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Dec 29, 2006 12:37 AM

San Rafael - The Loop (Bellan/Kerner) – Brazil Marin, West Brooklyn Pizza, pupusas, markets, delis, etc ???

I got lost in San Rafael today. The food gods were warning me. The joint I was hell-bent on eating at was horrid. I have a feeling I would have done better in this area.

So, tell me if there are some finds in this area.

I did stop by Brazil Marin which is actually a good Brazilian market. They have a nice selection of groceries, Brazilian cheeses/cold cuts, frozen meats/sausages, frozen cheese bread (two types), and a nice selection of those little bottled peppers.

They even had Hellman’s mayonnaise ... by way of Brazil. I was tempted, but it seemed a little looser than regular mayo ... maybe next time. They have a nice selection of Brazilian coffee and I picked up some that I haven’t tried before. Things look fresh here and not dusty. No prepared food.

Near the loop on Anderson there is West Brooklyn Pizza. There are a few positive one-line mentions on Chowhound and generally favorable reviews on the web. It seems like this place is owned by a Brazilian too. They have Sicilian pizza from what I read and the regular sausage pizza is supposed to be good . I have to be in San Rafael again tomorrow and am thinking of stopping by. Any recs?

I really was pressed for time, but I stopped by Los Palmares on Kerner because it had a certain promising look to it and a truck from a meat market catering to South Americans was in the lot. Pretty straight-forward Mexican menu. They mention pupusas. Other interesting stuff was the prawns rancheros (tomato, pepper, onion, white wine, butter), prawns El Palmar (crème white wine, peppers, butter ... the menu says “special good taste”). Taco/torta fillings include: chili Colorado, al pastor, carnitas, lengua, chorizo, cabeza, chile verde, chicken, asada, birria, pollo asada,k & tripa. Anyone tried this place?

How about some of the other joints in this area?

- Michael’s Sourdough
- Tom & Daves Specialty coffees
- Foodles Café
- Yo Shan’s sushi bar & Mandarin Cuisine
- Playa Azul Mariscos
- Picante
- Bellan Produce & Fresh Meat
- More For Less (looks like a Mexican Market)
- Oscar’s Taco & Deli
- California Bakery & Restaurant (Chinese I assume from the Chinese/Korean writing on the sign ... they advertise $4 lunch specials)
- Smokey’s Deli
- Ping’s Mandarin (well ... close by ... off of Anderson)

I finally found my way out, I’m sure that there has to be more in this area. Anything good?

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  1. I've been to some of those places and more in that area. Here's what I think...

    - Taqueria Familia [Bellam shopping center) - Not on your list. Very good taqueria. Their Ceveche Tostada is great (a simple, cheap thing, not an elaborate version). I also like their "regular" soft tacos a lot with any of the meats, except for the prawns one which was pretty poor so I skip that one.

    - Michael’s Sourdough. Really, an institution by now. Many "pre-configured" sandwiches, made to order, on a sourdough roll that Michael has made for them (pretty good sourdough flavor and a very thin crispy crust so it's good for a sandwich). Many of their sandwiches do "work". I like one of them once in a while. The line moves fast. Give it a try.

    - Tom & Daves Specialty coffees. Coffee-drinking people I knew in a neighboring business (now gone) swore that Tom & Daves coffee was the best they had ever tasted. I don't drink (or like) coffee so that's pure hearsay.

    - Foodles Café. Many years ago Foodles was somewhat special, but that day has long since gone. Owners changed and it's pretty poor now (and I hear it has been poor for quite a while).

    - Picante. Another pretty good taqueria. I stick to their tacos (burritos are just too big and have too many beans for me) and like them. They have chicken adobado which is hard to find here (I think might be Southwestern and not Mexican).

    - Oscar’s Taco & Deli. I've stopped there a few times and liked the tacos. It's very Mexican.

    - California Bakery & Restaurant. I haven't had their lunch special in a long time, but it was never anything other than just barely OK and cheap.

    - Ping’s Mandarin. I've never been there but do dimly recall reading something good about it somewhere. I keep meaning to try it but haven't yet.

    - Smokey’s Deli (Smoky's Sandwich Shop in Google results). I went there once over a year ago and thought it was pretty bad. Can't remember why.

    - Viking Submarine Sandwiches (1121 Francisco Blvd E, right on the loop). I like this place from time to time, but haven't been there recently. Their subs are pretty good, much better than the terrible ones that are so common in most sub places. I did find one very bad 2006 review of it on Yahoo.

    - Le Croissant (150 Bellam Blvd #210). I've only been once and had a decadent breakfast sandwich on one of their large croissants. A lot of local business people like it (one took me there).

