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"Only in San Francisco" Restaurants

ducky Aug 23, 2007 09:23 AM

We're in the midst of hosting several sets of out-of-state visitors. Many of them have never been to California and hail from small towns in the midwest - and this is the most exotic trip they've ever taken. They're open to new things, so we'd like to take them to one or two places that they'd never find "back home".

This is all about creating a memorable experience, not necessarily an amazing meal.

So, what are your votes for "only in San Francisco" (and the bay area) memorable spots:
- Ferry Plaza for the wide variety and quality
- Yank Sing or Coi Palace for dim sum
- Asia SF for the experience
-Forbes Island for the setting
- Slanted Door for food & setting
- Tonga Room for the show and and drinks
- Cliff House for the popovers and the view
- Fish. (in Sausalito) for the food and atmosphere
- Boudin Bistro and/or Ghiradelli for the Fisherman's Wharf experience.

What would you add or take out? Let the flames begin!

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  1. k
    Kristine RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 10:31 AM

    I would forget about Forbes Island if I were you, I've never been myself, but from what I've heard it's way too expensive for what you get, and it seems a bit Disneylandish to me.

    I would say the same about the Tong Room, I've been there with out of towners and they hated it as much as I did, but I know of others who have had ok to good times there.

    For a truly only in San Francisco/California experience, I'd go with the tried and true
    favorites of this board:

    Chez Panisse

    I would also suggest

    The House
    La Ciccia

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kristine
      Atomica RE: Kristine Aug 23, 2007 03:01 PM

      If they are into tiki lounges, Tonga Room is a MUST, however.

      1. re: Kristine
        Robert Lauriston RE: Kristine Aug 28, 2007 02:18 PM

        Yeah, that's pretty much my list of only-in-SF experiences. I'd add Canteen, Piperade, and Tartine.

        It's a shame to waste a meal at a tourist trap.

      2. singleguychef RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 10:34 AM

        I would add Foreign Cinema, food is still great and the setting is different.

        Koi Palace is definitely a must even though it's not exactly "San Francisco."

        1. PeterL RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 10:43 AM

          Well, none of those are "Only in San Francisco". Great dim sum can be had in other cities, but instead of those two I would take them to Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in the US. Ferry Building is a nice place to go, but by no means unique to SF. Sausalito, sure for the view, but certainly the food, again, is not unique by any means. I would suggest top of the Mark for a late night drink.

          37 Replies
          1. re: PeterL
            sgwood415 RE: PeterL Aug 23, 2007 01:43 PM

            Ferry Building is absolutely unique to SF. The whole concept is a focus on local purveyors.

            1. re: sgwood415
              PeterL RE: sgwood415 Aug 24, 2007 08:11 AM

              Ferry Building is just a glorified farmers' market. How can it be unique when it has chain stores?

              1. re: PeterL
                amyzan RE: PeterL Aug 24, 2007 08:32 AM

                Inside the farmers market, yes, one must pick and choose. Outside the building on Saturdays, those stores anchor one of the best farmers markets I've ever seen. It's good fun to peruse the great variety of vendors, eating and shopping for items to bring home. A few things I found that I can't get at home: June Taylor jams, dried fruits like Blenheim apricots, nectarines, persimmons, and varieties of prunes I never see in the Midwest, French style yogurt with honey in crockery, dried mushrooms that are better quality than what I can buy here, olive oils, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, pineapple guavas, cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery (there are only a few of these available here.) I could go on if my memory was better.

                I do think this would be a treat if your friends love good food. It's great to have so much to choose from, all located in one area.

                1. re: amyzan
                  The Dairy Queen RE: amyzan Aug 24, 2007 08:40 AM

                  I agree. I think the Ferry building is pretty impressive from a chow perspective, but to add to its "only in San Francisco-ness" it's in an historic old building, right along the water, not too far from the end of the cable car line. In fact, when you're done at the Ferry Building, you can hop on the cable car at the turnaround, take it all the way to Van Ness for the views, ride it back and hop off in Chinatown and head to Golden Gate Bakery on Grant Avenue for one of their hot out of the oven custards tarts.

                  If Hog Island in the Ferry Building is still doing its Monday night happy hours (I don't know if ducky's friends are going to be in SF during oyster season) that can be an experience you can't get in small town Midwest either.

                  Also, depending on the season again, it would be fun to get crab somewhere, like PPQ Dungeness on Clement (if it's still good--do they still have the prix fixe menu with the fantastic garlic noodles?) or the salt and pepper baked crab at R&G Lounge downtown.


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                    The Dairy Queen RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 09:02 AM

                    Oh, and another--if you're going to Beach Blanket Babylon, get a sandwich, a house campari, followed by an espresso at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store. Lovely people watching. Also, stroll down to XOX Truffles while you're there.


                  2. re: amyzan
                    Gary Soup RE: amyzan Aug 24, 2007 09:05 AM

                    Interesting that once again, the things that are memorable about the FBFM to a poster are mostly processed and value-added products, not fresh produce. It's really an opportunity to buy mail-order type products at mail-order prices without the anxiety of having to wait for the postman. From that perspective, it's easy to see it as a logical extension of the tony shopping mall that the Ferry Building Marketplace is.

                    1. re: Gary Soup
                      The Dairy Queen RE: Gary Soup Aug 24, 2007 09:13 AM

                      Gary, in addition to the fresh local produce, which, if you're coming from smalltown Midwest you don't have the same enormous variety of wonderful local produce, fruits especially (and flowers), it is a genuine opportunity to see all under one roof, and in many cases sample, all of those other products I assume you're referring to as mail order products. (Like the canned jams and olive oils and such.) The sampling is part of the experience of giving people exposure to some of these specialty products that yes, they can certainly mail order, once they decide they like it. For instance, while one can certainly order oallieberry jam online, it would be hard to do so if you've never heard of it. The Ferry Building is just good exposure all at once.

                      But, it is essential to make sure you hit the Ferry Building on a Farmers Market Day so the folks can experience the bounty of fresh produce.


