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"Ethnic" Food Beyond the Usual

Down from Portland next week. Don't care about location. Not seeing any of the usual touristy sites, most likely. I'll find something interesting to do near the places I want to eat. Eaten my fill in the past of SF's haute cuisine and I'm a bit burnt out by all that anyway from trips in the past year to Chicago and NY. As such, I doubt I'll even be too interested in places that get highly rated as the best Thai or Vietnamese or whatever because they're in fancy digs with waiters who can pair a pinot with pad thai.

Here are some of the places I've enjoyed in the past in the greater Bay Area that are along the same lines:

Thai House Express
Burma Superstar
Ruen Pair
Ojo de Agua
Champa Garden
Dasaprakash
Nha Toi
Binh Minh Quan
Saravana Bhavan
Woodlands

Not interested in Chinese -- well, not Cantonese. Could be convinced to try a place if it was really focused. Or a place emphasizing street foods or something very regional but very different from the usual. God save me from dim sum. Tibetan food perhaps.

Not interested in taquerias or taco trucks unless they serve interesting specialties. We have plenty of great carnitas, carne asada, and even birria de chivo up here. But papadzules? Panuchos? Tlacoyos? Tlayudas? Pozole verde? Ok, I'm there.

Would love to find some Malay or Indonesian, but I went to Layang Layang and was very disappointed. Malay Satay Hut up here is only decent and I think it's a big step up from Layang.

Also very interested in izakayas. Also would love to taste some great ramen.

Tried all the popular Indian places in the Tenderloin. They were okay. Had better luck with Southern places in Silicon Valley. Give me a place emphasizing regional specialties, though, and some assurance that it's good, and I'll give it a try.

Brazilian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Honduran, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Korean, Middle Eastern beyond the usual dishes, Bosnian, Czech (anywhere with ajvar really), African other than Ethiopian -- surprise me!

Not opposed to midscale places that charge more because they're not a dive and because they buy high quality ingredients and focus on making things very authentically.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Afghan - Helmand Palace, SF
    Burmese - Larkin Express Deli, SF (lunch only)
    Cambodian - Angkor Borei, SF
    Ethiopian - Cafe Colucci, Berkeley
    Hakka Chinese - Ton Kiang, SF (dinner only, lunch is dim sum)
    Indian chaat - Vik's, Berkeley
    Indian pizza - Zante (sort of junk food but fun and different)
    Indonesian - Jayakarta, Berkeley
    Korean black goat - Sahn Maru, Oakland
    Korean soft tofu - Pyung Chang, Oakland
    Laotian - Champa Garden, Oakland
    Muslim Chinese (& a few Xinjiang dishes) - Darda, Milpitas
    Oaxacan - El Tule, San Jose
    Nicaraguan - Nicaragua Restaurant, SF
    Peking-style hot pot - Old Mandarin Islamic, SF
    Persian - Maykadeh, SF
    Peruvian - Mochica, SF (not cheap)
    Polish - Chopin Cafe, Walnut Creek
    Sardinian - La Ciccia, SF
    Shanghai Chinese - Yai Yun, SF ($45-100 prix fixe, by reservation only)
    Sichuan Chinese - China Garden, Alabany
    Turkish - Turkish Kitchen, Berkeley
    Yucatecan - Poc-Chuc, SF (formerly Chichen Itza, formerly Popol Vuh)

    Oaxacan in Watsonville (California board): http://www.chow.com/places/18017

    Recent topics posing similar questions:

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/521784
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/519119
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/484613
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/444984
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/320429

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks. Lots of good stuff to research. Been to a couple of those and had a few on my list.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I haven't been to all of these places, but the ones I have tried are great. I definitely second the following:

        Larkin Express Deli (esp. their tea leaf salad and fish cake curry, but everything else too)
        Angkor Borei (especially the ahmohk)
        Jayakarta
        Vik's
        La Ciccia
        China Garden

        I would skip Zante - it's fun, but in the end it's not all that good. Maybe if you go to Cambodian food you can pick up a slice to go afterwards since it's right next door....but I wouldn't waste a whole meal there.

        Another idea is Cafe Zitouna for Tunisian or Tagine for Moroccan.

