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

A Little Place for Crêpes

Laurel Street Café is a great budget-priced French place, very Gallic in vibe and very family in feel. Crêpes are truly delicious, says Melanie Wong. She had a daily special—in this case, chicken and mushroom in a chewy, thin buckwheat crêpe, and topped with a squiggle of tangy, grainy mustard sauce. And a delectable bit of carrot flan. The crêpe might not be the prettiest, but it’s about as flavorful as you could hope for.

Crêpes suzette is about as eggy and tender as can be, and comes with a scoop of Ciao Bella gelato.

Laurel Street Café [Peninsula]
741 Laurel Street, San Carlos

Board Links: Sunday Crepes @ Laurel Street Café

Beef Noodle Like in the Streets of Taipei

ASJ has the best niu rou mian—beef noodle—in the Bay Area, says tanspace. And by the best, he means that it’s the closest you’ll find to the kind of beef noodles you can buy from street vendors in the streets of Taipei.

He explains: “Most Chinese restaurants try to have a version of niu rou mian on their menu since it is such an iconic item, especially for people from Taiwan. It is almost on par with what Ramen means in Japan, but most places cannot do a good version even if their life depended on it. Either they use store bought noodles that turn lumpy, or have watered down broth that tastes worse than instant noodle versions, or the meat is so dry or tough that you’d rather eat beef jerky.”

But at ASJ, they’ve perfected all three components—noodle, broth, beef—and bring them together like no other place out here. ASJ even usurps its sister restaurant, A&J. Its beef noodle is on a level with the now-deceased Fortune Garden’s version.

Also great here is the iu rou xian bing (Chinese hamburger) and the open-ended pot stickers, which have a tasty filling and a nice wrap. Avoid the soup dumplings—they’re not a specialty.

ASJ Restaurant [South Bay]
1698 Hostetter Road #D, San Jose

Board Links: Best Beef Noodle (NiuRouMian) at ASJ in San Jose

Stromboli Heaven

Lola’s strombolis are just lovely, says rworange. The owner is a master of the crust. They are beautiful creatures, with a great, cheesy pepperoni filling and crust that’s not at all leaden. No sauce.

Parry’s is a joint right out of the streets of New York. Its stromboli is big, and, well, just a classic New York stromboli. There is sauce on the side. In fact, if you want to get closer to the New York trifecta, you can combine your trip to Parry’s with a trip to Gumbah’s, for a glorious Italian Beef—the best in the East Bay. They’re both worth a long trip, assures rworange.

Lola’s [East Bay]
1585 Solano Avenue, Berkeley

Parry’s Market/Pizzeria [Napa County]
234 American Canyon Road, American Canyon

Gumbah’s Italian Beef [Solano County]
138 Tennessee Street, Vallejo

Board Links: Strombolis and Italian Beef in the East Bay-

A Meat-and-Potatoes Mood

If you’re in a meat-and-potatoes mood and want an obscene amount of food, larochelle recommends the restaurant at the Basque Cultural Center. A Sunday dinner special includes lamb stew AND prime rib, along with salad, cubed fried potatoes, sautéed seasonal veggies, and ice cream, all for $18.95. The prime rib is beautifully rare, and the lamb stew is so good it’s worth mopping up with the excellent bread. Robert Lauriston has had some very good, interesting, and inexpensive Basque wines from their wine list, but if that’s not your thing, corkage is a very reasonable $7.

Basque Cultural Center [South San Francisco]
599 Railroad Avenue, South San Francisco

Board Links: Basque Cultural Center–big meal heaven

Extremely Greasy Doughnuts at O’Henry

The doughnuts at O’Henry have so much promise—a crisp exterior, a pillowy and fluffy interior, and a smooth glaze. Unfortunately, they’re beyond greasy. “I think I could have easily used the chocolate twist to wax my whole car,” says withalonge. It’s too bad, because it’s lovely to watch the doughnut-makers rolling and cutting fresh doughnuts while you wait in line. However, if you’re into greasy doughnuts, this might be just the spot.

