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.