San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

The Return of Gumbah’s and the Italian Beef Comeback!

Here’s the story: Gumbah’s served the most beloved Italian beef sandwiches in town. Then it closed, to the sorrow of thousands. But it’s back! One of the former customers from the neighborhood stepped up and bought the place. Before he did, he made certain he could retain the old recipes, the same providers, and the same cook. He loved the place so much, he wanted to bring it completely “back in all its delicious, drippy glory,” says PDXpat. “Even the old familiar, house-made giardiniera was there.”

The cheesesteak is great, too—very much like it was previously and, if anything, a little cheesier. Fries are definitely the same crispy shoestring type. The only disappointment is the onion rings—which were never really that great at Gumbah’s anyway.

There’s been some minor remodeling: The eating area is a little less cluttered, the kitchen is a little cleaner and more organized, and everything’s a bit shinier. But it’s definitely the same old place.

The new place has a new name—West Side Café—but the owner’s leaving the Gumbah’s signs up for a while.

West Side Café (formerly Gumbah’s) [Solano County]
138 Tennessee Street, Vallejo

Board Links: Gumbah’s is Back!
Gumbah’s Italian Beef, Vallejo, why it is worth a trip

Darn Spicy Nepalese

There’s excellent Nepalese and Indian food at Namaste Café of Petaluma (not to be confused with the one in Milpitas). The chef uses the freshest of ingredients and presents the food like the culinary school graduate that he is. drmimi loves the lunch buffet. Best stuff: Nepali momocha (steamed dumplings stuffed with minced lamb, in tomato sauce), palakh murgh (creamed spinach and succulent chicken), samosas, and tandoori murgh. On the dinner menu, vegetable pakoras are fabulous. She also called ahead and got some vegetable dishes prepared vegan-style, sans cream—one roasted eggplant, one mushroom dish—and they were fabulous. Great masala tea, too. And, drmimi says, it’s spicier than Shangri-la’s fare—not just in heat but in the density and complexity of spice flavors.

Shangri-la is the other favorite in the area. “I’ve never had a meal there that I didn’t really love,” says Kathleen M. The people are friendly, the service efficient, and the food high-quality. And it’s spicy, too—as much as some folks can handle.

Namaste Café [Sonoma County]
1390 N. McDowell Boulevard, Petaluma

Shangri-la [Sonoma County]
1706 E. Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park

Board Link: Namaste Cafe- Petaluma

House-Made Soba

Good homemade soba is beautiful—a dense, wheaty, chewy, perfectly toothsome bit of noodly life. It’s hard to find in San Francisco, but sometimes, Mikaku Restaurant has it. Try its homemade zaru soba: It’s particularly nice, since Mikaku serves the sobayu (the water the noodles have cooked in), says shortexact.

Mikaku doesn’t have its own buckwheat milling machine, so it’s not actually grinding its own flour on the premises—which means that the soba isn’t done in the most strictly, traditionally proper Japanese way. But the chef is enthusiastic about the soba-making process, and he has fans, says K K. However the soba is a special—so call ahead to find out if it’s being served.

The restaurant also has a nice, hearty chawan mushi and light, sweet kobacha, served with sea salt.

Mikaku Restaurant [Union Square]
323 Grant Avenue, San Francisco

Board Link: Housemade Udon or Soba anywhere?

Steak Frites and Moules

Couleur Café has been a longtime favorite for Joan Kureczka, and the menu has just changed for the better. Steak frites are now served with a good, clean red wine and shallot sauce—much better than the muddy, overly rich Roquefort sauce from the old menu. There are lots of new mussel preparations. Moules Potrero is very good: mussels in white wine broth, with tarragon and tomatoes.

The café’s got jillyju’s gold-standard burger, too.

Couleur Café [Potrero Hill]
300 De Haro Street, San Francisco

Board Link: New menu at Couleur Cafe—this place just gets better and better

Carnitas to Dream About

Earl Grey stumbled across Guanajuato Market, where he found an excellent butcher, with house-made chorizo and lard in two colors. And tubs full of mole, and dreamy carnitas. “The carnitas still haunts me,” he says. He’s going to stop on any future trips through Vallejo.

Guanajuato recently opened a taqueria and grill next door.

Guanajuato Market [Solano County]
1652 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo

Board Link: Guanajuato Market in Vallejo

Do You Want to Get Slayed by a Stew?

Feijoada is the glorious, long-cooked, ultradense, ultrabeautiful, ultra-hard-core pig stew of Brazil. Typically, your classic feijoada will include pork ribs, pork loin, pig’s tail, pig’s ears, pig’s trotters, spicy pork sausage, fresh linguiça, cured linguiça, and beef jerky. Oh—and beans and greens.

After going a little crazy in the brain for feijoada, rworange tried out three versions of the dish in the Bay Area, which may be a little more than one human should ever be allowed to have in a single month. We pray for her gastrointestinal integrity.

Her clear favorite is 25 West’s. It’s not only the best Brazilian dish she’s had in San Francisco—it’s one of the best dishes she’s had in the Bay Area period. “The purple black beans were loaded with sausage and long-cooked pig parts. The pork tasted like everything good about pig.” And, astoundingly, for all this pork energy, it’s not really that greasy—just rich, tasty, and satisfying. “On a cold rainy day I can’t think of a better dish.”

