Sakoon: A User’s Guide
Michelin Guide Recommended | Native Indian Owner | Stuffed Naan Bread | Specialty Curries | Modern Decor
Bread: rosemary and garlic naan
Meat entree: butter chicken
Vegetarian entree: paneer peshawari
Dessert: gajar halwa
About the Space: Carved into wooden panels, the familiar figure of Buddha greets guests as they enter Sakoon, where fiber-optic chandeliers cast a glow over the modern decor and a waterfall that ends in a pool of lotus petals.
Meet the Team: Owner Balkar S. Tamber was born in the small Indian town of Khanoor, where he grew up with a passion for cooking. His fellow chef at Sakoon, Alex Paul Xalxo, also has a fire in his belly when it comes to food. In fact, Mr Xalxo started his career at India’s Hotel Juhu Centaur in Mumbai, where his clients included such guests as President Bill Clinton.
Press and Praise: In its recommendation for the restaurant, Michelin Guide says "Sakoon draws big techie crowds for its lunch buffet—and transforms into an upscale, contemporary dinnertime experience come sundown."
Paneer: a white South Asian cheese made from boiling cow's or water buffalo's milk and curdling it with whey; it dates back to at least 6,000 BC.
Gajar Halwa: a North Indian and Pakistani sweet pudding made from grated carrots cooked in a pot with water, milk, and sugar.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: House keys, safes, and hundreds of other facinating items open up before you at The Jehning Family Lock Museum (175 Castro Street).
After: Try on some old-fashioned clothing, or even a costume, from Empire Vintage Clothing (831 Vila Street).
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: the naan and chicken tikka masala at Shezan (216 Castro St).
CasCal: A User’s Guide
Pan-Latin Cuisine | Tapas | House-Made Sangria | Outdoor Patio
Tapas: chile-braised chicken, tomato, and onion sauce served in a banana leaf
Vegetarian tapas: wild mushroom empanadas with manchego cheese and truffle oil
Large plate: marinated slow-roasted pork shoulder with Cuban black beans
Dessert: pumpkin spiced bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce and ice cream
What to Drink: house-made sangria made with fresh citrus, apples, brandy, spices, and triple sec. The drinks menu also has plenty of mojitos, margaritas, and martinis.
Where to Sit: on the outdoor patio, which is open when it’s warm and tends to be much quieter than inside.
The Vibe: colorful—award-winning designer Chuck Thompson created Cascal’s festive scene, punctuating it with bold tones and rustic chandeliers.
It can get a bit noisy, so this might not be the best place to bring a first date.
Empanada: half-moon-shaped pastry stuffed with savory ingredients, such as meats and veggies; most Latin or Latin-inspired cuisines have some form of the dish.
Picadillo: a Latin American take on hash that typically blends ground beef, tomatoes, and various vegetables and spices.Here, it’s featured in chicken form in the gorditas.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Birk’s, Cascal founder Don Durante’s other restaturant. At this Silicon Valley staple, you’ll find hardwood-grilled steaks, as well as an extensive spread of chops and seafood.
Fusion-Minded Vietnamese | Bountiful Lunch Buffet | Nightlife in the Lounge | Packed Patio
Salad: papaya salad
Appetizer: garlic noodles with parmesan and crispy shallots
Roll: Kobe beef roll
Small plate: ahi tuna tartare
Drinks: lychee martini and sangria
When to Go: To figure out what you like best, come for the 30-dish, very vegetarian-friendly lunch buffet on weekdays. It’s a popular option, so aim to arrive right at 11:30 a.m. to avoid a wait.
Where to Sit: If it’s nice out—or even a little brisk—head to the patio, which is hedged by lush plants and trees and warmed by heat lamps on cooler nights.
Inside Tip: Presentation is a major focus at Xanh, and some dishes arrive deconstructed for maximum visual appeal. If you’re not sure how everything fits together, just ask your server.
Running the Show: Thuy Pham—a cook and trained pastry chef who designed the menu—and her daughter Amanda, who created the flashy interior design.
