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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the SF Chowhound community.

Fabulously Fresh, Primally Satisfying

Melanie Wong has been back to Rosso Pizzeria three times in one month. It’s the pizza—and the meatballs, and the burrata. It’s the fact that they serve simple, utterly fresh food, and they make it right.

When the pizza crust is perfect, it’s perfect, with a charred and puffy edge and a tender, but not wet, center. There have been some small inconsistencies in the crust from visit to visit—sometimes it’s a little too pliable, and other times just a wee bit too crunchy—but even when it’s slightly off-center of perfection, it’s great. Melanie’s favorite pizzas are the Funghi ($12.50) and the Inter-Milan ($12.50). The Funghi—mushroom pizza—has a richness, complexity, and depth of flavor that are completely, primally satisfying. The Inter-Milan is perhaps even better: perfect crust, and a seamless meld of topping to crust. There are alliums—leeks, scallions, and garlic—each giving its own sweetness to the pizza. In general, the least-beloved pizzas are the red-sauce-based ones (other than the terrific Margherita). Something about the current crust recipe doesn’t sit well with red sauce.

Meatballs are wonderful and homey. Burrata with prosciutto di Parma is a must, says Melanie. The burrata is pretty much the silkiest, most cloudlike version of mozzarella you could imagine. “[S]oft billows of heaven,” says Lori SF, who appreciates Rosso’s partnering with local food producers; it makes for fabulously fresh food.

Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar [Sonoma County]
53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa

Board Link: Return to Rosso Pizzeria

The Upper Echelon of Oakland Tacos

The quality and variety at Tacos Estrellas put it in the upper echelon of Oakland taco trucks, says Ruth Lafler. The tacos are quite good: Carnitas is in the drier style, with shredded meat, some of it crispy. Al pastor is well spiced and not very barbecue-y. The truck also apparently has access to a masa specialist: There are tamales and atole. When you order a tamale, it is, astonishingly, removed from its wrapper and toasted on the grill. The filling is not superporky, but there’s a generous amount of green chiles, giving the whole thing a warm glow.

foodfan really likes the lengua tacos. Another plus: morning burritos, starting at about 8, but note that the truck is not out on Sundays. (foodfan’s other favorite Oakland taco truck is Mi Grullense, in the parking lot of a Goodwill.)

The Tacos Estrellas truck is parked in a dirt lot behind the Purcell paint store.

Tacos Estrellas [East Bay]
Dirt lot behind 615 High Street, Oakland

Mi Grullense Taco Truck [East Bay]
Goodwill parking lot at 1301 30th Avenue, Oakland

Board Link: Oakland taco truck report: Tacos Estrellas

Vietnamese-Chinese Pho

Try Pho Ga Huong Que Café (a.k.a. Huong Que Chicken Noodle House)—it’s truly excellent, says grocerytrekker. And it’s a Vietnamese-Chinese place, so a lot of the specialties are unusual. Take, for example, unlaid egg ho fun soup. It’s in the pho/mi section of the menu, listed under the chicken intestine options.

They have amazing green ginger sauce. And try the “whole fresh chicken,” it’s a surprisingly good approximation of the Hainanese chicken. “Not as plump, a little bony and no accompanying rice, cucumbers or soup the way Singaporeans eat it, but having just been disappointed by the Hainanese chicken rice at Kopitiam in Lafayette, this was a small revelation. … With the green garlic and ginger sauce, the chicken is as good as boiled chicken gets,” says grocerytrekker.

Pho Ga Huong Que Café [East Bay]
a.k.a. Huong Que Chicken Noodle House
1228 Seventh Avenue, Oakland

Board Link: Early Sunday breakfast at Huong Que Chicken Noodle House / Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe

SF 2007 Top 10 Roundup

1. Do You Want to Get Slayed by a Stew?
2. Filipino Tour of Destiny
3. Gob-Smackingly Perfect Beef
4. Sushi Quest ’07
5. The Truly Massive Insider’s Guide to the Cheeseboard
6. House of the Blessed Pupusa
7. The Best Cheesesteak on the West Coast
8. Let Your Taxi Driver Tip You
9. Ultrarare Burmese Fermented Tea Leaves, To Go
10. The Best of Nigeria and the British Empire, Together Again

Home-Style Middle Eastern Eats

pane has been trying to ask taxi drivers for restaurant recommendations; she figures if anybody really knows all the turf, it’s the cabbies. The latest recommendation: a beautiful little home-style Middle Eastern place called Old Jerusalem. She was impressed by the warm service, and the little touches—like fresh mint leaves in her glass of Alwazah tea.

