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May 14, 2008 12:21 PM

"Rare" ethnic eats in SF?

Hi..I'll be visiting from Chicago later this week. Have been to SF once before and quite enjoyed it. Wherever I go, I like trying types of ethnic food that I can't easily find here (ie. not Indian, Chinese, Greek, Vietnamese, etc).

Have skimmed the archives and seen a few recs for Burmese food. Any suggestions?

Also any other "rare" ethnic restaurants in SF or easy access via BART? (think Kenyan or Bolivian rather than Italian or Japanese). Thanks.

Unrelated, but on my first trip there I didn't get around to having cioppino. Any specific recommendations for "best cioppino in SF"?

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  1. Which of these are most interesting to you? This is my full list, not edited for your particular request (obviously someone from Chicago doesn't need to eat Polish while here). Many but not all are readily accessible by public transportation.

    - Afghani
    - Argentinian
    - Basque
    - Basque tapas
    - Belgian
    - Brazilian
    - Burmese
    - Cambodian
    - Cameroonian
    - Chifa (Peruvian Chinese)
    - Chiuchow / Chaozhou / Teo Chow / Chinjiew
    - Cuban
    - Ethiopian / Eritrean
    - Filipino
    - Guatemalan
    - Hakka
    - Korean
    - Lao / Laotian
    - Muslim / Islamic Chinese
    - Nicaraguan
    - Nigerian
    - Peking-style Chinese
    - Persian
    - Peruvian
    - Polish
    - Indian pizza
    - Neapolitan-style pizza
    - Pakistani
    - Persian
    - Peruvian
    - Puerto Rican
    - Salvadorean
    - Sardinian
    - Shanghai
    - Singapore / Malaysian
    - Sichuan / Szechuan
    - Taiwan / Taiwanese
    - Taiwanese-style Sichuan
    - Tibetan
    - northern Thai
    - Turkish
    - Vietnamese bahn mi
    - northern Vietnamese
    - Xinjiang
    - Yucatan / yucatecan

    22 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Burmese, Cameroonian, Chifa, Hakka, Laotian, Nicaraguan, Salvadorean

      1. re: Chartrand

        Cameroonian, Taste of Africa, a few blocks from Ashby BART in Berkeley.

        Chifa, not great but Chifa Peruano.

        Hakka, Ton Kiang at dinner (at lunch it's dim sum), research to know which dishes to order.

        Laotian, Champa Garden in Oakland, 1.5 mile walk from Lake Merritt BART.

        Nicaraguan, La Nicaragua, see also:


        Champa Garden
        2102 8th Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

        Ton Kiang
        5821 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

        Asian Restaurant - Chifa Peruano
        5173 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94112

        A Taste of Africa
        3015 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA

        Nicaragua Restaurant
        3015 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          You what up... according to the most recent San Francisco magazine article... S.F. is a hot bed for Mexican regional cuisine including Michoacan & Oaxacan... but not on your list? Yeah I know... those Magazine writers are paid to overblow things.

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            The only mention of Oaxaca I find in those articles is a statement that the Mi Pueblo supermarket in Fruitvale stocks "the quintessentially Oaxacan herb chepiche."

            I started a topic on the Michoacano places:


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              He calls Tacubaya more or leass a Oaxacan bastion.

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                Ah, I missed that little extra article. I guess they have a few Oaxacan-inspired dishes.

            2. re: Eat_Nopal

              I believe Chicago is pretty strong in Mexican cuisines, though I'm not sure which states/areas.

              1. re: Xiao Yang

                Chicago is fairly strong in the cuisines of Jalisco Highlands, Aguascalientes, Guerrero Hotlands... and I am sure a few more places.... they don't have much Oaxacan, Yucatecan, Veracruz etc., however .

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  We don't have significant amounts of Oaxacan, either -- at least, probably not significantly more than Chicago -- but Yucatecan has become a surprising strength in the last few years.

