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Jan 29, 2008 10:28 AM

Good food/Fisherman's Wharf - an oxymoron??

We will be taking a night tour of Alcatraz in mid March and we return to dock at about 7 pm. Is there somewhere within walk distance that has good food or are the two [good food and Fisherman's Wharf] mutually exclusive?

Is Franciscan Crab House worth considering?

It doesn't have to be a huge meal as we are hopping to have Lunch that day at Chez Panisse [IF we get reservations, of course].


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    1. I think RWOrange is the only one who has found acceptable eats at the Wharf and hopefully she will chime in for some suggestions.

      I believe it is fairly accurate to say that the majority on this site believe contrary -- that the eats at the Wharf are pretty hideous and to be avoided.

      Honestly, if you are returning at 7:00, you are within a 5-10 minute cab ride (or heck, 20 minute walk!) of a lot of places a lot more worthy of your time, consideration, and money. Just my thought...

      13 Replies
      1. re: Carrie 218

        Okay, Carrie, I am open to places to go in the area as I really don't have a feel for how close or far things are from Pier 33.

        I welcome any suggestions; chinese,califnornian, greek, french or seafood would be good [we are doing a lot of Italian on other nights].

        We love good food but due to where we live, we only really get to do great restuarants when we travel. Hence, all my posts.

        Again, I appreciate your replies.

        1. re: DebitNM

          From Pier 33, you are a six- to eight-block walk (again, about a 10 minute cab ride) to North Beach and Washington Square which is home to a plethora of Italian eateries and the edge of Chinatown. My preference for the area is Rose Pistola, especially their whole fish offering of the day. If you search around for North Beach, you will get a whole lot of hits.

          1. re: Carrie 218

            Carrie, I'm curious if you tried the new Brazilian place at the wharf, mainly because of your familiarity with that cuisine.

            My recs for Fisherman's Wharf have to do with people who insist on eating there. It is the best of a place where often the food is ok but not as good as other restaurants in the city and the prices are much higher.

            In most cases, hideous is way too dramatic. My reports are based on actually visiting a number of places in the past years and not just SF-centric pre-conceived, yet untried perception. The food is usually not as horrid as locals who don't eat there think. The food falls under the acceptable but way-overpriced category. The restaurants don't have to try as hard because they have a built-in customer base of tourists ... and good views.

            There are exceptions like Gary Danko ... though oddly enough ... Michelan stars or not ... not a favorite of mine.

            Here's a a running list of what I've tried at the Wharf. The comment sections notes openings and closings at the wharf. since the original post.

            I haven't been to Franciscan, but it is part of a chain that I have tried elsewhere. I'd send someone to Boudin Cafe (the upstairs restaurant) located across the way rather than the Franciscan ... but only for someone who really insists on eating at the Wharf.

            Given the restaurant situation where you live and the fact you are not tied to the wharf ...

            The closest Chowhound-approved (in terms of consensus) place would be Piperade, a Cal-basque restaurant. The street car that runs along the Embarcadero will take you a block or two from Piperade.

            Further up the street car will take you to the Ferry Building with Slanted Door (upscale Vietnamese), nearby Boulevard and Sens which has been getting some good posts lately. Also a couple of blocks from the Ferry Building is Tadich an old-time seafood house where the prices and seafood is better than anything I found at the wharf. Stick to cioppino or sand dabs or ask what is the fresh fish that day. IMO, the best sourdough in the city.

            A new place called Waterbarge just opened around that area but no reports yet on Chowhound, so you might keep an eye open ... something about pillars with live fish swimming around. Supposed to be visually stunning.

            In another direction, one of the cable cars from the wharf will deposit you in front of 1550 Hyde an very nice neighborhood Cal-cuisine place. with a great wine list that isn't exhorbitantly priced.

            In North Beach, an Asian-fusion place "The House" gets consistant raves on this board. I like it a lot too.

            There are reports of some possible great food coming to the wharf, most notably Gary Danko's new restaurant that will be more casual. I need to look at my notes but there's a few more in the works but that won't help you on this trip.

            BTW, the Brazilian place is only someplace I'd send people insisting on eating in the area. It is more of a good local restaurant rather than cream of the crop place.

            Have fun and hope you will report back about what you choose.

            1. re: rworange

              Thanks SO much for all the great info.

              Here's what may sound like a silly question - do sand dabs have a "season"? We are originally from NY/Long Island and love flounder and I believe sand dabs are west coast version.

