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Visitor looking for Specific Dining Tips

Hello everyone,
We'll be making a trip to SF next week to visit family. Staying in the NW corner of the peninsula (maybe 4 blocks up from the water, near Divasadero? and Chestnut streets). We do have a car although would like to mostly stash it and take public transportation around.

Could you rec some places falling into these categories? Thanks!

1. Walkable from where we're staying, on the evenings when my husband and I can leave the kids with my parents, or during the day when we all want to grab lunch together. I have heard good things about A16, but haven't been. What else is on this stretch of Chestnut?

2. Tasty casual ethnic places in the Tenderloin, and whether to stick to them during lunch or is it safe enough to go for dinner? Is it a bad idea to drive and park there?

3. European influenced continental/pastry breakfast? We have been to Tartine. Looking for more of the same. Not americanized oversugared brick Starbucks-esque pastries.

4. Dim sum! We've been to Yank Sing, and the food although pretty good was way too pricey. We're used to feeding 2 adults and 2 kids on about $30.

5. Finally, an upscale place that my husband and I can bus or drive to, romantic, great preparations, either regional American (emphasis on fresh ingredients well prepared) or even a tapas/small plates thing so that we can sample (not necessarily Spanish). Chez Panisse cafe, Zuni come to mind. Does SF have an equivalent of AOC (LA)? And how far in advance should I be making reservations?

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  1. I thought I knew SF, but where is the peninsula (in the city proper)? Do you mean the Presidio?

    It may be a bit late for Zuni or CP Cafe next week as far as reservation goes. But Aziza isn't too far from you (if I understand correctly where you will be), and would be well worth the bus trip or drive (parking can be difficult in that neighborhood; valet is $10).

    7 Replies
    1. re: susancinsf

      I second Susan's suggestion for Aziza and on the confusion of your location. "The Peninsula" is generally regarded as South San Francisco and abounds. No where near Divisidero and Chestnut. Where you are is the Marina district.

      1. You are probably pretty close (walking distance) to Plumpjack. I ate there before the chef change and loved it but have no idea what is going on there now.

      2. Better ethnic places are in the Mission vs. the Tenderloin, IMHO. I'd recommend steering clear of the Tenderloin in general.

      3. Tartine is the best in the city. Others which might intrigue are Bay Bread which is up on Fillmore (a great area to walk, shop, and eat). There, you can consider S.P.Q.R. which is owned by the A16 folks and getting rave reviews across the board.

      4. Since you have a car, I would recommend heading to Daly City and having Dim Sum at Koi Palace. Incomparable.

      5. There are TONS of restaurants in San Francisco like AOC (I used to live in LA so I know it well). I wouldn't bother driving over the Berkeley for Chez Panisse cafe but here you could go to Myth, Coi, Amé, or Aqua. On the tapas-like question, refer back to S.P.Q.R.; my favorite part of that restaurant is that all starters are $7.00, 3 for $18, or 5 for $25 (best deal in the city as 5 is more than enough for two people!)

      Have a great time!

      1. re: Carrie 218

        Myth is changing owners shortly after the first of the year and loosing some top personnel. Not sure how that will affect quality between now and then. Reservations can be tough to get there on short notice, though again, the changes might have an impact on that too.

        I am not sure that Koi Palace is a lot cheaper than Yank Sing. and, though it pains me to say so, if my last visit is any indication I am not convinced it is that much better either: at least, my last visit was mediocre at best. (I do plan to give it another try soon, and I have had great success at dinner there).

        For the OP: I hope you will report back!

        5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

        Koi Palace Restaurant
        365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

        Tartine Bakery
        600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

        2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

        Cafe Myth
        490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

        Plumpjack Cafe - closed for remodel
        3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

        1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

        1. re: Carrie 218

          Can I just say that the description I read of the food at Plumpjack totally threw me for a loop given the name. I don't think I was expecting much more than a straight ahead pancake house or something. But it sounds very innovative and exciting! What market research went into the naming of this place?!

          And the descriptions of SPQR sounds amazing. I'm going to try to make that a definite date night destination.