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen
                        Gary Soup RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 09:19 AM

                        ...and have a good chuckle back home about the prices.

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                          Chris Rising RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 09:56 AM

                          My least favorite aspect of the inside is the hordes of tourist lined up to taste each and every olive oil. If they sell to 2%, I'd be amazed.

                          1. re: Chris Rising
                            The Dairy Queen RE: Chris Rising Aug 24, 2007 10:15 AM

                            Yeah, I can see how the crowds might interfere with your attempting to do your day-to-day shopping there, I've found it annoying too, but that's no reason not to recommend that people visit it unless people are looking to specifically avoid crowds. If the purveyors feel the point of having a presence at the Ferry Plaza is to market themselves to tourists, it's really up to them. If they just wanted to sell to locals who already know about these products, then, yeah, they might stopping giving out tastes . That would stop attracting the uninformed looky-loos. This of course is part of San Francisco's continuing love/hate relationship with tourism; love the influx of revenues, hate the crowds.


                            1. re: Chris Rising
                              Gary Soup RE: Chris Rising Aug 24, 2007 10:20 AM

                              Heck, I have the same frustration with Costco.....

                              1. re: Gary Soup
                                PeterL RE: Gary Soup Aug 25, 2007 01:05 PM

                                There are tourists in Costco?

                                1. re: PeterL
                                  larochelle RE: PeterL Aug 25, 2007 03:18 PM


                            2. re: The Dairy Queen
                              pikawicca RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 30, 2007 04:38 PM

                              Excuse me, but we do just fine here in the midwest with produce (barring chokes and avocadoes). Our tomatoes have a much more intense flavor than you find in California, and our corn is second to none. And we have shagbark hickory syrup, which you west-coasters will have to get via e-mail. This is posted by a homegrown SF-er. The only edge you guys have is a longer growing season. (Admittedly, that's a big edge.)

                              1. re: pikawicca
                                The Dairy Queen RE: pikawicca Aug 30, 2007 05:06 PM

                                pikawicca, this is certainly no knock against Midwest produce--what we can grow here is lovely indeed and my Wisconsin-grown CSA is serving me well, right now. But the incredible variety of produce they get in Northern California far exceeds what will grow in the Upper Midwest with the short growing season and extreme temps. Growing season and more temperate climate counts for a lot, as you admit.

                                I love the farmer's market day at the Ferry Building --the array of fresh flowers, fruits and produce is dazzling. For anyone who loves fresh produce, it's a sight not to be missed, in my opinion.


                            3. re: Gary Soup
                              larochelle RE: Gary Soup Aug 24, 2007 09:41 AM

                              When I have taken visitors to the FBFM, they have exclaimed over the produce offerings but bought the things that they could take home. Yes, they can eat a fresh peach then and there but later they remembered and told the tale of the June Taylor jam they ate for a month on their morning toast at home.

                              1. re: larochelle
                                Gary Soup RE: larochelle Aug 24, 2007 09:47 AM

                                That's essentially my point, that the FBFM is first and foremost a showplace for excellent value-added products and only tangentially a "Farmers' Market" as the phrase is understood in the real world (i.e., outside California).

                              2. re: Gary Soup
                                amyzan RE: Gary Soup Aug 24, 2007 12:46 PM

                                Well, I did pack home some root vegetables and fennel that I knew I could keep on ice in my hotel room. I also ate a lot of fresh produce that day--persimmons, pineapple guavas, the most memorable. I'd never had the guavas before, and persimmons are an outrageous price here, even at the Asian groceries. I can get teeny ones off the trees on my property, if the bagworms haven't eaten them already, but they're mostly seeds.

                                I also shopped for produce in Chinatown, but that mostly seemed like a great resource for cooks. I looked into motels with kitchenettes, but settled for a better location without an kitchen features in Little Italy. Gary, I think it's a little uncharitable to characterize my memories as not including fresh produce. I don't appreciate that you don't take into consideration my situation. The OP's guests are lucky in that they have his or her kitchen at their access. Maybe they'll buy more than root veggies and fennel?

                                1. re: amyzan
                                  amyzan RE: amyzan Aug 24, 2007 12:56 PM

                                  I also want to say that processed and value added products are available at farmer's markets here. I don't think these products are that unusual in the real world though the variety at the FBFM is huge, compared with our markets. I also noted that the market wasn't really crowded until around 11 am.

                                  1. re: amyzan
                                    The Dairy Queen RE: amyzan Aug 24, 2007 01:03 PM

                                    That's a good point, amyzan, that even at farmers markets in the Midwest you'll have folks selling their jams from locally-sourced produce and honeys and such...


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                      wally RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 01:04 PM

                                      Not to mention pie, bread and even doughnuts.

                            4. re: PeterL
                              sgwood415 RE: PeterL Aug 24, 2007 08:46 AM

                              I'm not sure I understand your objections to the Ferry Building. The OP is looking for food experiences that are unique to SF. There is no place in the world like the Ferry Building. The combination of local purveyors and the location/view make this a very unique place. When you complain about the "chains" I think you are mischaracterizing the place.

                              1. re: sgwood415
                                PeterL RE: sgwood415 Aug 24, 2007 09:21 AM

                                I have no objection to the Ferry Building. It's a fun place to be. But it's definitely not something that's unique to SF. I am not complaining about the chains, just to point out the non-uniqueness of a place with chain stores. There are plenty of places in the world that's kind of like the Ferry Building in one way or another. I have been to plenty of farmers' markets that are bigger and better than the ones at the Ferry Building. So food-wise it's definitely not unique. The view into the harbor, again is nothing unique for many coastal big cities. And you can barely see the Golden Gate. If you are a tourist would you go home and tell your friends that you had a great view of the Bay Bridge? You'd get puzzled looks and questions about what's a "bay bridge".

