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Apr 13, 2007 07:11 AM

Philly Hounds in SF for Memorial Day

You guys have never let me down when I asked about Palm Springs, LA, etc. Now I am getting to SF and excited about visiting. Here are the basics I am looking for- a great place for an anniversary dinner (4th) (so far we are thinking Michael Mina); a good tacqueria in the Mission district; a place to eat at the wharf and anything else you can think of- haveto get sourdough and chowder, lots of fish, and, most important to me, a GREAT burrito. Cheap to expensive. Any help is greatly appreciated, including places to avoid b/c of things that may be going on that I don't know about.

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  1. You might want to re-think Michael Mina. High-end is not my department, but recent posts have indicated that MM might be nothing more than a figment of Michael Bauer's imagination after all. I'm guessing you might be staying at the Wharf, so I'll suggest Gary Danko, if only because he's a home boy (Massena Central High, go Red Raiders, rah!) and he respects cheese.

    Chowder in a bread bowl HAS to be at Boudin, because they invented it and they have the best SF sourdough. The Boudin bakery/bread museum is also one of few worthwhile ways to kill time at the Wharf other than just people-watching.

    For Tacquerias in the Mission I like Tacqueria Cancun (the Mission/18th branch). My favorite Mission style burrito used to be at Tacqueria San Jose, but I don't DO Mission style burritos any more because at my age they are way to big and heavy a nosh except to make a whole Thanksgiving dinner out of.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Gary Soup

      Staying at either St Regis or Westin St Francis, if that changes anything.

      1. re: JABDDD

        No, just means I'm not a good guesser. Transportation is easy and fun. You can take the cable car right to the wharf from the St. Francis, or the #30 or #9X bus from the St. Regis.

    2. The opinion on Mina's is mixed. I'm a big fan. It's service is unique, something you won't find a lot of places, and the food is great. I also really enjoy Danko. The service and preparations are much more traditional. Superbly executed, but nothing out of the ordinary except the quality.

      1. The only thing worth your time at the Wharf is the free view of the bay. Pretty much only tourists spend money there.

        Chowder is not a San Francisco dish, that's a tourist-trap specialty. The local SF counterpart is cioppino.

        27 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Lighten up, Robert. A visitor to SF that doesn't see Fisherman's Wharf is looked at funny by friends and relatives. It's like going to Paris and disdaining seeing the Eiffel Tower, Beijing and not seeing the Great Wall, or Brussels and not seeing the Mannekin Pis (the Chimay of tacky tourism). To say that chowder-in-a-bowl is not a San Francisco specialty is like saying poutine is not a Quebec specialty (and it certainly desreves equal respect as a dish).

          Go for it Philly hounds, nobody will recognize you! You might see me wandering around there too; I've been a tourist in SF continually for the last 45 years.

          1. re: Gary Soup

            Coming to SF and not spending any money at Fisherman's Wharf is like going to Paris and not spending any money at the mall on the site of the former Les Halles.

            People in Quebec have been eating poutine for generations. Only tourists eat chowder in a bowl, which was invented by somebody at Boudin a few years ago when they decided to expand the well-loved (and still respectable) local bakery into a statewide chain of crappy cafes.

            If you really want to eat canned chowder in a bread bowl, you can get it at the airport while waiting for your flight out. Or at the airports in Los Angeles or San Diego. Or at Disney's California Adventure Park.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Really, I take issue with the hard line here. Tourists are not the only ones who eat chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. If its fun for you, do it. Some people will sneer, but they've got their own issues.

              For some of your other queries, do a search (seafood, burrito, taqueria, etc.) and then post questions about the ones that interest you, we'll be happy to help if we can. For an anniversary dinner, if it's super-high end you want, try for the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton or Gary Danko or something. But personally, I'd go to Aziza, I think it's romantic, delicious, unusual, and has great cocktails (this is very important to me!).

              1. re: Maya

                Somebody comes to Chowhound asking for advice, my sincere advice is that apart from the bread, the Boudin chain serves mediocre to bad food.

