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First Time San Fran From Canada

Attending a conference August 2-6, staying near Union Station. Looking for recs for the following:

San Fran Mainstay Eats: casual, local fare, local clientele
Chinese with dish recs: Central/Eastern Canada doesn't have the Chinese offerings I've read about here
Mid Price Range night out/romantic dinner: value and ambiance for 30-50 $
Bars/Clubs for 40 and up crowd
Wine Tours: value for $
Vineyards if I rent a car
Off the beaten path suggestions for any of the following if you care to post.

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  1. Mainstay - recommend Zuni

    Mid Range romantic - recommend Piperade although I personally think if you like to share a bottle of wine over dinner, mid range in San Francisco is more $50-70 (inc tip) rather than the $30-50 you are looking for. I would consider $30 on the cheaper side of SF dining. I suggest Piperade because it is one of the restaurants which has reliably good food on my two visits this year, and stylish decor (its exposed brick) but also quiet enough to hear yourself speak. No mean feat in this town, believe me.

    I also like Bar Crudo. Very fish oriented - cheaper than Piperade. Small and romantic. More central to where you are staying.

    bars and clubs for the 40+ crowd???? Zoot, I turned 40 last month and I haven't been anywhere near a club since ;)
    The bar at the St Regis is swanky but spendy.

    1. Ah, a fellow Eastern/Central Canadian?

      I'd go to the Ferry Building Marketplace. One of the most pleasant places to have lunch in America. The Farmers' Market is on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday with lots of fresh organic produce. It's like Ottawa Byward/Toronto St. Lawrence Market, only more upscale and by the ocean.


      1 Reply
      1. re: waffle_in_law

        Thanks waffle, live in Ottawa, previously Toronto, can you suggest a meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, I may not find anything quite like here at home? I will of course visit the Ferry Building, I've read about the bakeries, Citizen Cake I think? Would love recs on these and ice cream/soda fountains?

      2. I've been living in SF for less than 2 months, so others might probably have better specific recommendations.

        In general terms, as a born and bred Torontonian, I'd say that Japanese and Mexican food are superior to what Toronto and Ottawa have. Seafood as well. Wine bars and brewpubs are generally better too. Produce, especially organics, beats Ontario's hands down; I'd say only Vancouver comes close. Same for artisanal breads.

        Chinese in Toronto is purportedly better than SF, though I've heard that there are lots of Chinese places in the suburbs south of SF that are better than what's in the city. Eastern European, Caribbean, Jewish, and most pizza are definitely worse in SF; I wouldn't bother.

        As for specific dishes here that you can't find in Ontario, I can't think of any offhand (except for soup in a sourdough bread bowl at Fisherman's Wharf, and even then you can get it at Timmy Ho's). You can pretty much find the same stuff, only with different levels of quality. One doesn't really realize how diverse Ontario food is until one leaves! :)

        That said, here are my picks:

        -Tlaloc, at Commercial & Sansome, Financial District. Burritos on a completely different level.

        -Okoze Sushi, Union St., Russian Hill. Haven't been, but it's gotten a lot of good words on these boards.

        -Cheese Board in Berkeley, on Shattuck. All organic pizza. Worth the trip across the bay.

        -Yuet Lee, Broadway & Stockton, Chinatown. Cantonese seafood. Open late.
        -Koi Palace, Daly City. Dim sum.

        -Acme, Ferry Building.

        Wine Bars
        -London Wine Bar, Sansome & Sacramento. Supposedly the first wine bar in America. Very laid back and quiet.

        -San Francisco Brewing, Columbus & Kearny, Chinatown/North Beach. Brewing on site. Beautiful old decor.
        -Rogue, Columbus & Powell.
        -Marin Brewing, Larkspur, Marin County. Take the ferry at the Ferry Building to Larkspur for $6.50 one way and cross the bay. Enjoy a Lagunitas pale ale on the boat. Take pictures. Cross the pedestrian bridge near the Larkspur dock and you're right there. Have another Lagunitas on the ride back.

        Ice Cream
        -Swensen's, Hyde & Union, Russian Hill. The first Swensen's, the only one that makes ice cream on-site, and the only one that looks nothing like the chain.
        -Mitchell's. Various locations.

