Archive for the ‘SF: Mission’ Category

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Pizzeria Delfina

March 13, 2007

Pizzeria Delfina, as its name suggests, is the pizzeria located next door to the extremely popular Mission District Cal-Italian restaurant, Delfina. The main restaurant Delfina has garnered a wide range of praise over the years, and one day (when we can manage to get a reservation!), we hope to review it here. For this post, though, we will stick to the associated pizzeria next door, which is a separate operation. The pizzeria is a bustling, cramped environment, featuring just a few tables, as well as a handful of bar seats that look in on the ovens. Pizzeria Delfina gets a lot of overflow hype from the main restaurant next door, and so there are very often waits at the pizzeria. You may want to show up early to snag a seat quickly, but another nice option is to eat at an off-peak hour, since the pizzeria is open continuously most days, straight through the hours between lunch and dinner.

Although the real draw here are the pizzas, there are a variety of starters and side dishes that round out the menu. We had the roast fennel soup as a starter:

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Except for a few soft crouton chunks (which really added nothing to this dish other than a different texture), this soup was a straight-up puree. A couple of dashes of chili oil lent a small bit of kick to the immediate local area of the oil, but it did not have much of an effect on the soup as a whole. The smooth fennel flavor came in clearly, though. This was a clean, mild starter — okay, but not particularly memorable. It wasn’t bad, but we probably wouldn’t order it again.

The main event of the day was the broccoli raab pizza, which Short Exact shared with a friend:

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One brief note on the size of the pizza. These are officially intended to be individual pizzas; Short Exact has a pretty average appetite, though, and partly because some of the crusts are thicker than you might expect, we’ve never actually been able to finish one of these pizzas alone. Our preference is to share a pizza with a friend, supplemented by a couple starters.

The pizza included fresh ricotta, mozzarella, broccoli raab, and oven dried tomatoes. It was a very tasty pizza, but our feelings about the execution of this pie remain mixed. From the “California perspective”, this pizza was a success — the use of high quality ingredients (including the very nice ricotta) gives the pie very clean, fresh flavors and really does elevate the experience. However, the actual execution of the pizza itself was less masterful. While the crust was appropriately blistered, it is a quite a bit thicker than what you might expect. As you can see in the image, there is a lot of broccoli raab on the pizza, and the large quantity of toppings is what necessitates the thicker crust. The problem here is that while the outer crust is relatively thick, the thickness decreases very substantially as you move towards the center of the pie, so each slice exhibits a “sagging” or “drooping” effect, when the crust becomes too thin to withstand the weight of the toppings. The delicate balance required here was not achieved, and the crust was not up to the task. The pizza is still delicious, thanks to the good ingredients, but Pizzeria Delfina still has some lessons to learn about how to create a truly superior pie.

Still, this is a good restaurant, all in all. On our last visit, the service was courteous and the delivery of dishes was timed well, even with the full restaurant. The only weak point was the long time required to receive the check. The small space gives Pizzeria Delfina a somewhat hectic atmosphere, and since the main traffic is all located in the corridor directly behind the bar, the counter seats tend to feel especially hectic. And even though the execution of the pizzas is not perfect (by no means is this the best pizza in the Bay Area, or even in San Francisco), the food is still tasty. Pizzeria Delfina is not a restaurant we visit all that frequently, but we do like to keep it in our rotation to visit occasionally.

RATING:

COST:

3611 18th Street (near Guerrero St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.437.6800
Hours: Mon, 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm; Tues-Thurs, 11:30 am – 10:00 pm; Fri, 11:30 am – 11:00 pm; Sat, 12:00 noon – 11:00 pm; Sun, 12:00 noon – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Pizza
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: Pizzeria Delfina is four blocks from the 16 Street Mission BART station. Muni lines: 14, 22, 26, 33, 49, and J.