    6 Replies
    1. re: Mick Ruthven

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up. Yeah, my chow radar was REALLY off today. I did see Le Croissant and didn't even bothered to note it because ... come on ... Le Croissant. There you go, never make assumptions based on

      Although Oscar's did look the most promising based on the fact that is had a certain 'air de dive' about it.

      I'm getting more hyped about West Brooklyn Pizza and unless I hear otherwise, probably will stop by for a slice.

      1. re: rworange

        It's been awhile since Le Croissant, but I recall a creamed spinach dish (omelette?) that was really good -- husband gagged -- but enjoyed his sausage and eggs. Good breakfast dishes.

        1. re: rworange

          Please report on West Brooklyn Pizza. I did stop there right after they opened and ordered a slice which took forever to get and wasn't worth the wait. But that was a long time ago and not worth considering now, especially since I tend to get cranky if I have to wait too long for food.

          1. re: Mick Ruthven

            I generally like West Brooklyn and prefer it over the other pizza places in Marin. They serve a thin-crust NY style pizza with good sausage (if requested). I usually order a whole pie well done so that the bottom is crispy.
            They offer slices which are from pre-made cheese only pies. ($2.50 each? without toppings.)
            If you want a topping, they add that and put in back into the oven for reheating. As a result, the slice usually has a crispy bottom. You may want to add more cheese if you like it cheesey. Its a small place with perhaps five booths, a couple of tables in the middle and a counter which seats 8 or so. When its on, it is good pizza - simple but decent.

            1. re: Bob Copeland

              Ditto for west Brooklyn Pizza. It is the first Pizza joint we hit up with our Marin Express card each year!

              1. re: Bob Copeland

                "Simple but decent"

                I think that sums it up ... and yeah, do order it well-done. I didn't.

                You know, I looked at it and didn't want to like it ... it's an example of an average NY slice, not the type that rings my chow bells.

                BUT, the thin (very blond) piece with a thin smear of sauce and layer of cheese was ok. A Neopolitan slice is $2.10 with toppings 50 cents each.

                My ideal NY slice is more in line with Parry's in American Canyon.

                I actually preferred the Sicilian slice ... a thick, soft Italian-bready slice with the thin sauce/cheese topping. $2.30. For some reason the sauce had a more pronouced garlicy taste on the Sicilian.

                But, uh, what's the good sausage? Are there two types? The sausage and the meatball is the type that is thin-sliced like pepperoni. The sausage and meatball didn't taste too much different.

                Here's the on-line menu

                So any comments on the calzone, pastrami, rueben, egg creme, lasgana, or garlic rolls?

                The owner said the brand of pastrami is Charles Pride which he thought was good. I've had a little too much pastrami lately, so if there's a good report, maybe in the future.

                Is the Gotta Havit ice cream made by a nearby company on Kerner any good?

                The owner is from Brazil, but nothing Brazilian on the menu. He said he tried a Brazilian pizza a while back but it didn't go over in Marin so he stuck to NY classic.

                A few posts about Sicilian pizza got me thinking about that style.

        2. Is there any reason for not mentioning Le Croissant on Bellam?

          10 Replies
          1. re: chilihead2006

            Oh, it just had a cheesy chain look and name to it. Guess I was wrong.

            1. re: rworange

              I think it's the best breakast and lunch place in Marin. Everything is homemade on premises, including some awesome pastries and croissants. The omelettes are huge, so my wife and I will split one. Best spinach omelette I ever had....but it's not the same as the creamed spinach omelette mentioned above which I've never tried. The spinach is dispersed throughout the omelette instead of just a big ol' lump of spinach in the middle....which is also fine by me.

              Their sandwiches are great...I'm partial towards their bay shrimp and avocado sandwich on grilled homemade have to request they grill the homemade bread. Yum!! All the soups I've had there are very good....very good french onion soup.

              A solid and unpretentious place.

              1. re: chilihead2006

                Wow ... thanks. I may eat here instead of the pizza place ... like I said chow radar was off ... maybe due to a lingering cold ... there was nothing I could do right food-wise today ... and I was searching around for homemade bread ... I like (liked) Mollie Stones bread and then I read the ingrediant list today ... not so good, lots of junk in it.

                A few other positive mentions on Chowhound (same person, different comments)

                If I don't get there tommorrow, maybe Saturday when I was planning to give the awful restaurant I was at today another chance by trying something else. Le Crossoint sounds better.

                1. re: rworange

                  Just as reminder in this flurry of info, do try the Ceveche Tostada at Taqueria Familia.

                  1. re: rworange

                    >the awful restaurant I was at today

                    How about elaborating a bit?

