Every month, I’m going to be sending annual tablehopper subscribers a special, members-only article that is like taking a page from my personal dining notebook, whether it’s my top sushi counters or a few of my favorite brunch spots. I’m setting this first note without the paywall so everyone can have a taste—if you’re still on the free plan, I want you to see an additional membership feature you’re going to be missing.
I have received emails from some of you lamenting that you missed the special introductory subscription offer deadline. I can’t repeat that initial price, it truly was a limited offer, but I want to throw this last-minute, flash sale price your way so no one is moping. Mwah. Get an annual subscription for $119 ($30 off the regular price)! This offer is available through March 8th, ending at midnight. Hop to it!
Okay, you all set? Great. This month, let’s take a look at five places to eat at now (and what to order). Apologies in advance for making you hungry, but it’s kind of my job.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram have likely seen pics from my visits to Al Carajo!, formerly a food truck and now a teeny-tiny Mayan restaurant in the Mission from chef-owner Javier León (you can read his backstory in my article here). His menu of Yucatecan dishes continues to blow my mind—every dish always tastes so fresh, perfectly seasoned, well-prepared, and sabrocitooooo.
For breakfast (served until 2pm!), you have to try the huevos motuleños (similar to huevos rancheros, but with a fried tomato sauce, ham, peas, and cotija cheese, sooooo goooood, $12) and grab a friend to share the beast of a chilaquiles torta ($15), loaded with chicken tinga and pillowy scrambled eggs—it’s best in class. A phenomenal torta.
The Valencia fish tacos (two for $14) are fried to perfection in a beer batter with tangy slaw and accompaniments—just tell me who makes a better fish taco in town. For a taste of the Yucatán peninsula, you have to try the cochinita pibil tacos and the al pastor negro tacos (pork marinated in recado negro, a charred chile homage to chef Roberto Solis; $12 for two). The tortillas are freshly made by hand (wait until you see the bright purple ube masa he’s using—Javier adds plenty of playful touches on the menu) and the housemade salsas are bangin’ (I love the chile de árbol).
If you’re hungover or high or both, he’s got you: the picadillo-inspired quesito rico taco ($9 for one) with tiger shrimp, griddled cheese, chorizo, potato, and onions in a flour tortilla will feel like a strong hug, while the hefty birria pizza ($24) is like a full-moon sized quesabirria quesadilla that you dunk into rich consomé—it’s a life raft for at least three people (that thing kept me alive for days, I kept warming up a slice in my toaster oven).
I’m waiting for warmer weather to return so I can fully enjoy his ceviches and aguachiles once again, but I still haven’t tried his salbute—it’s an extensive menu. While you can order online, you really want to visit in the afternoon, with the Mission sun streaming through the open windows, and then you can see the pride in Javier’s eyes when he watches your face after your first bite of whatever magical thing you ordered. Check @alcarajosf for hours. 3224 1/2 22nd St. at Bartlett.
Back to Back
I have a piece coming out in Nob Hill Gazette’s April issue about this lively restaurant from siblings Monica and Randall Hom that has lit up the former Venticello in Nob Hill, so consider this a sneak peek. There’s a soundtrack of eclectic music from the siblings’ ever-growing record collection behind the bar and a young crowd ordering bottles of natural wine with wood-fired pizza and sizable, shareable appetizers (get the golden yaki: smashed and fried Yukon gold potatoes crowned with garlic confit aioli, wild salmon roe, and katusuobushi, $21). Try chef Aline Bueno’s Tuscan kale and kohlrabi salad ($16), and you have six Neapolitan-inspired pizzas with California-style toppings to choose from ($18–$28).
The wine list was initially assembled by Louisa Smith—the wine director of Turntable at Lord Stanley—and the entire team will make enthusiastic suggestions of wines to try that were just added (the ones we had weren’t too funky, so don’t be put off by the “natural” designation if that style of wines isn’t exactly your jam). Snag a table upstairs for more of a clubhouse scene by the wine bar, or downstairs if you’re on a first date. I love seeing such a youthful spot in this part of town—I’m sure their new Sunday brunch will be a hit. Updates and hours: @backtobacksf. 1257 Taylor St. at Washington.
I just covered this exciting new opening in tablehopper, so read my extensive, early preview and book a table, now. Favorites: the chutney palette ($15), shrimp vennai roast ($18), Thattukada fried chicken ($16), varuval spice-crusted hamachi collar ($42), “Gods Own” coconut variation for dessert. 1700 Fillmore St. at Post.
Have you visited Delfina since their big renovation? I’m loving the natural-chic design and there’s now a full bar. Get some friends together who like to share so you can try more (and the bill won’t hurt quite as much). The seasonal menu changes daily, so a couple of these dishes below are already swapped out, but you can still begin with the Fryer Creek deviled eggs ($11), with enticing flavor from the smoked whitefish and capers, and the rustic chicken liver crostini ($16) would make both your nonna and your bubbie happy.
It was the paccheri all’amalfitana ($29) that lured me in: housemade paccheri with Half Moon Bay petrale sole instead of the traditional tuna, with a luscious tomato sauce that had some agrodolce notes that made it seem Sicilian (now the dish features Dungeness crab). For full decadence, the lasagnette del bosco (bianca, with ricotta, spinach, black truffle; $38) made my friend exclaim, “It’s like a pasta wedding cake!”
It’s absolutely the season for oxtails stracotto (pot roast-style) with bone marrow and bright, saffron-yellow risotto alla milanese—our table enjoyed sharing this wintry, rich, hearty dish ($43). You can add a side of Fryer Creek Tokyo turnips or carrots, and, of course, they were peak-season perfection, but at $15 each, it may make you pause. Delfina has shifted into more of the nicer-occasion level of pricing while still feeling casual—such is post-pandemic and inflation-riddled dining in SF right now (especially when you’re using the best local ingredients). And, this upgrade is how they’re going to secure their next 25 years as one of our city’s iconic Cal-Italian restaurants, so, I raise my glass of falanghina. 3621 18th St. at Guerrero.
We keep hearing downtown is dead, but you wouldn’t know it from the packed tables at hed's midweek lunch service. This Isan (Northeastern Thai) restaurant opened in the former Homage, so it inherited an approachable rustic-industrial style, with wood plank floors and natural wood tables. The menu highlights the khao gaeng style of eating, with a variety of dishes and preparations (soup, curry, stir-fry, vegetables) centered around a bowl of tri-color rice (jasmine, brown, and rice berry). Imagine eating an abundant Thai bento lunch in ceramic bowls.
The lunch menu features four different sets (beef, fish, duck, or vegetable) of five small dishes (and now dessert, too) for $19.95, and while each dish wasn’t necessarily mind-blowing, it was a tasty and fulfilling lunch to eat. If I needed to catch up with someone downtown, it makes for a casual and cute lunch spot.
I enjoyed the duck curry set, and the papaya salad was right up there with the ragingly spicy ones I ate in Bangkok, so buckle up. We did experience a crazy delay with our meal (I’m talking 40 minutes), so maybe don’t come here if you have a tight lunch window until they iron things out more (they just opened in February). Dinner is also served with the same format for $23.95. Lunch and dinner daily except hed is closed for dinner Monday night. More at @hed.verythai. 88 Hardie Pl. at Kearny.
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