                  I don't know how many meals the poster has available here, but I'd make Burmese a priority. I think it's the one ethnic cuisine that the Bay Area definitively has more of than anywhere in the US. Plus, its signature dishes are quite distinctive, not just slight variations from more familiar cuisines. Here's a thread discussing a request for Burmese from another visitor:

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I agree. No idea what the selection for Burmese food is like in Chicago, but San Francisco is doing it really well. It's also a good way to sample Burmese versions of dishes normally found on Chinese and Indian menus.

                2. re: Xiao Yang

                  You can also scratch out Polish. San Francisco really doesn't have any worth speaking of. Chicago does.

                3. re: Eat_Nopal

                  San Francisco or Oakland? I get the sense one has to travel outside SF proper for good regional Mexican. Of course, BART does stop at Fruitvale...

                  1. re: a_and_w

                    There's good Yucatecan in SF, which SF Mag got right.

                    The articles also claimed that there's a "Little Michoacan" in Redwood City (dubious) and that Tacubaya in Berkeley is heavily influenced by Oaxacan cuisine (exaggerated at best).

                    For a serious Oaxacan menu you need to schlep a fair distance north or south:



                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Actually, the Little Michoacan in Redwood City is quite well documented, both on this board and in other places. It's a bit of an interesting story -- most of the people are from the same two towns in Mexico:

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        I started a topic about that, since I was unable to find any reports in the archive about the places mentioned in the SF Mag article:


                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I think all the dishes mentioned in that thread are also made in Jalisco and DF.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              So? No one said that they were offering uniquely Michoacan specialties, just that (1) there is a Little Michoacan, and (2) there are various food establishments there. See my comments on the other thread.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                As Eat Nopal alluded to in the post that sparked this thread, the SF Mag articles he referenced claim to be about "outstanding Bay Area restaurants and mercados devoted to the authentic flavors of six Mexican states," specifically Michoacán in Redwood City, Yucatan in SF, and "a cosmopolitan mash-up of origins: Mexico City, Michoacán, Hidalgo, and especially Jalisco" in Oakland.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Unfortunately on a chow dimesnsion, Aguililla & Apatzingan are to Morelia & Uruapan as Watsonville is to San Francisco... not the most exciting taste buds, availability of ingredients, or diversity in techniques.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Not sure I follow your simile, but the article says that Aguililla, Apatzingan AND Uruapan contribute to the Mexican population of Redwood City. And are you saying Watsonville doesn't have availability of ingredients? I think they grow more than just artichokes around there.

                  1. I've enjoyed Bissap Baobab, which serves Senegalese. It's about mid-way between the 16th/Mission and 24th/Mission Bart Stations, which I would consider reasonably accessible.

                    Bissap Baobab
                    2323 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    1. It might be worth stopping by Alemany Farmer's Market if you can make it there early enough on Saturday. You can get excellent pupusas and some other Salvadoran specialties at Estrellita's stand, and you can pick up some excellent seasonal produce (cherries, strawberries, etc) which isn't plentiful yet in Chicago.

                      The Ferry Building farmer's market is also on Saturday, where you can visit the Primavera stand for great Mexican. Also can find great produce here.

                      33 Replies
                      1. re: Dave MP

                        Getting to Alemany Market is a PITA without a car, though.

                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                          That's true, but it's not *that* hard either. Take the 9 bus right there from downtown, or take BART to 24th St or Glen Park and then catch a bus or cab from there. It's no harder to get to than the Richmond, and people suggest places like Aziza and Burma Superstar all the time.

                          1. re: Dave MP

                            "It's no harder to get to than the Richmond, and people suggest places like Aziza and Burma Superstar all the time."

                            As much of a booster of Alemany Market as I am, I find that claim a bit disingenuous. Headways to the Richmond are much better, and getting from the bus to Aziza or Burma Superstar is as simple as crossing the street, compared to the maze you have to traverse to get from the #9 bus to the Alemany Market.

                            I've been pitching a shuttle from UN Plaza and Chinatown to the Alemany Market on Saturdays, but noone wants to listen.

                            1. re: Dave MP

                              Aziza and other Richmond restaurants are one ride on a very frequent bus that's a straight shot from downtown hotels, and Clement's an interesting street for a walk.