                                1. re: PeterL
                                  The Dairy Queen RE: PeterL Aug 24, 2007 09:30 AM

                                  I agree that there might be places in the world other than SF where you have something like the Ferry Building, the closest for small town Midwesterners would likely be in Chicago or maybe Minneapolis' Midtown Global Market (on a teensy, tiny scale), but the Ferry Building really does carry a wide variety of local produce and products, which makes it one of the only places in the world that carries under its roof that wide variety of from-the -Bay Area products. And, if you take it a step further and rephrase the question slightly from "only in SF" to "can't get in small town Midwest", which is how I'm interpreting the question, then the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market totally fits.

                                  In reply to the "What's a Bay Bridge" all you have to say is that the Bay Bridge is the one that partly collapsed during the 1989 earthquake and they all nod their heads knowlingly. They all watched it in horror on television while we locals sat in the dark. Give people a little credit.

                                  And, yes, Gary is right, there will be much sticker shock, but that will be everywhere you go, plus absolute revoltion at having to pay for parking.


                            5. re: sgwood415
                              Chris Rising RE: sgwood415 Aug 24, 2007 09:53 AM

                              I love the Ferry Building, but its not all that unique. Better, yes, but not one of a kind. The Greenmarket at Union Square, NYC is an excellent local farmers market. (Jersey grows awesome corn and tomatoes- I'll take a beefsteak over an early girl everyday) The Nabisco Building in Chelsea is very, very much like the Ferry Building. Bakeries, a great wine shop, butchers, florist, etc.

                              1. re: Chris Rising
                                Gary Soup RE: Chris Rising Aug 24, 2007 10:06 AM

                                Even Grand Central Market is not that far off in similarity to the FB Marketplace. The most similar experience I can think of overall, though, would be Atwater Market in Montreal, with about the same array, along a long corridor, of permanent shops inside (down to the French and Italian accents on the food), a farmers' market outside featuring local produce and almost (but not quite) the same degree of preciosity.

                                1. re: Gary Soup
                                  The Dairy Queen RE: Gary Soup Aug 24, 2007 10:08 AM

                                  Since this is the "most exotic trip" ducky's charges have ever taken, it's unlikely they've ever been to Atwater. ;-).


                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                    Gary Soup RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 10:14 AM

                                    Maybe due to my origins, but I find San Francisco more exotic than Montreal (where I would probably live, but for the Winter climate).

                                2. re: Chris Rising
                                  sgwood415 RE: Chris Rising Aug 24, 2007 01:12 PM

                                  By that logic you could say that nothing is unique since every city has restaurants. The fact that the Ferry Building is similar to the Chelsea Market or others is beside the point. Of course this format has been duplicated in various cities. But the collection of these purveyors, in this location, with this view is totally unique.

                                  1. re: sgwood415
                                    ccbweb RE: sgwood415 Aug 24, 2007 01:18 PM

                                    Seriously, does it matter even a little bit whether its unique? Does it make the food taste better if the Ferry Building is unique? Let's point people to good chow.

                                    1. re: ccbweb
                                      PeterL RE: ccbweb Aug 24, 2007 01:42 PM

                                      It apparently matters to OP since he/she asked for "Only in SF".

                                      1. re: ccbweb
                                        sgwood415 RE: ccbweb Aug 24, 2007 04:53 PM

                                        Lots of good chow at the Ferry Building.

                                      2. re: sgwood415
                                        PeterL RE: sgwood415 Aug 25, 2007 01:08 PM

                                        There are bridges everywhere, yet the Golden Gate is unique. There are street cars in a lot of cities, yet the Cable Car is unique. Therein lies the logic.

                                        1. re: sgwood415
                                          Chris Rising RE: sgwood415 Aug 25, 2007 10:10 PM

                                          I was reacting to the comment that there is nothing like the ferry building which is untrue. Should a food loving vistor to SF visit, yes. Is there nothing like it no. The location and view from the McDonalds at 16th and Mission is totally unique, but that alone would not cause me to reccomend.

                                        2. re: Chris Rising
                                          Porthos RE: Chris Rising Aug 26, 2007 11:49 AM

                                          Where the Saturday Ferry Building Farmer's market stands out compared to the Union Square Greenmarket and even the Hollywood Farmer's Market (the one on Ivar) is the fruit. Even during peak season, the fruit selection at the Union Square Greenmarket is dismal. You don't get 8+ types of nectarines and 8+ types of peaches and 8+ types of pluots, 6+ types of strawberries, etc. During the winter at the Greenmarket, it's just apples. I've never seen paw paws at either the Greenmarket or the Hollywood farmer's market. For produce, I agree that you get high quality stuff at both the Greenmarket and Hollywood Farmer's Market. Ramps are easier to come by at the Greenmarket but prices are also revved up at the Greenmarket though. The Hollywood Farmer's Market easily offers the best value and you might actually save money by shopping there.

                                          1. re: Porthos
                                            Gary Soup RE: Porthos Aug 26, 2007 12:31 PM

                                            Well, we're closer to the mad scientists at UC Davis. Variety and beauty of fruits has no relationship to flavor. Has California ever seen fruit that can match the flavor of fruits from the Northeast (those that can be grown in that climate, that is)?

                                            1. re: Gary Soup
                                              Nancy Berry RE: Gary Soup Aug 26, 2007 02:57 PM


                                    2. m
                                      meggie t RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 11:20 AM

                                      I think the Cliff House is a great place for visitors. The view can't be beat. I have been there several times, mostly just for drinks, but I did go there for afternoon drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Had a nice cheese plate and some fried calamari. I haven't been there for a full meal (and from what I understand it is not worth it), but I think for nibbly things, a drink and the view, it is great.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: meggie t
                                        pspiegel RE: meggie t Oct 19, 2008 03:39 PM

                                        Long-term residents of San Francisco should give the Cliff House another look. It's decor and food have greatly improved in recent years. Not cheap, though.

                                        1. re: pspiegel
                                          sugartoof RE: pspiegel Oct 19, 2008 08:28 PM

                                          That's the first I've heard that the Cliff House has improved.I've heard the lunch/brunches are awful. (but have heard good reports on their Thanksgiving dinners)

                                          I would think a lot of long term residents share my disappointment in the buildings latest incarnation. Even the seals gave up on the place. I'm the sure the view is still great.

