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Feb 13, 2008 12:43 PM

Chicago Family Looking for a Taste of S.F.

We're on our way out west to enjoy the sights and tastes of the city. Our kids are 10 & 13 years old with sophisticated and adventurous pallets. Looking for spots that offer a flavor unique to San Francisco without being on all the tourist maps.
Thanks for your suggestions.

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  1. San Francisco has lots of different culinary aspects -- if you're talking "old-school" San Francisco, you'll want to try Tadich Grill or Sam's (or Swan Oyster Depot for a lunch counter). These are very straight-forward, no-frills grilled or sauteed fish, served in a old-fashioned Financial District atmosphere (dark wood, crusty sourdough, crusty waiters).

    Asian San Francisco could include a local Chinatown place like Hunan Home's, or something nicer like Shanghai 1930. Or sushi at lots of places. Or top-end Vietnamese at Slanted Door.

    Latino San Francisco might bring you to Limon (Peruvian). Moroccan would be Aziza.

    Personally, I think it's hard to think of places "unique" to San Francisco -- you can get most of these types of food other places. I find it more useful to have visitors think in terms of a) what type of foods/atmosphere they like or dislike and b) what can they NOT get at home.

    Give us more guidance and you'll get lots of suggestions!


    3 Replies
    1. re: waldrons

      Like SF, Chicago has a vast cullinary offerring.So it's not so much about what we can't get at home. I suppose we're looking for the flavor of the city itself along with the food. If I were advising someone about Chicago, I'd highly recommend our deep dish pizza, Chicago Hot Dogs, etc.
      I'd imagine SF has wonderful seafood, asian food and more. I suppose I'd like to hear about great local "joints" that shouldn't be missed. And perhaps an upscale spot or two for dinners. Last time in SF we dined at Boulavard and enjoyed it very much. Sorry if I'm not providing a lot of guidance, but I appreciate any suggestions!

      1. re: Markauf

        I'd agree with other posters about those cuisines that aren't so uncommon [anymore] elsewhere in the country - there's no pressing need to try those here - but for those that AREN'T as readily available in Chicagoland area, give 'em a try. For example. few regions in the US can compare to SF/Daly City for Filipino cuisine - while the best lumpia. pancit, & lechon are always homemade, take a look in the phone book to see if you find anything convenient to downtown [if that's where you'll be staying]. Otherwise, head out to the Mission District to look for unfamiliar dishes/cuisines:
        - Yucatasia (Mission @ 18th) features both Yucatecan & Vietnamese delights - banh mi & panuchos in the same place!
        - Mitchell's Ice Cream (San Jose Ave @ 29th) try almost any of their tropical flavors for a different ice cream experience (my fave is their bright purple ube [purple yam] & cantelope [only in season]);
        - also for a different local ice cream, try Bombay Ice Creamery (Valencia @ 16th) for any of the Indian flavors;
        - Central America figures far more prominent in the Mission than most posters here have acknowledged - even most of the "Mexican" restaurants (including the taquerias) are run by Central Americans. (This fact may have contributed to the creation of the "Mission-style" burrito.) That said, in addition to some of the delights from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc., there are some interesting developments as a result of the more recent immigrants from southeastern Mexico, especially Mayans from the Yucatan.
        - another interesting neighborhood development: Maxwell Street-like Mexican hot dog & Polish vendors;
        - elsewhere in the City, I'd recommend Citizen Cake (Grove @ Gough) for incredible desserts & other delights [chef Elizabeth Falkner is local star chef]; Slanted Door (Ferry Bldg.) fusiony Vietnamese; Cafe Gratitude (Harrison @ 20th) raw food - uber healthy, much of it still tasty, though;
        - & if you had to try local pizzas, try Brazilian [corn, hearts of palm, etc. @ Bufala di Mozzarela] or Indian [curried meats and/or vegies @ Zante's] pies.

        This is kinda randomly assembled, but I think would give a unique taste of the City, away from the madding crowds.
        Buen provecho / bon apetit / enjoy,

        1. re: ElFresser

          Yucatasia is no longer selling Vietnamese food.

          There is so much misinformation on the web so in order not to get some new myth started, the Mission-style burrito has nothing to do with Central American origins. Here's one of many discussions on the board about the origins

    2. There's many ways to slice it...price, cuisine, ethnic, location/neighborhood, regular eats (lunch at work, take out), fine dining, etc.

      SF has a few Michelin star places, it does well in overall ethnic eats but other cities excel or outshine it (like LA w/ Mexican or Thai). There's more high end restaurants in NYC but overall the mix is very good.