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Old Jerusalem

February 14, 2007

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Old Jerusalem is a Palestinian restaurant located on Mission Street, on the somewhat quieter southern end near Army Street. With its unassuming storefront, the inside of Old Jerusalem is surprisingly nice; painted on the walls is some scenery depicting Jerusalem as it might have been in more peaceful times. The restaurant, which only has about half a dozen tables, has a cozy, comfortable, and casual atmosphere.

Old Jerusalem’s menu features a lot of the usual suspects, including shawerma, shish kabab (lamb/beef), shish taouk (chicken), and kefta, either prepared in the form of a sandwich, or as a whole entree plate. There are also a variety of salad and appetizer items, including foul (fava beans), hummus, falafel, baba ghanouj (mashed eggplant with tahini), mossabaha (hummus with whole chickpeas), tabouleh, and several others. The two dessert choices are warbat (an Arabic pastry featuring a cream or custardy filling) and kunafa (which has goat cheese and a sort of wheat dough with sweet syrup). Vegetarians should take note that every entree and sandwich item on this menu involves meat, but that the salads and a great number of the appetizers are meat-free, so a vegetarian coming to Old Jerusalem would likely want to order a selection of smaller dishes.

For lunch, we ordered the shish kabab entree:

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The entree includes some rather forlorn pickles to start, several pieces of thick, warm pita bread, about a dozen chunks of meat (you can choose between either beef or lamb — we chose lamb), vegetables, and a choice of rice or hummus. As you see in the above picture, we chose hummus, and while the hummus was not exceptional, it was definitely much better than what one finds at most places. This hummus had a smooth, uniform texture (no odd lumps) that was simultaneously soft yet sturdy, in that it held its shape and was not the least bit “gloopy.” It had a mild yet clearly discernible flavor of tahini and chickpea, but it would have been even better with an ever-so-slight touch of additional lemon juice for a bit more brightness. Still, the hummus was properly (if somewhat sloppily) garnished with olive oil, fresh parsley and paprika. All in all, the hummus was quite good, and as you see in the above picture, you get a lot of it with the entree. The lamb was pretty good quality, but not great. The meat was well-seasoned, and some pieces were good quality, while others were tougher with gristle. You do get quite a bit for the price of the dish, though, so we suppose it’s a tradeoff. Short Exact would have preferred less but better quality lamb, seeing as how we were unable to finish this whole entree in one sitting anyhow. On the other hand, the onion and tomato were very nicely charred.

The service at Old Jerusalem is generally helpful and good-natured but not top-notch in terms of attentiveness. Everything was actually fine up through when our food was delivered. Shortly thereafter, the man who graciously welcomed into the restaurant (who also turned out to double as both waiter and as a cook in the kitchen) suddenly got involved in a rather loud and impassioned discussion in Arabic with a few other people, out of which the only words discernible to us were “San Jose” and “Santa Clara.” Perhaps they were angry about the 49’ers moving out of San Francisco. In any event, once that discussion started, our host/waiter/cook seemed to forget about us, making it a bit difficult for us to close off the meal. Also, because the discussion took place at the edge of the dining area, near the kitchen, the noise also carried out to the tables. Eventually, after waiting for quite awhile, we had to interrupt their discussion to ask for the check. Still, other than this slip-up, the service was good, and seeing as how Old Jerusalem is a small, family-run operation, our experience here was in no way out of the ordinary.

Our final thoughts here are that Old Jerusalem is quite a decent restaurant. It seems like a good place to drop in on every once in awhile, and although the food is not transcendental, it is better and more authentically prepared than at many restaurants in the Bay Area. The Bay Area, for all its diverse selection of restaurants showcasing food from around the world, has a strangely small and often lackluster set of choices for Middle Eastern cuisine, which makes us appreciate places like Old Jerusalem all the more.

RATING:

COST:

2976 Mission Street (between 25th St. and 26th St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.642.5958
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:00 am – 12:00 midnight; Sun, 11:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: Muni bus lines 12, 14, 26, 27, 48, 49, and 67. The 24 Street Mission BART station is a couple blocks away.

