Category Archives: Review

Restaurant and specialty food reviews

SF Sundays – Ramadan in the Bay!

We’re now starting week two of Ramadan and so far, I’m doing well… despite my major caffeine withdrawals. #TheStruggleIsReal! But in all honesty, fasting is such a beautiful way to reflect and detox both mentally, physically and spiritually. It is said that the first ten days are for mercy, the second ten days are for forgiveness, and the last ten are for protection.

God willing, this month inspires you all to give back to your community, come out with some self-improvement, and appreciate the little snacks in life. So… what’s for iftar?

RAMADAN HAPPENINGS

With Ramadan in full swing, there are lots to do and enjoy. You don’t have to be Muslim to try fasting and join others for good food and conversation at iftar gatherings. If you’re a student preparing for midterms, find your campus’ Muslim Student Association who usually host a one day “fastathon” before coming together for iftar. Those are always fun and a great way to learn about and meet your fellow Muslim classmates. If you’re not a student but eager to learn, head to your local masjid where more likely than not, like the the South Bay Islamic Association (SBIA), hosts a weekly or nightly iftar gathering.

Here are a few cool happenings around the Bay this Ramadan season:

May 15 – Muppies and Islamic Relief are partnering together for their 2nd Annual Delicious and Community-Building Iftar at Mela Tandoori Kitchen, in San Francisco. Trust me, this is not to be missed and it’s for a great cause!

May 18 – The Arab Cultural and Community Center (ACCC) is hosting their annual Ramadan Iftar. Meet community members and learn about the latest ACCC activities in one of the organizations popular annual events. Tickets are limited so get yours now!

May 19 – As it’s the season of giving, head to the Ramadan Feed 2019 by San Francisco’s very own, Project Feed. On their 11th year, people chip in, gather together to pack lunches and distribute it to the city’s less fortunate. They do this monthly but it’s always more special during Ramadan. And after doing so much good, head to the 4th Annual Cupertino Eid Bazaar and give yourself a head start on that Eid shopping! Find amazing clothes, jewelry, and accessories from local Bay Area vendors.

May 25 – The Algerian American Association hosts their 2nd Annual Ramadan Iftar in San Francisco’s ACCC. This event is free, all they ask is you bring something sweet to share and toys to be donated to children in need as holiday gifts.

May 26 – Before you break your fast, head to Mehran Restaurant in Newark for their 4th Annual Eid Bazaar. For a great iftar and cause, the Bay Area chapter of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) is hosting their 6th Annual Benefit Iftar in Menlo Park. PCRF does amazing work with the children of Palestine, Yemen and Syria in dire need of medical treatment, be it here in the US or their home countries.

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

You also don’t have to miss out on some cool happenings around town just because you’re fasting. Especially after breaking fast and getting a good boost of energy, you’ve got good reasons to head out on the town.

Image result for cooking with carpenter
c/o cobbscomedy.com

Starting this week, Cobb’s Comedy Club is hosting a three-part film series, Cooking with Carpenter. This series, hosted by comedian Chap Opitz, explores director John Carpenter’s best movies with a themed three-course meal and of course a screening of one of Carpenter’s classics.

This is now officially Oakland Art Month! In this inaugural celebration, there’s much to see, do and enjoy by Oakland’s diverse local artists of art’s many forms. And while you’re in Oakland, check out the Old Oakland Artist Showcase. This public art project by Civic Design Studio highlights the spirit and vitality of The Town through its artists.

A few more fun things coming up this summer for you to plan ahead for:

  • May 25 – 26: The 41st annual Carnaval San Francisco festival is on Memorial Day weekend with Los Tigres del Norte headlining May 25th. Themed “La Cultura Cura” (“Culture Heals”) this year, expect the festival to be colorful, beautiful and joyfully loud!
  • May 29 – Jun 13: Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. The 18th annual SF Documentary Film Festival tells us true stories from around the Bay Area and the world… makes one wonder if 16 days is truly enough time.
  • June 16 – August 18: The line up for the free 82nd Stern Grove Festival have been announced. Even though it’s free, you can reserve your picnic tables now.
Clusterfest - June 21-23, 2019
  • June 21 – 23: The massive comedy festival that is Clusterfest is three days of laughs, music, podcasts, drag queens and more laughs. LOL!
  • June 17 – September 5: This summer’s Free Outdoor Movie Screenings has already started but it’s still going strong. Catch the next batch of movies on the roster to be screened, like Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Rich Asians. Yes it’s free but you best reserve your spots because they go so fast!

GIVEAWAY WINNERS!