You get pig’s foot. You get some neck bone that you suck the meat off of. You get crispy bits of bacon. And you get huge hunks of pork, dyed purple-black by the beans.

For those of you who are creeped out by the more unusual pig parts, you may want to try Brazil Café’s feijoada. It’s tasty, but not in the same class as the 25 West version. It does have a noticeable lack of feet, tail, or neck, though. Wusses.

25 West [East Bay]
25 W. Richmond Avenue, Richmond

Brazil Café [East Bay]
1983 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Board Links: Death by feijoada crawl part 1 – 25 West Brazil Restaurant … mercy !!!
Death by feijoada crawl part 2 – Nino’s Pizzeria and Brazilian Restaurant
Death by feijoada crawl part 3 – Brazil Café

Sebo Starts Sunday Izakaya

Sebo’s decided to change up its game, and now serves izakaya on Sundays. It turns out, the restaurant’s just as talented with the grilled, baked, and fried pub fare as it is with sushi. A few Chowhounds dropped by for the first izakaya night: Favorites include some home-style classics, like bitter melon with egg, and daikon. The outstanding dishes of the first night were grilled fish collar and marinated eggplant, says felice. And the kakuni is the best version she’s ever had, including in Japan. “[M]ost are overly seasoned, only to be eaten with rice, or not fatty enough. This version was soft, melty, and perfectly salty-sweet.”

shortexact is a natto junkie, and he particularly dug the inari yaki—grilled inari with natto, topped with green onion. His favorite part: two homemade tamago yakis. The tamago is firm yet lightly juicy. “These are among the very best in the Bay Area that I’ve tried; it gives the tamago from Kitsho in Cupertino a run for its money. … Totally subtle, complex and a work of art.”

Prices are pretty great, given the quality of the food: $5 to $8 a dish. The menu will change quite a bit every night.

Sebo [Hayes Valley]
517 Hayes Street, San Francisco

Board Link: Izakaya at Sebo

The Double-Secret Andhra of Dublin

On the outside, Tabla Flavors looks like a Taco Bell. Here is the first secret: It’s not a Taco Bell. It’s an Indian restaurant.

On the inside, Tabla Flavors looks like your usual South Indian restaurant, with all the staples—dosai and whatnot. Here’s the second secret: The cooks are all from Andhra Pradesh. So when Melanie Wong started asking if some of the menu specialties were actually Andhra dishes, the cashier—who was utterly surprised, and very pleased by all this questioning—pointed out all the best Andhra dishes hidden in the menu.

Cut mirchi is a spectacular appetizer. These are fresh green jalapeños fried in flaky chickpea batter and sprinkled with spiced salt, freshly cut sweet onion, and cilantro. These are perfectly, wildly addictive—especially dunked in coconut chutney.

The lamb curry on the specials board that day was actually Andhra pepper-fry, semiwet style, with lots of gravy. And it will be hot, if you ask for it hot. Spring dosa is beautiful, covered in a fine sheen of oil yet not greasy. It’s as thin and crispy as a dosa gets. And it’s filled with fresh green beans, scallions, carrots, and cauliflower, all lightly spiced, making it an unusually delicate dosa.

Tabla Flavors [East Bay]
6830 Village Parkway, Dublin

Board Link: South Indian @ Tabla Flavors in Dublin

It’s All Good … Really

Everybody goes completely, dancingly, clappingly wild for It’s All Good Bakery. Its most famed dish—sweet potato pie—makes legions of Chowhounds swoon. But don’t forget to try the other stuff, because, just like the name says, it’s actually all good. And it’s all buttery. This place is sort of a black-hole implosion of butterfat.

Pecan pie classic delights rworange with the perfection of its pecan energy. There are small, whole toasted pecans; a nice filling; a buttery, crisp crust. “It reminds me how good pecan pie can be.” Also: not toothachingly sweet. The peanut butter cookie is glorious—large, moist, and crumbly. “These $1.35 cookies are scads better than cookies two to three times the price (I’m talking to you Teacakes).”

Yellow cake is excellent: extremely light and moist. And rworange’s favorite cake? The coconut. And we mean, it’s her favorite cake in the whole Bay Area. With a pineapple filling, too.

It’s All Good Bakery [East Bay]
5622 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland

Board Link: Oakland and Vallejo: It’s All Good Bakery – warm sweet potato pie

Coleslaw with Pickled Pork Skin!

There’s a tamale truck in the parking lot of the Dutton Avenue Lola’s Market. It has good tamales—dense but moist. Better still, there is a massive jar of coleslaw with cueritos—pickled pork skin—in it. For $2, you can get a big serving of cueritos coleslaw with cheese sprinkled on top. It’s a good combination—crispy slaw, chewy pork skin, and cheese. How awesome is that? Be the first on your block to have pickled pork skin slaw! Be the first on your block to be able to say “pickled pork skin slaw” five times fast!

No one tells you there’s cueritos in the coleslaw. Imagine what it’s like, says rworange, to be sitting in a dark car, chowing on what you think is perfectly ordinary coleslaw, and then you hit a chewy batch of skin that’s like a gummy worm, but porky. It’d freak you out. Luckily, she’s done the research for you—you can be forewarned, and forearmed. Be ready for the pork skin.

Tamale truck in the Lola’s parking lot [Sonoma County]
440 Dutton Avenue #17, Santa Rosa

Board Link: Santa Rosa–Tamale Truck at Lola’s with cueritos cole slaw