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Tao Cafe

February 8, 2007

Tao Cafe is a charming Vietnamese restaurant at the corner of 22nd and Guerrero, in a part of the Mission District that begins to take on a Noe Valley feel. The cuisine here is really French-Vietnamese, in that the offerings are Vietnamese dishes that are sometimes executed with French techniques and sensibilities. For example, Tao Cafe offers a duck confit (more on this later), as well as a Vietnamese version of the ratatouille, a Provencal stew of vegetables. Yes, one pho soup is offered, the pho bo (beef noodle soup) — at the whopping price of $8.50! — but other options are much more enticing. The menu is divided into several sections; in addition to smaller plates and appetizers, there are “large plates” (involving a meat or seafood), several vegetarian clay pots (which were quite well done when we ordered one on a past visit), and the “oodles of noodles” section, which has all the noodle dishes. Another great offer is the 3-course prix fixe (offered every day except Friday and Saturday), in which you can order an appetizer, an “oodles of noodles” dish, and a dessert, for less than $18 (the exact price depends on your choices). Every table is given a complimentary assortment of munchables to begin (which we did not take a picture of). These may or may not change, but on our visit, we were given two types of chips (shrimp and mung bean), and two types of pickled vegetables (carrot and daikon). A nice, light assortment to begin the meal. For an appetizer, we had the fresh spring roll of grilled salmon,

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which was served with a ginger and tamarind sauce. The salmon with ginger and tamarind actually turned out to be a fairly nice combination, but the peak of the flavor came quickly and was short-lived. After that point in time, the flavor fell flat, rather than continuing to evolve as we chewed. The wrapping of the roll was done fairly well, though. This was an interesting dish to order, but we would still consider it to be inferior to an excellently executed, but more traditional, goi cuon (Vietnamese spring roll).

Our entree was the mi vit,

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the aforementioned Vietnamese confit of duck legs, served with egg noodles. The duck in this dish was actually excellent; the meat was tender, falling right off the bone, and it was very flavorful. An entire duck leg is included, although the entree is around $12, so you are paying for it. Very tasty indeed. However, the egg noodles were a bit too clumpy and mushy from sitting in the soup; they very quickly lost that sort of light, bouncy chewiness exhibited by superior egg noodles. The broth itself was oversalted, and while some salt is certainly necessary to offset the duck, this broth had a bit too much, and the noodles, in turn, absorbed more and more of that salt as they sat longer stewing in the broth; this, of course, only increased the saltiness of the dish. Because of this, we would probably not order this dish again as a soup (it can be ordered with broth or without), since it seemed to be exactly the “soupy” aspects of it (the broth, and the noodle/broth interaction) that were not as well executed. However, since the duck confit itself was so nice, we not hesitate to order this again as a standard noodle plate.

All told, Tao Cafe is an enjoyable restaurant. The French colonial decor gives Tao Cafe the look of a tropical hotel lobby, and the setting is much nicer than what you’d find at a hole-in-the-wall (although, as you know if you’re a regular reader, Short Exact loves those dearly). The service was OK; it was generally prompt and nice, but it seemed slightly unfocused and disinterested at the same time. The food, while not perfect, is generally good and has its shining moments. Although not a destination restaurant, Tao Cafe is a perfectly nice choice in the neighborhood.

RATING:

COST:

1000 Guerrero Street (at 22nd St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.641.9955
Hours: Daily, 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Vietnamese
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: Muni lines 14, 26, 33, 48, 49, 67, and J. 24 Street Mission BART station is four long blocks away.

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El Tonayense Taco Truck

October 12, 2006

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El Tonayense is a taco truck planted at the intersection of 22nd and Harrison in the Mission. In addition to a standard restaurant located in a building, the El Tonayense folks have a slew of trucks scattered around the Mission (and we think Potrero as well). Other locations include 16th/Shotwell, the Best Buy at 14th/Harrison, and 19th/Harrison, but somehow Short Exact has latched onto the 22nd/Harrison truck as our favorite.

