Akikos Restaurant has long been a popular FiDi sushi destination, known for its fresh fish and elegant preparations in a very small, cozy environment. Lunchtime is no exception, and a great opportunity for a quick sashimi-fix. The 12-piece sashimi moriawase ($39) is a great way to consume buttery king salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and sea bream (or whatever else is good that day) without wading into . Add miso soup and a small plate like tender tako sunomono round it out. — Ellen Fort

January 11

For great drinks in a very deco atmosphere — Stookey’s Club Modern is one of the city’s best cocktail bars, if not its most widely praised, and it’s also a great little period piece you can drink in. The bar is designed in an art deco, Streamlined Moderne style of the 1930s, and the drinks and atmosphere reflect the post-prohibition period in which drinkers returned to the open to enjoy classic cocktails that hadn’t quite yet been forgotten. Stookey’s aviation cocktail (gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and lemon juice) is a great order. 835 Bush Street, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

For a pre-SFMOMA meal: The recent spats of rain has meant museum days, and just one block from the SFMOMA is the newish Oren’s Hummus. It made for a quick, light, and affordable lunch before getting lost in art. I especially enjoyed the hummus sabich bowl, which deconstructs the popular Israeli sandwich and throws its interiors — fried eggplant, tomato, cucumber, crispy potato, boiled egg, and pickles — on top of creamy hummus. Scoop it up with pita, load up on Oren’s red chili garlic sauce, and repeat. 71 3rd Street, San Francisco Janelle Bitker

For rich empanadas: During the long wait for their new 24th Street rum bar and restaurant Obispo, chef Seth Stowaway and team have had a lot of time to hone their menu, and you could safely say the empanadas have been perfected. They were on the menu at bar Agricole, but now you’ll only find them at Obispo. The beef and tomato in the ropas viejas version is incredibly deep and rich, and the crust is super buttery and satisfying. It’s cut with a dash of acidic chimichurri on top, but don’t skimp on the vinegar heavy hot sauce — or the rum, for that matter. 3266 24th Street, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

January 4

For serious chicken: My last restaurant meal of 2018 was lunch at Hawking Bird, a restaurant I’d never tried before. I think this place really nails the “we’re a serious restaurant but actually we have counter service” thing. The chicken wings were crispy, fiery, and pleasantly funky, and I loved both the barbecue chicken and array of greens underneath. I am envious of anyone who lives around here and can use Hawking Bird as a work lunch/afternoon beer-drinking spot. 4901 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland — Greg Morabito

For pristine XLB: Following in Greg’s footsteps, I’ll share my last restaurant meal of 2018: a dumpling feast at Bing’s Dumplings in Fremont. It’s a bit of a trek out to the East Bay city, but Bing’s makes it worthwhile. The plump xiao long bao are so full of hot, savory soup that’s it’s a wonder how they maintain their structural integrity — it’s owed to the just-right thickness of the wrapper, crimped delicately at the top. (Pet peeve: thick XLB knots.) If you’re considering waiting in line for forever at Din Tai Fung in San Jose, you could save time by driving straight to Fremont instead. 34360 Fremont Boulevard, FremontJanelle Bitker

For making and breaking new years resolutions: Jane the Bakery’s cafe locations on Fillmore and Larkin might seem like great places to start the new year on healthy ground, ordering items like chia bowls and green smoothies (with organic dino kale spinach, green apple, and cucumber blended together with lemon juice, a drop of agave, and ice). Not so fast. You, if you are actually me, will not be able to leave without raiding the pastry case for sweets like citrus brioche and cap’n crunch cookies (a dangerous spin on snickerdoodle). Beware. 2123 Fillmore Street and 925 Larkin Street, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

For surprising yet familiar Filipino flavors: I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve been to FOB Kitchen twice in the last two weeks. The restaurant offers Filipino dishes that taste traditional enough for purists to love, yet they’re packaged in a way that’s welcoming to all. My favorite dish is chef Janice Dulce’s take on ensalada talong, featuring cubes of roasted eggplant, crunchy jicama, and tomato, plus sea beans and crumbled rice cracker on top. I loved the vibrant flavors and textures, plus it offered a welcomed lightness to balance out the otherwise meaty meal. 5179 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland — Janelle Bitker

For group finger food: Tenderloin Ethiopian favorite Tadu was perfect for our party of six last night, our many hands reaching around the table for more injera (rolled sour bread) to pick up bites of juicy lamb cubes and rare titfo with warming berber spices throughout. For those who avoid the Tenderloin, note that Tadu opened a larger, more pristine space in Mission Bay. 484 Ellis Street, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan


December 14

For when you’re sick: The cold is going around and around, and for when it hits, you’re going to want soothing, flavorful-but-not-too-flavorful noodle soup. A good choice is the wonton noodle soup at Gum Kuo Restaurant in Oakland Chinatown, with its ideal broth, sturdy egg noodles, and soft dumplings. Top it off with silky roasted duck for extra heft. Gum Kuo’s congee (rice porridge) with doughnuts is another sick day winner. 388 9th Street, Suite 182, Oakland — Janelle Bitker