                As an enthusiastic booster of great local chow, I don't want to see anyone waste a precious meal in San Francisco on tourist-trap food no better than you could find in corporate chain restaurants all over the country.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I agree with Rob 100%. Do go to Fisherman's Wharf and check it out. But, if you want to something to eat and munch, why not hussle over to the Farmer's Market and Ferry Plaza and get something to eat there. It's not that far away.



                  1. re: badbatzmaru

                    In less than five years you and Robert L. will be telling all who will listen to avoid the Ferry Building Marketplace as just another expensive tourist trap, which it's well on its way to becoming.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                Poutine as it's now known was invented no earlier than 1964, and perhaps not until the 70's. That's not a lot of "generations." And you can find poutine imitators farther from its place of origin than you can Chowder-in-a-sourdough bowl; for one thing, it's been established that you can't exactly duplicate SF sourdough in any other known microclimate.

                Anyway, I got over worrying about whatever I do or eat is hip or square decades ago.

              3. re: Gary Soup

                I have to agree about the lighten up. It's vacation and you do dopey stuff you'd never do at home. I wouldn't spend a complete day at FW but certainly a morning and lunch for some crab and chowder would be fine. SF is compact enough that you won't be wasting a huge amount of time going or coming.

                Regarding SF eats: the usual suspects for burritos are: Cancun, La Taqueria and San Jose. For "fine" or better eats the sweet spot really is the "mid-range", nice but casual California type place that are doing things slightly different: Aziza, Nopa, Slanted Door, etc.

                1. re: ML8000

                  If you want to really have a fine special meal and spend time at the wharf, i'd also recommend Gary Danko. It's always been wonderful when I've visited. Also, if you want a real SF experience for burrittos, Pancho Villa, on 16th, between Mission and Valencia, is a good place. I actually prefer the food at Cancun, but Pancho Villa is very yummy, and much more of a SF scene.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    I would go with Aziza over Gary Danko. The food is better the dining room more romantic and the prices are lower. I was unimpressed with the cheese cart everyone raves about. I've had larger samples of cheese than what is served and the crackers, fruit and bread with it are unimaginative. I find the restaurant with all that black and no windows depressing.

                    It has been a while but I like Michael Minna better. If you stay at the St Francis it is right in the hotel. The non favorable comments I've read recently seemed to be from people who like more theatre out of their food.

                    If it was me, I'd go to The Dining Room at the Ritz Carleton (and if you can afford it, stay there ... the service is jus sooo top notch)

                    The best place for fish AND clam chowder in Fisherman's Wharf is Scoma's ... but only for lunch where they have a three course special. Lunch lasts till 3:30. Sides are only ok, but the fish is just stellar. For dinner the prices are way too high and the portions are way to big. If you must go at dinner, then split an etree. A real old SF fish house is Tadich's near the Ferry Building and not on the Wharf. Get sand dabs and/or cioppino there.

                    Gary, when have you recently eaten clam chowder out of a bowl at Boudin? First of all, it is gloppy junk. Very few San Franciscans eat clam chowder in a bowl. I know when I am out of the area it is not one of the things I miss. And right about now it runs $10 - $15 .... for DAMNED CANNED CHOWDER. For $21 you can get 3 courses at Scoma's with literally right off the boat fish and a cup of fresh clam chowder. While I don't agree with them, Newsweek said this was one of the top clam chowders in the country. I've had much better, but Scomas outshines Boudin by far, clam chowder-wise. I'd get the corn & crab chowder at Blue Mermaid. Crab is SF ... clams are not.

                    There's an inexpensive bahn mi shop at the wharf. The corn and crab chowder at Blue Mermaid is said to be good, as mentioned. For a nice rest stop, go to the bar in Aliota's. I LOVE their creme brulee. At the bar you can stare ou on the wharf area, bay & alcatraz. I'd stick with appetizers. The fish, while good, isn't as fresh as Scoma's. and the prices are Wharf expensive. Some Fisherman's Wharf ideas in the link below. Note tha Eagle Cafe changed owners, took a dive and is no longer recommended. We've had some negative reviews on Ana Mandara lately. I'm not sure how valid as IIRC they were one-time posters. Didn'tt get a feel for if their taste matched my own.

