Recs for central SF: Italian, Chinese and Seafood
I'm headed to San Francisco for a few days with a bunch of family next Monday. In total we will be 4 adults, 2 college students (myself being one of them), and 5 kids ranging in age from 7 to 17. So here's the deal: My sweet aunt has enthusiastically mapped out the three short days we'll be spending in SF. As this is her first time in the city, she's picked out many of the typical tourist highlights for us to visit. As such, she has planned our three dinners accordingly: one night Chinese in Chinatown, one night Italian in North Beach, and one night seafood somewhere (presumably Fisherman's Wharf area.) I've only been to SF once, and I was a teen then, but those three choices seem to me to be the height of antiquated clichés. If so, forgive us. I imagine these hoods are most likely *not* the spots to find innovative cuisine.
Still, considering that this trip is mostly not at my expense, I am more than happy to follow the whims of my aunt and the rest of my family. However, what would be a nice surprise for all of us would be if I could get recommendations on good, Chow-worthy fare in these neighborhoods. I'm really not too keen on walking into over-priced, tasteless tourist traps every night. Moderate prices and places where a huge group of bumbling tourists wouldn't stick out too much would be big pluses.
So to recap, if anyone has recs for a good Chinese grub in Chinatown (Thai, Viet or Japanese would be sweet too), a nice Italian place in North Beach and good seafood somewhere central would be most appreciated. If there are great places specializing in these cuisines elsewhere in town, post away. (Only reason I ask to keep it central is that we are travelling sans auto and staying near Union Square.) Not looking for anything too traditional; fusion concepts would be great as well.
Thanks in advance for everyone's input.
re: Agent Orange
I am hoping by 'next Monday' you mean the Monday after next, or else you already have tickets to that game, since this coming Monday and the three days before and after the only game at ATT will be the All-Star Game, and related events, and you probably won't be able to 'catch' it without several thousand dollars to spare for a ticket...
However, this does give me an opportunity to report that I finally made it to ATT several times this year (to watch the Giants lose twice, sigh) and have found a few new food options and think in general the food is surprisingly better than last year. First discovery: the garlic fries from the stand at the top of the stairs up from the third street side of the stadium (NOT the Gordon Biersch stand fries, which are still yuch) have improved significantly and are actually worth ordering: crispy, not greasy, and tasty but without so much garlic that the fries become drowned in it and soggy.
Second discovery: in the same general area (near the grilled burger place above those stairs, overlooking the Third Street bridge and behind section 103 or so), is a tiny Comprades Stand (a cart actually) that, unlike most of the Compadres stands at ATT, does not just serve nachos and American tacos. Rather, this particular stand has al pastor tacos, and to my amazement, they are quite decent! Have surpassed the Cha-Cha bowl for my vote for Best of Park: when you order them, they grill the tortillas right on the spot, (!) then load them (two fresh though obviously not homemade tortillas to a taco) with decent al pastor (beans also, unless you ask for them 'sin frijoles', as I did), chopped cilantro, chopped onion, and a nice salsa, and give you a generous serving of zanahorias (Pickled carrots and jalapenos) on the side. I've had much worse at Mission taquerias...(Of course, these are $7 or so an order, when they would be $3 or so in the Mission...but this is the ballpark after all)...
As for the rest of your post, I agree with the Great Eastern Recommendation. Louie's California Chinese is also worth trying, and I would not make the assumption that you can't find very good to excellent Chinese food in Chinatown...Fisherman's Wharf may be a cliche, but Chinatown can be the real deal. You just need to know where to look...
There's a really good, active thread right now with a lot of the answers you're looking for:
Chinese in Chinatown: R&G Lounge
Italian in North Beach: Da Flora, Ristorante Ideale. Try to get to Liguria Bakery before they run out of focaccia. Split a box of 20 truffles at XOX truffles.
Seafood: Tadich Grill. Hog Island Oysters (and spend some time at the Ferry Building, esp on Saturday for the Farmer's Market).
Of the restaurants, I've only been to Ristorante Ideale, which was good, not brilliant, but still better than most of the places in North Beach. Also, it was at least 3 years ago - have seen some good reports since then.
Finally - the search function now lets you prioritize by date!! (woooooooooo!) Definitely worthwhile to spend some time searching - there should be a couple of up to date threads that will have more in-depth discussions of all of these.
For a group like the one he described, I think I'd do Great Eastern over R&G -- R&G is really better if you know exactly what to order, and it's a little more expensive than Great Eastern. Slanted Door is, I think, a little sophisticated for a group with kids (not to mention relatively expensive and somewhat touristy), so within those geographical parameters, I'd stick with Chinese.
Tadich is hard with a large group, because they don't take reservations. You might be better off at the Wharf, if you stick to the recommended places.
Town's End is a nice place to eat near PacBell (it's actually ATT these days).
You may want to try Firenze by Night in Northbeach, on Stockton at Columbus. They are a fun neighborhood Italian place and with a reservation could easily sit a group your size. They have great stuffed mushrooms, gnocchi, and grilled swordfish.
The Hyde Street Seafood House and Raw Bar is also good for a delicious seafood meal. I went there for the first time a couple of weeks ago and the food was great, with a wine list to match. What's so great about it is that it is in a fun, non-touristy neighborhood and easily accessible by the Hyde Street cable car line from Union Square. Then you can walk up Hyde to Union street and get some home made Swensen's ice cream. This was the origional Swensens, and they have their huge ice cream making machine in the window. (fun for kids)
Citizen Thai and the Monkey, also in Northbeach, would be large enough to seat all of you and they have great Thai food.
I also second XOX truffles in Northbeach for dessert.
Also, you may want to try the Slanted Door for some Asian Fusion food. Located in the Ferry Building, you could try to eat there for lunch and then walk along the Embarcadero to the ballpark.