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san francisco foodie wannabe...

My friend and I are coming to San Francisco in early February. Not familiar with the San Francisco food scene we would like some recommendations.

-We tried to make a reservation at Chez Panisse (downstairs) and were unsuccessful and received a fair amount of attitude. We were looking forward to trying their food...Is the cafe worth trying? Lunch or Dinner?

- We were interested in trying the gems the locals know about and are not too interested in the tourist route. Anything and everything from budget to gourmet delicacies...

- We also looked up the 'slow food' restaurants and found a few that seemed quite good - but it is hard to tell online from websites alone.

Looking forward to your recommendations!

yoyo and tubbs

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  1. If you didn't make a reservation at Chez Panisse in time (weeknights don't book up as fast as weekends, and are cheaper), go to Oliveto. The other top "slow food" restaurants in my book are Zuni, Oliveto, and Pizzaiolo.

    There are several hundred gems, no exaggeration. Read through the archive (too bad search is currently broken), come up with a list, and ask for feedback. Helps to mention where you're coming from and if you'll have a car.

    1. The cafe at chez is nice, and in my opinion a better value as you get to choose anything to eat that you like. the downstairs is formal, and a bit stuffy, from what i have heard.

      i would definetly check out pizzaiolo, on 51st at telegraph. wonderful california italian food, great atmosphere, nothing snotty about it. new pastry chef that is amazing. also, bakesale betty, a local neighbor to pizzaiolo is open till 7 and they have great cookies, scones, and fried chicken sandi's

      3 Replies
      1. re: Doodleboomer

        51st at Telegraph in OAKLAND (remember, this poster and others aren't familiar with the Bay Area).

        1. re: Doodleboomer

          It's not stuffy a bit. The room is gorgeous, the food is terrific, and the wait staff is beyond helpful. One example: The waiter noticed I had cleaned my plate (roast pork) and asked if I would like a second helping. Of course I said, "Yes!" A few minutes later the chef came to the table with my second helping and said, "I heard you liked this." Is that stuffy?

          1. re: Michael Rodriguez

            That pretty much matches my experience.

            Sometimes a lot of customers are wearing suits and whatnot as if they were in a stuffy French place in some other city. Mondays it's mostly schlubby Berkeley types.

        2. I too love Chowhound, (at least I did in the old format), but it's best with specific questions. For large topics such as "where to eat in San Francisco", the format breaks down. Go pick up a copy (or go to Amazon) of Patricia Unterman's Food Lover's Guide to San Francisco. It is not only the best guide to SF restaurants, it's the best city restaurant guide in the country. Large. Comprehensive. Well-written. It's categorized by neighborhood, with indexes by cuisine, price, etc. Armed with this book, you'll be able to dine like a well-informed local.

          4 Replies
          1. re: jimctgc

            That is the best book for the area, though she's sometimes unreliable where chiles are concerned.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Could you be more specific? I'm wondering what you meant by "she's sometimes unreliable where chiles are concerned"?


              1. re: chemchef

                She's not a reliable informant as to whether e.g. Thai places use an appropriate level of hot pepper. If you prefer food that's traditionally very spicy to be toned down, that's not necessarily a problem.

            2. re: jimctgc

              I agree! That book is invaluable. Not only that, her descriptions make you want to rush right over to whatever restaurant you're reading about IMMEDIATELY! At least it did for me. I have lived here for two years now, and still refer back to that book often.

            3. I have only ever been to the Chez Panisse cafe, but I have been there many times. I've thoroughly enjoyed it every time and you can usually get into the cafe easier than the restaurant. Its also nice that you can choose from a menu.

              1. Thanks for the replies, we'll look into the book.

                -Which of these would be indispensible of a food/chef tour of SF: Aziza, Aqua Restaurant, Micheal Mina, Gary Danko, MIcheal Tusk, Ame Restaruant?

                -What do you think about Kiss Seafood for sushi?

                -Is Cafe Zoetrope worth the trip?

                -Looking for a place that showcases wines from the region, instead of having to go directly to the source.

