Talking Breakfast, Coffee, Thai, Korean, Peruvian, Middle Eastern & More Cheap Eats

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.

Bar Agricole’s striking space… now open for Four Barrel & free WiFi all day


CHABAA THAI’S Pork Neck Larb, Inner Sunset – I am transported straight back to my two months roaming the country of Thailand with Chabaa Thai‘s only-in-Thai menu (in addition to their regular menu). The menu has only recently been translated (roughly) into English.

Sour Curry at Chabaa

Tasting justlike I’ve had it in Thailand, Nam Tok (Pork Neck Larb) with pork skin ($8.75) is impeccably authentic. The pork is meaty, spiced, even tender, while accents of mint, cilantro, red onion, and lime fish sauce keep it lively. Another highlight from the Thai menu is Gaeng  Som, a sour orange curry loaded with fish and shrimp ($10.45) or acacia leaf omelet ($13.45). Gently sour and spicy as hell, the thin broth warms on a cold night.

RINCON PERUANA’s Pescado Frito, Mission Rincon Peruana is a dingy, 1970’s wood-paneling, postage stamp-sized diner, packed with locals, with friendly vibe and a no-nonsense charm.

Rincon Peruano

Peruvian staff specialize in the meaty, like Lomo Saltado (a Peruvian stir-fry of sautéed Beef, French fries, onions and tomatoes over rice). Their number one seller is fried fish: Pescado Frito ($11.95). It’s plain fried fish over rice and salad, but these boneless fish fillets are surprisingly fresh, with no fishiness, while the gentle heat of a little jalapeno salsa and a squeeze of lemon invigorate.

Mazzat’s eggplant dip

MAZZAT, Hayes Valley – I left with a nice, garlicky finish from Eggplant Pomegranate Spread (with pita) and fresh Spanakopita at the unassuming corner Middle Eastern cafe, Mazzat. There are wraps and falafel, while most everything is generously portioned and under $10. A relaxing, new addition to the neighborhood.

FIRST KOREAN MARKET’s Kimbap, Outer Richmond – Impressed by the Korean grocery selection squeezed into tiny First Korean Market, a highlight is pre-wrapped Kimbap. Otherwise known as the Korean answer to sushi/maki (something I eat in NY but see less of here), these seaweed rice rolls don’t contain raw fish. Instead, sesame seed-dusted rolls are filled with fish cake, shredded carrots, pickled daikon and rice. But beware the Pajeon (Korean pancakes) – they are quite dry and stale. Stick to the fresher, tasty Kimbap.


CAFE PASCUCCI’s Gold Espresso, SoMa – I feel like I’m back in Italy at brand new Caffe Pascucci, the first outpost of a popular Italian chain. The crisp, white space is chic, even as the place buzzes with the Italian families and individuals already filling the place within merely days of opening.

Caffe Pascucci mural

It’s not just because the menu is loaded with dozens of types of espresso, cappuccinos and iced coffees topped with banana or doused with amaretto. It’s because the majority Italian staff and clientele exude convivial Italian spirit, throwing out “ciaos” and “pregos” liberally.

I like the robust Gold Espresso, though Dark Hot Chocolate was a little too pudding-like in consistency, even if thankfully dark (my favorites in Italy or France are syrupy rich, but not stiff). Chad Newton (formerly of Fish & Farm) executes a simple but pleasing menu of salads and sandwiches – even an ultra-basic Tri-Color Salad is three types of greens (including bits of endive), gentle shavings of Parmesan, and a perky lemon dressing.

Contraband Coffee Bar

CONTRABAND COFFEE, Nob Hill – Yet another in the endless flow of Third Wave coffee houses,  brand new Contraband Coffee Bar occupies a less coffee-driven corner of Nob Hill (the Mission and SoMa don’t need more… spread the wealth!)

The space is clean, white, with modern art, and baristas I’ve seen working at other coffee havens around town. They sport a shiny Synesso Hydra espresso machine and also offer V60 pour-over and Chemex preparations for their own roasted beans. Additional kudos for getting the snacks right: Dynamo Donuts and Peasant Pies.

MAGNOLIA BREWERY’S Crispy Pork Belly over grits, Upper Haight – I’ve been to brunch at Magnolia Brewery many-a-time. Merely a few blocks from home, those little black and wood booths welcome with Blue Bottle Coffee and Magnolia’s first-rate beers.

Magnolia’s Pork Belly & Grits

My latest brunch favorite is Chef Matt Kerley’s Crispy Pork Belly ($11), juicy and thick, resting on a bowl of Anson Mills cheddar grits. You already know pork and grits get me every time, but add in a perfectly poached egg and crunchy, fried shallots, and I need nothing else.

BAR AGRICOLE’S Laugenbrötchen, SoMa The simplicity is appealing. Bar Agricole, previously open for dinner and bar only, shares its soothing garden patio and forward-thinking, urban interior for a Four Barrel coffee and one food item: a pretzel bun, aka Laugenbrötchen, from Mountain View’s German baker par excellence, Esther’s Bakery. Order the pretzel roll with a side of apple butter, jam or cream cheese. Oh, they also have free WiFi and are open all day (from 8am on) until the dinner switchover at 5pm. There are fewer cooler spaces you could linger in.