What better way to thank my readers of this rant series than to do a shameless plug of my humble boutique with my first blog giveaway? Congratulations to JD Evans, you’re the giveaway winner! I hope you’ll enjoy the beautiful Game of Thrones inspired jewelry in time for the epic series finale happening May 19!

If you missed the giveaway and want to get your hands on these beautiful necklaces, be sure to use the discount code RAMADAN2019 at checkout! Ramadan sale is happening now through June 4th.

Disclaimer: This rant was not sponsored or paid for by the events or restaurants listed. If you’d like me to check out a happening around town or a yummy eatery to rant about, please email ha@mshala.co.

Travel Link Up – Favorite Staycation Spots

Travel bloggers come together monthly for the Travel Link Up, a fantastic way for bloggers to come together to write and share posts of a particular theme. Even though I’ve been behind, I try to join whenever I can. This month’s theme is “favorite staycations” and I just had to take the opportunity to brag a bit about my hometown region and a far away favorite. 

Staycations are like adding a fun boost to the weekend that’s usually set aside for family, laundry, errands and TV binge. When you are in need of a vacation but can’t go so far or for so long, it’s good to hop in a car, a train, or even a short flight to enjoy a quick break from the mundane.

Here, I’m going to focus on two of my favorite staycation spots since I’ve lived in two different parts of the world. One being in my hometown of the Bay Area and the other being from my expat life in Qatar.

Let’s go far then bring it back home.

Muscat, Oman

IMG_20161209_112439-01.jpegDuring the five years of my expat life in Qatar, I was lucky to be able to go on weekend trips to near by countries like the UAE and Kuwait. Many of which literally meant time with family and friends or at a hotel spa getting a well deserved pampering session. I got to do a little bit of both with some adventure when friends and I headed to Muscat in 2016 for a long birthday weekend.

Barely an hour flight away (think SF to LA), once I landed, I went straight to the hotel where I indulged in a mani-pedi pampering session before chilling on the warm private beach with a good book. Yes, Muscat in December is like a sweet summer day in San Francisco. It’s seriously perfect beach weather, warm but not too humid, light breeze and clear skies for the most part.

As an IHG member, I got a sweet deal at the Crowne Plaza Muscat. It’s very much a chill out hotel that I’d go back to again. Great spots to eat, excellent services and did I mention they had a private beach?

IMG_20161209_165408-01.jpegOnce my friends caught up though, we went exploring! Headed to Bimmah’s infamous sinkhole and clear beaches before driving out the city to the canyons of Wadi ElSham. This is a trek everyone should do once in their lives, absolutely beautiful and breathtaking.

Canyons are no joke and as an out of shape person, it wasn’t too hard to trek through some of the rocky narrow parts. And if you’re a swimmer, you’ll love the varying spots where you can take safe dive, come back up and trek some more. I went as far as I could before the path was too narrow for me and alas, I’m no swimmer but I still enjoyed exploring and watching the waters ripple below.

Nature truly beckons here in Muscat, where you can lose yourself in awe of your colorful surroundings.

Monterey Bay, California

I’ve been a tourist in my hometown since repatriating back home over a year ago. There is still so much for me to rediscover as I eat my way through town and see the changes that have happened over the course of my absence. I did get to rediscover an old favorite for a few staycations, including a birthday weekend late last year (I know, I’ve developed a pattern! =P ). On a good day, it’s a short hour and a half drive to this small historical beach town.

IMG_20190331_134903-01.jpegOnce a mainstay for sardine fishing and canning, Monterey has become a hub for marine preservation and exploration. My brother got his scuba diving license there before we took my nephew to his first aquarium adventure. He got to see all the different kinds of jelly fishes up close before finally seeing his favorite, the hammer head shark, swim by.

Just a half hour away, one can head to Moss Landing for an afternoon of dolphin and whale watching. It’s an absolutely glorious experience, highly recommended!

Make it a true girls trip and head to the Monterey Plaza Hotel for a beautiful room, a day at the spa and dinner by the sea. The hotel even offers perks and packages, especially if they know you’re there for a special occasion. They were sweet enough to offer us freebies from my favorite coffee spot there, Tidal Cafe -home of the best chocolate scones, EVER!- as a birthday gift.

So tell me, where are your favorite staycation spot(s)?

SF Sundays – Spring is in the Air

I apologize for lagging behind on my SF Sundays rants over the last several weeks. I hadn’t realized until recently that it’s one of my most read rant series! I’m so glad my peeps are really interested in the happenings around town. As a thank you, I have something special for you all so keep reading.