                -Burritos?? anyone?

                5 Replies
                1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                  Aziza is the most unique.

                  Aqua, Michael Mina, and Gary Danko are international-style restaurants like those you might find in Las Vegas (where I think all three chefs have or have had places) or any cosmopolitan city.

                  Of the local Cal-Italian places, why Quince (Michael Tusk) rather than Incanto or Oliveto?

                  1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                    Aziza, no question. Definitely also Incanto (or Perbacco) over Quince.

                    Never heard of Zoetrope.

                    Is your wine question limited to restaurants, or are you open to wine bars, too?

                    Do a search for burritos - that topic is beaten to death on here. Some favorites: Taqueria San Jose, Taqueria San Francisco, Taqueria Cancun, Mi Castillito (certain locations).

                    1. re: Maya

                      Zoetrope probably refers to Cafe Niebaum-Coppola (I think they renamed it recently). Reviews are all over the map, but I feel good about going there because FFC is a mensch. Try the calzone, if they still make it.

                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        The San Francisco branch is now Cafe Zoetrope, the Palo Alto branch is now Cafe Rosso & Bianco.


                    2. re: yoyo and tubbs

                      Depending on your budget and what you want to see

                      I highly suggest driving across the bridge (Golden Gate) to Sausalito and trying Sushi Ran. Guide Michelin starred.

                      Thep Phanom Restaurant - Thai (some of the best 'authentic' cuisine I've enjoyed)

                      Globe (late night dessert, or bistro dinner earlier)

                      A16 (Italian, great wine list)

                      Thai Budhist Temple (Berkeley - on Sunday from about 1030am until the food runs out - this is a popular spot for locals and the UC Berkeley crowd). The food is sold in hawker stall fashion every Sunday as a fund raiser for the temple. Cuisine is prepared by church members and the temple priests. The recipes are from the Thai families. If you are lucky you may be there on a day they are practicing music or dance, or even giving a performance - no extra charge. From noodle bowls, tea/coffee, and sweet riced with mango and everything in between. Great for vegetarians as well. This is really a good experience for CH'ers!

                    3. Highly recommended:
                      Zushi Puzzle
                      Pizzeria Delfina
                      Gary Danko
                      Bong Su

                      1. Thanks for all the great suggestions!!!

                        As for the places showcasing local wines of the region, we are definietly not limited to restaruants. A wine bar would be fantastic to try...

                        -Where is the Thai Buddish Temple located? It sounds like a great way to eat and enjoy a Sunday morning/afternoon

                        -Anything in Pacific Heights that shouldn't be missed?

                        -Places for a late night drinks (pubs or martinis) and app/snack - we will be in downtown SF, but willing to travel to other areas.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                          CAV wine bar on Market at Gough in San Francisco is probably my favorite currently, and if i find myself there and also happen to be hungry, their cheese plate is exceptionally well put together and the food is quite tasty. Ask if Philip is working, tell him what you want... he's not yet been wrong in my experience with his wine pairings/descriptions/selections. Bonus- if you sit at the bar, you can watch the historic streetcars and random pedestrian make their way up towards the Castro.

                          1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                            The only destination restaurant in Pacific Heights is Quince. One of the several Boulangerie bakeries is there.

                            Thai Buddhist temple topics:


                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              FYI: the Berkeley Thai temple is walking distance from the Ashby BART station.

                            2. re: yoyo and tubbs

                              Some great wine bars: Hidden Vine, Cafe Biron, CAV.

                              Late night: there's a thread on that in here somewhere, Oola is mentioned. Nopa also serves late, and it's really fantastic.

                              1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                                The Thai Temple (Wat Mongkol) is on Russell between Adeline and MLK in Berkeley (1 block from my house. :)

                              2. Someone mentioned Nopa - seriously consider it - good food and the elderflower gimlet is fab. Aziza is also a good one to try. Perbacco is getting a lot of raves, I've not been there yet. Michael Mina, Aqua and Gary Danko are all up from there in price...is that an issue for you? You might want to search for those three - people have their own views!