          1. re: sasha1

            Plumpjack is more of a date-destination restaurant (white table cloths, elegant service) versus S.P.Q.R. which is more bistro-like. S.P.Q.R. does not take reservations and would just make a great stop while wandering the neighborhood (which is a great neighborhood to wander, BTW).

            1. re: Carrie 218

              Given your location, I'd walk to A16. Maybe everyone will be at SPQR (owned by the same people) because of the recent Chron review. Or hit SPQR for lunch.

              I definitely recommend eating in the Tenderloin (esp Brenda's for brunch and Bodega Bistro for Vietnamese or nearby in a much nicer stretch, Tajine for Moroccan). The neighborhood is both sad and not 100% safe. Park on Van Ness or Polk and walk over to your destination. Don't leave anything visible inside the car. Avoid Leavenworth, esp near Market.

              Sounds like you're going to have fun. Based on your description, I'd try to get a reservation one night at Delfina. As far as reservations, some places are booked all the time, while comparable places don't take reservations or have a lot of availability. Take a look at OpenTable to get a sense of which is which.

              The Peninsula is south of the SF county line down to about Mountain View or Palo Alto.

              1. re: Windy

                A La Turka Geary near Polk or Hyde in the Tenderloin is excellent for Turkish. It's a large-ish whole in the wall, but the food is excellent. I usually go for dinner and just be watchful if you venture there. I think the area is generally ok in the early evening.

            2. re: sasha1

              "All sixteen of the PlumpJack business enterprises thrive on the unique philosophy of the company's "core ideology," designed to initiate the roguish spirit of Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff (Henry IV), dubbed Plump Jack by Queen Elizabeth-hence the company name. Closer to home, San Francisco composer and philanthropist, Gordon Getty, wrote an opera he called "Plump Jack." The fun-loving and irreverent spirit of PlumpJack clearly excited the sensibilities of Gordon's close friend and business associate, Gavin Newsom." from plumpjack.com

        2. Sorry about the bad geographic reference! I didn't know Peninsula had it's own meaning. I guess it is the Marina district, it's in the city proper, near the streets I mentioned, Golden Gate park, water on the north and west sides,etc. To me, in my ignorance, the Peninsula was the three sided part of the city that sticks out into the waters!

          1. I am assuming when you refer to Peninsula that you are referring to the SF itself as being one. Around here we call the area south of SF the Peninsula. If I am right and you are staying in the Marina near Chestnut and Divis, you will have a zillion places to walk to. Chestnut St. has plenty of restaurants and Steiner between Chestnut and Lombard has a ton as well. Of these, my favorites are Isa and Bistro Aix (on Steiner) and A16. There is a new Spanish tapas place - Laoila or something that is near Chestnut and Filmore. There are a couple of places that may fit the bill for your pastry breakfast - a bakery or two in the block on Chestnut between Scott and Divis - one is Emporio Riulli (? sp), the other name I don't recall but you can't miss them as they are on Chestnut. I am sure they will not be better than Tartine, but they are very close to you.

            Someone recommended Aziza - a fave of mine as well. Do not try to take a bus there - taking a bus across SF is an exercise in frustration and will take you an ungodly amount of time. If you are heading downtown (Union Square) or to Chinatown or to the Wharf, you can get there easily on the 30 Stockton. For an upscale place, I would choose Ame. Also check out Coi, I've not been but it sounds interesting. You can walk to Gary Danko from where you are, or take the 30 for about 5 minutes and you will be there. You can also walk to Polk St. from where you are - lots of choices there as well, but you should find more than enough walkable right in the 'hood on Chestnut.

            You should get reservations asap - try Open Table. Some of the smaller places on Chestnut won't require them, but for dinner you will certainly want them.

            1. I had a really excellent meal at Chez Panisse Cafe last week (with very short notice on the reservation), so I'd recommend calling there if you're interested. I really liked Aziza, though, and I think it would be a very fun meal for you and your husband. Ame is also a great idea. I would not recommend Aqua.

              1. 2. Regarding the tenderloin, I have had some people say they felt uncomfortable there. It's a little sketchier than downtown LA at 2am because there's just more loonie druggies wandering around. There's a lot of prostitutes too. That being said, I consider people like that pretty harmless, just smile and nod, and personally have never felt threatened there. I don't personally know anyone assaulted there.

