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 dont make the cut, being a revisit previously written about or simply not as stand-out as dishes mentioned.
DYNAMO DONUTS, Mission – Sure, Dynamo Donuts is old news and I’ve tried most flavors they make by this point, but when they offer a new donut, Bitter Queen, with a tart, sweet, bitter glaze made of two ingredients I am crazy about, Campari and grapefruit, I’m in. Ask for it.
HELMAND PALACE, Marina – Helmand Palace has consistently remained a highly underrated SF gem. Decor is soothing, though certainly far from hip, service sweet and unassuming. It’s easy to get a reservation and remains, after 20 years, our city’s best Afghani food – and you can fill up for less than $15.
Kaddo ($5.95 – pan-fried, then baked, pumpkin in yogurt garlic and ground beef sauce – vegetarian version available) remains a favored dish here. I’m just as crazy about Aushak ($6.95 appetizer; $12.95 entree), Afghan raviolis filled with leeks and scallions, in a sauce of yogurt, mint, garlic, tomato and ground beef. It’s Middle East meets red sauce Italian… if you have not tasted this dish, you’re missing out.
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54 Mint, SoMa – While I was more impressed with Mint Plaza’s 54 Mint when it first opened, I still find it an authentic Roman experience. Most importantly, it’s a rare, quiet downtown lunch respite with a reasonable, two-course $15 prix fixe (a house-made pasta and a starter). A stand-out dish since my first visit remains Polpettine al Sugo ($10). That sweet red sauce is succulent, the all-beef meatballs tender, reminiscent of a satisfying New York dish with Italian purity.
While food isn’t overwhelming, a round of ceviche ($10-15 individual, $16 for trio, $20 for quatro) with a decent Pisco Sour ($10) hits the spot, especially on recent warm days.
Ceviche stand-outs? Pasion!: ahi tuna, salmon, passion fruit, red onion, yellow chilies, cilantro, purple corn; Ceviche De Atun: ahi tuna, coconut leche, red jalapeno, ginger, red scallion oil, honey cashews; Ceviche de Langosta: Maine lobster, cocoa juice, mango, papaya, onion, tarragon, vanilla bean oil, serrano chilies, plaintain chips.