                                          1. re: sugartoof
                                            Glencora RE: sugartoof Oct 19, 2008 09:11 PM

                                            Good reports on Thanksgiving dinners..... Very funny.

                                            I had a terrible brunch there two years ago. Have things improved since then? I love the signed photographs on the wall as well as the view, but the eggs were bland and the popovers were cold.

                                          2. re: pspiegel
                                            bbulkow RE: pspiegel Jan 1, 2009 12:51 PM

                                            pspiegel, how's about some information about what's good, what's better, and your experience?

                                            I can't tell from your three other posts what your likes and dislikes are....

                                        2. n
                                          Nancy Berry RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 11:21 AM

                                          If the visitors are here on a Saturday, then be sure to take them to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. There is nothing like it for the variety of quality fresh produce, heirloom vegetables and fruits, and artisinal food products in one place.

                                          And I agree that dim sum in Chinatown would be much more interesting to them than dim sum in a strip mall (Koi Palace) or a food court (Yank Sing.) Others can name their favorites (I'm not that up to date on Chinatown dim sum places,) but, having come to SF from a small town, I can tell you that a walk through Chinatown will be a much anticipated activity for these folks. And if dim sum is not to their taste, then a set (wo choy) dinner would also be an exciting option.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: Nancy Berry
                                            The Dairy Queen RE: Nancy Berry Aug 23, 2007 02:15 PM

                                            Yank Sing is in an historic building (Rincon Center) that has WPA era murals adorning the walls and a waterfall in the center... While I still think the hustle and bustle of Chinatown is exciting and agree with your recommendation that dim sum there could be a lot of fun, don't be too quick to discount how unique Yank Sing's venue is! I recommend the Beach Chalet (historic building with WPA murals and a museum in the lobby--also, terrific oceanside view) to visitors --especially land-locked ones--for the same reason, even though the chow at Beach Chalet isn't exceptional.


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                              Nancy Berry RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 23, 2007 02:26 PM

                                              I love the murals at Rincon Center, but I don't think that they would be the drawing point for those visitors to a dim sum place. I think that they would rather have dim sum in a more traditional Chinese-related venue , given that they have never before been to SF.

                                              1. re: Nancy Berry
                                                The Dairy Queen RE: Nancy Berry Aug 23, 2007 02:30 PM

                                                It depends on the visitors, really. If they are really into art and/or history, Rincon center can make a fascinating stop. I've entertained more than my fair share of "small town" Midwesterners in San Francisco and Rincon Center, as well as Yank Sing, have both been big hits.


                                                1. re: Nancy Berry
                                                  Gary Soup RE: Nancy Berry Aug 23, 2007 02:35 PM

                                                  My favorite WPA murals are the Diego Rivera murals at the San Francisco Art Institute. (The cafe at SFAI also happens to have one of the best views in town!)

                                              2. re: Nancy Berry
                                                sfwork RE: Nancy Berry Dec 30, 2008 10:52 PM

                                                I agree that Yank Sing and the Rincon are worth a tourist's visit. If you want great dim sum in Chinatown, you can go to City View (there isn't a view but the food is great and it isn't gross inside) and I'm pretty sure R&G Lounge has dim sum. I wouldn't trek all the way to Daly City for Koi Palace (great food but if they aren't Chinese food experts then they won't even appreciate the difference).

                                                Also don't think it's worth it to go to Chez Panisse -- not really an "only in SF" place anymore. Her type of cooking has been duplicated all over the U.S. now. Instead, if you're going to the East Bay, head over to Berkeley Bowl. That place is a stunner to tourists.

                                                And finally, totally think Foreign Cinema should be on the list... and also the food court in Westfield Mall. I think a food court like that could only be found in SF.

                                                1. re: sfwork
                                                  Ruth Lafler RE: sfwork Dec 31, 2008 09:07 AM

                                                  Nope, R&G does not serve dim sum. Great Eastern does, though.

                                                  Absolutely check out Berkeley Bowl -- many people don't realize it's easily BARTable: it's only about a five-minute walk from the Ashby BART station.

                                              3. v
                                                VirgoBlue RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 11:33 AM

                                                The Ferry Building is absolutely not to be missed. There is so much variety and the quality of food at each vendor is top notch.


                                                I would definitely skip Forbes Island. You'll be disappointed at the price, the service, and the food. So not worth it.

                                                Oh, and keep the dimsum (either restaurant you mentioned would be very good).

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: VirgoBlue
                                                  blvs RE: VirgoBlue Aug 26, 2007 10:44 AM

                                                  Also agree on Tadich's. Or Sam's Grill on the corner of Beldam Place. Any of the bistros on Beldam Place can be fun (Plouf--mussels yum or B-44), if you're lucky to get a warm day and eat outdoors. However, select your table with care cause you can also wind up eating in your neighbors lap. But that's part of the ambience.

                                                2. kare_raisu RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 11:54 AM


                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: kare_raisu
                                                    Amuse Bouches RE: kare_raisu Aug 24, 2007 10:44 AM

                                                    I would agree with this. I know it's not hugely popular here among the locals, but as an out of towner who's a frequent visitor (I grew up in L.A.) I love lunch at Tadich's as a first stop. It's simple food, but features some of the great local specialties -- I usually get a cup of clam chowder, a dungeness crab salad (with a TON of crab) and a glass of chardonnay to wash it down. Couple that with their sourdough bread and it really is a San Francisco experience. Plus it's lovely for people from the midwest or east (like my husband) to see that California does have old restaurants and some historical buildings, and the booths are a kick.

                                                    1. re: Amuse Bouches
                                                      kare_raisu RE: Amuse Bouches Aug 24, 2007 01:16 PM

                                                      I took my former host family from Germany here - while visiting and they loved it. It is an experience for out-o-towners

                                                  2. Windy RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 11:58 AM

                                                    Cafe Gratitude.

