Vik's Chaat Corner in Berkeley. Nothing like the giant warehouse-style place where you order and then pick up at the counter and take to a plastic table to eat along with grannies from Simla taking care of little ones; hipsters, goths (cap?), tourists, students, families, grad students. Don't miss the masala dhosa
I'd go to Taddich Grill for grilled swordfish or cioppino (don't get fancy here, e.g., casserole dishes. Order a small salad with shrimp and crab with HOUSE dressing. Sit at the counter and watch the Croat waiters rush about. It's old with lots of history like Phillippes in L.A....although there are no pickled eggs in a big jar.
Tartine for snack or breakfast. Croque Monsieur or Madame and good coffee.
I just had a magnif meal at Nopa on Divisidero and Hayes. Incredible roasted sardines with grilled bread with eggplant and tomato spread and some kind of parsley sauce. I also love the baked scarlet runner beans. At first it tastes a little like chile, then it develops on your tongue. Wowie zowie.
I'd skip Mexican if you lived or live in L.A.
I also love Sea Salt in Berkeley. Wonderful fish and a nice patio.
Most people would tell you to go to the Ferry Building, altho I've been underwhelmed. It IS really nice to go to Acme and get one of their fab. croissants and then get coffee at Peet's and take it outside to a bench on the Bay and watch the ferries come in.
re: Robert Lauriston
there are some good links there, but maybe I should be more clear. I'm looking for people's personal favorites, and I'm not just looking for restaurants, eg. I'm from NYC, but have lived in Los Angeles for a few years:
Chile John's in Burbank
Mashti Malone persian ice cream in Hollywood
Noodle World in Alhambra
Philipe's by union station
Yuca taco stand in Los Feliz
Wo Hop for chow fon on Mott st. (the downstairs one)
Peter Luger for steak in Williamsburg
La Caridad for cuban chinese on the upper west side
Chopsins for soup in greenwich village
Ave. D chicken for rotisserie chicken and tostones
For the NYC one, those are the places I almost always go when I go back to NYC (although I hear that chopsin's closed, booo).
I guess what I'm trying to say is, give me your personal favorite top 5 places for food (restaurants, junk food, sandwiches, ice cream, lawn clippings, etc..) that you love.
re: Robert Lauriston
So, are you asking just out of curiosity or planning a visit?
There are two sets of criterea it seems ... where I would send friends who were visiting vs. where I would go if I was away for a while. Would you send visitors to the places you mentioned for LA or NY or are they places you personally would go to?
Even then it is complex. Where are my friends from and what are their likes. Where was I coming from and what did I miss from the area.
For visitors, the standards are Zuni, Chez Panisse, Aziza, Tadich and Ferry Plaza on Saturday morning.
For me, if I was coming from areas without good produce and / or coffee it would be Grafeo Coffee and a caramel truffle from XOX, the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza farmers market, Cheese and cheeseroll from Cheeseboard in Berkeley, Chez Panisse, Tu Lan ... ok, just kidding abou that last one.
And my consisant picks living here are totally different ... Lola's is a regular stop for the baked chicken and baked goods, Sea Salt because I like the food and garden, the good farmers markets like Berkeley, SF or Marin, Cheeseboard for the cheese and cheese roll (ok that doesn't change and maybe I'd send visitors there), the restaurant, bakery or other food joint I haven't tried before.
Still a good idea to read through some of these links, as these "Top 5" requests come up pretty often, so not everyone's going to respond to all of them... if you only read the responses in your own thread, you'll miss out on a lot of good stuff.
Making the assumption that you're staying in SF proper, here's my list:
Salted caramel and honey lavender ice creams from Bi-Rite
Bread from Tartine Bakery (have a meal at Bar Tartine)
Caramel and cognac truffles from XOX
Focaccia from Liguria Bakery
Cannele from Bay Bread
Spaghettini with cured tuna heart and egg yolk at Incanto
Nan Gyi Dok at Mandalay