The Castro Is On The Upswing - San Francisco

The food here just keeps improving

The Castro is no culinary destination, with all due respect to Frances and Poesia. If these three great new dishes are any evidence, though, the quality of its neighborhood restaurants is on the upswing:

Li Ji, the new owner of Queen Malika Café, has quietly hired a former Koi Palace cook and is serving the best dim sum between Chinatown and Daly City. Essential eating: the shrimp-and-cilantro dumplings ($4), their wrappings puckered along the top like some newly discovered species of mollusk. [June 2013 UPDATE: The café is now called Mama Ji's.]

The food at Jon Hearnsberger's boudoir-like Fable is still a little uneven. But there's a reason the waiters are already selling the tender pot roast ($19) as its signature dish: It's glossed over in a powerful reduction of beef juices and accompanied by a hollow Parmesan popover.

With a friendly crowd and a great draft list, Hi Tops may be the most welcome bar–let alone sports bar–to open in the Castro in ages. The fried chicken sandwich ($12) is crunchy in all the right places, juicy in others, and garnished with a flashy, Sriracha-spiked slaw. Bonus: the neighborhood's best fries.