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Updated: List of good little neighborhood spots in SF

  • m

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.

- Firefly*
- Luella*
- The Richmond*
- Tablespoon*
- RNM*
- 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)
- Roti*
- Bursa*
- Fresca (any particular location?)
- Rue St Jacques
- Liberty Cafe
- Le Petit Robert
- Bacco
- Nopa* (a little larger than the others)
- Mescolanza
- Universal Cafe*
- Slow Club*
- Garcon
- Aperto*
- 1550 Hyde
- L'Osteria Del Forno
- Mescolanza
- Clementine (haven't been in a while)

There have GOT to be others... anyone?

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  1. 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.

    4 Replies
    1. re: nja

      That makes perfect sense. Haven't been to Bacco yet, but I recently went to Incanto and I agree it is more of a "destination" place than I was thinking of, but it was suggested, so I put it on the list! :)

      1. re: nja

        I didn't like Fresca. The food was rally poor I tought but I went maybe the first month they opened. What do you order there? I think I prefer the West Portal locationn's food better too. Anyone?

        1. re: abe1329

          I went to the WP location too. I can't remember what I had other than the ceviche, but remember really liking it all. The ceviche was outstanding I thought.

          1. re: abe1329

            It's definitely worth retrying. I was there shortly after it opened and it was pretty much a disaster. But things are far better now.

        2. 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.

          3 Replies
          1. re: nsheth

            I love their brunch, but I've never had dinner there. Anyone else have experience with their prix fixe, by any chance?

            1. re: Maya

              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.


              1. re: adampaul

                I cannot say enough about their BLT for lunch, I used to live in the neighborhood but now I drive back and brave the parking just for that.

          2. Nopa on Divisadero @ Hayes
            Poleng on Fulton St. @ Masonic

            1. terzo on steiner/union
              rose's cafe on steiner/union
              chez nous on fillmore

              1 Reply
              1. re: Husky

                Where is Terzo and can you say anything more about your experience there?

              2. 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

                - EOS?

                - 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.

                Best regards,

                1. Universal Cafe should be added, I think.

                  Edited to add: We enjoy an occasional weeknight meal at Walzwerk. It fits the mid-week, low-key, last-minute criteria. In fact, it fits all the criteria (though we like their food more than other people have).

                  1. 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.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: foodiegrl

                      Could you please tell us what you like to order at Moki's?

                      And, I know it's confusing, but Chouchou serves cassolette, that is stew cooked in a clay pot called a cassole, not cassoulet.


                      Cassolette at Le Bistro -

                      1. 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.

                        1. re: foodiegrl

                          I would also recommend the Riptide Roll (unagi, avocado, tempura shrimp) and the Drum Roll (crab, mango and mint). On the latter, crab and mango have such a natural affinity for one another that I don't know why every sushi place in town is not offering a similar roll.

                          1. re: San Francisco Gourmet

                            The idea of cheese on unagi makes me retch, and I still haven't had a sushi roll with any kind of tempura in it that I've wanted a second bite of. But this info may be helpful to fans of the style. Thank you, mostly I've heard slams of the sushi at Moki's.

                      2. re: foodiegrl

                        I'm not in love with Chouchou, but apart from that, (or maybe partly because of it) tables are very, very close together, which may not be a match with the original criteria...

                      3. woodward's garden

                        il borgo

                        suppenkuche (???) perhaps a bit too crowded and noisy

                        1. A La Turka (Turkish) on Geary near Larkin.....

                          1. I would also add Aperto in Potrero Hill to that list.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jupiter

                              I second Aperto...consistently delicious. My only pet peeve is the HUGE wooden bases under the table tops. It's really hard to get your legs into a comfortable position. Who designed those anyway??

                            2. 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.

                                1. re: lulusugarpop

                                  I've been meaning to check this place out. What dishes do you like?

                                  1. re: Maya

                                    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?)

                                2. Update: Went to luella last night (see review http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...


                                  Absolutely belongs on this list. Might even be the new definition of the "small neighborhood place" according to this list. A definite winner.

                                  1. Any others in North Beach? I don't know much about that area. Maybe House?

                                    1. 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.

                                      1. 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.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: monday

                                          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
                                          by "neighborhoody".

                                          Hmm, I should finish up my posting about
                                          the Albona Abomination.