      If there are sweet spots in SF it would be the mid-priced, well executed, casual "nieghborhood" place with a fusion aspect (usually a Cal influence) and artisan stuff (coffee, baked good, sulami, etc.).

      1. Agree with the poster about type of cuisine, neighborhood etc. Here are some recs based on personal exp. as well as the board that might be considered a SF experience. I'm sure other fellow hounds will chime in...

        1550 Hyde - CH rec (good food & cable car passes right in front of restaurant)

        Various restaurants in Ferry Building - I've been to Taylor's Refresher & enjoyed their burgers. Got food from Out The Door (Vietnamese food) & ate at a table in the back with a gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge (view was more memorable).

        Chinatown - Great Eastern for dim sum as well as regular menu

        Restaurants in Inner Richmond - busy neighborhood with many ethnic restaurants including Burma Superstar (tea leaf salad, great beer w/ lemonade I think).

        Marina district - Isa (CH rec), Yukol Thai (loved it but haven't been in a while), A16 (CH rec, Italian

        Mission District - traditionally was a Hispanic neighborhood home to SF's best taquerias but has been slowly changing into a funky, cool place with many new restaurants such as Range (CH rec).

        Here are some threads that might be of help:

        1. I highly recommend checking out Burma Super Star in the Inner Richmond. The Tea Leaf Salad is one of my favorite dishes ever (very unique), and even my pickiest friends/family love this place! I would suggest going at lunch so you can explore the neighborhood (Clement Street). Kamei has an amazing selection of kitchen/housewares. May Wah has a great selection of asian ingredients. Not to mention Green Apple...I could go on. Enjoy your visit!

          1. As your query is fairly general, I'll share a few of my faves.

            In SF:

            Incanto - wonderful, rustic Italian. The chef specializes in offal, so you'll truly be able to test just how adventurous the kids are (duck testicles, anyone?). Outstanding selection of wines by the glass.

            Bar Crudo - Impeccably fresh seafood. Be sure to order the chowder. Incredible selection of beer.

            Aziza - Unique and delicious Cal-Moroccan food. The fixed menu is a great deal. Fabulous mixed drinks for the parents.


            Pizzaiolo - Some of the best pizza in the Bay Area. I know Chicagoans love their pizza, but this is a completely different animal. Thin crust, creative and seasonal ingredients, baked in a wood fire oven. The restaurant has a fun, hip vibe and is extremely family friendly. There is also an excellent selection of salads and apps beyond the pizza.

            In Napa

            Ubuntu - Absolutely stunning "vegetable" cuisine. Will completely change the way you think about vegetarian food. Well worth the drive up to Napa.

            Of course, the Saturday Morning Ferry Building Farmers' Market is an absolute must for any visitor.

            Some people may tell you that California has good Mexican food. Having lived here my entire life, I can assure you that nothing we offer comes close to Frontera Grill and Topo. I am seriously envious of those restaurants.

            Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
            1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

            5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

            5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

            Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar
            1550 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

            Bar Crudo
            655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

            Scharffen Berger
            1 Ferry, Building San Francisco, CA

            4 Replies
            1. re: Morton the Mousse

              Thanks for all the suggestions!
              This will certainly get us on our way.


              1. re: Markauf

                There is some good advice in this thread. Just as I wouldn't dream of visiting Chicago without going for some chicago hot dogs, an italian beef sandwich, and some deep-dish pizza, I wouldn't dream of telling visitors to S.F. not to try a Mission-style burrito, some delicious banh mi, and some fresh cracked Dungeness [conveniently in season right now].

                1. re: grishnackh

                  I wouldn't leave a visit to SF without eating a Mission burrito, having a bowl of Pho in the Tenderloin, snacking on random goodies at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market followed by a nice lunch at a restaurant with a good view of the Bay Bridge and decent food (Water Bar, Roast House, Chaya), getting dim sum in the Richmond, and enjoying a fine meal at Incanto.

              2. re: Morton the Mousse

                Regarding Mexican.... if they make up to Napa for sightseeing & dinner at Ubuntu then I would whole heartedly recommend Antojitos La Mixteca for specialties from Oaxaca's Mixtec region.... its not going to be the L.A. Oaxacan experience because that is different region (Valles, where the majority ethnic group is Zapotec)... but:

                1) I do know that Oaxacan Mixtec is not something easily found in Chicago
                2) Since the vast majority of vineyard workers in Sonoma-Napa are immigrants from the Mixteca... you can say their sweat, blood & tears is part of the local flavor.
                3) The Pork in Chileajo is stunning... probably the best Mexican dish I've had in Northern California