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Yeah ... reading my hateful Dolce V post I have to calm down a bit before writing about it ... cuz honestly the service at MMWC was some of the warmest I've ever encountered ... but almost everything else was a major disappointment ... major. People were commenting favorably about the wraps ... though visually they weren't ringing chow bells for me ... and the place was full and everyone on Check Please raved. I am hoping that perhaps brunch might be better ... just SKIP the Cubano ... really. If you google there is a negative blog entry about it which doesn't come close to doing it justice ... yeah ... gotta put off writing this for a while until my more noble instincts kick in ... or I try something good there.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Thanks for the taking one for the team in the update dept.

                          P.S. pls check your email.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I'll second Sharuf's plug for the MAC sandwich. We're still working our way around their menu. Specifying homemade bread with their sandwiches costs an additional $1, and if you have them "grill" it (not toast it), I think you'll be a happy camper.

                        Their soups have a taste and style of their own, eg. their veggie based soups usually have a hearty consistency probably obtained by giving it a few hits with the ol' boat motor....a healthier way of thickening a soup than adding cream. I'll often just order a bowl of soup for lunch, which comes with a slab of the homemade bread.

                2. - Michael’s Sourdough -- really good sandwiches. Big enough to share.

                  - Yu Shan’s -- classier than your usual cheap Chinese dive. Their wonton soup is outstanding.

                  - Picante -- my favorite Mexican taco counter.

                  - More For Less -- don't bother

                  - Ping’s Mandarin -- Good in the Marin Chinese kind of way (cliche offerings aimed at white folks' expectations). It's the only place I've found that includes mu shu pork on their cheap lunch menu. Ping is a jolly fellow.

                  - Le Croissant is IMO the best breakfast place in Marin. A latte and one of their monster croissants will set you up for the day. Their eggs are fine and their hash browns are wonderful. For a price you can sub in a croissant for the toast. For lunch try their M.A.C. sandwich: a grilled sandwich containing mushrooms, avocado and cheese. When weather permits you can sit outside and watch the no hay greencard guys across the street waiting for gigs to show up.

                  1. RW, for someone who was in a hurry you seemed to have radared every place in the area, more than I did when my office was on Kerner for 3 years. A friend of mine owned the place The Pleasure is Mine so I ate there the most (now the tacqueria La Famiglia (?)) but I hit up the other ones enough to offer the following random thoughts:

                    Yu Shang, pretty good for a Chinese / Sushi hybrid. Henry, the old sushi guy moved on but rolls and fish are good if not stellar. Very affordable sushi bar. I also like eating Chinese in the dining room and the think the quality is above average. I like that you can get egg rolls with meat. Non traditional I know but a good change from the usual cabbage, onion, carrot goop in a tube.

                    Michaels Sourdough. Ate there once ~ remember it as ok but expensive for a sandwich, chips and soda.

                    Picante ~ very good with nice zippy salsa on the tables and good tortilla soup and chicarron tacos (not in sauce) (both run as specials) Great nachos if you are with a group but they won't do half orders. Good carnitas, and I love the mosaics and how clean it is.

                    Brooklyn Pizza ~ ok but I liked the hot sandwiches more than the pizza

                    Viking Sub does great hot breakfast egg sandwiches and will give you little cups of kim chee (or 2) if you ask.

                    Pings ~ ate their once, hated the gristly meat, greasy mouthfeel and bland mound of rice. Yu Shang much better for lunch rice plates.

                    It will be interesting to see what new owners do with the old Art's Pier 15.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: foodfan

                      Pier 15 -- Is that place changing hands AGAIN?

                      The bar has gotta be Marin's funkiest - hope they don't change it.

                      Love sitting out on their deck and looking at the boats and birds.

                      1. re: Sharuf

                        Good heaven's even I wouldn't get lost enough to have known about Pier 15. It seems like people involved in Mama's SF and Orsi's will own it ... hey, Mama's breakfasts with a water view and parking ... that sounds promising ... and breakfast available all day.

                        From the Orsi side " house-made prosciutto (the curing hams will hang in the dining room) and, in season, heirloom tomato dishes made with more than 30 varieties of organic tomatoes Orsi grows himself"

                        Then they will have Trader Vic's Mai Tai using the original recipe.

                        The review mentions another joint that Orsi opened elsewhere. Googling around it seems to have promise.

                        Anyone been to Pier 15 since they re-opened in October?

                        Also thanks all for all these great tips ... hmmm ... 5am cream turnovers in Mill Valley, eh?

                      2. re: foodfan

                        Yu Shang, pretty good for a Chinese / Sushi hybrid. Henry, the old sushi guy moved on

                        It is good - like prawns with candied walnuts.

                        Didn't Henry move to Sushi to Dai For?