                                                    Delicious raw food, served with an extremely positive attitude. My friends from Colorado insisted on going two nights in a row, although it might be more palatable to carnivores at lunch.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Windy
                                                      Waterboy RE: Windy Aug 24, 2007 08:26 AM

                                                      Cafe Gratitude - Love their coconut drink, called don't know what....but like, what was it...Roxanne's?, the veggie agenda can be less than expected. Or more, but until you know the menu, it's a shot in the dark.

                                                      Organica. Now there was something unusual, now Only In LA.

                                                      Tonga Room.


                                                      O'Reilly's Holy Grail, maybe. Dine when they have live music. Occasionally exquisite oysters.

                                                      BUT, there's only one truely definitive San Francisco Experience: Beach Blanket Babylon after dinner around the corner. There's pretty good chow at an Italian restaurant nearby - is that Rose Pistola?

                                                      1. re: Windy
                                                        Gary Soup RE: Windy Aug 24, 2007 08:46 AM

                                                        Sorry, but Cafe Gratitude is one huge portion of smarmigiana I wouldn't wish on any carnivore at any time of day

                                                        1. re: Gary Soup
                                                          pepski RE: Gary Soup Oct 24, 2008 01:29 PM

                                                          "Smarmigiana" haha. I call it new-age fascism. It makes me sad because I do enjoy the food at Cafe Gratitude (and I'm an omnivore). All the dishes have names like "I am Fabulous", "I am Fruitful" and you *must* order them by making these statements. The last time I went, the waiter insisted that my friend and I make a declaration on the subject of "family". Dude, you're my waiter not my shrink. Haven't been back.

                                                      2. e
                                                        estnet RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 01:17 PM

                                                        Depending on the age(s) and finances I would suggest The Dining Room at the Ritz - the elegant experience, wonderful service, luxurious setting combined with food you "won't find in Kansas" would make this something they'd never find back home!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: estnet
                                                          blvs RE: estnet Aug 26, 2007 10:34 AM

                                                          But then, there is no more Finocchio's so AsiaSF keeps the show alive. I went with friends during Restaurant Week. We sat at the bar so the show was right above us and I love to cheer on the girls. Food not memorable but not bad. But a SF experience that out-of-towners (or residents) don;'t get to see unless you're going to drag them to a late nite club. I would try to time dinner for one show. Two shows reduces impact.

                                                        2. larochelle RE: SLRossi Aug 23, 2007 02:08 PM

                                                          Asia SF is nothing more than a modern Finocchio's - the crowds is almost completely tourists of one type or another.

                                                          1. Gary Soup RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 02:20 PM

                                                            I agree with the suggestion of Chinatown for dom sum or a Chinese meal. It's a quantum leap as it is from small town heartland American-Chinese food to the best of Chinatown, , and the picturesqueness of the experience will be memorable.

                                                            Put something Mexican in the mix, as well. If you BART to 24th/Mission you miss the seedier parts of the area. The Taqueria San Jose branch just south of the BART Station has great food and is downright spiffy for the heart of the Mission, or you can go to the yuppier La Taqueria.

                                                            One tip: don't even MENTION The Stinking Rose or someone will insist on going there. Trust me on this.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Gary Soup
                                                              lmarie RE: Gary Soup Aug 23, 2007 02:33 PM

                                                              So Gary, where do you consider has the best dim sum in Chinatown? We've been sorely disappointed in Chinatown dim sum lately and find much better food out in the Sunset or Richmond.

                                                            2. n
                                                              NoeMan RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 02:29 PM

                                                              Yes on Forbes Island.

                                                              I've actually been there and taken many midwesterners and they love it. The food is just fine. It is the quintessential "only in SF" experience. It's not expensive compared to the rest of your list.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: NoeMan
                                                                brokergal RE: NoeMan Aug 23, 2007 02:38 PM

                                                                Swan's Oyster Depot

                                                                1. re: NoeMan
                                                                  Robert Lauriston RE: NoeMan Aug 28, 2007 02:27 PM

                                                                  Reports on Forbes Island:


                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                    NoeMan RE: Robert Lauriston Aug 28, 2007 04:26 PM

                                                                    When you post threads post them all. There's a portion of this one on Forbes and it's mostly positive for the same request as the OP, except for Robert's negative comments and he has never been there:


                                                                    1. re: NoeMan
                                                                      Robert Lauriston RE: NoeMan Aug 28, 2007 04:38 PM

                                                                      I didn't link to that one because nobody said anything specific about the food. There were both positive and negative detailed reports in the others.

                                                                2. amyzan RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 02:38 PM

                                                                  I live in Kansas and visited SF for the first time last fall. We enjoyed the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry building so much, it's not to be missed. I would recommend getting there early, so you can enjoy perusing the stalls and the vendors outside without fighting the crowds. We got there just before 9 am, if I recall accurately, stopped by Blue Bottle and wandered around coffee in hand. By the time it got busy, we settled in for lunch from vendors while enjoying the bridge views. A special morning that holds memories, and I brought home lots of great food finds.

                                                                  We enjoyed dim sum at Yank Sing, but also would rec one of the bustling dim sum houses in Chinatown. I can't remember which one we went to, but can ask my brother if you'd like. They're very different experiences, and both are good. ETA: I remember now it wasn't in Chinatown (though went there too) but at Koi Palace in Daly City--REALLY good food and tea. They were making dragon's beard candy in the lobby, which I've never seen at dim sum resties here in KC. I'd recommend KP.

                                                                  We had an excellent dinner at Zuni Cafe, and I'd recommend it before theater, if you that's on the agenda. We also had a really nice meal at Millenium, if you have any vegetarians coming to visit. Oh, and a great brunch at Canteen, which we found completely empty at opening. Fantastic food and coffee.

                                                                  When we go again, I plan to avoid Fisherman's Wharf. My stepmother insisted we go, and I didn't enjoy myself. I'll be interested to hear what others say.