                    That being said, there are much better and less expensive places to eat in SF. So I'd wander around and maybe have coffee and a baked good at Boudin, but save your stomach for other parts of SF. I hear the hot fudge sundae at Ghiradelli is good. I am planning to revisit that. When I first moved here many decades ago I tried it and wasn't impressed.

                    If you are here on Saturday morning you MUST ... MUST ... go to the farmers market a Ferry Plaza.

                    Wherever you go, hope you report back. It gives us a reference of what you like if you visit again and helps others visiting. It also helps locals to get fresh reports on places.

                    Fisherman's Wharf reports

                    1. re: rworange

                      Krys, you miss the point of having clam chowder in a sourdough bowl at Boudin's. It's all about a) the freshness of the bread (it won't taste as good any where else), and b) most importantly, the novelty value, the first time around. If you've had it at an airport or a theme park, you'll probably pass on it (been there, done that) but otherwise you might as well do it BECAUSE IT IS THERE. And either I'm Rip Van Winkle or we should have fired Alan Greenspan a long time ago; the last time I had a Boudin's bowl it was 6 or 7 dollars, and it wan't that long ago.

                      I ate Kentucky Fried Chicken (which I dislike) at an outlying Salt Lake City location because it was KFC's first establishment. My daughter ate at the McDonalds in Rovaniemi, Finland because it was the northernmost in the world. I always stop for xiaolong bao at the Nanxiang Steamed Mantou shop in an area of Shanghai that's even more touristy than Fisherman's wharf because it's the location that introduced xiaolong bao to the world, even thought the quality has declined precipitously. Get it? It's not ALWAYS about the food.

                      Correction: there's an expensive, not inexpensive (by banh mi standards) banh mi shop at FishWharf. It may seem like a bargain, but it's at least 50 percent more expensive than more authentic banh mi shops.

                      There's also a branch of Tacqueria San Jose at Fisherman's Wharf's back door (Mason and Francisco). It's said to separately owned and not as good as the other branches, but the al pastor tacos I get there are certainly better than anything you're likely to find at the gringified Fisherman's Wharf Tacqueria a few blocks to the North.

                      And finally, I don't see a lot of point in sending tourists to a boutique farmer's market unless they are traveling with a refrigerator or a cooler; they'll just be subjected to a Chamber of Commerce-style "Look at us, aren't we wonderful?" experience. (But go ahead, tell me it's all about the June Taylor jams.)

                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        The bread is fresh, but dumping canned soup in it doesn't improve the texture. Much better to go to Tadich and enjoy the bread on the side with a bowl of cioppino.

                        For a real San Francisco treat, go to the Ferry Building, get some some fresh bread from Acme and some cheese at Andante (on Saturday during market hours) or Cowgirl (at other times) or some fresh roasted meat from Mistral, and eat while sitting on a bench watching the bay.

                        Somebody who eats bad food just because it's there doesn't need to ask for advice on Chowhound.

                        1. re: Gary Soup

                          In the upstairs restaurant at Boudin, the clam chowder in a bowl is close to $13. With a tip it brings it up to $15 ... not counting a beverage. Downstairs it was closer to $10. I am sure that the OP has enough info to decide for themselves whether to, depending on the point of view, splurge or squander, their limited time in SF on a bowl of sourdough chowder.

                          The bahn mi suggestion was just an inexpensive option. Yeah, the bahn mi is $4 rather than the usual $2. But by wharf standards that's quite the steal.

                          IMO, and that's just mine, the market at FP is probably one of the most authentic experiences in SF. It is just not bottled jam but some fine prepared food vendors where they can catch breakfast or a sandwich while drinking in a view of the bay and people watching.

                          In addition, it is a great source of picnic supplies or snacks for the hotel. Pick up some Andante cheese with a loaf of Acme or Della Fratore bread.

                          1. re: rworange

                            OK, it's a food court then? And visitors who post queries on Chowhound come to San Francisco to eat in their hotel rooms?

                            1. re: Gary Soup

                              People who ask for advice here should expect responses that reflect the values detailed in the FAQ, such as "Chowhounds hate to ingest anything undelicious. They won't hesitate to go far, far out of their way for even slightly better."

