Top Tastes: Grilled Cheese, Ice Cream, Jersey Pizza, Italian & Chinese Bao

Top Tastes, rather than a list of all-time favorites (another thing altogether), are among the best eats since my last newsletter, often from new openings. Many don’t make the cut, being a revisit previously written about or simply not as stand-out as dishes mentioned.


Grilled Cheese Kitchen’s cool space

American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, South Park – It’s brand new, funky cute, with playful grilled cheese menu… and waits are 30 minutes for a sandwich at opening time of 11am (even longer later). One register is the first problem, though they have a few people standing around offering you cookie samples (take them!) or juice while you wait. Sweet staff… a couple registers and extra kitchen help is really where all that extra, friendly manpower is needed – I hear they have another register on the way, so they are on it. Maybe the crowds will die down once it’s been open awhile, or this confirms widespread cravings for grilled cheese sandwiches?

Chairman Bao lunch

Ingredients are quality, on crusty house bread. The Piglet ($8) had a whisper-thin layer of artisan ham, and lacked much of the Tillamook aged white cheddar, rosemary butter or apple mustard that would have made it work. Jalapeno Popper ($9), however, is a more enticing sandwich of chèvre, monterey jack, applewood-smoked bacon and apricot-jalapeño relish. A classic Moustrap ($6) comforts with Tillamook sharp cheddar, creamy havarti and monterey jack. I love the concept, feel, look and friendliness of this place and trust it can become and SF institution with time.

Chairman Bao truck

Chairman Bao, follow on Twitter for location – All the Chairman Bao vs. Baohaus in NY controversy has only aided business to Chairman Bao, the new Chinese bun truck roaming the Bay Area with artwork designed by a DC Comics artist and steamed ($2.95) or baked ($5.75)  buns stuffed with five-spiced duck confit, meatballs with kimchi, and naturally, pork belly. For $9, you get two steamed buns and a shaved ice (normally $3.50). The Mango Matcha Green Tea Shaved Ice I tried lacked much flavor but was refreshing. Next time, I’ll get Pineapple Salted Caramel. It may not be life-changing, but it is tasty, good fun and (bonus) often parked near my work.

Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous ice cream menu

Mr & Mrs. Miscellaneous, Dogpatch – Dogpatch’s new ice cream shop also has homemade candies, brittle and baked goods. It’s an airy, spanking fresh space. But you go for the goods, which, so far, have been killer Maldon Sea Salt Caramels (75 cents each), minty-fresh White Grasshopper ice cream, and the soon-to-be-signature Ballpark, a stellar ice cream made with Anchor Steam beer laced with chocolate pretzels and peanuts ($4 for 1/2 pint; $8 a pint).

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Tony’s Cal Italia

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, North Beach – I’ve raved about this favorite before. It’s been, hands down, one of the best additions to SF, and certainly North Beach, in years. I’m just hear this time to say I finally ordered the Jersey-style Original Tomato Pie ($15): simple, reddest of red sauces and crispy crust… freakin’ A, it’s amazing. It fulfills my East Coast homesickness. Ditto the giant Sicilian-style foccacia pizzas ($26-29; feeds a few) glistening with olive oil, like a Colombo, dotted with pepperoni, chopped garlic and Italian sausage.


Palio’s Prosciutto/Strawberry Salad

Palio d’Asti, Financial District – As this FiDi Italian classic hits its 20th anniversary, it’s an accomplishment to still be alive and kicking in today’s restaurant climate. I’ve always liked the Il Palio theme and flags (from enchanting Siena) lining the spacious restaurant, even if I don’t make it out more than once every few years.  A recent visit delivered filling, four course Italian food in the form of a simple but heartwarming Fedelini con Granchio: linguine with fresh Dungeness Crab, San Marzano tomato sauce, oregano and a little heat from Calabrese chilies. Proscuitto San Daniele paired well with strawberries instead of the traditional melon. Paglia e Fieno was another pasta pleaser with “grass and hay” green taglierini tossed with braised suckling pig, sweet peppers, smoked Provolone.

Palio’s Rack of Lamb

Palio often offers some of the best happy hour deals around, like free pizza with the purchase of two cocktails, or a current special of a $1 Martini or Manhattan with their 3-5 course dinners, the only dinner menu options (no a la carte). Come prepared to gorge on any combination you crave (e.g., antipasti, pasta, pizza or salad, pizza, entree, dessert): $29 for 3 courses, $37 for 2, $45 for 4.

Fedelini con Granchio

To celebrate their 20th, they’re having an unusual contest where all diners, whether eating lunch or dinner, can win prizes. These are sweet prizes, like an Iron Chef-style Mixology Class for you and nine of your friends. Or Wine Tasting Dinner for six.

I love the touch of Chocolatier Blue truffles for dessert, a Berkeley chocolatier I wrote about a couple years ago when they first opened. I ‘heart’ the Peanut Butter & Jelly truffle!