              Also, what is petrale sole?

              Thanks again,

              1. re: DebitNM

                Petrale sole is also a flounder. The fillets of both are small. I remember, probably incorrectly, your flounder are bigger. Dim memories of fishing with my grandfather in Sheepshead Bay.

                1. re: DebitNM

                  Debit, Googling around, I learned that SandDabs taste best in the Spring. Don't ask me why...

                  And Petrale Sole is not sole at all, but a Flounder fish, best cooked very quickly. I like mine pan-grilled.

                  1. re: DebitNM

                    I had Petrale Sole stuffed with Dungeness crab & bay shrimp, served with lobster sauce, buttered rice & fresh vegetables at Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf last summer. It was delicious.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      We have some similar Wharf tastes. I liked my visit long ago to Ana Mandara and Scoma's is one of the few restaurants in the wharf I return to. However that last is with a caveat.

                      I think the three-course lunch is a deal and the portions are reasonable. Scoma's has the freshest fish I've had in SF. For me the veggies and sides have been ok and nothing exceptional. The sourdough was awful on my last visit but they were still dealing with their original baker closing down and what they were getting from Boudin wasn't good.

                      I really wouldn't send anyone to Scoma's at dinner because the prices are too high and the portions way too large ... they look like portions a table would share ... which might be the way to go ... get one entree and share it.

                  2. re: rworange

                    RW, I'm look you -- I'm not a Danko fan either. And I agree with you that the restaurants there don't have to try hard because of the built-in tourist base but still think the food is sub-par when it doesn't need to be.

                    I haven't been to the Brazilian place but will endeavor to get there. I know I tend to get a little neighborhood-centric and need to get out more... <grin>

                    1. re: Carrie 218

                      I know you are such a stay-at-home-body.

                      I'm am less-than-thrilled that the Wharf is what is presented to tourists. I also feel it could be so much better, and it looks like there are stirrings in that direction.

                      You could compare the food to anything you get at the Wharf. You can buy clothes, shoes, and jewelry at the Wharf. It is not all the 3 t-shirts for $10 that read "I got crabs at Fisherman's Wharf" ... or other such elegant sentiments.

                      There are some places that sell ok shoes and jackets and jewelry. However the prices are so much more than the same quality elsewhere and it isn't the best the city has to offer ... and few of us do our fashion shopping at the Wharf.

                      Anyway, DebitNM, I got called away from my pc while editing my first response so there might be more info there than when you first read it.

                    2. re: rworange

                      Aw, man. After reading your review of Saigon Grill, I was totally psyched to give their banh mi a try when I'm out there in May. Clicked the link you provided only to find out they've closed on the Wharf and relocated to Oakland as Saigon Wraps. Not terribly likely we'll be going into Oakland on our trip, so I'll have to check out the recent posts to see who else is recommended.

                      1. re: DarkRose

                        Saigon Grill, Kabul City (Afghan food) and Taqueria Alebrijes, a Mexican place with some Yucatecan specialties were all brief tenants that were worthy chowish destinations. All three failed quickly due to lack of business because we all know "there is no good food at Fisherman's Wharf."

                      2. re: rworange

                        It's Waterbar, not Waterbarge, and today was opening day (not counting some friends and family events) so there have been no official reports yet.

                2. What about Ana Mandara? It's owned by Don Johnson, but don't let that get in your way. Stellar Vietnamese food. While I haven't been there lately (although I pass it on the bus going to work), a co-worker had her birthday lunch there last week and said the food is still great. It is at 891 Bush at Polk St., accross from the Maritime Museum (museum is closed for repairs). The web address is Check it out.


                  9 Replies
                  1. re: lizaw

                    Never been to Ana Mandara but you mean Beach Street, not Bush.

                    1. re: Frosty Melon

                      You got me on that one -- it's a wonder I don't get lost getting to work!


                    2. re: lizaw

                      Ana Mandara's a beautiful restaurant. Great food, but quite expensive. But if you do go, don't miss:
                      - crispy lobster ravioli with mango & coconut sauce (delicious!);
                      - sweet Dungeness crab soup with house-made, hand-cut noodles;
                      - my fave entree was seared day-boat scallops with sweet black rice, light kumquat marmalade sauce;
                      Desserts are not so great. The house special: roasted banana boat with caramelised nuts did nothing for me. If you're feeling adventurous, try the strong-smelling durian ice-cream in mango soup, with slivered mango noodles. You'll need a strong mouth rinse afterwards.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Thanks for the update. Have youe eaten at Ana Mandara within the last year? There was a downhill report a while back and the chef left to open his own restaurant.