                                                                  1. m
                                                                    mcchowhound RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 03:00 PM

                                                                    I'm surprised no one mentioned Greens in Ft. Mason. It may be San Francisco in the 1980's, but it's still very much only in San Francisco. If your guests can get past the absence of meat, the setting is really lovely and it's a great place to poke around.

                                                                    If they really haven't traveled much, you might try a place which is not "only in San Francisco", but easier to get to in San Francisco. Examples would be Burma Superstar (easier than actually going to Burma) or Vik's Chaat House in Berkeley.

                                                                    Vik's Chaat House
                                                                    2390 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

                                                                    Burma Superstar Restaurant
                                                                    309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                                                    Greens Restaurant
                                                                    Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                                                    1. Glencora RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 03:11 PM

                                                                      I recently had breakfast at the Cliff House. On the positive side, we got a table by the window right away, with no waiting, no reservation. The view, of course, is amazing. All the signed photographs are fun. (I sat next to a very young and handsome Henry Fonda.) Also, the service was attentive. However, the popovers were not hot and didn't seem fresh and my seafood omlette was bland. Boring potatoes, too. If you must go to the Cliff House, I guess breafast is better than dinner. At dinner, you may not even be by the window and you'll be surrounded by large family groups celebrating noisily.

                                                                      I liked Fish. The location isn't as touristy as downtown Sausalito, though you're looking at the bay, rather than at the city. You might consider Tiburon, since the view is better and you could combine it with a ferry ride to Angel Island.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Glencora
                                                                        prettypithy RE: Glencora Aug 23, 2007 09:13 PM

                                                                        Aziza! Aziza! Morrocan/French/Californian? Where else can this be obtained? And the best desserts this side of the galaxy.Stunning decor (those mosaic tables are imported from Morocco, I asked). Yummy tasting cocktails (although I sometimes feel the bartenders need to be introduced to a strainer. Basil bits and apple chunks and lavender sprigs all taste and look better than they feel in my mouth!). I have a great friend who is le food snob, and when her parents (Mama and Daddy food snob) were in town from New York, the only meal that truly impressed them was understandably Aziza. Plus, cheap tasting menu!

                                                                        1. re: prettypithy
                                                                          sfoperalover RE: prettypithy Aug 23, 2007 09:26 PM

                                                                          i'd recommend Pancho Villa. it may not have the bes food, but it's solid, and it provides a real SF experience. There is always a bustle and nearly always Mariachi musicians.

                                                                          also, in the Mission, have a drink at Zeitgesit and wait for the Tamale Lady to show up.

                                                                          1. re: sfoperalover
                                                                            larochelle RE: sfoperalover Aug 24, 2007 08:54 AM

                                                                            Spend a sunny afternoon at Zeitgeist and then go to Destino for dinner.

                                                                            Virginia's tamales are no better than any of the 100s local taquieras/joints that sell them -- their sole benefit is that they magically appear when you're too drunk go to a restaurant or to care what you're eating.

                                                                      2. m
                                                                        ML8000 RE: ducky Aug 23, 2007 09:44 PM

                                                                        2nd or 3rd on Aziza, Slanted Door, Koi Palance, Zuni and all the others...also, La Cumbre.

                                                                        But for the ultimate "only in SF" - Americana Cafe serving Italian, American breakfast and Vietnamese food (not fusion) in one place...it's only okay in the neighborhood /hole-in-the-wall kind of way but it's truly only-in-SF. (don't make the trip)

                                                                        1. l
                                                                          local_guy RE: ducky Aug 24, 2007 08:02 AM

                                                                          If you are going to go to Sausalito I would take them to Guymas. Its not fish but it is different. I think Yank Sing and Slanted Door are right on, given what you are looking for.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: local_guy
                                                                            The Dairy Queen RE: local_guy Aug 24, 2007 08:16 AM

                                                                            If you go to Guaymas, make sure to request to be seated on the upper deck, which has the splendid view of the City. Guaymas isn't the best Mexican food in the Bay Area, but it very likely might be the Mexican restaurant with the best view in the Bay Area. You can take the ferry from the City and back, too.

                                                                            (By the way, Guaymas is in Tiburon. Without trying to put words in his mouth, but I think local guy was saying, if you're going to cross the bridge into Sausalito for the view, you might as well go a little farther into Marin to Tiburon for an even better view...)


                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                              Gary Soup RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 12:30 PM

                                                                              Except that it's a crime not to go by ferry, and Sausalito has more frequent ferry service....

                                                                            2. re: local_guy
                                                                              Gary Soup RE: local_guy Aug 24, 2007 08:19 AM

                                                                              By strange coincidence, if you Google "Guaymas Sausalito" you are let to a website called "Only in San Francisco.", like the title of this thread. It seems to be long on promoting tourist traps, though.


                                                                              1. re: local_guy
                                                                                PeterL RE: local_guy Aug 24, 2007 09:26 AM

                                                                                Isn't Guaymas in Tiburon? Good view but the food is not unique and certainly not the best Mexican in the Bay Area.

                                                                              2. m
                                                                                mlucier RE: ducky Aug 24, 2007 08:41 AM

                                                                                I second or third Burma Superstar. I've taken visitors there and they LOVED it. Also, for a more upscale experience, try Harry Denton's Starlight room. Located downtown, at the top of a hotel (I can't remeber which one) you can get coctails, food and some dancing in. No sneakers allowed though.

                                                                                1. The Dairy Queen RE: ducky Aug 24, 2007 09:44 AM

                                                                                  By the way, how's the warming hut at Crissy Field these days? That is a stunningly gorgeous only-in-SF setting, but, last time I was there it was questionable as to whether the food service was going to survive.


                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                                    larochelle RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 09:50 AM

                                                                                    Due to a fire in January, the warming hut is closed for repairs. Closest food is in Crissy Field Center.


                                                                                    1. re: larochelle
                                                                                      The Dairy Queen RE: larochelle Aug 24, 2007 10:27 AM

                                                                                      Oh that's too bad. Is there good chow in Crissy Field Center? I remember hearing about a place with good boxed lunches--is that in there?