Nuoc cham: a variety of Vietnamese dipping sauces known for being sweet, sour, salty, and spicy
Pho: Vietnamese soup consisting of broth and rice noodles, often topped with meat or another protein and served with garnishes such as basil, sprouts, lime, and jalapeños
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Work up an appetite by browsing clothing, furniture, and all manner of cheeky home decor at Therapy (250 Castro St.).
After: For dessert, grab a tapioca-pearl-studded milk tea at Verde Tea Cafe (852 Villa St.).
Vaso Azzurro Ristorante: A User’s Guide
Northern Italian Cuisine | Freshly Made | Extensive Wine List | Upscale Atmosphere
Appetizer: fried calamari
Main course: Pollo Azzurro–sauteéd chicken breast served with vegetables
Wine: a glass of Italian Pascua pinot grigio
Where to Sit: For a delightful al fresco experience, nab a spot on the small patio.
Order takeout directly from the restaurant and receive a 20% discount.
Book a table for a loved one's birthday or other special occasion, then call the restaurant and request that the resident poet write a verse to memorialize the event. The poet will perform the poem, then give you a copy written in calligraphy to take home.
With two trains and two bus stops fewer than half a block away, the restaurant makes it easy to leave the car in the driveway and avoid any potential parking headaches.
Affogato: a sweet drink made by topping gelato or ice cream with a shot of hot espresso. The Italian name translates to “drowned,” referring to the slowly melting ice cream.
Carpaccio: thinly sliced raw beef or fish dressed with a flavorful sauce.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Meet up at Tapioca Express (740 Villa Street) for some tea or light Taiwanese snacks before heading to dinner.
After: Work off dinner calories with some latin dancing at Monte Carlo Night Club (228 Castro Street).
Sushi Tomi: A User’s Guide
No-Nonsense Sushi | Thick-Cut Sashimi | Lunch Hotspot | Omakase Options
Appetizer: crispy fried gyoza
Entree: beef sukiyaki combo, which comes with miso soup, salad, and rice
Roll: Tomi Special roll, topped with lightly torch-seared fish
They’ll take to-go orders, but dine in if you can—lots of special dishes don’t appear on the menu.
Try arriving before noon for lunch and before 7 p.m. for dinner to beat the crowds.
To sample new and unusual sea creatures in store on a budget—often including fish flown in from Japan’s famous Tsukiji market—try the chef’s-choice nigiri.
Omakase: chef-selected multicourse dinner, typically focusing on sushi. The word can be approximately translated as "I trust you"—a sign of confidence in the chef's craft.
Yosenabe: Translating loosely as “combination pot,” this dish is a one-pot stew of seafood and vegetables, whatever’s in season.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Book a Five Elements facial—which uses soothing clay chosen according to the five elements of traditional Chinese medicine—at Luxuray Skincare (692 W. Dana Street).
After: Slurp down dessert in the form of boba tea or red-bean pudding at Tea Era (271 Castro Street).
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Sushi Tomi’s owners run two other sushi spots in the area: Tomisushi (4336 Moorpark Avenue, San Jose), where everything’s upside-down, and Hana (4320 Moorpark Avenue, San Jose).
Deemed "pizza of the year" every year by Round Table Pizza's loyal fans, this deliciously-cheesy pizza served in the heart of Mountain View will have you reaching for seconds, thirds, and even fourths.
Round Table Pizza serves food that not only tastes great, but is low in fat and gluten-free.
With this pizzeria's wide selection of refreshments available, you can tap into the drink menu early in the evening.
Have a few picky young eaters in the family? Not a problem at this pizzeria, where the food and ambience are perfect for family dining.
Parties of any size can easily be seated at Round Table Pizza.
The pizzeria accepts reservations, so you can get around the busy crowd.
Save your formal dress for another occasion — a nice top is the perfect fit for Round Table Pizza's business casual code.
Call Round Table Pizza for catering if you have a big event coming up.
Enjoy this pizzeria's cooking from your own home with their carryout and delivery options.
The neighboring lot provides free parking to patrons.