                        1. re: rworange

                          We dined there on Oct 26 2007. We did meet Chef Khai (the co-owner & Don Johnson's partner), I guess his sous chef must have left?

                          1. re: klyeoh

                            Chef Khai Duong opened Pot de Pho in December

                            Not sure if he is doing double duty though.

                            HOWEVER, it is good to hear a recent good report for Ana Mandara. Even though I like it I stopped recommending it based on a negative report.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Thanks for the heads-up. I actually drove past this restaurant in mid-Jan. What caught my eye was its play on the word "Pot de Pho", as the Vietnamese "pho" actually originated from the French "pot au feu".

                              1. re: rworange

                                According to this Jan 10 piece, he's still the executive chef,

                          2. re: klyeoh


                            Ana Mandara Restaurant
                            891 Beach St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                        2. If you want to stay in the Wharf, go to Boudin's. We went to Franciscan last May and it was - well, ghastly. Boudin was much less expensive and the food was tasty, though it is certainly not the best SF has to offer. You can easily walk or hop a bus to Chestnut Street (A16 is excellent Italian and there are several good neighborhood places including Isa and Bistro Aix). You can also easily walk or hop a bus to Polk St. where there a number of places. You can search for Chestnut or Marina or Polk and you should get a lot of info. Someone mentioned The House - I also found it excellent and you can easily walk or bus there. There is a bus that goes right by the Wharf and will take you to Chinatown or North Beach or you can take one of the streetcars that run along the Embarcadero and go to Tadich, Perbacco, Boulevard, Slanted Door...lots of options. All of these places have websites and you can also do a search for the names and you will got a lot of comments - esp. on Slanted Door! Someone mentioned Ana Mandara - I have only been once and was disappointed in the food, but the restaurant itself is beautiful. Do you have a price range in mind?

                          1. Oh yes, good point - two new places are opening right on the Embarcadero - Waterbar (seafood) and Epic Roadhouse (meat) -- they are brand new so you should definitely do some searches to find out if they are even good, but they will have a fab view! Very easy to get to by streetcar from the Wharf.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: dinnerout

                              I had been thinking about Bistro Boudain and Tadich Grill. I believe there are no reservations at Tadich? Is that also true for Boudain?

                              Thanks for all these great ideas!

                              1. re: DebitNM

                                True no res at Tadich - I believe you can get a res for Bistro Boudin on Open least I think so!

                                1. re: DebitNM

                                  Here's the Place record for Bistro Boudin which has a link to the website

                                  Yes Bistro Boudin takes reservations and Tadich does not.

                                  Although Boudin is one of the better choices on the wharf, it is still a chain. The food, while nice enough, tries to mimic what the hot trends are in SF and doesn't do it as well ... which the same can be said of the Cliff House on the other end of SF. Nothing is really wrong with each, but it is an imitation that isn't quite as good as the original.

                                  If you really want to stay at the wharf and want reservations, I'd go with Alioto's. You will be getting an only in SF experience and a great view. It is next in line of favorites at the wharf. The prices are high. Ask for what fish is fresh and local and go with that. Haven't tried the ciopinno there yet, so can't say. I do like their creme brulle quite a bit. They have an intelligent wine list.

                                  All the places mentioned in Fishermans Wharf have a record in the Place section of this site.

                                  If there is a website, it will be found there. I know this because I put all those records in there.

                                  Also there are links to most SF restaurants that the Chow team and other posters have been updating. So it is kind of a help so you don't need to wait around for a reply.

                                  And a final word of caution ... stay away from anything that might be selling what is called food on Pier 39 ... there's one place I want to try that gets some good reports, but I've eaten at most of them over the years and ... this DOES get a deserved reputation for tourist drek. At one place as I was coming out after a less than mediocre meal and saw tourists looking at the menu ... I stopped and said "don't do it".

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    I still remember a wonderful lunch at Alioto's of poached salmon with Hollandaise that melted in the mouth. (This was 20 years ago, however.)

                                2. re: dinnerout

                                  I think the SF Chron said the meat place was going to have a $25 hamburger; I won't be going there.