                              Canned chowder is not delicous. Hog Island's is.


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Those words were written by a man who laments the loss of a bygone mass-produced breakfast cereal and who relishes efforts like taste tests of commercial bagged potato chips. Small comforts are small comforts.

                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                  There's nothing wrong with liking mass-produced cereal or bagged potato chips if they taste good. Personally I go to a lot of trouble and expense to get Grandma Utz lard-fried chips.

                                  Nobody here has ventured the personal opinion that Boudin's canned chowder in a bread bowl is delicious.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    To tell the truth, I usually get the (canned) chili version. But the whole point is flavor the bread, it makes a great comfort food nosh.

                                    But sheesh, I'm not so Jesuitical about my eating regimen that I can't still enjoy Campbell's Tomato Soup with Sunshine Krispy Crackers and still look at myself in the mirror.

                          2. re: Gary Soup

                            OK, not to keep this going. I do understand what you are saying about chowder in a bowl. Boudin redid their website and the price of chowder in a bowl is $15

                            BOUDIN SOURDOUGH BREAD BOWL $14.95
                            Choice of crab & corn chowder or the traditional clam chowder

                            Actually that is more than the last time I was there, but they do have crab and corn chowder. Don't know how that tastes, but i seems like a more SF option. You get the hit of sourdough bread plus crab.

                            1. re: rworange

                              They must have horrendous overhead at their new facility or else they are raking in the $$$. I believe it was only three, possibly four years ago (my sister and her husband were visiting) and it was less than half that price at their old facility.

                              1. re: Gary Soup

                                It's cheaper downstairs and at the litle take-out place to the side. I remember the cans of chowder being $6.50 for a standard Progresso Soup size can.

                          3. re: rworange

                            I missed the report on Saigon Grill. Now that's a worthy option for people who can't be talked out of the Wharf.


                            Melanie's report on Blue Mermaid:


                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        You are right- I really meant cioppino. I thought that is what SF "chowder" was.....silly Northeasterner! Can you tell I also lived in Boston?

                        Touristy or not, I am a tourist! Let them shun me as I go to Alcatraz, etc. At least I won't do it in shorts, a t, sandals and a fanny pack.

                        I am looking for a late, twentysomething yuppie vacation in SF. Good food, regardless of price. Fun places to visit, according to the locals- with a little tourist traps thrown in.

                        Thanks for all your help so far. The only thing I disagree with is Danko....I already ruled that out because I found the menu staid.

                        1. re: JABDDD

                          Actually, the Alcatraz tour is good. Also fun is checking out the sea lions near Pier 39.

                          Here's the most recent cioppino thread, I think.

                          I liked Tadich's cioppino better than Scomas. The fish was marginally fresher at Scomas, but the broth and bread are better at Tadich's. Also it is $10 less expensive.

                          I haven't been here, but give your age and comments, this might be a fun place to try

                          1. re: JABDDD

                            I think you have the right idea - just have a good time. If this includes canned chowder in a sourdough bowl, then by all means go for it. Other regulars on this board including myself are embarrased by the tone some recent threads have taken. Please be assured that we strive to be gracious, helpful, tactful and nonjudgmental to visitors - we love our home and want you to feel welcome, not put off. Please post back on your experiences!!

                            1. re: JABDDD

                              Well, you might want to wear your grungiest T when you eat cioppino; then you can decline the silly bib they will give you to wear.

                              1. re: JABDDD

                                oh, don't miss Alcatraz! Well worth it, not to be missed actually, but don't go in shorts (you will freeze half to death) and do consider making a reservation in advance...

                                one spot you might want to try for their different (but IMO good) take on clam chowder is Hog Island Oyster Bar, which is also the place to go for oysters...:


                                As for cioppino, it is best during crab season, which alas, you will miss altogether...

                            2. You'll have to try Los Pastores in the Mission District. If you want to start your morning on the day of burrito searching day, stop by for Huevos Rancheros for breakfast. The owner, Irma, makes some of the best I've had. The beans are perfect, the simple and easy, but most often not done right...are done right. Or, don't wait for burrito search day. Stop by there every day for breakfast. It's inexpensive and good.