Who s hungry for great grub at a reasonable rate? Round Table Pizza s yummy creations will leave a mark in your memory but not a dent in your pocketbook.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served at the pizzeria, but reviewers rate the dinner menu the highest.
Roni, sausage, and veggie are just a few of the delicious options at Round Table Pizza. Taste the shining reviews for yourself when you head to Round Table Pizza for a tasty pizza pie.
Pizza doesn't have to be fancy to be great. Delicious pies await you at Round Table Pizza (along with star-studded reviews and sky-high ratings), so grab a seat and dig in.
If you're in the mood for a casual night out, pay Round Table Pizza a visit and munch on some delicious pizza.
So load up a few pizzas with your favorite toppings at Round Table Pizza and enjoy a night munching away with your friends.
Most Top Chef finalists launch their restaurant careers right after their time on television ends. Not Casey Thompson—she spent seven years after season three traveling, all the while thinking hard about what she wanted in a venue. She met farmers, built relationships, and finally opened Aveline (plus its cocktail bar sibling, The European) in June. As the result of so much careful planning, the restaurant truly embodies Casey’s vision, both in the space and on the plate.
One key part of that vision? Pigs. Casey loves to use almost every part of them, including the head. In honor of Aveline’s recent launch, we asked her about her fondness for pork, her cooking philosophy, and some of her go-to spots in San Francisco.
GROUPON: One ingredient that crops up on the menus at Aveline and The European is pork. Specifically, pork from the pig’s head—pork jowl, pig cheek, pig ear. What do you like about this ingredient?
CASEY THOMPSON: In general, I love any animal that tastes good from head to toe! As a chef, it’s really beneficial for me to use different parts of an animal that might otherwise be underutilized. It keeps costs down and provides guests with the opportunity to try things they may not otherwise try.
There is a lot more marbling in these parts than you might think, and there are a variety of different textures in specific parts like the ear.
G: Do you think that pig face is trending right now?
CT: I don't know. I try not to pay too much attention to what’s “trendy.” I just want to make food that tastes good, and if it means using parts of an animal that are unfamiliar to most people and [then] educating people about them, I’m happy to do so.
G: If someone hasn't tried any part of the pig’s head, where should they start?
CT: I think a good place to start is with pig cheek—it’s rich and it braises perfectly! Confiting a pig cheek [at home] is easy. The most difficult part is probably finding the product, but your local butcher can help with that.
G: Are there other pig dishes in San Francisco that you like?
CT: The pork at Kokkari is unreal, and Namu Gaji does a pretty impressive job too!
G: Aside from cooking with pig parts, you’re also an advocate for sustainability and the environment. Where does that passion come from?
CT: I have a job that impacts the environment, and as such, I have a duty to make sure that my staff and I do all we can not to add to the overwhelming issues we’re already facing.
I am also a firm believer in good husbandry. All animals deserve to live a good life, especially if they are giving us theirs for nourishment. It’s our responsibility as humans to recognize that.
G: Some of your dishes have original ingredients with a cool, earthy vibe. I’m talking about the "ham snow" and "chicory soil" on Aveline’s menu. Can you tell us more about these?
CT: Environmental elements in a dish add interesting flavors. The chicory soil contains nori, breadcrumbs, candied cashews, and chicory—all pretty earthy, you’re right. Now, the ham snow is highly technical stuff: we freeze ham, grate it over cold amberjack, and call it snow!
G: You’re also creating the menu over at The European, your bar-and-lounge project with Adam Wilson. It seems like the snacks have more of an updated comfort-food feel. Is The European the other side of Aveline's coin?
It absolutely is! There is a secret kid side to me with that menu and, really, it’s us having fun. I do think we have the best burger—it is so good. I want people to use both spaces! Come and eat at The European!
G: To close out, can you share some of your favorite San Francisco spots to grab a bite?
For coffee: Réveille Coffee Co.