Spring is in the air! The rains may subsided but Karl is still overlooking the city. The flowers are in full bloom, pollen is in the air and my antihistamines have gone up in price. Ha! Like that’s going to stop us from enjoying this nice change of weather and all the happenings that come with it.

This is my favorite time of year in the city because so much is going on and we are truly spoiled for choice. From local art galleries and festivals to international races and eats, you have no excuse to not come outside and play!

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

Next week on May 6th, Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, is expected to begin. This is the month where Muslims around the world fast from dawn till dusk, reflecting on their faith and spirituality. During this time, there will be several activities happening across the Bay Area, such as “Fast-athons” and banquet iftars, where all are welcome to join, learn and participate.

The Bay Area Grand Iftar, hosted by the Islamic Relief USA, is happening May 12th in Fremont. A four star charitable organization I hold near and dear for the amazing work they do around the world as well as here at home. They were on the scene during last years devastating California wild fires, supporting victims in need. Ticket sales benefit the organization’s charitable programs while bringing the community together for a great cause. Speakers for the evening banquet will include Imam Khalid Latif and activist Linda Sarsour.

You know, our city is home to some of the largest and most beautiful museums. Sometimes though, it’s the small galleries featuring local artists that grab my attention the most. In search for a local gallery to check out, I came across a San Francisco Examiner story on local artist Kurt Schwartzmann.

Kurt, who is visually impaired in his left eye, dedicates his most recent series of sketches, Yellow Line, to the kindness he found with an SF MUNI bus driver when he found himself homeless back in 2008. Spending some time sketching other MUNI drivers, Kurt’s collection is now being exhibited at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired through May 2019.

Yellow Line Second Panel by Kurt Schwartzmann
c/o lighthouse-sf.org

Time to get your groove on, peeps! Bay Area Dance Week by ODC is happening now through May 5th. Celebrate dance in all it’s glory with the local community of dance artists. Take free classes in Rhythm and Motion, Afro-Haitian, and Contemporary. Events are free but pre-registration is required. So what are you waiting for?

And if you’ve got your allergies at bay, this summer’s Free Outdoor Movie Screenings has already started. Woohoo! Running through September 5th, movies on the roster to be screened include Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Rich Asians. Yes it’s free but you best reserve your spots because they go so fast.

A few more fun things to consider planning ahead for:

  • On your mark, get set, sail! The second annual SailGP in San Francisco races May 4th and 5th, with spectator tickets still available at varying prices.
  • Broadway’s all time favorite Hamilton is still happening now in San Francisco through September. Get your tickets before it’s too late.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a01959a290d87b1c64a1b97491288b5180a767c4.jpg
c/o carnavalsanfrancisco.org
  • The 41st annual Carnaval San Francisco festival is on Memorial Day weekend with Los Tigres del Norte headlining May 25th. Themed “La Cultura Cura” (“Culture Heals”) this year, expect the festival to be colorful, beautiful and joyfully loud!
  • The line up for the free 82nd Stern Grove Festival starting June 16 through Aug 18th have been announced. Seriously, what a line up! Even though it’s free, you can reserve your picnic tables now.

THANK YOU!

I have recently revamped my humble boutique, adding some beautiful new products and even gave it a fresh logo. Seeing that my readers here love this rant series where I get to show off my hometown and to celebrate the return of Game of Thrones, thought what better way than to have my first ever blog giveaway*? Yaaay!

I’ll be giving away three beautiful necklaces inspired by the GOT house sigils that I found during my time in Europe. Pendants such as the Lannister’s golden lion, Stark’s dire wolf or the Targaryen’s three headed dragon, are made to look medieval, Gothic and vintage in dark silver and bronze colors.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is comment below on what your most favorite thing to do or see or eat in San Francisco. Not in San Francisco? Comment below on what’s your San Francisco wish list for when you do visit. I’ll randomly pick three individuals and announce the winners right here on May 12th.

Spring is here, so let’s celebrate!

*Terms and Conditions: No purchase required to enter, one necklace per winner thus three winners total. Must be 18 or older and a resident of the US . Entries must be made by May 10th with a valid email/account. Comments with no images/profiles, multiple entries or spammers are disqualified. Winners will be announced on the next upcoming post May 12th as well as on the social media handles of Ms. Hala’s Boutique (@mshalasboutique).

Disclaimer: This rant was not sponsored or paid for by the events or restaurants listed. If you’d like me to check out a happening around town or a yummy eatery to rant about, please email ha@mshala.co.

