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A Crash Course in San Francisco Dining...?

My boyfriend and I (we're both in our 20s) will be visiting San Francisco next week (we've never been) and we are looking to find some dining suggestions. We'll be staying in Union Square and we'll have access to a car for one or two nights.

I posted almost this same post before a recent trip to Seattle and the results were phenomenal (I had one of the best and most unique dining experiences ever!).

Here's what we're looking for:

Something that’s classic San Francisco

The hidden gem

The place tourists shouldn’t know about

The out of the way spot with beautiful views

The restaurant with great food and fun staff

The cool bar where all the hipsters / locals go

The best music (jazz, etc.) night spot

The place you won’t find anywhere else

I know this is a tall order, but I know I can count on CH to help make our first trip to San Francisco a great one. Any suggestions for any of these criteria will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. You can definitely help yourself and help us help you if you check this out first:
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46916...

    1. If you asked in Seattle it was under a different name because this is the first post under this name. So if you reported back what your likes and dislikes were in Seattle ... which might have been a help with your inquiry ... I'm not seeing it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rworange

        Try this RW, although I am afraid it doesn't help with cindyj's likes and dislikes since she did not report back.
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/432277

      2. Except for the view, Bix fits your criteria perfectly.

        1. Something that’s classic San Francisco - Tadich, Bix, or Swan Oyster Bar

          The hidden gem - in my eyes, it is hardly, but Canteen is this city's Gem.

          The place tourists shouldn’t know about - you think we're gonna tell you? LOL

          The out of the way spot with beautiful views - doesn't really exist; the places with views are hardly out of the way. The best view in the city is Top of the Mark.

          The restaurant with great food and fun staff - Incanto

          The cool bar where all the hipsters / locals go - Alembic / Bourbon & Branch

          The best music (jazz, etc.) night spot - Boom Boom Room, Yoshi's

          The place you won’t find anywhere else - Aziza

          13 Replies
          1. re: Carrie 218

            Great list, Carrie. I agree on all counts, especially for jazz... Although, I think I'd include B&B on the non-tourist list... :)

            1. re: adrienne156

              Ooops - yes! I love B&B and tend to forget about it all too often...

                1. re: ejohn

                  Tried to find the places link, but failed.

                  501 Jones St
                  (between Geary St & Ofarrell St)
                  San Francisco, CA 94102

                  http://www.bourbonandbranch.com

                  1. re: adrienne156

                    Link:

                    -----
                    Bourbon & Branch
                    501 Jones St, San Francisco, CA

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      No, I think for Jazz we were talking about Biscuit and Blues.

                      -----
                      Biscuits & Blues
                      1360 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA

                      1. re: Carrie 218

                        Has it moved?
                        Biscuits & Blues
                        www.biscuitsandblues.com

                        401 Mason St
                        San Francisco, CA 94102
                        (415) 292-2583

                        Isn't there a difference between Blues and Jazz?

                          1. re: Carrie 218

                            The B&B on your list was "The cool bar where all the hipsters / locals go - Alembic / Bourbon & Branch".

                            How is the food at Biscuits & Blues?

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              The food at Biscuits & Blues is like most nightclubs: average at best.

                            2. re: Carrie 218

                              Sorry, Carrie! My friends and I call Bourbon & Branch, 'B&B.'

                              1. re: adrienne156

                                Ooops on me! Since the discussion included Jazz, I assumed Biscuit & Blues...

                  2. re: Carrie 218

                    Yoshi's has really good food, which may be unique for a nightclub.

                  3. The out of the way spot with beautiful views: the back table at Bloom's on 18th St.

                    The place you won’t find anywhere else: Aziza.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I don't see Aziza as being that out of the ordinary. At best it's just a "new approach" to standard middle eastern/moroccan .... but I will say, their mint tea is phenomenal, and they have a top notch drink menu.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Aziza has a lot of original dishes and drinks you won't get anywhere else, does some of the classic dishes better then I've had elsewhere, uses top-quality ingredients, has a great wine list, and doesn't have kitschy decorations, loud music, or belly dancing.

                        Here's a list of some of their local suppliers: http://www.aziza-sf.com/farmers.html

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Is there an establishment in the Bay that doesn't use local suppliers?