                Hopefully that can set your expectations....

                1. OT but important If you do drive be very careful NOT to leave a gps visible. Around city hall area it is practically a guarantee your car will be broken into. Even official cars (gvmnt) have been broken into during daylight. It is not a fun experience an one I learned the hard way. It could really ruin your dining experiences!

                  1. Thanks to all for the tips. I am especially psyched about SPQR which sounds wonderful. Are there any opinions on whether it's better to go for lunch, dinner or brunch in terms of wait time, formal vs casual atmosphere (i.e. can I bring small kids?)? It looks like the food offerings are similar regardless of the time.

                    I'd like to give Zuni a try to, if I can get in. I guess the must try items are the burgers and lunch and the chicken at dinner, right?

                    Aziza is on the short list.

                    Tartine and Bay Bread for breakfasts - are there recs for other similar type of spots?

                    We may hit up A16 too. Thanks Dinnerout for the specific mentions in the walkable area. What else can we walk to in an around Chestnut that is tasty? Any specific recs?

                    Re the GPS remark, I wish we were so sophisticated... :)

                    Oh, and I saw on another post that In N Out in at the wharf. I will be stopping in! I miss those burgers from our SoCal days. They just have it down, don't they?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: sasha1

                      Seriously, there are probably 40 restaurants within 5 blocks of Chestnut and Divis - not all of them fantastic, mind you. Depends on what you want - a quick bite in the neighborhood or something more special. In the neighborhood, my fave is Isa followed closely by Bistro Aix. I also like A16 - as do a ton of people, a res is a must. The new Spanish tapas Laiola (I may have that spelling wrong) also seems interesting. Other than those, there is a burrito place, great Italian deli (take-out only), chocolate store, sushi, Indian (Ashoka), Chinese (Dragon Well), Mexican (Mamacita), a couple of breakfast places (Judy's is one). Don't forget - not the best SF has to offer of these cuisines, but very close to you if you are only able to dash out. Check Open Table and get a res for dinner - I just walked down Chestnut and it was jammed - kind of looks like a fraternity party exploded or something! You can also walk to In and Out from where you are - provided you are up for a bit of a walk...walk down Chestnut to Franklin and turn left on Franklin - walk into Fort Mason and keep walking all the way to the back. And I mean all the way, to the water! There you will see some stairs that go down the hill and drop you at Aquatic Park. Then you can walk along Jefferson to In and Out. It is a nice walk, no cars (unlike the city streets around there) and fantastic views. Wouldn't do that in the rain, though - if it is raining, take the 30 Stockton and get out at Columbus and walk over to the Wharf from there.

                      1. re: dinnerout

                        If you can get to A16 early enough, you don't have to make a reservation -- I've managed to get in without much waiting at all on the earlier side.

                        Also, Zuni has the chicken at lunch too, so you could go at lunch with the kids and get the burger and the chicken!

                        1. re: JasmineG

                          Yay! That is great news :)
                          I'm usually not shy about bringing my kids to most restaurants, but I hesitate a bit when it's a nice place and getting to the later dinner hours. It is too stressful trying to dodge the occasional fit of noise or bad behavior and feeling bad about imposing on the other tables.

                          Ok - Zuni goes on the list for sure. Either lunch or early dinner. Would you make a res for lunch?

                          1. re: sasha1

                            I would make a reservation for lunch, but that shouldn't be as hard as one for dinner.

                            1. re: JasmineG

                              It doesn't look like they take reservations though - http://www.spqrsf.com/home. The site says "Walk-in Seating". About the kids, I think you should call and ask the restaurant. It seems to me like a neighborhood place where kids would be welcome, especially during lunch. From what I recall, the old restaurant there was configured so that the tables were close together. If the kids are in strollers, then you might want to call and ask if there's a better time for you to go (e.g. 11:30 vs. 12:30). Actually, the review in the SF Chronicle last Sunday made it sound like a kid-friendly place since the owner/chef was sitting with his child at the bar.