                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                                        larochelle RE: The Dairy Queen Aug 24, 2007 10:58 AM

                                                                                        Here's the menu. Its very basic but they do have Let's Be Frank dogs.

                                                                                        Not sure what the "boxed lunch" place is you're referring to unless its Desiree in the Presidio which has closed.

                                                                                        1. re: larochelle
                                                                                          The Dairy Queen RE: larochelle Aug 24, 2007 11:11 AM

                                                                                          Yes, Desiree was the place I was thinking of. Oh well. But the menu at the Crissy field cafe looks adequate if you're in need of a snack and a beverage after having a walk in a glorious setting, although, you can just as easily make a stop at the Marina Safeway (good for out of town visitors who have read or watched on PBS Tales of the City) and pick up a sandwich from their deli, whole roasted chicken or other picnic supplies, if you want to plan ahead for a picnic.


                                                                                          1. re: larochelle
                                                                                            susancinsf RE: larochelle Aug 26, 2007 04:24 PM

                                                                                            There is also a Let's Be Frank hotdog stand located where the (currently closed) warming hut is. Great hot dogs, and a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge!

                                                                                            1. re: susancinsf
                                                                                              larochelle RE: susancinsf Aug 26, 2007 09:44 PM

                                                                                              The hotdog stand is only there on Saturdays & Sundays. The cafe in Crissy Field Center is open every day.

                                                                                    2. PeterL RE: ducky Aug 24, 2007 11:11 AM

                                                                                      How about John's Grill? Aren't they the oldest restaurant in SF? Lots of old photos of SF luminaries.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: PeterL
                                                                                        Gary Soup RE: PeterL Aug 24, 2007 11:31 AM

                                                                                        Tadich is the oldest, having been around since 1849 in one form or another. John's Grill dates to 1908, but it's famous for the Dashiell Hammett - Maltese Falcon connection.

                                                                                      2. z
                                                                                        zenki RE: ducky Aug 24, 2007 05:57 PM

                                                                                        How about the South Park Cafe in South Park? It isn't unique to SF but it is very urban and lovely, lots of big trees. It reminds me of Washington Square in the Village in NY a little bit. The cafe is very French, nice food or just for a drink in the late afternoon. I think they're open for lunch, not sure. South Park is sort-of hidden between 2nd and 3rd and Bryant and whatever is west of it.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: zenki
                                                                                          sgwood415 RE: zenki Aug 25, 2007 10:24 AM

                                                                                          It's worth checking to see if there is a Giants game at the same time you plan on going down there. South Park is close enough to AT&T Park that you'd be snarled in traffic if you time it wrong.

                                                                                          Speaking of AT&T Park, a Cha Cha Bowl in the park with a view of the bay while you take in a game is another "only in SF" option too.

                                                                                        2. f
                                                                                          foodisfab RE: ducky Aug 25, 2007 04:42 PM

                                                                                          In North Beach:
                                                                                          Capp's Corner - Family Style Italian Food
                                                                                          Marios Bohemian Cigar Store
                                                                                          Liguiri Bakery for - fresh focaccia (only in the A. M. yum)
                                                                                          xoxox on columbus for the truffles.
                                                                                          At the Pacific:
                                                                                          Louis by the Cliff House
                                                                                          Beach Chalet - outside patio
                                                                                          The Warming Hut at Crissy Field

                                                                                          Sunset: Marnee Thai

                                                                                          Late night: Yuet Lee
                                                                                          Grub Steak - Portuguese/American diner food in an old train car on Pine St. btwn Polk & Van Ness

                                                                                          What about a Mission burrito? La Taqueria on Mission St.
                                                                                          Japan Town - the place in the center, closest to the Miyako (can't remember the name) has good Shabu Shabu
                                                                                          Brothers Korean
                                                                                          Tommy's Mexican on Geary - if they like tequila and Yucatanian food
                                                                                          I liked Forbes Island. It was good a couple of years ago, Asia SF is fun.
                                                                                          Ferry Plaza is definitely worth the stop, 'cause it's so damn beautiful along there anyway.
                                                                                          Oh, I love San Francisco and it's food.....
                                                                                          I'll continue later. Have to go...

                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: foodisfab
                                                                                            sgwood415 RE: foodisfab Aug 25, 2007 04:47 PM

                                                                                            Clarification: XOX Truffles is the name of the truffle place on Columbus. It's a great recommendation. Not sure that it's an "Only in SF" stop, but worth a visit anyway.

                                                                                            XOX Truffles
                                                                                            754 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                                                            1. re: foodisfab
                                                                                              larochelle RE: foodisfab Aug 26, 2007 09:58 AM

                                                                                              The Warming Hut had a fire last winter and is still closed for repairs.

                                                                                              1. re: foodisfab
                                                                                                ccferg RE: foodisfab Aug 28, 2007 04:36 PM

                                                                                                Yes, burrito was what I wanted to add (as a former tourist). And we loved Tommy's, which we got taken to by a cab driver whom I was sure was looking for a bigger cab fare or a kickback from Tommy. I've always regretted that I treated him with such skepticism.

                                                                                              2. z
                                                                                                zippo RE: ducky Aug 26, 2007 12:05 PM

                                                                                                Caffe Sport. I know, I know, but whenever I have taken out-of-towners there they love it. Pasta al pesto. calamari ensalata, scampi in white sauce. It's been awhile, so call and ask if they take credit cards.

                                                                                                Caffe Sport
                                                                                                574 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                                                                                1. j
                                                                                                  Judith RE: ducky Aug 26, 2007 12:19 PM

                                                                                                  I'm actually not a big fan of Zuni's, but even so I think it's uniquely San Francisco, in a more subtle way than the typical tourist stops. And I think it's mandatory to wow the guests with at least a drink at the top of something or other.

