Updated: List of good little neighborhood spots in SF
People are _always_ asking me for recommendations like this, and luckily SF is rife with them... To recap, here are the criteria:
- excellent food, of course
- friendly vibe
- good service & value
- noise level not too loud to have a normal conversation
- tables not too cramped together
- return business from neighborhood residents
- can function as a mellow midweek last-minute dinner or a low-key "special occasion" dinner (ie jeans usually OK)
Here's the updated list: (I've tried those marked with *). The first 5 are my die-hard favorites.
- The Richmond*
- Chapeau! (even though the tables are pretty cramped)
- Garibaldi (maybe, haven't been in a couple years)
- Florio (occasionally too loud)
- La Provence (any more feedback on this?)
- Blue Plate*
- Chenery Park
- Incanto* (more of a destination than a neighborhood spot)
- Fresca (any particular location?)
- Rue St Jacques
- Liberty Cafe
- Le Petit Robert
- Nopa* (a little larger than the others)
- Universal Cafe*
- Slow Club*
- 1550 Hyde
- L'Osteria Del Forno
- Clementine (haven't been in a while)
There have GOT to be others... anyone?
In my neighborhood (Noe Valley), my favorites are, in order:
I think Bacco and Firefly are definitely the most neighborhoody. Fresca and especially Incanto feel more like destination restaurants that happen to be in the neighborhood, rather than a "neighborhood spot." Not sure if that makes sense. Let me put it this way: When I have people visiting from out of town, I'm likely to take them to Incanto or Fresca. When my wife and I want a nice meal on a weeknight or are celebrating a minor special occasion, we'll go to Bacco or Firefly.
In Cole Valley, I like Zazie. California-French. Great place for brunch, though it can get crowded on weekend mornings - I love their pancakes, and they have good eggs benedict variations. Dinner is solid too, they offer a relatively cheap (under $20, if I recall) 3 course prix fixe dinner every night, usually just a subset of choices from the regular menu.
I get the prix fixe about every other time I have dinner at Zazie. I always think I'm going to get it, but often wind up wanting something not offered on it. nsheth's right that it's a subset of the regular menu. If you go to http://www.zaziesf.com/dinner.html , the items with a '*' are available on the prix fixe, you get a starter, main and dessert for $19.50, a good deal.
Even if not ordering the prix fixe, Zazie's a bargain. I like their pate, charcruterie plate, seafood soup and burgers. On a lunch visit I was disappointed with their mussels and salade nicoise, however.
A topic close to my heart, Maya!
I very much agree on Firefly, the Richmond, Fresca (I've only been to the West Portal one, but it was good), and Liberty Cafe, and haven't been to the others you list. Zazie has a nice neighborhood'y feel to it, but I haven't always been as happy with the food as I'd like. It's a good value for sure, though, especially the prix fixe at $19.50.
Others I might include are
- Park Chow - probably not special occasion fare, but definitely neighborhood'y
- Range - a bit $$$ and hip, for my midweek meals out, but IMO so is Blue Plate (not to knock the very good food at both).
- Troya - I like it better than Bursa, although it's more casual
- Burma Superstar - maybe a bit tight on the seating, and casual, tho
- Ton Kiang - so sue me, I like 'em, but not primarily because of their dim sum
- NOPA - a bit $$$ too, and I've only been once, but quite liked it
- Mescolanza - fits your criteria in every way based on my two visits
- Clementine? I haven't been in 18 months tho.
- Blue Jay Cafe might have been a contender at one time, but based on our last visit, it's off our list of places worth our business.
- Pacific Cafe - I love the old-school seafood vibe and service (and free wine while you wait)
I've been trying to think of what in my neighborhood (Upper Haight) would qualify and am drawing a blank. NOPA & EOS are as close as I can think of.
I would add Moki's in its new place on Cortland Avenue in Bernal. It's a tad loud, but much less cramped and more cozy & inviting than the old space.
Also, we fell in love with Chouchou up on Forest Hill. Their cassoulets are wonderful and they have an imaginative menu of non-alcoholic cocktails (a must for our weeknight dining). Service was warm & friendly and the velvet drapes and warm, vibrant colors really make for a pleasant experience.
re: Melanie Wong
The Cortland Crab Roll is one of my faves, and the South Pacific roll has an unusual but wonderful flavor & texture profile (meaty rich unagi, creamy cheese and bright sweet mango). I also love the stop drop & roll for it's horseradishy bite, but I often have trouble finding tablemates who want to go in on an order.
The spicy corn fritters and Ahi mango spring rolls are terrific small plates, and we always get the grilled asparagus with sesame dressing. Desserts are OK, but they always have interesting Mitchell's ice cream flavors. It's a great way to get your green tea ice cream fix without the lines.
Though it is also a destination restaurant (the conciegere from the Marriott sends down a stream of folks) Fringale is a great, friendly neighborhood restaurant with a cast of regulars. The food and atmosphere are top notch.
They have a fabulous pork rillette that normally comes on the charcuterie plate but you can order it on it's own. It's very meaty...one of the best rillette's I've ever had. I also adore the duck confit, but beware, it is quite rich...I always split it with someone. Every time I go there I sit at the bar, and the bartender Brian (not the French one) is so nice, remebers our names and what we like to drink-I consistently see people come in just to have mussels-I haven't had them but should soon. In addition I am a big fan of their fish soup and bouilliabase (sp?)
On the more casual side in North Beach, I absolutely adore "Le Petite Deli" on Columbus, next door to XOX truffles. Run by the world's sweetest Korean woman, she makes the best sandwiches, several salads and a killer chicken noodle soup.
Otherwise, honestly, I feel like there aren't that many great "neighborhoody" restaurants in North Beach. Sometimes places like Washington Bar & Grill, Caffe Delucchi and Moose's can be good for a brunch, but I'd skip them at dinner time.
When in the mood, Mario's Bohemian can make a good, hot sandwich. Mo's on Grant does a big fat burger too, but lately I've been taking my business to Burger Meister.
I like Cafe Delucchi for dinner. It's not sublime, but offers good value and they are lovely and welcoming. I'd add DaFlora to the list, too. The food is exceptioinal, and it's a little off the beaten path for North Beach. Albona? I haven't been yet, but it's definitely a neighborhood place.
I like the Delucchi version of pana cotta [$5.50?]
Not all that excited by the other stuff.
Does "neighborhood place" really mean much
in neighborhoods like North Beach Central or
The Mission Strip ... those neighborhoods are
"everyone's neighborhoods". I suppose a place
like Albona is off the beatnik track, but I
clearly have no idea what some people mean
Hmm, I should finish up my posting about
the Albona Abomination.