                              To get to the Alemany market you have to connect to the 23 or, as Xiao Yang says, find your way there under the freeway from where the 9 drops you on Bayshore. There's nothing else in that area, there are other farmers markets that are much more accessible by public transportation, and there are many more convenient places to get pupusas.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                It's true that there are more convenient places to get pupusas, though the ones at the Alemany Market are made to order and are some of the best I've had in San Francisco.

                                I think we'll have to agree to disagree on the Number 9 bus issue - if you know where to get off, it is not at all hard to get to the market. It involves walking one block under the freeway - dozens of people do this every Saturday, and when I've taken the 9 to Alemany, there are usually other people walking back to the bus carrying big bags of produce, which makes the path pretty obvious. It may not be the prettiest walk, but it's literally one block away on a sidewalk that goes under the freeway. Just because the 9 goes to a less-familiar and less-desirable neighborhood does not make it "maze-like" or more difficult, and IMNSHO think the OP could handle it.

                                1. re: Dave MP

                                  Which stop do you get off?

                                  For someone on a short visit, I still wouldn't recommend it, since there's nothing else of interest down there.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    For more than a year, I've gone to the Alemany market every week, via bus. I take the 24 Divisadero, which lets me off at the end of Cortland. I have also taken the 23 and 67; both are equally easy.

                                    Usually I get there between 7:30 and 8:30, I have yet to be on a bus without other people who were taking it to go to the market. It's a 2 minute walk.

                                    1. re: pane

                                      I used to take Muni (the 67) to that market too, when I lived in the Mission. It's just not an excursion I'd recommend to someone on a short second visit to SF.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Depends on the tourist, probably. I've had people visit and go wild over Alemany, mostly people who were purposefully avoiding a "tourist" feel (like you might get at the FB) and very much wanted to do a market like a local. Some people I'd take to FB and not Alemany.

                                        Because Alemany's my home market, I rarely visit Civic Center or Fillmore or Noe or the others, so I can't compare. But I can say for sure I've led some happy tours through the stalls at Alemany.

                                        1. re: pane

                                          I think the difference is Alemany isn't geared for tourism, and despite being the revitalized original that it is, it's really not in the most exciting part of town. Muni is improving, but this place requires a car, unless you have the time for a little adventure.

                                          Personally, I do not get why a tourist would want to go to a farmers market where they can't do much more then window shop for most of the stuff sold...BUT...if you want rare and sometimes quirky ethnic - Alemany does it. Hare Krishnas, live chickens, pink eggs, Afghani bread, good tamales.... it's still got that wild west feel even if we can all expect that one day it will probably end up being more like Ferry Building South. The only warning is, it can take on more of a flea market vibe, but the upside is people actually buy produce there without it being a social event, or about "talking to farmers", something that can sometimes make a simple purchase at the FB really tiresome.
                                          I can see why a lot of visitors would love having their friend take them out to Alemany. That bus can be a drag though.

                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                            I agree with that entirely except for the word "revitalized". I don't think the Alemany Market has ever been less than vital in its 65-year history.

                                            I've posted this link to a brief history of the Alemany Farmers Market before, but it's worth sticking out there every time Alemany is discussed


                                            1. re: Xiao Yang

                                              I don't think it's been entirely operable the entire 65 years, and I'm under the impression there was a period when it was mostly a junk sale/swap meet kind of thing.... but I could be wrong. I guess it depends on what you men by vital.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                I haven't been around it for 65 years but I know it from the late 60's when I was involved with the Berkeley Food Conspiracy and we sourced some veggies there. A volunteer (not me) would drive over there very early Saturday morning to get the pick of the best.

                                                I recall going to "junk sale/swap meet" events there (a.k.a. "Alemany Flea Market") but that was a different day (Sunday).

                                                1. re: Xiao Yang

                                                  I think it may have gone dark for a period around 1990 give or take a few years. There was also talk of removing the stalls.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    The Alemany market has been extremely popular for at least the past 30 years. Occasionally the city or whoever does something that people perceive as a threat and people make alarming predictions of doom. E.g. at one time some people felt the market's viability was threatened by construction of some apartment buildings on the adjacent hillside, but that worked out fine.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Do you mean the projects on the hill above?

