2 Days in BA. Where would you eat like a local?

Some places I consider best in what they do that will be familiar to local HO/Chowhound/FTC folks, and from whom I’m sure I learned about most of these picks. Except for the kinds of places you see on top 10 lists, it’s worth starting a conversation about what to order.

La Cocina trained businesses:

  • Cambodian : Nyum Bai (Oakland)
  • Malaysian : Azalina’s (small menu, in SF’s multi-use the Market)
  • Mexican: El Buen Comer; Cosecha (Oakland)
  • Palestinian : Reem’s (flatbreads, OMG; Oakland, which also has the best ever baklava; also Saturday Ferry Building farmer’s market)

Ferry Building Farmer’s Market (Saturday morning):

  • Reem’s (Palestinian flatbreads)
  • La Primavera (Mexican, fresh masa items)
  • Roli Roti (porchetta sandwich)

California

  • Early 20th Century Bay Area : Tadich Grill (specifically for local seafood like sand dabs, rex sole), Swan Oyster Depot , Sottio Mare (cioppino)
  • Late 20th Century Bay Area: Zuni Cafe (Caesar salad; roast chicken with bread salad; see Jonathan Gold’s view)
  • Cal Hawaiian : Aina or Liholiho (make reservations if possible)
  • Cal-Ramen : Ramen Shop (Oakland)
  • Nor-Cal Burritos : Gallo Giro food truck (carnitas); La Taqueria (“crispy” carnitas burrito; don’t get the super)
  • Cal Italian: ask others, I’m not on top of current scene, but definitely something in this category
  • Deep dish pizza : Little Star (different, arguably better than Chicago; order the “brass monkey”)
  • Small plates: State Bird (reservation needed, or crazy long walk-in wait)

Middle Eastern & Central Asia

  • Afghani : explore Fremont
  • Palestinian : Reem’s (flatbreads, OMG; Oakland, which also has the best ever baklava; also Saturday Ferry Building farmer’s market)
  • Israeli-Iraqi : Frena bakery
  • Israeli : Oren’s Hummus (SF and various Peninsula locations, I like their hummus, don’t know about other stuff)
  • Uyghur (well, not Central Asia but worth two mentions on this list :slight_smile: ): Sama Uyghur (Fremont)

Latin American

  • Argentina : El Sur empanada food truck
  • Colombian : Milohas bakery (San Jose)
  • Mexico City: Los Carnalitos (al pastor tacos; Redwood City food truck; Hayward brick and mortar)
  • Mexican: El Buen Comer; Cosecha (Oakland); higher end places like Cala; El Molina Central (Boyes Hot Springs, Sonoma CA)
  • Nor-Cal Burritos : Gallo Giro food truck (carnitas); La Taqueria (“crispy” carnitas burrito; don’t get the super)
  • Tacos: Taqueria El Paisa@.com (Oakland)
  • Salvadoran : La Santaneca (cheese pupusas with loroco); La Palma Mexicatessen (well, it’s Mexican, but cheese pupusas with loroco)
  • Peruvian : I like Cholo Soy or El Aji in the Mission

European

  • French pastries : B Patisserie; Fournée Bakery (Oakland); Neighbor Bakehouse (crappy for parking)
  • French: Cafe Jacqueline for souffles (get one savory; one dessert)
  • Regional Italian : La Ciccia (Sardinian); punt to others
  • Pizza: a Bay Area strength, so many styles, punt to others. I’m partial to Pizzeria Delfina’s (SF; Burlingame)

Asian
The best Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese are probably in the South Bay, which others on the board are more familiar with.

  • Burmese: Grocery Cafe (Oakland)
  • Cambodian : Nyum Bai (Oakland)
  • Eclectic: Namu Gaji (okonomiyaki; Korean fried chicken)
  • Japanese : Ippuku (Yakitori in Berkeley; NOT Ippudo); Kemuri (smoky things, Redwood City)
  • Korean: I’d need to think. I like the East Bay Bowl’d / Mixed Grain (Walnut Creek) chain
  • Korean bakery: Sodam (Dublin; full disclosure a relative is an employee)
  • Lao: lots of options; punt to others for best in town
  • Malaysian : Azalina’s (small menu, in SF’s multi-use the Market)
  • Thai : Kin Khao; Hawker Fare
  • Vietnamese, Banh Mi: most popular places are more “great for the price”; for a few bucks extra, Cafe Bunn Mi (SF; South San Francisco); Banh Mi House (San Bruno Ave). Or Huong Lan chain in South Bay