                                                                                                  1. s
                                                                                                    Sitka RE: ducky Aug 26, 2007 01:57 PM

                                                                                                    Zanze's Cheesecake

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: Sitka
                                                                                                      larochelle RE: Sitka Aug 26, 2007 03:38 PM

                                                                                                      Sure Zanze's is good but its way out on Ocean Avenue. I don't really see how its a place these visitors won't find back home - they have good cheesecake in the mid-west.

                                                                                                    2. s
                                                                                                      Sharuf RE: ducky Aug 27, 2007 02:16 AM

                                                                                                      Tommy's Joynt
                                                                                                      Original Joe's
                                                                                                      Top o' the Mark (for a drink)

                                                                                                      Sam's in Tiburon -- where San Franciscans go to sit on the water with a beer and burger. You'll share your french fries with the seagulls, whether you intend to or not. Take the ferry. A good ferry ride is part of the San Francisco experience. Tourists love our ferries.

                                                                                                      1. a
                                                                                                        adamgoodjunk RE: ducky Aug 27, 2007 02:32 AM

                                                                                                        ananda fuera.

                                                                                                        is that place still in business near civic center?

                                                                                                        run by followers of some yogi...?

                                                                                                        i used to love that place when i lived in bay area.

                                                                                                        1. Robert Lauriston RE: ducky Aug 28, 2007 02:12 PM

                                                                                                          The Tonga Room has its virtues, but the drinks are mediocre and the food is bad.

                                                                                                          1. j
                                                                                                            JFaraola RE: ducky Aug 28, 2007 03:34 PM

                                                                                                            Restaurant Q on Clement--young punk/urban do-it-yourself decor with comfort food that should make your Midwesterners feel, well, comfortable--Fried Chicken, Macaroni & Cheese, Tater-tots. I suspect this restaurant is serves a much more "San Francisco" clientèle than some of the tourist places mentioned.

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: JFaraola
                                                                                                              Gary Soup RE: JFaraola Aug 28, 2007 04:43 PM

                                                                                                              What, no Rice-a-Roni?

                                                                                                            2. Chuckles the Clone RE: ducky Aug 30, 2007 03:22 PM

                                                                                                              Somewhere on Belden Place followed by drinks at one of the top-of-a-tall-building bars. The Carnelian Room at the top of the BofA building is the closest so you could take a ride up the elevator and check out the view and be ignored by the incompetent bartender in the lounge for a while before heading back to the street to hop on a cable car up to the Top of the Mark which has less of the really bad attitude thing going on.

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                                                                                                                The Dairy Queen RE: Chuckles the Clone Aug 30, 2007 05:09 PM

                                                                                                                Actually, my favorite best free view in SF is at the Marriott across from the Metreon, the one that looks like a jukebox. You can sit in those big fan-shaped windows for the price of a drink. Sadly, the chow is unremarkable.


                                                                                                              2. pikawicca RE: ducky Aug 30, 2007 05:11 PM

                                                                                                                I have a soft spot in my heart for Joe's Special at Original Joe's. My dad took me, and his dad took him. Not haute cuisine, but truly SF.

                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca
                                                                                                                  Gary Soup RE: pikawicca Aug 30, 2007 07:17 PM

                                                                                                                  But recall that the "Joe's Special" supposedly originated at New Joe's in North Beach, which preceded Original Joe's. The founder of Original Joe's (whose name was Tony, not Joe) had previously worked at New Joe's.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Gary Soup
                                                                                                                    pikawicca RE: Gary Soup Aug 31, 2007 05:52 PM

                                                                                                                    You may be right. I just know that my Dad took us to Original Joe's.

                                                                                                                2. s
                                                                                                                  Sinclair Z. RE: ducky Dec 30, 2008 11:29 AM

                                                                                                                  Your list sounds like all the places San Franciscans never go to! Did they want to mix with the locals or meet other tourists? How about taking them to a few places where San Franciscans actually go? :)

                                                                                                                  Delfina Restaurant
                                                                                                                  3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                                                  Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
                                                                                                                  18 Virginia Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                                                  995 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                                                  St. Francis Fountain & Candy
                                                                                                                  2801 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                                                                  Gestalt Haus
                                                                                                                  3159 16th St, San Francisco, CA

                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Sinclair Z.
                                                                                                                    wolfe RE: Sinclair Z. Dec 30, 2008 12:57 PM

                                                                                                                    The OP was about 14 months ago. as were all of the answers. You left out Red's Java Hut. While there are plenty of cities with dives with a view, it is our dive and our view. Plus, and this is a very big plus, it has free parking on the Embarcadero, at least for now.

                                                                                                                    1. re: wolfe
                                                                                                                      bouffe RE: wolfe Jan 1, 2009 09:49 AM

                                                                                                                      This post is extremely old but thanks for floating it back.

                                                                                                                      I really do not understand the Tonga room..I went there when I was a child and then again for a going away party a few years ago. Overpriced drinks, dried up desacrated I can find a better egg roll at a Chinese buffet at 2 am, not to mention the service is just plain rude! Plus the "fake rain" is so hokey! I would rather go to Harry Denton's Starlight Room and suffer.

                                                                                                                      My list of places -

                                                                                                                      Chez Panisse
                                                                                                                      Tadich Grill
                                                                                                                      La Taqueria
                                                                                                                      Blue Bottle Coffee
                                                                                                                      Genova's Deli (oakland)
                                                                                                                      Saigon Sandwich
                                                                                                                      Original Joe's (RIP)
                                                                                                                      Bi-Rite Creamery
                                                                                                                      Tommy's Joint

                                                                                                                      I would also have to say A16, SPQR, Delfina....but plenty of cities have regional Italian cuisine, though I feel those 3 do an excellent job of it. Incanto made the list because I have never encountered anything close to his flavors/preparation and that sums up the phrase "only in San Francisco". Boulevard seems odd on the list but I had to choose one of the Kuleto restaurants because it is a prime example of "only in San Francisco" with it's unique decor and always stellar menu.

                                                                                                                  2. pikawicca RE: ducky Jan 1, 2009 01:09 PM

                                                                                                                    If the weather's good, tea at the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park. Not a big investment of time or money, and a unique experience.

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