The menu is surprisingly deep; there’s way more than your usual shawarma. There’s lamb and white beans, Jew’s mallow soup (Jew’s mallow is a pot herb used throughout Israel, Egypt, and Syria), and a rotating special of the day. On pane’s first visit, the special was bamyeh: chunks of fatty lamb and okra in a rich tomato sauce. Entrées come with great sides, too: little green olives, pickled turnips, deliciously garlicky tahini, and Turkish salad—an excellently spicy mix of stuff, high in tomatoes.

The Friday special is also excellent, a homey beef stew, fragrant and spicy with Middle Eastern flavors, says augustiner. He loves the stuffed falafel as well, fried to order, with caramelized onions and pine nuts at the center of each falafel.

And don’t forget to try the desserts, like shredded wheat and honey over goat cheese. Both desserts offered are house-made, and excellent, says farmersdaughter.

Old Jerusalem [Mission District]
2976 Mission Street, San Francisco

Board Link: Taxi Cab Recs: Palestinian

Curry Fried Drug

Curry fried rice at Thai Taste is one of the best things in the North Bay, says kare_raisu. It’s listed on the menu as pineapple fried rice. And it makes people into junkies. It is “addictive drug-like sexy yellow curry fried rice.”

The pumpkin curry is OK. The lemongrass red curry is a little better. But this golden yellow curry fried rice? “Crunchy cashews, egg, shrimp, pineapple, raisins, fried crisp shallots, tender pork, & sweet sauteed onion slices and jasmine rice,” with just the right touch of curry. “[C]ombine this, then make it steaming hot on a cold rainy day and you have eternal happiness on a plate,” says kare_raisu.

Thai Taste Restaurant [Sonoma County]
170 Farmer Lane #8, Santa Rosa

Board Link: Curry Fried Rice–Thai Taste in Santa Rosa

And the Best Roast Suckling Pig Is …

CYL had the fortunate experience of having roast suckling pig from two primo spots—Koi Palace and Cheung Hing in Millbrae—back-to-back. Pig from both places is excellent, but CYL gives a slight nod in favor of Cheung Hing’s. “Cheung Hing’s pig had exquisitely crispy skin (and slightly more depth).” It had a much more intense flavor, too, from seasonings rubbed directly into the meat. The sample from Cheung Hing was thicker and meatier than Koi Palace’s; it probably came from forward of the rib cage, in the boneless region, while Koi Palace’s was probably sliced from above the rib region.

Cheung Hing’s pig is a little tough to get, though. It’s only available early on the weekends. It comes out of the oven at about 10:30 in the morning, and it’s usually gone sometime in the afternoon.

Yes it is worth getting up early on a weekend for good roast pig.

Cheung Hing Restaurant [Peninsula]
245 El Camino Real, Millbrae

Koi Palace [Peninsula]
In Serramonte Plaza, 365 Gellert Boulevard, Daly City

Board Link: Roast Suckling Pig

Do You Know Oakland Has a Little Guatemala?

Oakland has a Little Guatemala. This is fantastic news; all of you should be dancing your pants off.

In the early morning hours, two Guatemalan women sell excellent, excellent, excellent Guatemalan tamales, says rworange. The first is outside of San Miguel, a Guatemalan restaurant. She has a grill going with onion and beef and tamales. Her chicken tamales are wonderful—moist, full of meat, red peppers, olives, and other stuff, and wrapped in a banana leaf. She also has a pot of something that looks like mole but turns out to be dense, liquid beans. It’s very nice, and very different from the usual frijoles. A breakfast feast—tamale, chile relleno, and atole—will run you $6.

The second tamale lady is at La Colmena market. Her tamales are pretty terrific; her atole is the best rworange has ever had. It’s rich and almost eggy, with teeny bits of coconut blended in. The onion-pepper sauce is really, really hot. Tamales and atole are $3.50.

Chapinlandia Bakery is one of the larger Guatemalan bakeries around. It has good basket-shaped baked items, with cream cheese, custard, or pineapple filling. Custard and cream cheese are the best. Cakelike squares topped with sesame seeds are very tasty. And the croissants are distinctly Guatemalan—dense inside, and covered with sugar and cinnamon. They’re sort of like morning buns. And they’re 35 cents each.

Tamales outside San Miguel Restaurant [East Bay]
4729 International Boulevard, Oakland

Tamales inside La Colmena Produce Market [East Bay]
4825 International Boulevard, Oakland

Chapinlandia Bakery [East Bay]
4737 International Boulevard, Oakland

Board Links: Oakland’s Little Guatemala–The early bird gets the tamale … and churrasco
Oakland’s Little Guatemala–Chapinlandia Bakery

Hot, Sour, and Tingly in Cupertino

Szechwan Era doesn’t make many concessions to Americanization, except for its weekday lunch specials. The full menu is replete with Szechuan specialties—many of them quite delicious.

