Tostado de pescado.
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Tohana Sol with blanco tequila, reyes ancho chile liqueur, tangerine juice, hibiscus and fresh lime.
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Tamal de pollo and tamal de calabaza.
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Matiki Island BBQ & Brew.
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Photo: Dave Greer
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Yountville When news broke The French Laundry’s food god, Thomas Keller, was opening an Oaxacan-leaning Mexican restaurant, the pivot struck some critics as a bit hubristic. But, now, a few months in, perhaps the more interesting story is this: In a setting between chic farm-to-table spot and noisy sports bar, Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, the young Oaxacan-born chef Keller tapped to run the kitchen, is cooking some of the most exciting Mexican food in wine country. There’s smoky, thick-sliced tacos al pastor that drip with pineapple juices; juicy barbacoa tacos with braised short rib; and fragrant, well-blistered corn tortillas. At its best, La Calenda is a showcase for the diversity and versatility of Oaxacan mole: the chile de árbol heat-prickle of the mole chichilo that enrobes a soft knob of beef cheek; the bittersweet complexity of the mole negro; and, most sublime, the gentle tomatillo brightness of the mole verde that perks up a slow-cooked pork jowl so tender you can eat it with a spoon. 6518 Washington St. (at Young Street), 833.682.8226 –Luke Tsai
In the Castro district space that once housed one of his father’s Burgermeister outposts, Samir Mogannam has kept up the family practice of serving ground beef. But this beef is spiked with baharat spices, dates and molasses, then scattered over lush and earthy hummus. The satisfying combo, known as hummus ma’lehma, is everything you could ask for, but not all you’ll want to order at this first-rate counter-service spot focused on Arabic comfort food. The restaurant’s name, which means “Rima’s house,” is an homage to Mogannam’s Jordanian mother, whose homespun cooking is conjured in humble dishes like muhammara, a puree of roasted peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Though Mogannam has a background in fine dining, the goal here isn’t to dazzle, but to greet you warmly and send you off well-fed. 138 Church St. (near Duboce Avenue), 415.703.0270 –Josh Sens
Matiki Island BBQ & Brew
Berkeley’s newest Hawaiian restaurant took over the old Daily Pint space on the UC campus, and, outwardly anyway, not much has changed: a decent selection of craft beer on tap, a ballgame on the flat-screen TVs, and a lunch-rush vibe that’s more reminiscent of an ad hoc mess hall than anything else. What’s new are the huge portions of sweetly marinated island-style grilled meats, which come plate-lunch style, with a scoop of macaroni salad and two scoops of white rice. The restaurant is the first East Bay franchise of a popular Anaheim-based chain, best known for its gigantic fat-laced bone-in beef ribs, which come out tender, gloriously charred and smoky, and positively prehistoric-looking. 1828 Euclid Ave. (near Hearst Avenue), 510.356.4596 –LT
The most casual concept from Omakase Restaurant Group follows a well-worn quick-service udon shop formula: Customers line up in a cafeteria-style queue, pick from a range of udon bowl formats—from dipping noodles to a brothy version topped with wagyu—and supplement their meal with a la carte selections from a heat-lamp-warmed tempura station. Compared to, say, crosstown competitor Marugame Udon, the housemade noodles at Udon Time are sometimes cooked too soft, and the fixins bar could stand to be less haphazardly maintained. Still, it gets points for the quality of its meats, supplied by the associated wagyu-beef butcher shop next door. Udon Time’s biggest selling point is a Japanese-inflected take on carbonara: brothless udon topped with Parmesan, soy sauce, a Jidori egg and katsuobushi. 55 Division St. (at Rhode Island Street), 415.800.7585 –LT
Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco