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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

              3. I grew up in Chicago and have been in SF for years. I have taken Chicago based nephews and nieces to the following with great success:

                1. Sams on Bush Street- sit in one of the curtained off booths in the back
                2. Sams Tiburon- no relation to above. Burgers and similar on the water. You can take the ferry from SF.
                3. Acme Steakhouse- pretty pricey for kids but its located in pac bell park
                4. Buena Vista- across from cable car turnaround. Sit at one of the large tables and meet some strangers
                5. Fishermans Wharf crab stands- touristy but fun way to get some crab. Still have not figured out why clam chowder is such a favorite when to the best of my knowledge, there is not a single clam in the sf bay.
                6 Tomales Bay Oysters- farmed oysters you shuck yourself or can grill for the kids
                7. Trader Vics -you have to cross the bay bridge but if your you are my age, you probably went to prom at the now deceased chicago branch. The definition of tacky but kids eat it up.
                8. The Ramp- outdoor burgers and brunch on the water
                9. Cheescake factory- on top of Macys in union square with some views
                10. Swensons- old fashioned ice cream at Hyde and Union right on cable car line
                11. Sattui- not worth a special trip but if you are going to be in napa, they have a store with picnic type foods and a very large picnic area in the winery. Just up the road is a fairly low priced winery with a small gondola you take from the parking area up to the winery.

                Have fun

                2 Replies
                1. re: busterdan

                  V. Sattui is a tourist trap. Bad wine and worse food. Or maybe it's the other way around.

                  Cheesecake Factory is a national chain. There's a location in Chicago. Sad waste of a meal in San Francisco.

                  Trader Vic's is returning to Chicago:


                  1. re: busterdan

                    The Buena Vista is memorable to me as one of the worst meals I've had in the city. The only thing to get if one goes there is the Irish coffee ... but seriously, how many San Franciscans order Irish Coffee regularily?

                    Ok, now I'm sucked into this.

                    For old-time SF, IMO, it is worth it to go to Tadich's. Get the cioppino ... some of the best in the city ... and the sourdough is flat-out the best. For anything else, stick with fresh, local fish especially sand dabs when they have them.

                    Go to North Beach. Have breakfast at Mama's. Stop by Linguira bakery across the street and get some foccacia. Travel down to xox chocoloates for some truffles ... especially the caramel.

                    Da Flora in North Beach gets some high recs on this board. The House, also in North Beach is a good stop. Keep in mind that for rsteak or red sauce Italian, SFprobably isn't going to impress someone from Chicago ...maybe not even for Mexican.

                    Trot over to Chinatown and pick up an egg tart and bbq pokr bun from Golden Gate Bakery

                    As mentioned, Aziza has a unique Cal-Morrocan restaurant. More San Franciscans are tossing down the cocktails there than Buena Vista.

                    Go to Zuni. Get the chicken.

                    If you want good desert and a better view ... really, not the cheesecake factory ... go to Sens which has the best pastry chef in the city (though just dessert if you go to Aziza ... Sens has kind of the same concept but doesn't do main dishes as well or in the same class as Aziza)

                    Travel across the bay (take a ride on Bart) and stop by the home of California Cuisine ... Chez Panisse. Wander across the street and check out the Cheeseboard cheese shop. Have a slice of California Pizza.

                    Other bakeries to check out ... Tartine, Bay Breads, DeLassio.

                    As mentioned, if going to Ferry Plaza, go on Saturday morning when there is the full blown farmers market and lots of outdoor food stands. I'm particularily fond of the Haye's Street Grill stand.

                    Besides Mama's, other good breakfast spots ... Dottie's True Blue, Townsend, Canteen (weekends only).

                    There's just too much ... scroll through the boards and look for similar inquiries. There's a lot of good tips in most of them ... especially those with a lot of repsonse. For different reasons, some people ask the questions the right way and pry out responses from locals. Not that we don't love talking about the great food here, but with at least two or three of similar queries a day , it takes something to get responses.

                    Another thing to look at is the Bay Area Digest

                    This has tips from all over because it is geared to locals. However if you scroll through it there are lots of San Francisco entries and lots of tips about small mom and pop places that don't make it to the tour books.

                    Scrolling down, here's the most recent SF entry for Chinese food which might not be a big stretch to get to if going to Golden Gate park

                    The Best Flavor in Xiao Long Bao

                    For anyplace mentioned, search the Place records where there are links to discussions about the restaurants and often links to the websites to check out the menu

                    For example, here are the Place records for the Ferry Building and the Ferry Plaza Farmers market

                    I'm not saying visitors don't enjoy clam chowder and crab stands at Fisherman's Wharf, the veiw at the Cliff House or Julius Castle, etc. However, you did ask for places not in the guide books.

                    Hope you report back on where you ate.

                  2. I used to spend a bunch of time in Chicago and was just there a few months ago, so I'm thinking about some places that would be unique to SF and/or better/different than you
                    get there.

                    Don't miss the Ferry Building, particularly on Saturday morning for the farmer's market
                    Slanted Door gets a lot of mixed reviews but it is a uniquely SF take on Vietnamese
                    I agree about Tadich Grill, Sam's, Aziza, Incanto, Isa and Bar Crudo

                    Swan Oyster Depot if you don't mind long waits
                    Burma Superstar also has lines, but the neighborhood is a lot of fun to explore while you wait...

                    Dosa in the Mission is not the best representation of South Indian in the Bay Area, but it is the best in the city (unless the Udupi Palace branch has opened). Both serve dosa's, Indian crepes that I haven't much seen in elsewhere in the US

                    Mission district also has a lot of taquerias, which, as has been mentioned, are very different from the high end Mexican like Frontera but the "urban food log" burrito is a staple for many SF dwellers, good for a quick bite. Lots of threads on the best...

                    Zuni has great roast chicken and is a local foodie landmark

                    Tartine Bakery & Bar Tartine are also good places in the mission district, especially for breakfast

                    Yank Sing has upscale (and expensive) dim sum

                    Slanted Door
                    Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                    Zuni Cafe
                    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

                    Tartine Bakery
                    600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    Sam's Grill & Sea Food Restaurant
                    374 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94104

                    Tadich Grill
                    240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                    995 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    Swan Oyster Depot
                    1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    3324 Steiner St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                    Udupi Palace
                    1007 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: alis

                      Good list.

                      Swan is good if you stick to the cracked crab and raw bar, but skip their canned clam chowder.

                      1. re: alis

                        FYI... Chicago's Shraumberg area has a vast Indian offering including dozens of places that offer South Indian specialties like Dosas. I ate at an unknown Punjab owned restaurant that wasn't even in an Indian neighborhood and its Southern Indian specialties could go toe to toe with places I have been taken to in Artesia, and stuff I had in New Jersey.

                        Indian is not something I would recommend on a trip to S.F. from Chicago

                      2. You have Uno's and as far as I am concerned SF has North Beach Pizza. Actually North Beach Pizza is even funkier than Uno's and the pizza is great. Order double sausage and whatever else you like and have them cook it a little extra well. A chance for a great comparison.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Hughlipton

                          Is the pizza better at the original location than at the dozen or so other branches? The one in Berkeley is pretty average.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I haven't been there for two years but the quality was awesome. Have only been to the original. Great pizza with cheap red house wine. It doesn't get much better than that.

                          2. re: Hughlipton

                            Have you been to North Beach Pizza since they started their expansion? I liked them when they only had the original location. Though it has been a few years since I['ve ordered pizza there, the last time was ... the last time. I was embarrassed when ordering for an in-office meal that there were so many negative comments from visiting clients. It would be good to hear an uphill report but I'd have to hear a lot of uphill reports to give them another try.

                          3. Was born and spent half my live in Chicago. I know it well. So i will bring that perspective. I would agree with a great deal of rworange comments. No family from Chicago should go to any North Beach Pizza or ANY steakhouse, I dont care HOW good it is. and Im guessing you know better than to go to a Cheesecake Factory, So let me throw a couple of additions.
                            Northern Style Pho at Turtle Tower in the Tenderloin
                            For Dim Sum consider Zen Peninsula in Millbrae. More of a traiditional Dim Sum approach.
                            Kappa in SF Japantown. I really dont know of anything like it in Chicago......
                            Tajine for Moroccan (on Polk)
                            Santa Ramen if you can take a trip to San Mateo