Chinese

  • Shandong or generalist: Great China (great wine list; Berkeley);
  • Shaanxi: Terra Cotta Warrior
  • Sichuan: Royal Feast (Millbrae; classic dishes); more modern dishes elsewhere
  • Jiangnan: Jiangnan Cuisine
  • Uyghur : Sama Uyghur (Fremont)
  • Jiaozi (boiled dumplings) : Tasty Place
  • Hunan : Clarissa Wei thinks it’s stronger in SFBA than LA. I like Wonderful (Millbrae), but Fremont area places have some newer dishes too
  • Dim Sum: Dragon Beaux
  • Cantonese, Roasted meats: Ming Kee (pork neck)
  • Xiao long bao: Din Ding Dumpling (Fremont; also hand-pulled noodles)
  • Sheng Jian bao : I-Shanghai delight (Fremont; cooking uses a lot of sugar)
  • Egg custard tarts: Mr. Bread (see also Portuguese (not Asian) style one at Silva Bakery in Hayward)
  • Jian bing: Tai Chi Jian Bing

Pacific Islands
Lots of new Filipino places recently too throughout the Bay Area.

  • Cal Hawaiian : Aina or Liholiho (make reservations if possible)
  • Guam : Prubechu (I only went once, years ago, and thought it was great. Recent reports?)

African

  • Ethiopian : Cafe Colucci (Oakland; slow service, don’t go on weekend evening; ask for 100% tef injera; they have breakfast too) (Ed. for vegetarian dishes, for meat I don’t have a current pick).

Brunch (or breakfast)
(take with grain of salt as I’m not keen on breakfast/brunch)

  • 20th Century Cafe (knish, butterscotch drink, honey cake OMG);
  • Beauty’s Bagel Shop (Oakland; Montreal style bagels);
  • Tartine Manufactory
  • Brenda’s French Soul Food
  • The Mill (toasts)
  • Della Fattoria (Petaluma)

Desserts

  • Ice cream: Ice Cream Bar & Castro Fountain for milkshakes and vintage drinks; Humphrey Slocumbe or Bi-Rite for ice cream, go to front of line if getting takeout from freezer); Bi-Rite soft serve window (base by Double 8 dairy); Garden Creamery or Marco Polo for Asian flavors
  • Cake: 20th Century Cafe (honey cake)
  • Donuts: Donut Savant (Oakland), Arlequin (filled brioche doughnuts)

Other

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You should be a food tour guide. Tremendous.

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@mariacarmen just reviewed Prubechu.

https://missionlocal.org/2018/05/prubechu-guam-in-the-house/

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I’ll chime in on the Lao restaurants, most of them marketing themselves as Lao/Thai. For me, there are many with strengths.
Chai Thai is my most frequented, partially because I live nearby, but also because the menu is broad and appeals to me, with few misses. The Kao Soi Thai is always good, and their rice ball salad (nam kao) is a must order at any of the Lao places. They also have a sister restaurant, the Saap Avenue, in a fancier neighborhood with prices to match, but they don’t dumb down the flavor and offer interesting cocktails.
Vientian Cafe has the best nam kao and the best Lao sausage (sai ooa). The menu is long, and stuffed with a bunch of misses, like their plainer noodles soups, but also a lot of authentic Lao dishes with strong fermented flavors like the Lao papaya salad or bamboo stew. Their larb is good, and you have the option of getting tripe in you beef larb.
Most will mention Champa Garden as the best. It is consistently very good, but for me it has a more limited menu and often has a wait. It is nice to be able to order the sausages and rice ball salad (along with some okay spring rolls) as a single appetizer, and I also like their kao poon quite a bit.
I haven’t mentioned any in SF because I haven’t been to any that remain open, though there is a branch of Champa Garden there too.

For Ethiopian I’ll add that I like Enssaro best all-around. The vegetarian sampler at Cafe Colucci is a favorite of mine, largely because of the mustardy Azifa. Recently I’ve found myself stoping by across the street at Barcote more, as their meat dishes are in my opinion the best spiced of the area restaurants.

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If the OP is in Central California a lot, one option also is to explore the Laos eateries in Fresno. After SFBA, Fresno also has a substantial population from Laos, and substantial Hmong population.

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Ensarro used to be my tops but I had a meh meal, jeez, two or so years back, and so did @Lethe2020 so I haven’t been back. If I can distract myself from focusing on Chinese cuisines when I’m not in SF, I should check out Barcote and revisit Ensarro.

AFAIK the menu (and quality of the food) at Champa Garden in SF pretty much mirrors the Oakland original, and I agree the Lao sampler is the best thing to start with.

As you intimated, a lot of Lao food hides on Thai menus. Tycoon Thai is a favorite of mine, with a strong Lao side to the menu and bargain pints of craft beer. They are also very helpful in guiding you to the Lao specialties.

Since Maneelap Srimongkoun closed (almost as soon as I could spell the name without looking it up) the only place in SF to fly the Lao flag proudly (get your act together, Vinya!) is the upscale Lao Table. It’s pricey, though. with most of the entrees (and noodle soups) in the $20s. I’m waiting until my birthday to get someone to treat me to the $28.95 King Crab Khao Poon.