SF Sundays – Parade and Brunch, Rain or Shine

The Bay Area is officially out of the drought after a good few days of nonstop rain. There was a scary mudslide in Sausalito and flash floods in both the North and South Bay areas. Is that going to stop anyone from enjoying one of the world’s largest lunar year’s parade? Or the ongoing festivities celebrating Black History Month? Or even heading out for brunch? No, no and definitely not. So gather your loved ones, your coats, a few pairs of socks, an extra scarf and an umbrella, these next couple of weeks should be fun!

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

c/o chineseparade.com

Gong Hay Fat Choy! Happy Year of the Boar! This lunar year is off to a great start, full of rain and snow helping keep our state our of another drought scare.

Like every year, San Francisco is set to host one of the world’s largest new lunar year parades outside of Asia on February 23rd. If you want bleacher seats, be sure to get your tickets here in time for the festivities. You can also head to the SFMTA for the best bus routes and parking details to get you to the parade, starting on 2nd and Market Streets.

In celebrating Black History month this year, the San Francisco Public Library hosts More Than a Month. During this time, all library branches are showcasing literary events, movie screenings, storytelling, music, dance and crafts that can be enjoyed by the entire family. This is an effort to reflect, discuss, advocate and educate not just during the month but all year round. You can download the program guide here.

More Than a Month
c/o sfpl.org, artwork by Ron Moultrie Saunders

Do also check out the African American Center in the Main Library (by City Hall). Not only do they host exhibits and programs but hold a vast collection and references to help us learn about the historical experiences of African Americans in California.

The East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani Collection showcasing at the Legion of Honor will be ending February 24th. If you are a fan of history, jewelry and all around artistic craftsmanship, this is an exhibit not to be missed. You’ll be immersed in it all as there’s no photography allowed. Let me warn you peeps, you will be in awe of it all.

YUMMINESS ACHIEVED

Several weeks ago, I joined the local InterNations group and brunched at Baker Street Bistro. This cute French bistro has a simple weekend brunch menu that’s packed with lots of flavor. I had to try the Oeufs Copenhague which is English muffin topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs and a light hollandaise sauce.

Peeps, I was not disappointed in the slightest. For under $20, everything on that plate came together perfectly and I was quite full. I did have space for dessert which I sadly didn’t get to try. So of course I gotta go back! Large groups like ours could expect a slow but friendly service so try to book in advance, especially on the weekends.

Disclaimer: This rant was not sponsored or paid for by the events or restaurants listed. If you’d like me to check out and rant about a happening around town or an eatery in town for my SF Sundays rant series, please email ha@mshala.co.

SF Sundays – History, Arts and Kebabs!

San Francisco. The city by the bay. The Bay Area. My hometown. Within the city’s many hills and along the city’s many beach shorelines, there are stories to be heard, history to be made, secrets to be revealed and delicious food to be eaten. Every year, the San Francisco Bay Area sees millions of tourists and natives like me come to discover it all. With that, I’ll regularly rant on happenings around my town not to be missed and yumminess to be achieved. Join me!

BUT FIRST, A QUICK HISTORY LESSON

This California peninsula city was founded and established in 1776 by colonists from Spain, naming it after Saint Francis of Assisi. Part of the foundation of the city started with the Presidio and Mission districts. Soon after, the gold rush brought in the influx of gold seekers and Eastern settlers. And in just the last hundred years or so, the city saw everything imaginable.

Related image
c/o San Francisco Chronicle

1906 brought about the largest earthquake to date, causing one of the most devastating fires the West had ever seen. It was rebuilt, in part, by the influx of immigrants who came from all over the globe to start a new life and contribute to the greater Bay Area. The “decade of love” protested a senseless war whilst demanding equality, tolerance and some form of peace. The belief that love is love put San Francisco at the helm of the LGBTQ community activism, being the first in the nation to have same-sex marriages (before Prop 8 came about).

We make history and get very hungry in the process. And while being the most culturally diverse metropolitan city in the country, we’ve become the most gastronomical one too. One can eat their heart out then head to the city’s many museums, music halls, art galleries, comedy clubs or movie screenings. Once outside, one can ice skate the many rinks open in the winter, swim the ocean seas in the summer, walk through the many green parks in the spring, or bike their way through one of the best cycling city in the world all year long. That’s my city!

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

This week, I’d like to highlight the Contemporary Muslim Fashion exhibit being held at the de Young through the 6th of January, 2019. I’ve been to the exhibit multiple times and plan on going again before it closes. This is a historical first for such an exhibit and of course, where else would such a colorful and truly inspiring exhibit be than at the de Young?

Tickets average $30 per person but members get in free! Side note: If you’re a true fan of art, a Fine Arts membership is worth every penny. With lots of exhibits to see and membership perks to enjoy at both the de Young and Legion of Honor.