O’Henry Donuts [East Bay]
13501 San Pablo Avenue #F, San Pablo

Board Links: o’henrys donuts… greasy, oh so greasy

Saigon-style Pho at Pho Tan Hoa

Pho Tan Hoa, the new name for the erstwhile Pho Hoa, serves excellent Saigon-style pho, says grocerytrekker. The rich broth is much darker than the northern version, but it’s not at all murky. There is just a hint of star anise and ginger. A “small” bowl of steaming hot pho (number 16) is a generous portion of pho served with thin, completely pink beef slices on top, and plenty of tendon underneath. Zeldog thinks that the quality of the rare beef here sets it apart from other Tenderloin pho shops.

Pho Tan Hoa [Tenderloin]
431 Jones Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Pho Tan Hoa

Delicious in a Painful Way

If you enjoy food so hot that it makes you convulse, order “spicy” from Ruen Pair—especially the larb. It’s delicious in a painful way, says lmnopm, and it’s especially painful the next day on the salida, if you know what I mean. People who like their Mexican food really hot and eat raw jalapeños often wimp out when presented with food from Ruen Pair.

Chowhounds recommend the famous “Plate O’ Death” at Old Mandarin Islamic. It’s number 29 on the menu, officially called the Pepper Plate. “I eat Thai chili peppers since my family is from Southeast Asia,” says sylphi, “but the Plate O’ Death had me sweating and drinking a lot of water!” Old Mandarin’s “extremely hot pepper” is indeed extremely hot.

Do not mess with the spicy food at the Irving Street branch of Marnee Thai, says Sushi Monster. If you order the chicken wings “really hot” you will likely experience shortness of breath, hyperventilation, profuse sweating, face-flushing, and a slight melting of earwax.

The habanero salsa at Yucatasia has nearly blinded many an intrepid Chowhound. The salsa de barbacoa at El Huarache Azteca is also insanely spicy. It’s served only with the barbacoa (made only on weekends) or by request. “Tastes like habaneros to me,” says Robert Lauriston.

The food at both locations of Thai House Express is some of the spiciest around, the kind you eat just to prove you can. The tom yum soup is probably the spiciest thing, says lucymom, and since it’s soup, it will permeate every nerve in your mouth, rendering it completely numb to any other flavors. Other hounds label the spice level of the food here “scary.”

The “extra extra spicy” level at Osha Thai Noodle Café is labeled “XXX” on the menu, and for good reason. It’s as spicy as anything wanderlust21 had in Thailand. Some may find it inedible. Enjoy!

Ruen Pair [East Bay]
1045 San Pablo Avenue, Albany

Old Mandarin Islamic a.k.a. Old Mandarin Restaurant [Sunset]
3132 Vicente Street, San Francisco

Marnee Thai [Sunset]
2225 Irving Street, San Francisco

Yucatasia [Mission]
2164 Mission Street, San Francisco

El Huarache Azteca [East Bay]
3842 International Boulevard, Oakland

Thai House Express [Tenderloin]
901 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Thai House Express [Castro]
599 Castro Street, San Francisco

Osha Thai Noodle Café [Tenderloin]
696 Geary Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Ultra-spicey?

Pastrami and Cookies at ’wichcraft

Morton the Mousse thinks that ’wichcraft has the best pastrami in the whole Bay Area. They use David’s Old World Pastrami, produced locally; it has the right amount of smoke, with a well-defined flavor beyond the smoke, and a nice amount of fat, too. They pile the pastrami much thicker than most Bay Area spots. The meat is warm, the cheese is melted, the bread is toasted, and everything tastes fresh. With this level of execution, portion size, and ingredient quality, it’s hardly unreasonable to pay $6 to $9.50 per sandwich.

The meatloaf sandwich is also great, and Debbie M recommends the fried egg breakfast sandwich and all the soups she’s tried.