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You’ve listed Gallo Giro under burritos; I’ve never had one there, but their tacos are exceptional, probably the best I’ve had in the Bay Area. (Walking distance to Humphrey Slocombe, La Palma, and La Torta Gorda – can you tell I rely on public transit?)

I would mention Smitten under ice cream. I don’t think their flavours are as intense or varied as other places, but the texture is exceptional (made to order using liquid nitrogen). It’s cheaper at the Rockridge location.

Nyum Bai is exceptional, in a way I wish Kin Khao was.

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Hey all, thanks so much for this thread. I’ve missed reading your thoughts, as we haven’t been to SFBA for four years (!) but are planning to rectify that in November. I’m already doing early reconnaissance because I’m so excited. Glad to see some old faves popping up and collecting newer names that look promising.

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Yay, I’ve always enjoyed your research and write up posts, and look forward to more! Ha, I’d been wondering whether you’d just been visiting on the downlow :slight_smile:

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The difference between a ground up versus top a down approach to revealing the soul of an immigrant cuisine.

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I am looking forward to your reports! You seem to know more about Bay Area than we do!

@grayelf: I’ve also wondered if you’d given up on the SF Bay Area, good to know you’ll be visiting in Nov! Looking forward to reading your trip report! :blush:

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Updating souperman’s March 2017 post of the Guardian reviewer:

• Alta and Alfred’s are now closed. Verbena turned into Reverb in 2015 and then closed in 2016

• Chef Yoni Levy of Outerlands has just left as of June 2018

• Isn’t RicePaperScissors/SF strictly pop-up? This is according to their current website (2018Aug).

Updating mariacarmen March 2017 post:

• Hawker Fare is now closed in Oakland.

Updating hyperbowler Aug 4, 2018 post:

• French bakery: Fournée is in Berkeley, top of Ashby Ave.

• The new Rotha Patisserie on San Pablo Ave. in Albany is better, but very tiny kitchen so he sells out – often within 1/2 hr of opening!

++++

I’m surprised no one mentioned any of the Burmese restaurants, which can be found in SF, Oakland and Alameda.

For hyperbowler and all fans of Ethiopian/Eritrean, I will first say I am not a fan of Colucci. Stir-frying and EVOO just don’t ‘float my boat’, although their shiro is outstanding and I wish other restaurants would copy their excellent non-alcoholic drink menu. We have found two outstanding restaurants. Both have the gutsy, spicy, long-braised flavors we love about these cuisines:

• Injera/Alameda. Easy parking. Not as pretty a DR as Lemat, but equally good food. Portions are generous. Several fish dishes, not often found on these menus.

• Lemat/Berkeley. Lovely DR with coffee service area, but parking is a major b***h. It is right near the Ashby BART station and there are red zones all over the neighboring streets. Just take public transit and make it easy on yourself. Like Injera, great full-bodied, rich flavors.

. Lastly, I’d suggest Temple Club/Oakland for Vietnamese. We hate the rising levels of sugar in Asian/SE Asian cuisine; half the menus now taste like dessert gone wild. Chef-owner Deetz makes food with the kind of flavor profile we remember from 40 yrs ago, when our Vietnamese friend first took us to restaurants and had to do all the translating because almost none of the owners or staff spoke English!

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Oh I don’t think so! But I do love to research and try out places when I travel.

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I’m so sorry to read your last graf, Lethe. We have long suffered with the Invasion of the Asian Sugar Bombs here in Vancouver for Thai food, and recently it has started in South Indian food restos (I just had the most disgusting shrimp curry that was so sweet and yet fishy I couldn’t eat more than a mouthful). I’ve pretty much given up trying Thai on our trips to Portland for the same reason, though Lao seems to avoid that pitfall there. Was hoping the Bay Area was immune.

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I could see how the average neighborhood Thai restaurant in Portland might not be very good. But if you haven’t tried it yet, Hat Yai in NE Portland is definitely not too sweet - and often blazing hot.

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You aren’t the first person to suggest Hat Yai to me. I’m contemplating giving it a try. We had such a lame meal at Lang Baan at the beginning of all the hype that I haven’t been inclined to try another Ninsom endeavour. Hmmm…

That’s disappointing. I haven’t been to Langbaan, and based on this report I probably won’t be taking the risk until I’ve tried the cheaper PaaDee first. At Hat Yai I think we had the Southern Thai ground pork and the oxtail soup, the latter of which I think was even spicier despite not being listed as such on the menu.

(Also, for what it’s worth, I didn’t think the meal I had at Pok Pok was all that impressive.)

For me the worst example of this for Thai in SF is the wildly popular (why??) Farmhouse Thai. Everything is way too sweet.

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Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, Yuanyang County, Yunnan
Credit: inkelv1122, Flickr