"Ethnic" Food Beyond the Usual
- extramsg May 25, 2008 03:55 AM
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
Ojo de Agua
Binh Minh Quan
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.
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:
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)
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.
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:
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....
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
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.
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
I don't know if these are 'beyond the usual' enough for you, but, three mid-scale "ethnic" restaurants I really really like are:
On the third, there is also a restauran with the same name in Berkeley, but I think the owners seperated.
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
There are reports that Great Szechwan in Richmond is now better than China Village for Sichuan:
There's excellent Hainan chicken rice at Kopitiam in Lafayatte:
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.
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
1770 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066
31005 Courthouse Dr, Union City, CA 94587
73 Camaritas Ave, South San Francisco, CA 94080
2055 Gellert Blvd Ste 5, Daly City, CA 94015
34672 Alvarado Niles Rd Union, City, CA
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).
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!
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.
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.
3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601
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.
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
2432 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94620
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.