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Friday night, no reservations, casual, near Union Square?

Sorry for the long title, but it pretty much sums up my dilemma. We're flying into SF on a Friday night, arriving at our hotel on Union Square around 8pm, if the flight is on time. Because of that "if", I am looking for a place near Union Square that is fairly casual and doesn't necessitate reservations. Any cuisine is fine. Am I dreaming? Is this possible without ending up at Cheesecake Factory? Should we head straight to Chinatown?


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  1. Farmer Brown is just what you're looking for. It's near Union Square (about a block from the Powell BART station), the food is good, it's not that pricey and while you might have to wait for a little while (depening on what the crowd is like at that hour), you don't need a reservation.

    1. Definitely don't settle for Cheesecake Factory, that would be a crime. Plus on a Friday night, you may actually ave to wait longer than at most places around there!

      If you walk up Geary from Union Square, you'll have quite a few good choices. First up, between Mason and Taylor on the right sidewalk, is Colibri Mexican Bistro. I've only had one light dinner there, so I can't vouch for the food, but do a search on this board, there's been quite a few writeup on it. Next up, at the corner of Taylor on the left sidewalk, is Grand Cafe, a high end French brasserie. A new chef took over recently, and I'd expect the food to be fairly good, if a bit overpriced. Next, down the block on the right sidewalk, is Cortez, which serves tasty but expensive small plates. Finally, three blocks further, at the corner of Geary and Larkin, you'll find Thai House Express, a very casual, inexpensive and delicious Thai restaurant. The area gets a bit seedier after Cortez, so you could take a cab there, the fare would be very cheap.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Malik

        I had an unexpectedly good meal at Grand Cafe last week. The Salade Lyonnaise was wonderful. Everyone loved their entrees - lamb shank, pork chops and excellent crispy stripped sea bass. The service was very slow, though. We informed them on entering that we were going to theater, but it still took 15 minutes for our waiter to come and very long to get our entrees. Still, I am looking forward to going back when I don’t have to worry about the time.

        1. re: tvham

          Thanks so much for the responses!

        2. There are a bunch of restaurants on Belden Place with seating both indoors and outside in the closed-off street, so they can handle a *lot* of walk-ins. B44 for Catalan, Plouf for mussels and french fries, there are four or five others.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Great tip. Given the literal row of places next to one another, you're bound to get into one.

          2. Puccini & Pinetti would be good for casual Italian. Nice, energetic atmosphere with good basic food.

            1. Thanks for all the ideas. You've just made my Friday much less stressful!

              1. This was a timely thread, although I did make reservations on OpenTable.com. Photos from Colibri:


                See comments under the photos.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Jefferson

                  Thanks, that looks/reads better than my outing there. Especially the corn tortilla, though the carnitas still look too dry and lean.

                  P.S. Corn smut.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I should fill out the picture a bit more.

                    First up, tortillas with salsa. Wonderful hand-made white corn tortillas. A little difficult to pick up salsa in large quantities, as I like to do, but torn into quarters and cupped carefully, only a small amount of salsa ran down my hand/arm.

                    The greeen tomatillo-based salsa verde was very tangy, high acid, mildly hot. The yellow salsa struck me as something to spoon over sorbet or ice cream, not appropriate for direct consumption. The red salsa had the most heat, but I prefer a cooked tomato-type salsa, wherewas this one was a bit foamy, its texture reminiscent of gazpacho.

                    The guacamole followed. Due to our location in the narrow front end of the restaurant, it was prepared somewhere else. Ordered medium, it had a good level of heat, a step above the salsa verde for sure. My first impression was that the avocados were just right, ripe, chopped a bit roughly. My second was that a little more lemon juice (or white vinegar) would help balance the dip. Perhaps the guac suffered slightly in comparison with the salsa verde? My third impression was that the onions were a bit chunky; I was raised to grate/shred/juice them to supply their flavor without their crunch. Anyway, it was a large portion for two people, and easily could serve 3-4.

                    The halibut (fish of the day), mole poblano, and carnitas arrived simultaneously, crowding the table. In fact, the plates really are too large for tapas style service, especially with the big guac container still on the table. So we awkwardly served ourselves on the little "bread" plates.

                    The halibut seemed very fresh, and was neither over nor undercooked. One reason for ordering it was fresh green vegetables, which were good. Not sure what those black blobby things on top of the fish were...

                    The mole was quite different from my "standard," the one served at La Fiesta on Villa Street @ Calderon in Mountain View. At La Fiesta, you can feel the complexity of seeds and spices in the texture, which is a bit oily. At Colibri, the sauce seemed simpler and it had a light texture, airy, foamy, magical, that made it easy to scoop and eat with a tortilla or a fork. I still prefer La Fiesta's but this one was a lot of fun and expanded my understanding of what mole could be. The chicken was not up to the level of the sauce. A simple chicken breast, perhaps poached, was too firm, possibly held too long before service. Or they just like it a bit rubbery here.

                    The carnitas was a bit mysterious. Many of the pieces were dazzling in their richness, while another piece was like a loin chop, lean and dry. I suspect they do not use only pork shoulder, so it's just a different experience from my "usual" at Taqueria La Bamba on Old Middlefield Way @ Rengstorff in Mountain View. Perhaps Colibri's version is healthier?

                    It was a struggle, but we managed to eat all of the above. Tea followed, along with a forgettable rice "pudding."

                    Food and tea came to $51, the bar tab and tax added about $40. Not cheap, but then again, it's pretty good and we had unpretentious service at a good pace. I probably won't go back myself, but for someone looking for a nice place around Union Square that doesn't feel like just another corporate outpost, I would recommend it.