        Dave MP

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          China Garden? Do you mean China Village?

          I will second or third Poc-Chuc and my personal favorite, La Ciccia.

          edited to add: p.s.: After several only semi-succesful meals at Angkor Borei, I finally tried the ahmok, and loved it. In fact, I even named it a best new bite 2007:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46829...

          but sigh, went again with hubby a few months ago and it didn't shine at all. after dinner hubby and I looked at each other and I said in that price range in that neighborhood I'd much rather go to Lotus Garden (Vietnamese)...hubby said he was about to say the same thing! Perhaps Angkor Borei and I just weren't meant to be....

          1. re: susancinsf

            D'oh, China Village, yes.

            It's easy to get a mediocre meal at Angkor Borei if you order the Thai dishes.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              just to clarify, it was specifically the ahmok that didn't shine....

        2. Melanie Wong's most recent? (2005) ramen ranking:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36964

          Izakayas: Oyaji, O Izakaya, and Sunday nights at Sebo in SF. More:

          http://www.chow.com/search?search%5Bq...

          1. I would strongly suggest you eat some Yucatecan food extra. SF and maybe a lesser extent LA and Chicago are the only places you can try this food in the states. It is arguably my favorite sub-cuisine within Mexico and a trip back up to SF would not be complete without getting my chow down on some Panuchos, relleno negro, & escabeche de pavo.

            I am familar with your killer site - and I think you would be one to appreciate this food completely.

            Check out our epic Yucatec Crawl: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/469361

            6 Replies
            1. re: kare_raisu

              Thanks. Poc Chuc was already on my cheat sheet. That seems to be the consensus favorite? We're lucky to have a set of taco trucks along with a taqueria (La Estacion Express) up here that serve panuchos and cochinita pibil (plus some of the midscale Mexican restaurants serve pibiles), but I haven't found much from the Yucatan beyond that, and certainly not my wife's beloved papadzules.

              1. re: extramsg

                Papadzules have been reported at Yucatasia.

                -----
                Yucatasia
                2164 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I'm surprised they don't make it on more menus. It's a great traditional vegetarian dish and very easy on even unadventurous palates.

                    1. re: extramsg

                      I agree! Not very expensive at all to produce either.

                1. re: kare_raisu

                  Yes indeed, though I would reccomend a snack at Yucatan City Pizza mention in the link as well. Or even one of their daily specials.

                2. Vik's Chaat in Berkeley is good value in fun renovated warehouse atmosphere, not necessarily great food. Stick to South Bay (or Annapoorna in Peninsula) for S.Indian food. If you haven't tried chaat in the Bay Area, then please give Dana Bazaar (510) 742-0555 in Fremont a try. A couple of ladies run a little stand inside the Indian grocery store & have a loyal following among the Indians. If you like spicy food, ask for medium; their spicy is FIERY to the point that I can't taste the flavor. I believe the stand is operated Thur-Sun only.

                  In the South Bay, give Kabab 'n Curries a try. I just went for dinner last week and had a great meal of tandoori chicken, saag paneer, naan, lamb chops & lamb biriyani (skip the chicken karahi). With the exception of the karahi dish, nothing was oily/heavy. Family of 4 ate for $47 exc. tip, no drinks. Probably the best biriyani I've had outside someone's home in the U.S. UNFORTUNATELY, found only a few choice meat pieces in the generous serving. DH paid & usually doesn't complain, I'll make a comment next time I order. Also, they used to have $7 or $8 lunch buffet* & it was worth going just for the tandoori chicken & naan but noticed a sign last week stating that due to rising food costs, buffet price has been increased to $9.55.

                  *buffets have limited offerings but quality food
                  http://www.kababandcurrys.com/

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ceekskat

                    I've actually been to both of those. I enjoyed them, but didn't love them.

                  2. I don't know if these are 'beyond the usual' enough for you, but, three mid-scale "ethnic" restaurants I really really like are:

                    Troya (Turkish) - http://www.troyasf.com/
                    Helmand Palace (Afghan) - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/473734
                    Taste of the Himalaya's (Nepalese) - http://sanfrancisco.citysearch.com/pr...

