Pudgy gnocchis at Cotogna

Restaurant Roundup: SF Vol. 2

We’ve been traveling a ton lately so this is a highlight of my favorite restaurants from the last two months. It was a good run — I ate my fair share of tasty meals and tried Bon Appetite’s No. 1 New Restaurant in America.

Breakfast/Lunch

Pozole — Mexican soup over brunch at Hecho

El Techo de Lolinda: This spot has nailed the winning brunch formula — flavorful Latin American food + tasty strong cocktails + a beautiful view of the city. If you’re in a sharing mood, then I’d recommend a bunch of small plates for the table. Order the Ceviche de Camaron, Quesadilla de Pibil, Empanada de Carne, and the Chorizo Scramble and then sip on a Paloma (tequila, grapefruit, soda) and take in the SF skyline.

Hecho: Another Latin American brunches spot. Located in the Mission, Hecho is bright and airy and great choice for groups. I skipped the eggs this time and went with pozole, a traditional Mexican soup of roast pork, maize, cabbage, radish ad pickles. my dining companions told me the brunch torta and hecho hash weren’t shabby either.

Dinner

Described on the menu as “baby lettuces, herbed avocado, pistachio crumble”

Al’s Place: Since it topped Bon Appetite best new restaurants list, getting a reservation here has been challenging. So we parked ourselves outside the restaurant 30 minutes before it opened on a Saturday, crossing our fingers for walk-in counter space. Success! Vegetables are the main attraction here, while proteins are relegated to the “Sides” section of the menu. Our group ordered the $60 per person family style meal, which was a parade vegetables in artful arrangements. Highlights included freshly made campanelle pasta with tomato, gouda and basil; a dish of raw zucchini ribbons, burrata, and smashed raspberries; and a salad of baby lettuces, herbed avocado, and pistachio crumble that resembled a festival headdress. The dishes were fresh and inspired but, if I were to be honest, I couldn’t say the meal left me craving for more.

Skewers from Izakaya Rintaro — knee cap, liver, and gizzard

Izakaya Rintaro: Another buzzy new restaurant, but unlike Al’s Place, the meal was memorable and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about about the medley of flavors. In izakaya style, the menu was an assortment of dishes cooked in different styles. My favorites included the chicken skewers, fresh silken tofu with soy sauce and ginger, salt crusted roasted rainbow trout, house-made udon, and green tea panna cotta. I can’t wait to go back!

Woodfire pizza with spicy sausage, tomatoes, and chilis

Cotogna: This Italian restaurant in Jackson Square is not new to me. In fact, it’s probably one of the restaurants I’ve returned to the most in SF. Cotogna is warm, inviting, serving rustic fare, with a focus on house-made pastas and its woodfire oven. I’ve tried most of the menu items and I’m hard-pressed to find anything that isn’t fantastic. If it’s your first visit, I’d recommend the agnolotti pasta in a rich, savory sauce of pork, lamb and beef to pair with any of the excellent grilled pizzas. There’s usually a wait, but nothing to egregious. You can always bide your time at Bix down the street, enjoying a classy cocktail and some jazzy piano music.

Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant(老北京): The Sunset District is sprinkled with authentic Chinese restaurants but, to me, this one is a head above the rest. Not only does it serve super legit versions of my favorite Chinese dishes (dried sautéed string beans, braised fish Szechuan style, scallion pancake beef rolls, lamb dumplings), but it also has an excellent hot pot offering. I recommend half basic broth and half super spicy broth. Get a few plates of beef and lamb, fish balls, frozen tofu, napa cabbage, mushrooms, winter melon, and noodles and get ready for the goodness. As we head into a cooler winter, this is the perfect spot on a chilly night. As the name of the restaurant may suggest, you’ll find no pork on the menu — rarity for a Chinese restaurant.

Roast chicken, kale, carrots, and rice with eggplant

Middle’terranea: This pop-up restaurant is located at the Mina Test Kitchen, the experimental branch of the Mina empire. The theme is Mediterranean cuisine and the food is served family style with warmth and care. We ate our way through half a dozen courses, the most memorable dishes being ahi tuna and baba ghanoush sandwiched between warm laffa bread, hummus with spicy lamb ragu, and a salad with grilled stone fruit fattoush. Although I haven’t spent much time in the Mediterranean, my impression was that the food radiated with authenticity, as if it came straight from a family kitchen.

Fried chicken from Ssisso, photo courtesy of The Thrillest

Ssisso: Did you know that Japantown is home to one of the most tasty Korean restaurants? They have a glorious set of banchan, the complimentary vegetable dishes served before your ordered dishes. Then, you can get your fix of kimchi pancakes, bibimbap, and sweet and savory Korean fried chicken. For the adventurous, try my personal favorite Korean dish, the glorious budaejjigae — a stew of kimchi, tofu, vegetables, beef, hot dog, spam and in Ssisso’s case, a few slices of American cheese. I know it sounds insane. Don’t question it, just fill up your bowl with the soupy goodness and sprinkle in spoonfuls of rice. This place makes a great pitstop pre- or post- a movie at Kabuki theater.

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