For the Love of Spice: Guide to Southeast Asian Dining in San Francisco
While many visitors associate San Francisco with mostly Chinese and Italian restaurants (and seafood!), we also have a vibrant Southeast Asian restaurant scene. Here are a few of our favorites.
Hawker Fare (2300 Webster St.)
Chef James Syhabout brought his popular Oakland eatery to the Mission, now focusing on Isan Thai dishes meant to be eaten with friends (and with your hands). Try the gai thot (fried chicken), papaya salad, laab and don’t miss the gaeng pa (jungle curry) and khao mung gai (poached chicken and chicken fat rice). Cocktails with coconut will help cool your palate down.
Kin Khao (55 Cyril Magnin St.)
This is Thai on a whole other level, made with quality ingredients and handmade curries from Pim Techamuanvivit and chef Michael Gaines. The pretty hot wings and khao soi are popular at this downtown restaurant, and if you’re a party of one the pork bowl with flat noodles and a runny egg is the answer. There are also inventive cocktails and quality wines.
One of the city’s most authentic Thai places, locals love the late hours and delivery. Top dishes include the duck larb, pad kra prow moo krob (stir-fried pork belly and Thai basil), nuer tod (it’s like beef jerky) and fried garlic quail. (The gritty Tenderloin address is the preferred one.)
Burma Superstar (309 Clement St.)
The lines at this popular Burmese restaurant are omnipresent, with guests patiently waiting their turn to eat dishes like the famed rainbow tea leaf salad, samusa soup, pumpkin pork stew and coconut rice. Order the chili lamb spicy and the Burma cooler drink will cool you down.
Burmese Kitchen (3815 Geary Blvd.)
A bit more of an insider spot and a touch off the beaten path, the authentic dishes like chin baung hin yay (fish and sour leaf soup), ong noh kau swel (coconut chicken soup), and tea leaf salads really pop here. Vegetarians and vegans dine well, too.
Out the Door (2232 Bush St.)
While the mother ship Slanted Door gets all the attention, locals go to this Pacific Heights offshoot for their fill of daikon rice cakes, spring rolls, shaking beef and crab with cellophane noodles. Their brunch menu features their superlative chicken jook, a rice porridge that has magical healing powers.
Turtle Tower (645 Larkin St.)
Serving some of the city’s best chicken pho (pho ga), this is where locals go in the morning to nurse a hangover, a cold or just hit the reset button. It’s cash only and has three locations in the city, but the Larkin Street location is the most popular.
Yummy Yummy (1015 Irving St.)
This Inner Sunset spot is homey and has a bunch of regulars who come for their raw beef salad, imperial rolls, beef pho and bun bo hue (vermicelli and beef soup) spiked with lemongrass. You’ll also find some seafood, like salt and pepper crab.
Maneelap Srimongkoun (4995 Mission St.)
You’ll find an entire page of the menu dedicated to Laotian dishes at this tiny restaurant tucked away in the Excelsior, about 15 in all. Try the nam kao tod (an incredible crispy rice ball with pork), beef or pork jerky, kao piak chicken soup and sai ooa sausage.
Tycoon Thai (620 O'Farrell St.)
This petite Tenderloin spot has a charming style and is close to downtown. It features some signature Laotian dishes on its menu, from the kao piak (housemade rice flour noodle with chicken and optional pork blood, topped with green onion and fried garlic) to som tum lao: shredded green papaya with a spicy dressing, garlic, lime juice, long bean, anchovy and salted crab. Don’t miss the sai ua (Laotian herbal sausage).
Angkor Borei (3471 Mission St.)
This Bernal Heights restaurant is known for its Cambodian classics, including the stunning spinach leaf appetizer, their ahmohk (curry fish mousse), and their pumpkin curry is also popular. Vegetarians are happy here, and there’s a very kind staff too.
Pampalasa (1261 Folsom St.)
This recently opened SOMA spot has all the classics (sisig, lumpia, lechon kawali, adobo, garlic fried rice), with a little Cali twist to some of them. Come by for lunch and you can get garlic rice bowls and “silog it” (add an egg). Friday and Saturday nights is when they offer their Kamayan “eat with your hands” dinners, when you dine off banana leaves.
Señor Sisig (location varies)
For a fun twist on Filipino cuisine, track down this food truck for their unique brand of fusion, which results in dishes like their sisig tacos and burritos, which are pretty amazing, stuffed with adobo garlic rice, pinto beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, and a cilantro cream sauce. Their tosilog burrito stuffed with Filipino sweet pork, adobo garlic rice, tomatoes and a fried egg (get the peppered vinegar) which is only served on Tuesdays and Thursdays that has the cult following.
Azalina’s (1355 Market St.)
This casual spot is great for lunch (and delivery!), and Azalina is known for her aromatic laksa—be sure to get it with an egg on top. The hokien mee features her housemade turmeric noodles that get charred in the wok, and the nasi lemak is creamy coconut milk–steamed rice with Malaysian beef curry and kaffir lime leaves. Azalina makes everything by hand and really cares about quality—you can taste it.
Lime Tree (450 Irving St. and 836 Clement St.)
There are two locations of this casual but delicious Malaysian restaurant, depending on which side of Golden Gate Park you want to be on. The roti pratha will quickly disappear from your table, along with the martabak (stuffed roti), corn fritters, beef rendang, and nasi goreng with chicken.
Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column, tablehopper, about the SF dining and drinking scene, get all the latest news at www.tablehopper.com. Follow @tablehopper on Twitter and Instagram for more SF finds!
Photo via Hawker Fare.