For breakfast (and guilty, greasy pleasures): San Jalisco
For lunch and dinner: Kokkari, Kin Khao
For after-hours drinks and eats: Rye, Tradition, Le Colonial
For outdoor dining: The Ferry Building, Slanted Door, Cavallo Point, Coqueta
This interview has been condensed and edited. Photos courtesy of Casey Thompson. The European photo by Andi Fisher.
When you live in a city with so much scenery, eating inside can feel a bit stifling. Here are five beautiful restaurant patios in San Francisco that allow you to order in the great outdoors.
Mission Rock Resort (817 Terry Francois Blvd.)
The restaurant group that owns South Park staples MoMo’s, Pedro’s Cantina, and Pete’s Tavern overhauled Mission Rock Resort in late 2012. Now, it’s a bayside escape with plenty of deck seating, calming ocean views, and easy parking. Try bites from the raw bar or fried seafood for lunch, brunch, or happy hour.
Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission St.)
The most popular tables at this Mission stalwart are in the romantic covered patio. In the evening, artsy or retro flicks are projected on the patio wall while sound can be played through drive-in–style speakers at each table. The movies, however, are a secondary draw compared to the Californian-Mediterranean food.
Waterbar (399 The Embarcadero S)
Waterbar is a perennial Top 100 restaurant, so you can bet on some memorable seafood with views of the bay, the Bay Bridge, and the Bay Lights—not to mention $1.25 oysters every day before 5:30 pm.
Bar Agricole (355 11th St.)
Opened by a collective of the city’s best bartenders and sommeliers, Bar Agricole is led by master drink maker Thad Vogler. Unsurprisingly, its cocktails are just as good as its seasonal food. The space’s award-winning design features plenty of redwood, concrete, and glass, plus a spacious patio that’s covered and heated during the winter months.
Biergarten (424 Octavia St.)
Biergarten takes its name literally—its only seating is outdoors, where all of its Bavarian-style street food is served from shipping containers converted into a kitchen and bar. Brews can be ordered by the half- or full-liter, but considering the long lines, it’s best to get the larger of the two before you squeeze into one of the communal picnic tables.
Photos courtesy of Mission Rock Resort, Foreign Cinema, Waterbar, and Bar Agricole; Biergarten photo courtesy of BarFlySF.
Sushi is not hard to come by in San Francisco, but so much variety means that finding the perfect sushi spot can be a challenge. Here are our picks for the five freshest, most innovative sushi restaurants in the Bay Area.
1. Cha-Ya (762 Valencia St.)
Vegetarian sushi anyone? While that may sound like an oxymoron, Cha-Ya is redefining what sushi means, veggie- and vegan-style. It’s cash-only here, and the wait can be long, but the food is inventive and the service is great. Even meat eaters should enjoy the Cha-Ya Roll: tempura-battered asparagus, avocado, yam, and carrot with Cha-Ya’s special sauce.
2. Minako Organic Japanese Restaurant (2154 Mission St.)
Never tried fried “veggie eel” before? This place has you covered, and it accommodates most dietary restrictions. There’s a vegan menu, a gluten-free menu, animal-product-free tempura, and sushi made with brown rice.
3. Roka Akor (801 Montgomery St.)
The presentation at Roka Akor is out of this world: sushi served on a landscape of salt rocks, ice, bamboo boxes, and light (that’s right, your sushi plate will glow). The tasting menu is a must-try and incorporates a wide range of different fish.
4. Tsunami Sushi Panhandle (1306 Fulton St.)
Tusnami’s classic california rolls are half off during happy hour, but the restaurant is most famous for its combination rolls. Try the Mama San with tempura shrimp and spicy tuna or the Magic Mushroom roll with salmon, snow crab, and enoki mushrooms. Also, consider adding some zing to your meal with sake or wine.
5. Akiko’s Restaurant (431 Bush St.)
Located in Union Square, Akiko’s serves up superfresh sushi—the menu changes daily based on the availability of ingredients. The kitchen focuses on serving sustainable, organic, seasonal, and local fish at high-end prices. The omakase menu will run up to $100 per person, but for sushi die-hards, it’s worth it. If you’re not feeling fish, there are non-sushi items on the menu, too, including teriyaki meats and udon soups.