HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Help, never been to San Francisco and would love some suggestions of where to eat

I'm going to be in town on business and staying at the Fairmont. All I know is what I've read online, in my AAA guide or seen on the Food Network. I'm not opposed to the touristy type of thing, but would like to eat at some of the places the natives enjoy.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. what kind of food are you looking for?

    2 Replies
    1. I like to try differnt types of cuisine, and I'm really excited about going to Chinatown. In the deep south we don't get a shot at much authentic cuisine unless it's fried or Mexican. I've tried Thai, Japanese, Indian, Veitnamese, Chinese and liked all of them.

      12 Replies
      1. re: bamagirl

        There's great Vietnamese in S.F., but most of the best are not in the most savory of neighborhoods. However, you should do a search on the board for the more upscale Slanted Door, which some people swear by. You'll be close to Chinatown, and though most of the better Chinese restaurants in town are in more residential neighborhoods, you'll probably get some reasonable suggestions. It's not a great Indian food town--most of the action is around San Jose, and I don't think it's a great Thai food town either. Actually, no matter where you go a good Thai restaurant is a needle in a haystack proposition.

        1. re: Peter Cherches

          There are plenty of "just OK" Thai places in SF, but there are definitely a couple worth mentioning. Marnee Thai (23rd & Irving and 9th between Irving and Lincoln) and Mekong (O'Farrell and Larkin)

          Some good Nob Hill spots - Ristorante Milano on Pacific between Hyde and Larkin, Rue St. Jacques, Frascati.

          1. re: mchan02

            Thai House Express in the Castro or the 'Loin are both good for
            Thai too. There are several reports on this board and on yelp.com.

            1. re: Candice

              The Thai House Express at Larkin and Geary is the best.

            2. re: mchan02

              King of Thai Noodle House is really great for Pad See Ew and fried rice. There are a few locations in the city. One is on O'Farrell by Union Square. I am also a big fan of Pakwan (16th street in the Mission district) for Pakistani/Indian--try the tikka masala or saag paneer. PPQ on Irving street has the best green papaya salad with beef-- if you want vietnamese. None of the restaurants I love are big on atmosphere or price.

          2. re: bamagirl

            i'm a huge fan of aux delices on polk - it's more of an upscale vietnamese than the general pho places. try the beef curry in a iron pot. it's my fave dish. and i wouldn't call russian hill an unsafe neighborhood.

            1. re: katg

              That place is good, but I was thinking of the concentration of places in the tenderloin.

              1. re: Peter Cherches

                Yep, Aux Delices is a 3-block walk for me and some dishes are good. But I head to the Little Saigon in the Tenderloin far more often.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Silly question, but what is the Tenderloin besides part of a
                  cow or pig?

                  1. re: bamagirl

                    It's a neighborhood in San Francisco that is just west of Union Square and east of Van Ness Avenue, roughly.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      The term tenderloin was used for a neighborhood in NYC in the 19th century. The S.F. Tenderloin developed after the 1906 earthquake.



            2. re: bamagirl

              As far as great Vietnamese in SF, you can find a couple of wonderful options in Inner Sunset, a safe and walkable neighborhood near the excellent DeYoung Museum and Golden Gate Park, both of which you may wish to visit on your trip. My personal standby for great, affordable Vietnamese is Yummy Yummy on Irving. The bun, pho, and crepes are all very good. The crab looks excellent but I haven't tried it.

              For a more upscale Vietnamese experience, there have been good reports about Dragonfly on Judah between 9th and 10th.

            3. Take time to go to the Tadich Grill on California for lunch or dinner. It's great, have fresh fish or cioppino, a martini and enjoy the oldest restaurant in SF.

              You're on Nob Hill so if you want some fun neighborhood places, read non tourist, try Rue Saint Jacque (Jackson and Taylor) for French bistro food, great cassolet, Luella, wonderful neightborhood place, Frescati, same, neighborhood place, right across the street from Luella.

              If you're by yourself and want a great upscale dinner, head to Boulevard, outstanding food and service, right on the bay. You can eat at the bar or back overlooking the kitchen which is a great seat.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rtmonty

                I second Tadich Grill, but be aware the last they will seat you is 8M. Don't mind the giant mob in front (no reservations) just press your way in and wait for a seat at the loooong counter. Get the Seafood Saute, the panfried Petrale Sole or the Cioppino.

                1. re: coconutz

                  I third Tadich. It hits every "must" --unique SF atmosphere, great food, quirky waiters, and great sourdough. Avoid the crowd, go for lunch and just get the clam chowder and their understated dinner salad. That thing has more shrimp than most shrimp cocktails.

              2. I'm delighted with any information you can give me since I will be there for 10 days

                1. I have a couple culinary friends coming to visit and they have never been to SF.

                  I'm planning to take them to SF Ferry Building to feast their senses: there are stores to shop for, you can smell food, you get something to eat or drink, etc..

                  Here's an NY Times article about it:

                  1. It seems like from another post that you will be here during January and the DAT promotion.

                    rtmonty gave you some good suggestions.