                      2. re: sasha1

                        I'd still love some insight on time of day to visit SPQR in terms of busy-ness, casual-ness, propriety of bringing kids, etc. My mom is a breakfast fiend, so I can see her getting into the polenta pancake. But I'll likely feel less like trying sweetbreads for the first time at 11am.

                        1. re: sasha1

                          I visit SPQR about every other week (I live in the neighborhood) and always enjoy it more when I get there between 5:30 and 6:00. By 7:00, they are in full swing and getting quite busy. Earlier, you can actually chat with the staff and relax a bit. After that, it seems more frenetic.

                      3. If you haven't been, here's a big rec for Zuni. See if you can get a reservation for an early dinner with the kids. There is also something to be said for going there for lunch, mid-afternoon, or latenight when they serve their fantastic burger.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: nosh

                          That sounds inspired. Early diners seem more tolerant of children - although mine happen to be not too loud - just messy. Based on recs, I sent my parents to Zuni a few months ago. They said the chicken/bread salad were great and made me jealous!

                          How about kids at SPQR? Is that pushing it?

                          1. re: sasha1

                            If you do go to Zuni, be sure to order a side of their fries for the kids (and you). A big mound of amazingly thin shoestrings -- many times thinner than even McD's. The roast chicken and bread salad is an expensive entre at over $40, but it is an entire chicken cut up and more than satisfies two kids with two adults also getting a piece and some garnish.

                            1. re: sasha1

                              Zuni makes the best caesar salad I've ever had.

                            2. re: nosh

                              If you go to Zuni for lunch, be advised that they make an amazing bloody mary!

                            3. Definitely plan a stop at Tartine Bakery. My brother and his family found it to be a highlight of their SF trip.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nosh

                                Tartine was awesome last time we were there. The only problem was that it was packed, there were 8 of us, it was too cold to eat outside, so we ended up wandering the streets until we found 2 coffeehouses where we could buy drinks and use their tables. And we split up. This time, we might do the takeout thing, knowing that.

                              2. This is my SF report (long-ish). Thank you to everyone who contributed ideas!

                                First, we had to make do with a couple of so-so places. They weren't terrible, certainly not great, and all told, it could have been much worse for places that we just walked into. They are Fuzio on Chestnut and Cioppino in FW. These were xmas eve and day dinners, so we are lucky we found anything. Pretty ho-hum.

                                We dim-summed at 2 places - Ton Kiang on Geary and Yank Sing on Stephenson. I'd been to the latter before. Overall, I preferred TK. I was a little surprised at the negative comments on this place once I returned and reviewed out of curiousity. It is a pleasant space, tasty preparations, nice service, everything was hot. Particularly good were the spicy greenbeans. On the other side of the spectrum was the eggplant stuffed with shrimp, which was a bit too oily. We had a variety of dumplings, veggies, rice noodles, bao, a couple of fried things (not many). It compared favorably with dim sum I've eaten in LA, Seattle, and Vancouver. Yank Sing can't be beat for variety, but it is very pricey, and on the really simple things like har gow and shui mai, their offerings were sub-par. In fact, we only went because I read an apparently outdated review of Limon - hoping to try some Peruvian - we got dropped off in the Mission, and it was a different restaurant that wasn't open for lunch. Rather than strolling in the somewhat sketchy looking area, we grabbed the first bus out, which dropped us off on Market near the water. I tried to convince my DH to go to Witchcraft - not having tried it or any TC places - but he wasn't in a sandwich mood. I happened to know YS was there, so we went.

                                Tartine for breakfast. We tried everything. Croissants - plain, ham/cheese, chocolate, almond. Gougere, morning buns, buttermilk scones. Do they sell anything else? It was all delicious, decadent. My fave was the ham - but I love savories. I don't want to imagine the number of calories in that thing. More likely twice the recommended daily total. In any case....

                                We hit up the ferry building for lunch once. Bread from acme delicious as usual. Several of us tried the Japanese place across from the coffee place, on the water side. Name is escaping me, but it isn't a Japanese name. I got a bento box. The mushroom salad and green bean salad were tasty. I got the chicken dumplings, which are like breaded chicken meatballs actually. They were ok. Minced water chestnuts added interesting texture.