For dumpling comfort: After driving by the cart a million times running random errands, I finally decided to stop by the The Everest Momo truck parked at the Chevron station on the corner of University and Sacramento in Berkeley this week. It’s a decent-sized, semi-permanent trailer with a few plastic tables out front. The menu has a handful of non-momo items, including a few noodles, but I opted for the fresh chicken dumplings, nine to an order for around $8. It took about five minutes to prepare them, and there was no one in front of me. The finished product was a pile of pleasantly droopy-skinned dumplings stuffed with lightly-seasoned chopped chicken. Starchy, but delicious. A very neutral comfort food that goes in a completely different direction when you apply the chili-jam on top. Would order again! 1500 University Avenue, Berkeley — Greg Morabito

For squid ink that means something: I went back to Barvale this week and one bite in particular stood out: the fideua, a jumble of squid ink-saturated black noodles, decorated with bits of squid and a squiggle of smoky, peppery aioli. Sometimes squid ink is just for shock value on a menu because the dark color it imparts to food is so arresting, but here it actually brought a lot of umami and even some funkiness to the dish, which made it my favorite bite of the night. Barvale was also super loud when it opened and they seem to have put the sound system into check somehow, so I think the overall experience was improved. 661 Divisadero St, San Francisco — Carolyn Alburger (disclosure: Carolyn Alburger’s husband, consulting chef Blair Warsham, works with Barvale owner Adriano Paganini)

For a hot take on uni: The gonads of sea urchins have become the hottest ingredient on upscale menus across the country, in addition to the sushi restaurants that have long offered the creamy, briny delicacy. At Mourad, I recently consumed it atop a bowl of hot, lemony couscous, bringing temperature and texture into play, while a scattering of plump, sweet salmon roe give every bite a surprising pop of oceanic flavor. Gorgeous handmade couscous is always a must when dining at chef Mourad Lahlou’s restaurant, but this combination gave me a new appreciation for a now-ubiquitous luxury ingredient. 140 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco — Ellen Fort

For something sweet and kosher: There’s very little that’s kosher about sordid Sixth street in SoMa — with one exception: Frena Bakery. They’re coming off their Hanukkah rush, and yes, what brought me in this past weekend were their plump holiday doughnuts, or sufganiyot, filled with sweet-tart raspberry jam and dusted with powdered sugar. I could eat them year-round, but popping in this week was a nice reminder that Frena has a pretty extensive menu for all seasons, including highlights like rugelach, challah, and babka. 132 6th Street — Caleb Pershan

November 30

For top-notch, on-a-whim pasta: While the Bay Area is packed with excellent Italian restaurants, most of them require a good deal of advanced planning. If that’s not your forte, consider Belotti Bottega, the tiny market version of the East Bay’s top pasta destination. It serves the exact same pasta dishes as the restaurant, with several bar stools that always seem to be available. That means the same luxurious agnolotti stuffed with beef shank as well as the porky casoncelli in sage brown butter are within reach tonight. Don’t miss the lasagna, which is only sold at the bottega and is as fabulous as expected. 4001-B Piedmont Avenue, Oakland — Janelle Bitker

For a comforting breakfast on a rainy morning: The Piccino team’s counter-service cafe near Esprit Park in Dogpatch, Noon All Day, shines brightly even when all the tables are tucked inside because it’s started pouring again. This is a great place for a laptop lunch or casual breakfast. A particularly soothing choice is the “proper breakfast” with two poached eggs, braised butter beans, greens, toast, and pork belly or avocado. Baked goods like a delicate Taro-coconut danish with fresh basil are ambitious. 690 Indiana Street, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

For North Beach time travel: There are no cigars at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe, but plenty of smoky, grilled sandwiches cooked on Liguria focaccia behind the bar. The gigantic meatball (with gooey mozzarella) is the classic order, and can be split between two people if ordering a salad, too. The environment, a flatiron corner space, is a throwback, with old posters and people still reading actual newspapers. There’s espresso, coffee, wine, and thanks to the younger members of founder Mario Crismani’s family, several hip IPAs. But for the older crowd, there’s always Vov, a a traditional Italian liqueur you can get in your cappuccino. 566 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco — Caleb Pershan

For an all-you-can-eat adventure: Oakland’s Chinatown has many treasures, from dim sum at Peony to a banh mi at Cam Huong Bakery. One of its newer gems is Tastee Steam Kitchen, a sleek and modern steam restaurant (diners choose items to steam over a pot of rice that becomes a rich congee at the end). It also offers a great all-you-can-eat hot pot special at lunch, which is what I have come here to recommend. Go with some like-dieted friends and order as much pork belly, broccoli, lobster balls, tofu, noodles, quail eggs, and lamb shoulder as you desire to simmer in your choice of broth. There’s a serve yourself sauce bar with all the favorites, like ponzu, xo, and garlic/ginger, too. And, everybody gets a free boba tea with their meal. 329 11th St., Oakland — Ellen Fort

For nostalgic food in a modern setting: It’s probably not cool to suggest eating a place that has set a closing date (what if you get attached?), but that’s all the more reason to rush into Theorita for dinner right now. Start with one of chef Angela Pinkerton’s English muffin slathered with foie gras butter and Swanton Berry Farm strawberry jam, followed by meatloaf and buttered fries. And, of course end with pie (and a milkshake). Its last night of dinner service is December 15 (but it will stay open for coffee and pastries in the morning until December 24). 834 Divisadero St, San Francisco — Ellen Fort

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