The team behind Helmand Palace can't bring the Helmand River—the longest in Afghanistan—to San Francisco. But while the restaurant's diners can't see the Helmand's sparkling waters, they also can't avoid its influence. Because a substantial portion of its waters are diverted to fertilize Afghan farmland, it's an essential, if often-elided, ingredient in the Afghan cuisine Helmand Palace cooks up daily.
One of their best-known dishes is the char-broiled leg of lamb, whose juicy meat is marinated in pureed vegetables and served with challow rice. This rice is a staple of the entrees, and prepared with great care: it's soaked overnight, then rinsed and baked for maximum spicy flavor. It's also the foundation of the prime rib, which is served with sun-dried grapes and sauteed lentils. One place it's absent, though, is in the beloved house baklava, a flaky dessert almost as crowd-pleasing as a layer cake whose third layer is cash.
In a colorful and lively atmosphere, Peña Pachamama's servers whisk Bolivian tapas and wholesome treats to tables as musical acts, cultural dances, and globally inspired performances entertain. A multicultural kaleidoscope of artists and performers take to the stage five nights a week for raw-cooking demonstrations, Flamenco Thursdays, world-music concerts, and dance performances. Chefs transmute organic, raw, and living ingredients into vegan and vegetarian options, and handcraft traditional dishes, such as plantains yuca frita. They flatten Oregon County grass-fed beef to craft traditional Bolivian silpancho accessorized with pico de gallo, huevo frito, and a top hat made of rice. Bartenders make merry evenings merrier by pouring specialty cocktails, Bolivian and Peruvian beers, and fruit-laced sangria.
In its pervious incarnation, Peña Pachamama's space hosted Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and the wedding dinner of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. Fireplaces pour warmth into upstairs rooms that treat diners to views of Coit Tower. Music cover charges are automatically added to dinner bills during performances; diners who don't wish to see the performance or who are allergic to music should ask to be seated upstairs or plan to eat before 7 p.m.
The Press Box: Tony's Pizza Napoletana
Tony Gemignani can toss a mean pie—he’s even got two pizza-crust-related Guinness World Records to prove it. But at Tony's Pizza Napoletana, the focus isn’t about how fast or wide chefs can spin a pizza: it’s all about the flavor. Tony bakes 11 types in seven different ovens, from wood-fired margherita pizzas to New York–style pies cooked in a gas oven. But Tony’s is more than just great pizza. Read on to see why this restaurant's garnished so much attention:
“ . . . It is America's best pizzeria, doing so many things, and doing them all so well." — USA Today
"The [margherita] pizza is textbook perfect." — San Francisco Chronicle
"Don't dismiss non-pizza dishes such as hearty meatballs smothered in bright sauce." — Gayot
"The smooth creaminess of the burrata is a perfect complement to the giant meatball's seasoning and the coarse texture of its veal, pork, and beef." — SF Weekly
"It seems counterintuitive that a North Beach restaurant that has won world championship titles for its pizza also would feature original and engaging cocktails. But that’s what you get at Tony’s." — San Francisco Examiner
Chubby Noodle: A User’s Guide
Noodle Bar | “Freestyle” Asian Fusion | Bottomless Dim Sum Brunch | Cold Tea Cocktail | Two Locations
Noodles: chili prawns noodles
Cold dish: tuna poke with sesame, soy, and sambal
Hot dish: Korean-style pork tacos, which writers for The Infatuation said was “one of the top dishes, taco or otherwise, [they’ve] eaten in SF.”
How It All Began
Pete Mrabe opened Chubby Noodle as a humble popup inside of Amante, a North Beach bar. It became so popular that Pete—along with restaurateur Nick Floulis—decided to open a second location in the Marina district, this time inside his own brick-and-mortar space that’s just as vibrant as the food.
When to Go: weekend brunch (10 a.m.–3 p.m.), when they give each table exactly 90 minutes to enjoy bottomless dim sum dishes and four to five beverages. (Marina)
Where to Sit
Marina: Grab one of the 7-foot cedar tables that jut out from the kitchen. Here, guests enjoy up-close views of culinary magic while cooks double as servers.
North Beach (inside Amante): Claim a stool at one of the high tops near the “Hungry?” neon sign, which hangs above the service counter Chubby Noodle operates from.
Pair Your Meal with: the on-tap Cold Tea cocktail, which blends nigori sake, Jardesca ( an aperitif), ginger, serrano, honey, jasmine, and mint tea. (Marina)
From the Press
“Pete’s menu and flavor profiles span a lot of cuisines: Mandarin, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and hey, you’ll find some tortillas on there too. It’s not fusion, it’s more a study in freestyle deliciousness.“ – Tablehopper
“If a Japanese izakaya and Chinese dim sum met a family-style party with California wines and hip-hop thrown in for good measure, it might look like Chubby Noodle Marina.” — Zagat
Finding the place can be a little tricky, as there’s no name on the Marina building. Just look for a sign featuring a noodle with a face bathing in a bowl of other, less personified noodles.
Bring along earbuds if loud music bothers you—the blaring soundtrack at the Marina spot cultivates an energetic vibe with ‘90s hip-hop.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Pisto’s Tacos (1310 Grant Avenue), co-owner Nick Floulis’ other restaurant that focuses on Mexican street food.
For those who avoid meat and dairy, Loving Hut offers tasty Vegan fare in San Francisco.
Little ones are free to make a mess at this restaurant, where the whole family is invited to dine.
Wireless Internet access is available for no charge at Loving Hut.
Dogs are welcome at Loving Hut, so feel free to bring Fido along.
It doesn't get much more laid-back than Loving Hut, so dress for comfort when you come.
If you're strapped for time, take out food from this restaurant.
At Loving Hut, you can safely store your car on the street or in a garage.
If cycling is more your speed, you'll find plenty of space to stash your bike outside the restaurant.
For a meal that's both indulgent and healthy, Loving Hut cooks up the best vegan eats around.
So when you're in the mood for something less traditional, the entrees at Loving Hut combine Asian ingredients with not-so-Asian influences for a truly delicious experience.
Don't feel like dressing up for dinner? Remember to grab a table at Loving Hut and enjoy a blend of Asian-style cooking in a lovably low-key environment.
Despite its moniker, there isn’t a sweeter thing than garlic in the minds of the chefs at The Stinking Rose Restaurant. The famed eatery celebrates the pungent plant by integrating it into their every contemporary California-Italian dish, including pasta, 40-clove garlic chicken, garlic-encrusted ribs, and sea bass with garlic butter. There's even garlic wine and garlic ice cream with chocolate molé sauce.
And with a motto like “we season our garlic with food,” it’s no wonder The Stinking Rose doles out more than 3,000 pounds of garlic each month. Still, the chefs recognize that, much like wearing clothes, garlic may not be everyone’s thing; they will create dishes without it upon request.
The heavy use of garlic isn’t the only unique thing about the restaurant. At the original San Francisco joint, the world’s largest garlic braid twists around the walls of the establishment, and a mural painted by a local artist depicts garlic bulbs skateboarding down the city’s steep hills and picnicking at Golden Gate Park.