                      3. I guess it is *still* technically San Rafael... Mulberry Pizza on Smith Ranch road is worth checking out, but quite a hike away from downtown San Rafael. Mick talked about it recently here: Absolutely no atmosphere, but very solid pies and good salads. Also there is a movie theater across the street to make it worth the hike up.

                        Having just moved to the area, it is a bit depressing the lack of interesting food in San Rafael. I'm going to start spending more time going north, as almost everyone has raved about Petaluma's offerings.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: Tatum

                          Gosh Tatum, I was just thinking that the surface hasn't been scratched in San Rafael. Going down 4th Street there were tons of places I was dying to try ... but people just don't seem to report on that area.

                          Most of it isn't upscale ... so if you are looking for places like downtown Sonomo ... the girl & the fig type joints, not so much.

                          Have you been to Sol Food?. I prefer Mambo next door, but it is a little less attuned to Bay area esthetics. Mollie Stone is just GREAT ... it is my favorite store in that area so far ... until you get to Sonoma Market.

                          Strawberry shopping center in Marin is getting some interesting places including Boulangerie by the Bay Bread people. There's a new Chinese restaurant in there called Harmony. Not sure if it is open or not yet.

                          Also, not a restaurant, but the Sunday Marin farmers market is the equal of Ferry Plaza ... maybe a notch below, but still very good.

                          For a nice breakfast fix, scoot just over the San Rafael bridge, pay the $4 toll and the first stop in Point Richmond has Hidden City Cafe which is owned by an Alum of Chez Panisse ... and it shows.

                          I had breakfast at Le Croissant today in San Rafael and it is every bit as good as everybody says ... it has a VERY 60's diner vibe ... but in a VERY good way ... it matches all those favorable memories of that time ... but not so much the croissants (sorry Shuruf) ... but the house-baked grilled sweet French bread is fabulous.

                          Have you driven over to San Anselmo and tried some of the places there? Have you given the town of Fairfax a try? What about Larkspur? Have you been to Emporio Rulli or the pizza place whose name is escaping me right now.

                          Lots of great stuff on that side of the Bay which I'm sure you'll find as you get more settled in ... happy chowing.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Glad to hear you enjoyed Le Croissant. We eat there 2-3 times a week.

                            Having lived for several years in New Orleans, I sense there's some Southern/Creole influence in the somehow takes me back to those incredible hole-in-the-wall eateries that New Orleans and southern Louisiana are so famous for. Even the simplest dishes taste great down there....or should I say "especially the simplest dishes".

                            1. re: chilihead2006

                              Thought the place was good enough to deserve its own post.

                              Maybe you can answer my questions there.

                            2. re: rworange

                              Sorry, I guess I was being a bit too negative last night. I didn't mean to say that there are NO great food places in the Rafe, just that I feel some of my 'hounding efforts have been a let down. I'm pretty familiar with most of the San Anselmo and Larkspur places, and probably need to spend more time in Fairfax. Also, I'm as close to Novato as I am to downtown San Rafael, so I may be in the awkward middle. I was just saying I need to head more North than South. I love Sol Food, Mollie Stone's and Le Croissant! Thanks for the tip on the breakfast place, as we've been trolling around trying to find a good one. I'll check it out.

                              1. re: Tatum

                                Oh yeah, that is an akward middle location and I'd head north in that case too. Hidden City in Pt Richmond might be a stretch for breakfast. In your general location, I'd use it as a breakfast stop if I was on my way to Berkeley. If you do stop by Point Richmond, take a drive through the tunnel for some spectacular and different views of the Bay.

                                1. re: Tatum

                                  If/when you're in San Rafael, you might want to give Johnny & Teresa's a try for b-fast -- kinda next to Royal Frankfurter where you should stop for one someday soon. All are downtown on 4th/Lincoln-ish.

                                  1. re: Sarah

                                    Oooh! Royal Frank- I can't pass up their cheesefurters when in the area- the ROLLS (not sad, limp buns) are toasted on the griddle. And the little couple that owns the place is so sweet!

                              2. re: Tatum

                                Try a pastry cream turnover about 5 am at the bakery next to the theater in downtowm Mill Valley....just out of the oven....ohmygawd....

                                1. re: Tatum

                                  It's been absolutely forever since I've stopped by Northgate Mall- but is the thai place still there? Jhan Thong- you'd never expect to find food like this in a food court!

                                  1. re: sweet ginger

                                    I tried it about 3 years ago. I had to stifle a scream of horror when I saw my order of roast duck come out of the microwave, and the beef salad was awful too.

                                    I liked Thep Lela much more, the one time I tried it. but that was about 3 years ago too.

                                    1. re: sweet ginger

                                      It's still there and it's still popular. I like their Vegetable curry very much, and their little eggrolls and their BBQ chicken. Don't care for their fishballs. Their pad tai isn't bad for steam table noodles.