        Hope this helps!

        1 Reply
        1. re: waffle_in_law

          It's been a while since I've spent more than a day in TO, but my recollection of the Chinese food scene there is that it's pretty thin in anything not Hong Kong Cantonese. San Francisco proper isn't much better off in that regard, though we have Shanghai Dumpling King on Balboa & 34th for excellent xiaolong bao, San Tung (or however they spell it) on Irving & 11th for jiaozi and the Spice Girls (aka Spices I and II) on Clement at 6th and 8th (or vice versa) for some killer Sichuan via Taiwan food.

        2. You might want to tie together your wine tour and bar wishlist items with a visit to CAV or Hidden Vine.

          1. If you have a car and can get down to the mid Peninsula for dim sum then here are a few place that I think are better than anything in the City.

            Joy Luck in San Mateo
            Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbare
            Zen Pen also in Millbare

            San Francisco is mostly good Cantonese food.
            Bow Hon on Grant Ave for the Fish Salad, the type of fish they use not available in Canada. I petty sure it not sice I was not able to find is in LA.

            If you have anything else Chinese maybe I can help if you difine the broders a little more.

            1. "Union Station"? You mean Union Square?

              Best tapas are at Bocadillos.

              I don't think Cheese Board Pizza is worth a trip from SF, you can get the same style at Arizmendi in SF, and neither's all that great compared with A16, Tommaso's, Pizzaiolo, or Nizza la Bella.

              London Wine Bar is awful. Much better choices are Cav, Hidden Vine, Hotel Biron, or WINE at Embarcadero Center.

              http://www.winebarsf.com/ (now has sample menus etc.)

              1. for mainstay SF, go to zuni. if you rent a car though you should instead go to our temple of cal cuisine, chez panisse, and genuflect before alice waters and/or the food.

                for romantic in your price range i recommend da flora in north beach for great italian (most romantic room in the city) or aziza which is just an all-around perfect restaurant with a great romantic ambiance.

                i agree with robert on hotel biron for a wine bar. my fav wine bar in the city. great cheese board, good wines, and an awesome space to chill.

                for vineyards, it depends on where your going, but assuming you are in napa, go up the silverado trail which runs parallel to the main highway. much less busy and much more scenic. while there go to pine ridge for good wines and a very cool vineyard, go to miner for good wine and great photo ops.

                some other miscellaneous places you shouldnt miss: while walking down haight street (im assuming you will do this as i think every tourist does, and its a fun street) stop at magnolia pub at haight and masonic and get one of their many awesome english style brews.

                and for lunch please go to canteen. i went there again yesterday and once more it just blows me away with its perfection. everything on the oft-changing menu is a work of intellectual food art.

                1. Aziza's a great moderate-priced romantic dinner if you don't go as overboard with the bar tab as some of us have been known to.

                  No need for a car to go to Chez Panisse, provided you make it back to the BART (regional subway) station by midnight.

                  1. San Fran Mainstay Eats: Zuni is an excellent choice, but Tadish Grill is THE quintessential SF mainstay, IMO. I highly recommend the grilled halibut or the seafood Cioppino (which I am willing to bet you cannot find in Canada).
                    Chinese with dish recs: For something a little different, you might want to try Spices II or House of Nang King (sp?). They are kind of stylish and unique (at least compared to the usual Cantonese fair) and the prices are right.
                    Mid Price Range night out/romantic dinner: I loved Da Flora, but I don't think there is any way it is in the mentioned price range. The gnocchi (an absolute must), a salad, two mid-priced entrées, a dessert, and three glasses of wine set me back about $115 with tip. I also understand the staff can be a bit moody at times, which could spoil any "romantic" plans...Perhaps your best bet would be an early bird pre-fix dinner at some place like Le Charm?
                    Tapas: Okay, this place sometimes gets panned on Chowhound for it's lack of authenticity, but most folks have a great time at Cha-Cha-Cha in the lower Height. Good food, good sangria, and a great value. And the lines speak for themselves.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Civil Bear

                      i recently went to le charm and was totally dissapointed. everything i had was sub-par, although the outside patio is great.