When you’re there, definitely try the sandwich cookies—especially the peanut butter sandwich cookie, with crisp, crunchy cookies surrounding smooth peanut butter filling.

“I’ve lived my whole life in California, and as much as I enjoy talking smack about East Coasters, this is one New York import that deserves our respect,” says Morton the Mousse.

’wichcraft [Mission]
868 Mission Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Believe it or not, there is great chow at the Westfield–Wichcraft Report

Sushi Quest ’07

“One day in mid-February, I awoke hungry. Very hungry,” explains Sushi Monster. And so he begins an odyssey, “a personal quest for a sushi lunch experience of transcendental, near-orgasmic quality.”

So he went to every sushi restaurant he could find from Burlingame to Mountain View—the entire San Francisco Peninsula. Why? “I can’t explain the hunger or why it seized me so powerfully. It is probably the same driving force that impelled me to eat barbecue for 22 consecutive days some years ago. The same force that led me to amass the largest collection of bottled hot sauces on the West Coast.”

Eventually he went to 25 sushi restaurants in a few short months. And he has ranked them all. Of the 25, 6 of them he puts in the top tier: Sakae, SushiYa, Higuma, Yuzu, Sushi Sam’s Edomata, and Naomi. Within the top tier, the rankings are almost arbitrary, says he—any single one of them is worthy of a special trip.

Interestingly, he found almost no correlation between price and quality. The last-placer on his list (the dreadful Liquid Sushi) cost him $39, higher than second-placer SushiYa ($35). The one insane outlier is Sakae—both the best sushi experience and the highest priced, at $113 (with 20 percent tip).

His top choice, in the end, is Sakae. It is almost without peer; only Sam’s is comparable. But for the orthodox, fully traditional sushi experience, there is nothing else. “Sakae’s top chef Jun Nozawa is the mack daddy.” There is a staggering selection of special fish on the whiteboard, too, most of which are FedEx’d from the two main fish markets in Tokyo.

Of the other top-tier places, SushiYa and Yuzu are both small, seven-seater, mom-and-pop-type places that offer top-quality nigiri at a very reasonable price. Higuma is not as small but has exceptional quality for the lowest per-piece price of the top-tier restaurants—it’s probably the best value on the list, says Sushi Monster. Naomi is also a midsize shop, with an indefinably homey vibe. It puts people at ease, which may explains the legions of fans.

And then there’s Sushi Sam’s Edomata, a wild ride through undeniably exceptional sushi, put forward in bold, innovative flavor combinations. But it loses on the value scale, at an average of $7 per nigiri order, as opposed to Higuma’s $4 per order.

Be sure to check out his staggeringly long post, with detailed tasting notes on all 25 restaurants.

Sakae [Peninsula]
240 Park Road, Burlingame

SushiYa [Peninsula]
380 University Avenue, Palo Alto

Higuma [Peninsula]
540 El Camino Real, Redwood City

Yuzu [Peninsula]
54 37th Avenue, San Mateo

Sushi Sam’s Edomata [Peninsula]
218 E. Third Avenue, San Mateo

Naomi [Peninsula]
1328 El Camino Real, Menlo Park

Board Links: Sushi Monster devours Peninsula: The Big List

Stormy’s Primal Energy

The thing to get at Stormy’s Spirits & Supper is prime rib. This is a gorgeous slab of beef, about an inch thick, with rippled edges of glistening fat, says Ruby Louise. It’s tender, it’s juicy, without any gristle or tough bits, and it smells, gloriously, of purest beef.

The best side here: onion rings, for their flaky, almost sheer coating of batter.

It’s suprisingly cheap, as steakhouses go. You can get out of there for under $40 a person, before alcohol. Corkage is $14 a bottle.

Stormy’s Spirits & Supper [Sonoma County]
6650 Bloomfield Road, Petaluma

Board Links: Stormy’s Spirits and Supper