                                1. though i do not claim to be a san fran expert, i will say that i would never endorse heading to chez panisse in lieu of eating your way through several other restaurants (i would take other chowhounds suggestions) first. i have never eaten downstairs, but i have eaten in the cafe twice now and both times was utterly underwhelmed. i totally appreciate their ingredient selection and understand their place in the slow food revolution. that said, my meals were just above average at best, and my service was absolutely horrible during both meals (thought this may have been a fluke the first time, but twice in a row is not acceptable at chez panisse) both times items were forgotten (we didn't get our wine until after our main course arrived, a key component was left out of my starter), and we had to wait around 25 minutes to even meet our server. we basically felt neglected. i am not into rushing through meals, but that is way too 'slow'. maybe the downstairs dining experience is different, but i wouldn't rank chez panisse in my top tier dining experiences by any stretch of the imagination. i'm sure there are many who disagree, but i have spoken with others who do feel the same way. just wanted to put it out there.

                                  1. I had dinner once at Chez Panisse (downstairs) and it was great. Also one lunch at the cafe, also great. I reccomend both.
                                    Recently had lunch at Tartine (18th & Guerrero in the Mission district), and it was the best lunch i've ever had.
                                    I've had breakfast twice at Canteen (on Sutter, probably the 800 block) and both times were fantastic, but I'm not sure they're still doing breakfast. Check before going.
                                    If you're feeling adventurous in your drinking, I have two recs:
                                    Toronado (lower Haight) best beer bar around (and great sausage next door at Rosamunde Grill).
                                    Zeitgest (Duboce and 16th?) great beer garden and a true SF joint.
                                    Of course, you have to go to the Ferry Building, especially for Saturday Farmer's Market.

                                    1. Zeitgeist is Valencia & Duboce.

                                      1. You all have been so helpful with all your suggestions. We're trying to plan out our food tour and it is proving to be difficult as there does not seem to be enough time for all of it.
                                        Just a couple more questions:

                                        - Any comments on Fifth Floor? or chef's tasting menu that shouldn't be missed - could a small, out of the way place, and/or a well known place, we are willing to travel for remarkable food

                                        - Dim Sum on a Monday?

                                        - Bakeries, pasteries and coffee?

                                        Thanks for your continued support in our endeavour to fill our bellies!!

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                                          chef's tasting menu that shouldn't be missed - Manresa. It's in Los Gatos, so a 45-min drive from the city. But it's exquisite.

                                          1. re: davina

                                            besides driving, is there any other way to get to Manresa?

                                            1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                                              Not really any way to get to Manresa without a car. You should try the Ritz Dining Room tasting menu. Awesome salt and pepper tasting menu, but not sure if they're still doing that -regardless, an excellent place.

                                              As for Fifth Floor, as Ruth said, I wouldn't risk it.

                                              Bakeries - well, of course, Tartine and Acme in the ferry bldg.

                                              I hope you report back on what you try!

                                              1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                                                You can get there on public transit (CalTrain, then two buses), but it takes about three hours.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                And before that it was getting pretty mixed reviews -- mixed enough that I wouldn't risk it.

                                                Any dim sum restaurant should be open on Monday. Personally, if I only had one dim sum meal to eat, I'd take BART out to Millbrae and go to Hong Kong Flower Lounge (which is right across the street from the BART station).

                                                Bakeries ... Acme in the Ferry Building for bread and anything made with their croissant dough; DeLessio for cakes and pastries; Bay Breads for French-style pastries (esp. canneles and macarons). Don't let yourself be sucked in by Miette in the Ferry Building! There are a couple of good items there, but most of them range from mediocre to awful.

                                            2. Also... any suggestions on Indian food?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: yoyo and tubbs

                                                Sultan. Some of the best Indian food in the city, with some unique offerings, and much nicer (although not much more expensive) than the other places in the "Tandoorloin." The trick is to ask the hostess Maryam for suggestions, particularly about seasonal vegetable dishes that may not be on the menu. Here's a recent discussion: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/348117