Postcard From Tom: San Francisco

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Who says four-letter words are all bad? Some of the best places to eat in San Francisco these days boast the shortest names.

DOSA (995 Valencia St.; 415-642-3672): The many Indian faces are an encouraging sign. Even better is the discovery that the kitchen turns out a top-notch lentil crepe (dosa), at once crisp and soft and best filled with grilled farmer's cheese, cilantro and peas. Actually, the entire south Indian menu of this mango-colored charmer in the Mission brims with flavor and fire. Chile-spiked prawns and lamb meatballs draped with tomato gravy are standouts, and it's a treat to find a good wine list to put out any flames. Entrees $9.50-$17

NOPA (560 Divisadero St.; 415-864-8643): It's so loud you'll have to read lips through dinner, and finding a stool at the bar is like speeding on Lombard Street (not easy!). But the wood-roasted local sand dabs, super-juicy grilled pork chop and addictive bacon-and-Gruyere flatbread help explain the roaring success of this must-see split-level hangout for food lovers in the Western Addition. Entrees $12-$24

SPQR (1911 Fillmore St.; 415-771-7779): Are we in Rome? The kitchen sure makes us feel that way. The tripe is as convincing, and comforting, as any I've had abroad, and the home-made rigatoni with shaved pecorino and cracked pepper is a triumph of simplicity. Small and snug, SPQR feels right, too. Vintage travel posters grace the walls; marble tops the welcoming bar. The initials stand for Senatus Populusque Romanus, or "the Senate and the People of Rome," an ancient phrase etched on manhole covers in the Eternal City. So it comes as no surprise to learn that this little gem in Pacific Heights hails from the folks at the Marina District's popular A16 -- which takes its name from a highway that slices through Campania. "Big" appetizers and pastas $13-$16

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