Asian Restaurant Ideas Requested - and How to Experience New Cuisines?
Hubby and I will be in San Francisco for a long weekend (he’s there for a meeting). We’ve been previously, and I love the plethora of ethnic restaurants, especially Asian of all kinds. I’m looking for a place for one dinner and one or two lunches, that offer food I’m not likely to often get the chance to eat, and that I’m not so familiar with. As an example of places I enjoyed, on our last visit, I had lunch at Acaxutla, in the Mission, one day, and Burma Superstar the next.
So one question is where would you suggest. Here are my ideas so far: Burmese Kitchen, Katana-Ya, Borobudur, The Lime Tree, Z & Y; and of less interest, Ler Ros or the Slanted Door. One lunch needs to be near Union Square, as I’ll be working remotely one day from our hotel room. I love little holes in the wall, but hubby doesn’t so much. (And, dim sum is already in our plans, as is my breakfast – picked up on Stockton in the early morning. Though somehow I need to fit in okonomiyaki.)
And the other question is, as someone who doesn’t have a background in these cultures, but who has done a bit of food reading (mostly here on Chowhound), how do I decide on the best and/or most representative dishes to order (I would love suggestions)? And how do I know if it’s good (other than from my own tastebuds), or authentic, or the way it’s supposed to be?
Would you be interested in South Indian? If so, there is Dosa (order a dosa, stick to vegetarian/seafood/pork/lamb dishes overall)
I have not been yet to Kin Khao but I am intrigued by maybe you can be the test subject?
I wouldn't worry about "authentic" who cares as long as it tastes good to you?
Chef favorites/boards are a good key (if it looks like they switch it up/regional specialties - not if it just looks like it's their most expensive dishes). Or looking up the Wikipedia entry for that type of regional cuisine before going and then pointing at the characters (useful for regional Chinese cuisine especially)
For example, taking Z & Y there's a "Chef favorites section" a "Special Claypot" section and "Szechuan Cuisine section" and it's a Szechuan restaurant. That's probably sufficient to draw from for a first visit. You might pick one from the Chef favorites, one from Szechuan Cuisine and then ask the waiter to recommend a third dish.
I personally only find The Lime Tree OK - if it's very out of your way I wouldn't bother.
I didn't mention South Indian because my husband's parents immigrated from Mumbai, so between dinners at their house and a trip to NYC in the summer, we've gotten south Indian (much preferred by me over northern Indian) covered.
Z & Y - great suggestion from the menu.
Well, about the authentic thing, yes, that's partly true. But if I want to educate myself in a particular cuisine, then getting an Americanized version, or something else, or it, then I'm educating myself poorly and don't even know it.
Pointing at the characters. You'd laugh, but I have an umpteen-page primer to dim sum that I made for myself. I've never had the courage to pull it out in my wanderings through Chinatown, though, picking up one item here, another item there, and so on.
You didn't mention Lao cuisine, which has recently come to town. Champa Garden (a branch of a popular hard-to-get-to Oakland ethnic restaurant) is easy to get to by streetcar, and has a nice little "turnkey" sampler plate which combines three Lao dishes which are representative, authentic (AFAIK) and tasty.
Fujiyoshi Ramen at 639 Post Street is as almost as close to Union Square as Katana-ya and a better ramen option, IMHO.
You didn't mention Vietnamese, but Larkin St.'s Turtle Tower has a northern Vietnam-style chicken pho (pho ga) that's a local culinary landmark.
As far as authenticity and value go, forget about The Slanted Door unless you are looking for fancy cocktails and a view of the Bay Bridge.
I agree that Maneelap Srimongkoun is another good (and perhaps better) Lao option, and in fact I was the first to post about it here. I didn't mention it because it's a little trickier to get to by public transit and because of the convenience of the Champa Garden sampler. And maybe I didn't want to type Maneelap Srimongkoun again.
On the plus side for MS (I won't type it again) is that they have the Lao dishes neatly separated from the Thai dishes on the menu, which Champa Garden doesn't, which makes it easier to explore the cuisine by oneself.
In addition, to the Northern (Hanoi) style pho at Turtle Tower you might want to try the Bún Chả Hà Nội. I see the also sell banh mi, so you could get one to go for later. Or walk down the street to Saigon Sandwich. I've you've never had banh mi, you'll find it life-changing.
Bodega Bistro is also excellent -- in addition to the bo luc lac, I'd again order the Bún Chả Hà Nội, and/or the Bún Chả Ca Hà Nội and the Banh Xeo.
re: Ruth Lafler
I've been a Bodega Bistro fan for a long time, but my only visit there since the change of personnel was not nearly as good as prior visits. For my money a safer bet would be to go a few doors down to Vietnam House and have their fabulous banh khot--
What day of the week is the lunch you will be having nearish Union Square? If it's a Friday, you could go to Ha Nam Ninh, and get the bun bo hue. And no matter what day it is, you could go there and order the hu tieu nam vang (order it dry)---see picture here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/918498
It's a short walk from Union Square
Burmese Kitchen is a few blocks farther through the Tenderloin, but would also be a very good option for lunch. I believe they have some lunch combo plates that allow you to try tea leaf salad and a hot dish w/ rice.
Also in the Tenderloin, there is Hai Ky Mi Gia for the duck leg noodle soup (also order this dry w/ soup on the side): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/835628
Another idea in the Tenderloin is to try the Thai boat noodles at Zen Yai Thai. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854228
As for the questions in the last paragraph of your post, I would say the following:
1) Read Chowhound to find out best dishes to order. If you're dining alone or w/ one other person, you won't be ordering a ton of dishes anyway, so you can go in w/ ideas in mind.
2) If you like it, then it's good! :) Most places I have mentioned and most places that others have mentioned so far are going to prepare their dishes the same for all customers (might have slight spice variations, but you can request spicy/not spicy in the cases where it applies). So I wouldn't worry too much about the authenticity stuff. Hope this helps!
For Chinese, I've been taking visitors to House of Pancakes, mentioned recently in this discussion, which you should take a look at if you haven't already: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/968640
Order the following things:
Egg and onion pancake, sesame pancake w/ beef, lamb and napa dumplings, garlic string beans, cucumber salad, bean paste noodles (zhaziang mian). If you need more besides this, add in another dumpling or pancake order.
This restaurant is out on Taraval at 19th Avenue, but you can take the L subway line straight there (would be quicker to get here than to Champa Garden, I think). Nearby there is also Shandong Deluxe which also has lamb dumplings and hand-pulled noodles, and there's Hot Pot Garden for Chinese hot pot http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/961372
I second the Mandalay recommendation. This discussion has helpful ideas about what to order: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/868766
My favorite dish there is the Mandalay Special Noodles—the sauce has coconut and kaffir lime leaf and it's one of my favorite noodle dishes in the entire country.