                                We went to Cafe Zuni as well. I really wanted the chicken, but with 2 small kids, waiting an hour wasn't a realistic option. Interestingly, my smallest one - who is 2 - was really quiet and focused for a good 45 minutes after he ate, peeling the paper off of crayons we brought :). So husband and I shared 2 other, delectable entrees. One was gorgeous delicious sweet sea scallops prepared with large beans, olive oil, garlic, and bread crumb/olive relish. Wonderful. We could really taste the fruitiness of the oil and the bread crumbs gave a nice crunch. The other was a grilled hangar steak with sorrel mashed potatoes (couldn't taste the sorrel) in a wild mushroom broth. Beautiful, buttery, delicious meat. Loved it. The chocolate cake was pretty yummy too. I believe they called it a Gateau of some sort. Others in our party tried the polenta, risotto, sea bass, and caesar, and pronounced everything good. They were also very nice and brought us 2 plates of buttered, parmesan-ed spaghetti for the kids for only a couple dollars each.

                                Saving the best for last. SOQR. Thank you so much for turning me onto this place. We arrived at 5:10, got in line, and got a table at the first seating! After that, people continued to be turned away the entire time we were there. We sampled the better part of the menu, such that when I half-jokingly suggested a return trip the next day, husband looked at me and said, what haven't we tried yet? The 8 of us shared 10 appetizers, 4 pastas, and 2 desserts. The rundown, if I don't forget, and comments:
                                -Chicory salad w/anchovy and lemon - exactly as it sounds, very refreshing.
                                - Sunchoke salad w/radicchio, almonds, tangerines. Amazing, inspired, incredible. The sunchokes were crunchy outside, gooey inside, a little sweet. Lovely.
                                -Tuna/celery/potato salad - you can make this at home if you halfway know how to cook.
                                - Pork sausage w/lentils. Delicious. I wish I could've tried a bigger piece.
                                -Butter beans with anchovies. My older son ate just about the entire plate and then asked us to order another one. I didn't get much of a taste, but it seemed yummy.
                                -Beets with ricotta. Simple and tasty. But again, nothing terribly special.
                                -Fried bocconcini. They were good, but who doesn't like fried cheese? I have to say, once you fry it, the difference between fresh mozzarella and string cheese rather fades away.
                                -Brussel sprouts. Out of this world. So good. This is why I wanted to return. Oh and for more sunchoke salad.
                                -Fried chicken livers. My companions were not willing to try the sweetbreads. Too bad, because these were also uninspired. They tasted exactly as they sounded, and were not dressed in any way. Maybe a lemon wedge.
                                I can't remember #10!

                                Pastas were the ones with broccolli, cacio e pepe (rigatoni), amatriciana (spaghetti), and canneloni with lamb and potato. I liked everything, less so the cacio e pepe, which I found to be a little plain. What blew me away was the texture of the spaghetti. I didn't taste the giuncale, and wish I had, but the spaghetti. All dente doesn't do it service. It's chewy, with a bite, and I've never experienced that type of elasticity with fresh or dried pasta before, except maybe once or twice in a chinese noodle place. So good.

                                Desserts - we tried the budino and panino. Budino was rice pudding, basically, with pistachios and quince. The fruit was a very nice touch. It's not your everyday offering, and was very pleasant - floral, reminded me of the tropics. The panino I really have to pass on. It sounded so good, but tasted like chocolate grilled cheese sandwich. There is just something about highly buttered toasted bread. For me, there is no way you can take that taste and convert it into a dessert. My older child loved it of course. Thank goodness, because the adults weren't partaking.

                                So thanks SF! I look forward to eating in your lovely city again soon.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sasha1

                                  Glad you had a good time and some dining successes! Thanks for letting us know how things went!

                                  1. re: sasha1

                                    Thanks for the report back! It is good to get reports back on how things worked out......I look forward to trying SPQR soon.

                                    Zuni Cafe
                                    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                    Yank Sing Banquet & Catering
                                    101 Spear St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                                    Ton Kiang
                                    5821 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

                                    400 Jefferson St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                                    Fuzio Universal Pasta
                                    2175 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123