                    On the third, there is also a restauran with the same name in Berkeley, but I think the owners seperated.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: whiner

                      I don't go back to many restaurants--unless they're really close to home and open late, LOL--but after trying the branch of Fremont's DeAfghanan Kabob House in Berkeley, I've eaten twice at the SF branch,1303 Polk near Bush. No decor. No ambiance. No alcohol. BYOB and use the house plastic glasses, but absolutely delicious, hugely generously portioned dishes for bargain prices.

                      Chupon Kabob comprises 4-5 halal and local lamb chops for $14.50 (at least, a few weeks ago that was still the price). The pumpkin and eggplant concoctions are other faves.

                      According to my menu, it offers free delivery from 7-11 on Friday and Saturday, min. $20. Take-out is always available. (415) 345-9947

                      Cash only.

                      1. re: whiner

                        I second all of Whiner's suggestions (I just had an incredibly good meal tonight at Taste of the Himalayas), and want to add the following:
                        A la Turca (Turkish) and Tagine (Moroccan).

                        -----
                        A La Turca
                        869 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                        Tagine
                        1338 Polk St, San Francisco, CA

                        1. re: kresge86

                          I just looked up Tagine & noticed it is near De Afghanan Kabob House, another CH fave I haven't been to. I may be in the area this week, dare I ask about parking?

                          1. re: ceekskat

                            Parking on Polk isn't impossible in that area. Easy in the day time. Or cross Van Ness and try parking on Franklin.

                      2. There are reports that Great Szechwan in Richmond is now better than China Village for Sichuan:
                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/508483

                        There's excellent Hainan chicken rice at Kopitiam in Lafayatte:
                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/43948...

                        Ramen - the two that get named the most frequently are Kahoo and Ramen Halu (both in San Jose

                        )

                        Heard very good things about Komila Vilas in Sunnyvale (South Indian) - I haven't been yet.

                        1. I'm not sure how interested you are in Filipino food, but I'd like to suggest a few of my favorite ones in the Bay:

                          Patio Filipino in San Bruno
                          Gerry's Grill in Union City
                          Ongpin in South SF
                          Sinugba in Daly City
                          The Big Kitchen in Union City

                          -----
                          Patio Filipino
                          1770 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066

                          Gerry's Grill
                          31005 Courthouse Dr, Union City, CA 94587

                          Ongpin Noodles
                          73 Camaritas Ave, South San Francisco, CA 94080

                          Sinugba
                          2055 Gellert Blvd Ste 5, Daly City, CA 94015

                          Big Kitchen
                          34672 Alvarado Niles Rd Union, City, CA

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: westcoaststyle

                            A friend of mine with very similar tastes to mine recently raved about Ongpin... I looked it up on CH, only to find the most recent comprehensive review was from 2003!

                            Would you mind writing a bit more about each of these restaurants, and which dishes you think are best?

                            1. re: daveena

                              No problem! ;)

                              Patio Filipino is a very nice restauraunt. Kind of hard to spot on the road so it's easy to miss. You can really see the Spanish influence as you walk inside. The workers have usually been very nice the times I've been there. I have to suggest the crispy pata (deep fried pork knuckles). It is made really well. Crispy on the outside, nice and juicy on the inside. Along with the garlic fried rice, it's definitely a meal I'd want on my death bed. For dessert, you must get their own version of halo-halo inside a hallowed out baby coconut. DELISH! This spot is more expensive than your usual mom-and-pop Filipino spots, but the quality is definitely there.

                              Gerry's Grill specializes in their "grilled" food. Fish, beef, chicken, you name it. They grill it. Only eaten here once, but I can say the sinigang (tamarind-based soup dish) is pretty good. Also, it's a good place because they have a bar so you can just drink with your buddies.

                              Sinugba is your typical Filipino restaurant. Friendly staff, and the food is good, but nothing too spectacular. The lechon kawali (pan-roasted pork belly) is definitely on hit here. I have to get it every time. The prices are pretty decent here, too.

                              The Big Kitchen is a Filipino Fusion restauraunt. Sounds weird, huh? They have the traditional items like adobo, but some non-traditional stuff as well (like teriyaki salmon?). This place can be hit or miss with some people. I find the older folks don't like this place too much because they're trying to be too inventive or trying to appeal to a much larger crowd (i.e. non-Filipinos). But with any other restaurant, I think you just have to find the right dishes for you. May be a bit on the expensive side.