“Husband and wife lung slices” (beef and tendon cold appetizer) does the sour and tingly, ma-la flavor to the hilt, says Melanie Wong. Duskily spiced, it’s a winner. The honeycomb tripe that’s mixed in with the beef and tendon has great texture; it’s cut at the proper angle for a combined tenderness and slight chewiness.

Potato with hot green pepper is a simple dish that requires perfect execution. And it’s done perfectly here, with expert knife work, cooking, and just enough hot pepper to breathe some warmth into the dish, says Melanie. Hot pot with fresh pickle, fish, and lamb is fantastic. Green bean noodle with hot pepper has an acidic bite and refreshing taste—great on a warm day.

There are some problems, too. Water-boiled beef is a big disappointment—tough, monotonously spiced, and lacking ma-la flavors. And pork chitlins are awful—improperly cleaned, and foul tasting.

Szechwan Era [South Bay]
10971 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino

Board Link: Szechuan Era, Cupertino

Earth-Shakingly Good Vegetables (and Yoga) at Ubuntu

Ubuntu is so good, it makes Carrie 218 regret moving away from Napa. It impressed CHOW wine blogger Daniel Duane to the point of giddiness. And hi standards went a little crazy with deliciousness.

Ignore the fact that it’s surrounded by the wildly famous restaurants of Napa Valley. Ignore that it shares a name with a Linux operating system. (Ubuntu is the word for an African humanist philosophy, so it’s not actually named after the operating system.) If the fact that it’s a combined yoga studio and restaurant bugs you, ignore it. (Although, if you care, you can take in a yoga class before your meal, and some serious yogis seem to think Ubuntu runs a good studio.) Ignore everything else, and just focus on the fact that the food is stupendously, wildly, earth-shakingly good.

It may be vegetarian, but it’s not hippie-drippy, stereotypically vegetarian, says the wary Duane. “Despite the yoga and the vaguely New Age–y name, the menu offers truly first-rate California French-Italian that simply doesn’t have any animal flesh. It’s a curious effect, because nothing else about the cooking calls out vegetarian. Literally nothing. No tofu, no portobellos, not even any tabbouleh. In fact, everything about the food demonstrates a chef absolutely committed to his craft, paying very close attention to the way that that craft is being practiced, and keeping pace with the best in the game.”

There are amazing sea-salt-and-lavender-flavored Marconi almonds to munch on while you peruse the menu. There are flavorful, hearty sunchokes with romesco sauce. There are perfectly sweet beets and Asian pears, with fresh greens and whipped Point Reyes blue cheese. There is the much-beloved cauliflower in a cast iron pot—a hearty cauliflower mélange, held together in custard, and smelling beautifully of curry. There are roast root vegetables with squash purée and farro—the flavor is a complex layering of vegetables. The other standard: potatoes with fennel.

The cooks are masters of the Brussels sprout, too. Various preparations of this vegetable—like roasted Brussels sprouts over grits, with mustard—have been winning over hounds.

Salsa verde is fantastic. Salads are light and delicious. Stuffed bok choy in French pumpkin soup, with lemongrass and basil, is “amazing. Lightly spiced, delicate, truly outstanding in every way,” says hi standards. And pizza with wild nettle and garden kale and an egg on top is the best pizza she has ever had in a restaurant, ever. “We inhaled it!”

Great beverages, too: There are perfectly pulled shots of Blue Bottle coffee, and Racer 5 IPA on the menu, says Doodleboomer.

We have heard only three complaints. First, some folks find the servers are a little inexperienced, though definitely friendly. Second, rightstar thinks it’s terrible that they serve butter with the bread. “Not what you would expect at a place that specializes in healthy vegetable dishes,” he says. And lintygmom walked out of the restaurant before eating anything because of the prices. “I don’t love vegetables enough to spend $9 for cauliflower or $14 for a small, not-the-best vegetarian pizza. Not for lunch.” (Remember that these prices are for tapas-size dishes—you’ll need two or three such dishes to make a meal.) rfneid, though, notes that he and his wife had dinner at Ubuntu and left stuffed, for $68. “Quite reasonable for the quality of the food, which was superb.”

Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio [Napa Valley]
1140 Main Street, Napa

Board Links: I Am Vegetable, Hear Me Roar! Ubuntu Redux (long)
Ubuntu for lunch
Finally Made it to Ubuntu–The Good and the Bad