The Muslim world has just wrapped up another Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting and reflection during which it’s said the Qu’ran was delivered to the Prophet Muhammed. What better time to explore some of the delicious Islamic-influenced restaurants of the Bay that feature halal food literally, "permitted" by Islamic law? Let’s get deliciously permissive!
Adherence to halal traditions is most manifest in certain types and slaughter of meat. Exact proscriptions vary, but here’s the main gist: no pork, donkey meat, or carnivorous animals except for seafood and fish; blood must be completely drained before butchering; and all animals must be conscious when killed by a "person of the book" Muslim, Christian, or Jew while Allah’s name is intoned. Halal fans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, swear by the tenderness and flavor of such meats although that may have to do as much with cooking preparation as killing style. There’s a wealth of restaurants here that serve some heavenly halal dishes, and since Islam covers a good chunk of the globe, there’s a bounty of different cuisines to try. Most, but not all, halal spots will hang their certification in the window, and if you’d like to do the cooking yourself, halal meats are available at butcher shops such as Salama Halal Meat (604 Geary, SF. 415-474-0359), the goat-a-licious Alhambra Meat Company (3111 24th St., SF. 415-525-4499), or stunning variety store Queen of Sheba (1100 Sutter, SF. 415-567-4322). One halal holdback: alcohol is not usually served at these restaurants, so call ahead if you want some chardonnay with your tibsi. (Marke B.)
BANG SAN THAI
A surprise to me: there are oodles of Islamic enclaves in Thailand, a mainly Buddhist nation. Bang San is a beyond-cute little kitchen-counterlike eatery in the Tenderloin which serves only halal meats in its spicy Thai favorites especially good are the ginger beef pad king sod rice plate and the sweet red kang dang pumpkin curry kicked up with some jalapeño vinegar condiment. Bonus: satay to die for. The best part here, however, is the service even though Bang San’s operators had been fasting all day for Ramadan, they were out-of-control friendly and welcoming.
505 Jones, SF. (415) 440-2610, www.bangsanthai.com
Hunky Beau and I took our Swiss friend to this beloved Moroccan spot’s new digs on Polk Street (the street for halal restos) because, really, the Swiss know from Moroccan food. The verdict? Authentically fab. Tajines are Africa’s version of Asian clay-pot dishes, stewlike in texture and cooked to piping-hot goodness. The tajine of white beans with merquez sausage was a hearty delight, with smoky undertones steaming up through the done-just-right legumes, which on different menus tend to smother any and all other flavors. Also an instant hit was the tajine guanemy peel-off-the-bone lamb with artichoke hearts and peas, which delivered a spicy kick to match its neon green color.
1338 Polk, SF. (415) 440-1718, www.tajinerestaurant.com
DE AFGHANAN KABOB HOUSE
Intent on grabbing a bite to eat before the dragzilla Trannyshack Kiss-Off party up the street, I had the great fortune to order at this wee Nob Hill joint just as the first out Olympic gold medalist, Matthew Mitcham, was making his historic winning dive on the big screen. Kismet? The food more than matched my exuberance: I can’t imagine diving into a bigger Afghan taste bud celebration than that which resulted from my first forkful of quabili pallow (buttery chunks of lamb baked with carrots, raisins, and basmati brown rice) and mantu (steamed dumplings bursting with savory seasoned beef, topped with a cloud-light split-pea yogurt sauce). One specialty you shouldn’t miss: the bolani kadoo pumpkin turnover. Fall’s perfect snack? Yes.
1303 Polk, SF. 415-345-9947, www.deafghanan.net
OLD MANDARIN ISLAMIC
It’s pretty much an open secret that the popular but not too popular Old Mandarin is one of the most unique chow spots in the city. Um, Islamic Chinese food? Let’s go! It’s easy to go ape wild for the tiny, lively Outer Sunset resto’s specialties: hot pot, with a soup base, various spices and sauces, and a plateful of "animal parts" to cook yourself, and warm pot hot pot’s already-fully-assembled sibling. But for me the à la carte lamb dishes are the true stars, including super-spicy Mongolian lamb and delectably tangy cumin lamb. The unbeatable lamb dumplings (a.k.a. pot stickers) benefit from a night in the refrigerator, so get some to go.
3132 Vicente, SF. (415) 564-3481
HAYES AND KEBAB
This Hayes Valley newbie offers some sturdy Mediterranean favorites in a relaxed atmosphere, and is a lovely no-brainer for a not-too-dressy pre- or post-symphony bite. I’m a sucker for the chicken gyro served as a salad, with melt-in-your-mouth shredded chicken topping a robust mix of greens and veggies, dressed in a simple lemon-oil combo. The kebab plates are killer, too, with skewered lamb or beef delivered with a colorful side combo of rice and bulgar pilafs. "Alexander’s favorite" is another yummer: Thin-sliced marinated lamb and beef with bread cubes in fresh tomato sauce and yogurt. I don’t know who Alexander is, but I like him.
406 Hayes, SF. (415) 861-2977, www.hayeskebab.com