                                                      I think we have to remember that one reason all the ethnic and oddball vendors ended up at Alemany was because there were openings. It hasn't always been thriving, so it's fair to think of it as revitalized now that you can you waffles there. I don't have any specifics about shut downs that aren't anecdotal...and we're again focusing on something fairly inconsequential for the thread.

                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                        I was shopping there in the very early 70's. There were no "waffles" but there were always a lot of farmers with goods. Now in the winter there were tons of bitter melon vines that I had no idea of how to use, but parking was tight and there were lots of people.

                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                          Where are the waffles at Alemany? I haven't seen them.

                                                          1. re: Atomica

                                                            There's a waffle truck that's been showing up both at Alemany and Civic Center. I couldn't tell you the truck's schedule, but they're supposed to be pretty good Belgian style waffles.

                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                              They are at Civic Center, not at Alemany.

                                                              1. re: pane

                                                                I agree--I go to Alemany and I have not seen the waffle truck.

                                                    2. re: Xiao Yang

                                                      The Flea Market is still there on Sundays.

                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I take the 9 to the corner of Bayshore and Industrial.


                                          It's a 0.1 mile walk.

                                2. re: Dave MP

                                  There's an article in the Travel section of today's New York Times about the joys of visiting San Francisco's many farmer's markets as a tourist. It spotlights the Ferry Building, Alemany, Civic Center, and Crocker Galleria. While it acknowledges that Alemany "is difficult to get to without a car, and parking can be tight", it indicates it's well worth it, and even mentions the papusas.

                                  1. re: weem

                                    I'm guessing the writer reads chowhound.

                                    1. re: Dave MP

                                      Yeah, just the other day another poster and I had an exchange about the difference between Albion and Seascape strawberries -- seems too much of a coincidence that she chose to reference those two varieties. It was an excellent article, though, and I'm especially grateful for the info that the Afghan bolani people have a stall at Crocker Galleria.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        I thought it was an excellent article, too, but find it ominous that it appeared in the Travel Section of the Times. The Saturday FPFM is already an event that is perilously close to collapsing under its own weight, without more gastro-tourists being sent its way.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          Ruth: Do the Afghans have a stall at Crocker Galleria or at that farmers' market thing I saw a couple of times when I was in the City during the week about a year ago? Are they always there? We go to the Mechanic's Institute Library across the street and would love to stop by and get something to eat.

                                          1. re: oakjoan

                                            According to the article, at the small farmers' market at the Crocker Galleria on Thursdays. They sell at a lot of markets -- usually their booth is manned by charming young men who press multiple samples on you -- but I haven't been able to get to any of their other markets recently.

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              Wow, I think they were up at Davis, too. They get around.

                                              1. re: Glencora

                                                Probably learning from Sukhi (who are now even staring up at you from the freezers at Costco).

                                                Who are those guys?

                                                1. re: Glencora

                                                  Yeah, they do get around. They're based in Corcord, so it makes sense that they would also be hitting markets to their east as well as to their west. I'm sure they're doing very well -- their stuff isn't cheap, and their marketing (cute, flirtatious guys with bountiful samples) is very effective. Plus, the products themselves and the various flavor combos they encourage you to try are delicious -- one of the guys told me that a local caterer uses their stuff to make appetizers and always gets raves.


                                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              Note to the original poster: how about Afghan? Helmand Palace is excellent.

                                              Helmand Palace
                                              2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                      2. Taco trucks. Take BART to the Fruitvale stop in Oakland.

                                        Here's the thread that leads to the map:

                                        Here's one of the many classic threads that may help explain
                                        what "ethnic" means in this context:

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                          No need to leave SF for taco trucks:


                                          Unfortunately, the vast majority serve the same dishes you'll get at any bricks-and-mortar taqueria. I got excited when I spotted one with Oaxaca in its name, but when somebody tracked it down it turned out not to have any Oaxacan dishes.