                    If you can splurge on a big dinner, the Fairmont is near the Ritz which has a wonderful tasting menu and one of the top chefs in SF. This is NOT the same thing as the Terrace restaurant at the Ritz which is average as best. You want to go to The Dining Room.

                    Another fun place is Michael Minna in the St Francis Hotel which is right on Union Square. The cable car in front of the Fairmont will take you down the hill and drop you at the foot of the St Francis.

                    For Breakfast ... the cable car in the other direction will take you to North Beach where you can have a great breakfast at Mama's.

                    The cable car on California going towards Van Ness (away from the bay) will take you to Nob Hill Cafe which has good breakfasts too. Get off at Cala foods and it is one block away ... towards the hospital.

                    SF has good coffee so hanging out at some of the cafes in north beach is fun ... Cafe Roma is my favorite ... XOX has great truffles and will give you one free with a cup of great Graffeo coffee. Cafe Trieste is touristy but go during the music program just for pure kitsch ... good cappuciono.

                    If you search North Beach on the board you'll find lots of restaurants recommended.

                    If you are in the Mission you might stop by Ritual coffee to soak up the vibe and the great coffee. On 24th street is Philz where you can get coffee with fresh mint and 'an experience'.

                    The not to miss experience is the Saturday Farmers Market at Ferry Plaza ... really, if you have one place to go in SF, the Saturday market is it. The coffee there to get is Blue Bottle.

                    Along the Embarcardero near the ballpark is TownsEnd restaurant which has one of my favorite breakfasts in SF. It was one of the first places I went when I moved back to the city.

                    Zuni is worthwhile and stop by the nearby DeLassio.

                    If you are here for DAT, I'd say give Ana Mandara a try. Alfred's is near the Fairmont and also participating in DAT .. well for lunch anyway. In SOMA I've always enjoyed Coco500.

                    Hmm ... I could go on and on. You might list some of the places you are considering to get an opinion.

                    Another worthwhile thing would be to pick up the Chowhound's guide to the SF Bay Area which has hundreds of suggestions for places to eat culled from the posts by the locals on this board. Patricia Unterman's book is also great, in a different way.

                    Yes, there have been new places since both were published but most of what is in both books will lead you to good eating wherever you find yourself in the city.

                    Hope you will report back about where you ate. Even more important, I hope when you are back home in Alabama, you'll post some of your Alabama food finds. As an insider in that area, you know the best eats and it would be help future visitors to your area.

                    Have a great trip.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: rworange

                      Thank you so much. I only found this web site yesterday and I've gotten so many wonderful ideas from everyone. Is DAT only for a specific time period, I didn't realize that. I'll have to look more closely when I get home.

                      1. re: bamagirl

                        If you want to do one great blowout dinner, I'd suggest Michael Mina. Stunning, not sure if it's what you're looking for.

                        When my wife and I went last year, we'd go down to Pier 39 with coffee every morning and watch the sea lions. They have rafts set up for them and many congregate there regularly.

                        I highly recommend the Alcatraz tour, it's about $15pp, a nice boat ride, and fun to look around the island.

                        If you want something you can't get in Alabama, you might want to try Frisson. Very hip, cool atmosphere, good food.

                        1. re: elrushbo

                          Just to clarify on the sea lions. The rafts weren't set up for them, they took over a marina full of boats, which were then moved.

                          Ironically, the newer hot spots feature Southern cooking, such as The Front Porch, Farmer Brown, and, looking at the menu, Luella. The other newish popular trend is small plates.

                          If you like oysters, Hog Island at the Ferry Plaza, or many other venues. Petrole sole, sand dabs are San Fran specialties and can be had at Tadich, Sam's Grills or a good North Beach Italian place; I like North Beach Restaurant. Dungeness crab, either traditional or an Asian prep.

                          You are a doable walk or a quick cabride to either North Beach or Russian Hill. In North Beach, I think Myth is still popular, or House on Grant St. for a modern Asian take. I like Henry's Hunan on Battery for smoked pork dishes [really the only smoked meat I like]. They close early.

                          Since you are in town for 10 days, you can probably get over to the East Bay, which has, of course, Chez Panisse/Cafe, amongst many many other fine restos.

                          You will NOT go hungry here!

                        2. re: bamagirl

                          Yep. Dat is only for January. Every now and then they run it in August too.

                          1. re: finchycocoa

                            Dine About Town - a promotion during January where participating restuarnts offer dining 'discounts'. Sometimes it is a deal, sometimes ordering a la carte is the same or cheaper.

                        3. I am not a native, but have been to SF many times.

                          Our favorite italian restaurant in North Beach is l'Osteria del Forno. Whatever special they have is great. I also like the baked pasta dish...I don't remember the name but they only have one.

                          Another recommend for Mama's on Washington Square. We usually eat breakfast here every morning, unless we are in the Marina District, then we'll have breakfast at Home Plate. I can't remember exactly what we've ordered at Mama's but I don't remember ever having anything we didn't like. Small place. Get their early and you'll probably still have to wait.

                          Daughter loves R&G Lounge for Chinese. I've not been. She'll go for lunch and order the lunch special. She let's the waitstaff pick for her and she's never been disappointed, but she eats anything. I hear dinner is pricey.