On our most recent visit, we ordered two tacos, a carne asada and a veggie,

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which featured fresh veggies, cilantro, jalapenos, and lime, with all the taco contents generously heaped atop two corn tortillas. The meat in the carne asada taco was perfectly seasoned. All in all, these were two fresh, delicious tacos, that were also very friendly on the wallet at only $1.50 each.

In addition to the vegetarian option, which features rice and beans, El Tonayense carries all the expected meats: pollo asado, carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, lengua, sesos, cabeza, and so forth. These can be enjoyed as a taco, burrito, or torta. We’ve never had the tortas here, so we couldn’t vouch for those. On one occasion, we had a burrito, and found it to be certainly acceptable, if somewhat on the dry side. Short Exact is not willing to jump to conclusions after just the one burrito, but we can wholeheartedly recommend their deliciously addictive tacos, which we have enjoyed for a quick bite on many occasions.

For those who might be squeamish about eating street food, we’d just like to mention that El Tonayense is actually quite clean for a taco truck. The one negative point about the 22nd/Harrison location is that while (obviously) there is no seating area, there also isn’t really any immediately convenient park area or bench, where one could enjoy one’s meal. This is a relatively minor consideration, though, since it’s really all about the tacos. With these authentic, filling, delicious delights sold at such reasonable prices, who can resist?

RATING:

COST:

22nd Street and Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Hours: Daily, 10:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Mexican
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: The 22nd/Harrison location of El Tonayense’s taco truck is one long block from Muni lines 12 and 27, two long blocks from lines 9 and 48, and three long blocks from lines 14 and 49. The 24 Street Mission BART station is about 1/2 mile away.

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El Taco Loco

August 24, 2006

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El Taco Loco is one of the Mission’s many taquerias, located right next to the 24th Street BART station. There is another location of El Taco Loco on Mission Street in the Bernal Heights area (located at 3306 Mission Street, cross: 29th St.), but it’s both inferior to the 24th St. location and less conveniently located, so we likely won’t review it here. While we wouldn’t call El Taco Loco San Francisco’s best taqueria (hopefully this will not infuriate its most loyal followers), it is certainly a solid choice, in an area that has many solid choices.

On our most recent visit, Short Exact ordered the carne asada burrito:

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We’d like to first observe that Short Exact is not in the habit of opening the foil on our burritos and cutting it in half prior to eating. In general, we don’t like to do this at all, since it undermines the structural integrity of the burrito, and the foil is a great way to keep the burrito together and encourage the mingling of the interior juices. However, an image of a burrito wrapped in foil is not particularly interesting, so we sacrificed structural integrity to take a photograph. We did it for you: our loyal, devoted readers.

On this occasion, El Taco Loco definitely delivered the goods. Our burrito featured a nicely grilled tortilla, with thoroughly melted cheese. There was a good amount of meat — enough to make a substantial burrito, but not so much that it overwhelmed the rice and the vegetables — and the meat was well spiced and packed with flavor. The cilantro balanced well with the other ingredients, and the pico de gallo combined nicely. All in all, we really enjoyed all the interior ingredients of the burrito with the exception of the guacamole, which was hardly noticeable. However, even though the interior ingredients were generally good, they were not integrated as well as we might have hoped. Rather than having a perfectly uniform mix, in which each bite combined all the delicious ingredients equally, certain bites contained too much meat, while other bites had not enough. Better integration of the ingredients, with stronger guacamole presence, and this would have been excellent.

The final verdict? Well, like we said: not San Francisco’s best taqueria, but you could do much worse than El Taco Loco. It is definitely a respectable burrito joint, even in the taqueria-saturated Mission District.

RATING:

COST:

3274 24th Street (between Mission St. and Capp St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.282.7018
Hours: Daily, 7:00 am – 12 midnight.