San Francisco Symphony last week held a screening feature of A Nightmare Before Christmas and it was truly spectacular! They’ll do it again with the screening of the holiday classic, Home Alone.

Want to go ice skating? We’re spoiled for choice all across the city. Just for the holidays, there are three ice rinks: one right in front of City Hall, a second in the middle of Union Square and a third at the Embarcadero Center. There’s also the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center which is open all year round.

And if you still need to shop for gifts, look no further than the upcoming Etsy’s Maverick Holiday Market happening at the Crocker Galleria December 19th. Nothing beats buying from your local businesses, right? Shameless plug: I’ve started a small boutique shop on Etsy too!

YUMMINESS ACHIEVED

lamb stew at Bursa

This week, I’m highlighting an old favorite spot of mine, Bursa on West Portal. They truly serve up really good Arabic food with touches of gourmet and home. My favorite dishes are both the chicken and beef kebabs, succulent lamb stew, and the piping hot pastry cheese rolls. Just thinking about those cheesy rolls makes me hungry!

I’m not a fan of the seasonal pumpkin spice lattes (because yuck) but I did miss the occasional winter holiday coffee drinks. As a huge fan of Peet’s, I’ve been hooked on their peppermint mocha and the dark chocolate orange mocha. They are great pick-me-ups especially on those cold Monday mornings as you head back to work.

Until next time, Happy Sunday, peeps!

Iftar @ Streets of Arabia – A Snapchat Story

Streets of Arabia Ramadan Tent - Doha Marriott Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Inspired by the success of Street Food Doha, the lovely Doha Marriott is at it again for the second year with Streets of Arabia. Dishes from all corners of the region, such as Sudan, Morocco and Qatar, are the stars of the streets. I started with the Moroccan harira soup and was tempted to go for seconds but there was much to discover throughout the restaurant gallery turned street food galore.

Headed to Sudan for stew, Egypt for hawashy, Lebanon for grills, Qatar for majbous, Turkey for kavurma and India for dahi vada. I was not disappointed in the least bit! Desserts were good, the qatayef were a hit for me. I just wish they had them in serving sizes rather than “serve yourself” type setup, people get a little too excited around desserts. #JustSaying

Service, as always, was professional and friendly. I just wish some of the serving staff were more knowledgable of some of the dishes they were serving. The setup is simple, nothing over the top, but nothing plain either. It’s a very chill and casual space for iftar, my kind of chill to be honest. It’s so chill, even the famous Ramadan camels, Bashoosh and Sahara were just chilling in the warm breeze outside the hotel with their new baby girl, Samara. Yep, it’s a girl! Woohoo!

Iftar @ Al Jawhara – A Snapchat Story

Al Jawhara Oasis Ramadan Tent - InterContinental The City Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato For the third year running, Al Jawhara of The Intercontinental The City has been a hidden gem of the Ramadan season. Not a ridiculously expansive buffet, just the good stuff in the beautifully decorated hall.

The decor remains as the classic Arabian night theme. Seatings are set up nicely and rearrange accordingly, giving you space to move and every seat was a good seat to see the live band and tanora dancer during suhour. On the sides, you have tent like booth seatings and lit lanterns throughout the hall.

The service within the tent is very attentive, friendly and always with a smile. Management and marketing teams passed by to genuinely check on us, which did not just happen because we were invited guests but it’s consistent to how we’ve been treated as paying guests as well. I very much appreciate the consistency in the service provided.

For 195QR, you’re getting your money’s worth! Desserts was probably my favorite this time around, especially the fresh crepes with orange sauce which I topped with chocolate ice cream and nuts. Qatayef were made fresh as well and probably the best I’ve had in a very long time in Qatar. Last year, the freshly made shawarma wraps here was my favorite, done to absolute perfection. Sadly this time around, didn’t get my hands on the shawarma as it seemed to have run out on my two visits to the station.

Overall, I believe the buffet menu changes so you don’t necessarily get the same thing twice in one week. The only constant is the live cooking stations dedicated to pasta, shawarma and one of the dessert sections. Yep, there are two dessert sections!

I have to give them props for monitoring not only the food’s freshness but preventing waste. In speaking with the team, they noted that food was made almost to order (quantity to bookings with fresh additions as needed) to help prevent waste. Suhour was a la carte last year but by popular demand, the buffet is back but on a smaller scale to prevent waste. Kudos ICTC team!

 

Note: I’ve been to Al Jawhara Ramadan Tent a few times over the years, both as a guest and customer. My opinions on my blog and social media are strictly my own. Please contact if you’d like permission to share/repost this content.