                          Caffe Greco for a late night espresso and dessert. Good people watching too.

                          Buena Vista Cafe for Irish coffee on a cold day. Also like thier clam chowder better then others I've tried in town. It's a touristy place though.

                          Asqew Grill for an inexpensive lunch. It's a chain eatery. We've been to the one in the Marina District.

                          Molinari's Deli. I just love walking in this tiny place. A couple small tables outside. We'll take-out and eat casually on our balcony at the hotel with a bottle of wine. This is a must everytime we are in SF.

                          1. Do go to the Ferry Bldg. farmers market Saturday morning. We went early, before 9 am to avoid the crowds and had a wonderful experience. If you're a coffee drinker, find the Blue Bottle stand outside the right end of the building (facing) for a transcendent cup. Such a pleasure to enjoy perfect coffee wandering through all the beautiful produce and food stands. We also brought home June Taylor jams and marmalades, flavorful dried apricots and nectarines, yummy yogurt from St. Benoit, honeys, cheese, dried mushrooms, and gosh, so much more. We spent the morning there, braving the crowds for a lunch on the benches. To my mind, this is a can't miss SF experience for any food lover.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: amyzan

                              I also wanted to add: we had a fantastic breakfast at Canteen. I understand it's a little hard to get into for dinner, but we got the first table when they opened for breakfast one morning. Soooo good!

                              1. re: amyzan

                                I'm really getting hungry reading all these wonderful posts. I was already anxious to go to the farmers market. I had seen a show on the Food Network about San Francisco and it looked wonderful.

                                1. re: amyzan

                                  Did Canteen move or is it still open?

                                  1. re: finchycocoa

                                    I was there Nov. 25th, and have no idea. Maybe a local can tell us, or here's their telly no.: (415) 928-8870

                              2. Broad question. Some of the best places in San Francisco are located in neighborhoods that would scare those with less big-city experience. Some of the most hyped places in San Francisco are long on looks and low on value for the dollar, all flash and no substance. Some simply require a lengthy cab or bus ride out into a neighborhood that is visually unimpressive if safe, but once inside the restaurant the experience is sublime.

                                What sorts of things are you willing to try? Do you mind a little adventure, a little jaunting into the unknown? One of my favorite places is a little Vietnamese place located on a rough block of the city, but they serve certain dishes that are divine...and it just adds to the experience for me that it's not all gleaming stainless steel and fancy starched white chef coats. And of course a good neighborhood can be divided from a bad one by one street or block alone....

                                And please avoid Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39. You are better than that!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: uptown jimmy

                                  I don't mind a little adventure but I'm not sure about my co-worker. I've only had Vietnamese once and my boss (who is from there) said it wasn't very good. I liked it, it was a noodle bowl with small pieces of beef wrapped around onion and cooked. Can't tell you the name, but it comes with fish sauce to put over it. I also heard about this Italian restaraunt called Chow, the write ups said it was good but noisy. So any names and locations you can give me will be appreciated. The people I will be training with know the area I'm told

                                  1. re: bamagirl

                                    Sounds like you had some variation of "bun bo," "bun" being the noodles, "bo" being the beef. Lots of options for VN here, do a search for specific recs.

                                    Chow is a good neighborhood place, and I enjoy eating at their Inner Sunset location frequently, but it is not Italian except perhaps in the vaguest sense (they do serve a pasta dish or two), and it's not somewhere I would take an out of town guest unless they were seeking mellow, kid-and-dog-friendly eating.

                                2. You are going to have a great time, for 10 days is a good chunck of time to explore, if you get any time off from work! Try walking down Powell Street towrds Union Sq for at least one breakfast at Sears Fine Foods, order the pancakes and fruit cup, it is a SF classic. Also another great breakfast spot is Dotties True Blue Cafe on Jones for multi ethnic, very homemade hearty breakfasts.

                                  1. Go to Sam's Grill, 374 Bush St. for a true San Francisco experience. It's an old-school fish restaurant--great fish, simple preps, excellent service. Much like Tadich (which is in the tour books), but Sam's is more of a local's place. Like others say, skip Fisherman's Wharf.

                                    1. Check out Tulan on 6th at Market for a great and cheap Vietnamese experience - I was there over New Years weekend and the food was epic...try the viet coffee over ice as well!

                                      Cha Ya Japanese on Valencia is also yummy...

                                      Avoid Fishermans wharf and House of Nanking!!!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: jbyoga

                                        But do a search for conflicting opinions on Tu Lan!

                                        1. re: jbyoga

                                          Get the Cha Giao Bun at Tu Lan. Heavenly.

                                          And for the record, Tu Lan serves real Vietnamese food in an atmosphere well-suited to the food. Folks who decry it lack perspective, I think....

                                        2. Search all you want or just go eat there for some great grub!

                                          #17, #74, Vege Fried Rice....Hell, I ate there 3x week when I lived there and it's my first stop in SF.

                                          Viet coffee....mmmmm

                                          1. I want to thank everyone for all of thier wonderful suggestions. I'm printing up the list now to put in my suitcase. My one hope is that I will fit through the door of the airplane when it's time for me to come home.