Cuisine: Mexican
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: El Taco Loco taqueria is located very conveniently around the corner from the 24 Street Mission BART station, and is no more than a couple blocks from Muni lines 12, 14, 26, 48, 49, and 67.

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Arinell Pizza

July 21, 2006

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The debate about which type of pizza reigns supreme, New York thin crust vs. Chicago deep dish, is an old and tired one; in fact, it’s thought to date back to the Neanderthals. Equally tired is the assault on the pitiful and deplorable state of pizza quality in California, constantly raised by displaced East Coasters, who (we’d like to note) nonetheless chose to give up the superior pies of their native homeland to move to a state with other important attributes, such as decent weather. Moreover, there will always be New Yorkers who will claim and give extensive arguments about why Arinell’s Pizza, despite the “New York Style” proclamation on its entrance sign, is most certainly not authentic New York pizza, and why their favorite pie joint in _______________ (fill in your favorite New York City borough here) is vastly superior, by at least seven orders of magnitude.

But you know what? We’re not in New York. Get over it. And quite frankly, some of us couldn’t care less.

We’re being a little harsh. Short Exact actually does care about authenticity, as you’ve most likely picked up if you’ve read any of our other reviews. Having said that, Short Exact is a native of the Bay Area and doesn’t feel as strongly about the superiority of the New York slice. We enjoy both Chicago deep dish and New York thin crust, and even…(wait for it)… pizzas with “California” ingredients, such as feta cheese. Nonetheless, when we have a hankering for a true New York slice, we often head to Arinell’s, for a more-or-less authentic rendition of this New York staple. One day we had such a hankering, and so we ordered a classic Neapolitan cheese slice,

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which should, no doubt, gain the approval of any diehard New Yorkers who might be reading this, bereft as it is of any ingredients that might not belong on a “real” thin crust slice. So, how did the slice pan out? Well, the crust was rather crisp, but it did not have the blistered effect we were hoping for. Nonetheless, it was delightfully foldable, as any New York slice should be. The cheese is real deal mozzarella, and it melded well with the sauce. No sugar is added to the sauce, so it’s not too sweet — and no salt is added beyond the pinch needed for the dough, so the flavor here is about right, but it was too mellow. We found the marinara to be bland, and so the slice did not have the robust flavor that it could have. Overall, though, it’s a very dependable slice of pizza.

Ambience? Well, as you might expect, there’s close to none. There is some counter seating, but that’s it. Generally, it’s a much better idea to either take out a whole pizza, or maybe take a stroll over to Dolores Park and enjoy your slice there. The employees here are often on another planet due to their pot-smoking tendencies, and so it’s not at all rare for the smell of pot to mingle with (or, sometimes, overwhelm) the wafting pizza aromas. But what do you care? If you’re at Arinell’s, you’re not after a 5-star dining experience: you’re after a solid slice of New York pizza. And that’s what you’ll get.

RATING:

COST:

509 Valencia Street (near 16th St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.255.1303
Hours: Mon-Wed, 11:30 am – 10:00 pm; Thurs-Sat, 11:30 am – 12 midnight; Sun, 1:30 pm – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Pizza
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: Arinell Pizza is easily accessible by BART, located just 1 long block west of the 16 Street Mission station. For Muni riders, Arinell is 3 long blocks east of the J line, and is very close to bus lines 14, 22, 26, 33, 49, and 53.

Note: This review was prompted by a visit to the Arinell Pizza in the Mission, but there is another outpost in Berkeley, located at 2109 Shattuck Avenue, near Addison St., right next to the Downtown Berkeley BART station. When in Berkeley, we’d rather go to the Cheeseboard or to Zachary’s — and we promise that both these restaurants will get reviews at some point in the future — so Short Exact has not actually been to the Berkeley Arinell’s. Therefore, we can’t vouch for it, but we’ve heard from friendly sources that the pies there are comparable to those found at the Valencia location. In any case, we thought we’d mention the other location, even if, strictly speaking, this review only applies to the San Francisco outpost.