                              Ongpin may seem like a hole-in-the-wall, but I definitely love this place. The portions they serve are huge, and the price is just right. I like ordering the ginataang kalabasa (squash in coconut milk). Also, the chicharon bulaklak (pork omentum) is good for appetizer.

                              I hope you get to try these places out some time, and let me know what you think!

                              (and if I may suggest, look up the site Yelp.com. They have a bunch of restuarant reviews on there).

                              1. re: westcoaststyle

                                Thanks! You're right, these are exactly the kinds of restaurants where Yelp reviews can be really helpful... I do like Yelp for non-European ethnic restaurants in more out of the way places... and when I have a little sanity to spare, I'll try to wade through the pseudo-gangsta lingo and allcaps all the time. In the meantime, I'm going to be grateful for your pithy wrapup. Thanks again!

                                1. re: westcoaststyle

                                  I thought Patio Filipino was very good, but my mom claims "they use too much MSG". I'd recommend their Sinigang na Bangus Belly, milkfish in a sour tamarind broth & Beef Steak Tagalog, ribeye slices cooked in a lemon-soy sauce with onions.

                                  I haven't been to Sinugba in a while, but I used to always get the -silog dishes, breakfast plates with a meat, over easy eggs and garlic rice.

                                  My mom likes Ongpin, particularly the noodle dishes and says their portions are really generous.

                                  I like Tipanan in Newark for lechon kawali. They specialize in "inihaw" (grilled) dishes but their sinigang and adobo are pretty good too.

                              2. re: westcoaststyle

                                Thanks. It took me a while to learn to enjoy Filipino food, probably from having too many bad versions of it, but I do enjoy it.

                              3. There's a place in Hayward called Curry Corner that has had some serious raves on this board in the past -- I haven't made it there myself yet. IIRC, the food is Indo-Fijian, and the hours are irregular, so call first.

                                -----
                                Curry Corner Takeaway
                                26657 Mission Blvd, Hayward, CA 94544

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Steve Green

                                  I haven't been to Curry Corner since it moved (did it move?) but it was unique and good.

                                2. For pozole, try Taco Grill, in Oakland just across from Fruitvale BART, then some ice cream next door at Cinco de Mayo - I had mamey and elote last weekend.

                                  -----
                                  Taco Grill
                                  3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

                                  1. The Islamic Chinese (Old Mandarin?) out in the Sunset District is a favorite of myself and my foodish friends. Gotta be a lamb lover, though.

                                    1. Bissap Baobab, Senegalese in SF. I think there are a couple of Sub-Saharan African places in the East Bay, but that's not my stomping grounds.

                                      -----
                                      Bissap Baobab
                                      2323 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                       
                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                                        Have you eaten there in the past couple of years? It used to be pretty good, but I had a truly terrible meal and haven't returned.

                                        Lagosia on University in Berkeley for upscale Nigerian should be on this list.

                                        And I'll definitely second the Old Mandarin.

                                        1. re: Windy

                                          According to their website, Lagosia is closed.

                                          That leaves Lam Toro (Senegal), A Taste of Africa (Cameroon) and Tropical Paradise (Ghana) as the West African options in the East Bay.

                                          -----
                                          A Taste of Africa
                                          3015 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA

                                          Tropical Paradise Restaurant
                                          2021 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                          Lam Toro
                                          2432 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94620

                                          1. re: bradluen

                                            IMO, despite its less than ideal location in Oakland, Lam-Toro's cooking is a couple of notches above that of its Senegalese counterpart, Bissap Baobab. We were at BB for dinner on Sunday, and were less than impressed with all the dishes we had:
                                            - Yassa chicken (perhaps the best dish we had, as its piquant lemony sauce cuts across the richness of the chicken);
                                            - Dibi fish (a bit too dry for our taste. The one at Lam-Toro, on the other hand, was totally awesome!);
                                            - Mafe with tofu, and mafe with chicken - both were pretty bland, and the sauce tasted like peanut butter gone sour.