                          I thought Aziza was a total con. I enjoyed certain flavors, but nothing compared in taste or portions to the old Yaya (I believe his reopened location closed, but I'm not sure). It just seemed like an attempt to appeal to Westernized pallets, by doing some poorly thought out fusion thing. Part of me was excited by what they were trying to do, but ultimately it doesn't work for anyone who truly knows these flavors. I found classic dishes like their Spreads platter to be laughable, and barely enough pita wedges to even eat the tiny dollops anyway. Couscous is average, to box mix tasting. By the time you get to dessert, they lose their concept entirely, aside from lavandar and cardamon flavorings one a couple dishes. Photos of Arabian horses and bronze tables personally strike me as kitsch, and they keep the place dark so it's like walking into a cave, which is about one step away from hanging textiles on the walls and throwing pillows on the floor... but you're right they stopped having belly dancers. Also, the prices are steep, it's difficult to fill up, and the service is lacking, unless you like your waiter to vanish.

                          Oh and I just read they changed how they serve the mint tea, the only real stand out. Sad.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            Didn't they get rid of the brass tables when they redecorated? I thought they went out with the belly dancers.

                            Less than 1% of Bay Area restaurants use first-rate purveyors like the ones on Aziza's list.

                            Yaya is good but the food's not Moroccan.

                            -----
                            Yaya Cuisine
                            1108 Burlingame Ave, Burlingame, CA

                            1. re: adrienne156

                              If Aziza were a traditional Moroccan restaurant, it wouldn't qualify as "The place you won’t find anywhere else."

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                In the Bay Area alone Aziza is joined by Baraka, Morocco's Restauarant, and Saha.

                                I don't fault Aziza for not being traditional (until it's being hyped as authentic at the same time), but I do fault it for just average food with the few highlights I mentioned.

                                I personally do not think pandering Mid-Eastern dishes under the guise of fusion influences are a rarity. Nor is Moroccan fusion or Moroccan tapas as a concept. It might hold the crown for being the only place serving a tablespoon portion of humus as if it was a James Patterson foam reduction but that's just hysterical. The Basteeya for $18 also comes to mind, because it was an appetizer portion sold as an entree, and while good, it wasn't amazing, and didn't compare to other versions around the city.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  My serving of hummus was reasonable. If it were only a tablespoon, we wouldn't have had to ask for more pita.

                                  Where can you get better basteeya in SF? The one we got on the prix fixe was plenty for four people to share. We were stuffed by the end of the meal.

                                  I think there are only two Moroccan dishes on the menu at Baraka (lamb meatballs and lamb tagine) and they're both pretty traditional. It's a good neighborhood restaurant but not great.

                                  Saha's chef is Yemeni, he does Middle Eastern fusion. No Moroccan dishes on the menu when I was there or on the Web site. I found the dishes ill-conceived and the execution sloppy.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    We ran out of pita too. We were trying to fill up, and we took to scraping humus up delicately like it was caviar rations. It's ridiculous. We also left the one that tasted like it had bbq sauce in it alone.

                                    Yaya (used to at least) serve a far superior Basteeya. Aziza's version is no better, or different then a similar filo dish at La Med. Maybe it works on the tasting menu, but Aziza's portion is chintzy for an entree.

                                    About half of Saha's menu could be found on a Moroccan menu.When you checked the website, you must have missed the "classic Moroccan couscous" or the "lamb tagine".

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      La Mediterranee's food is so lousy I don't understand how they've managed to keep three branches in business all these years.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I'd mostly agree with that, but I've actually had good filo dishes from the Market St. location over the years which were on par with what Aziza served me.

                              2. re: sugartoof

                                When did you last eat at Aziza? The decor you are describing has been gone for at least 3 or 4 years. I ask because if you visited five years ago, it's quite likely that the food has improved.

                                This is what the restaurant looks like now:

                                http://aziza-sf.com/group_dining.html

                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                            4th Aziza. They have fabulous couscous and wonderfully innovative food.

                            http://www.aziza-sf.com/about_us.html

                          3. I like the funkiness of Liverpool Lil's. It is a little pub style place on Lyon with really good food. It is one of those "out of the way" places that many people don't know about. It is worth consideration.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ronmcnaughton

                              Liverpool Lil's is a classic.... do you have a dish there you swear by?

                            2. Seeing this post makes me wonder what I'm doing wrong at Incanto. I've been there a half dozen times or more, and though the food is wonderful...'fun staff'?

                              I wouldn't say I've had bad service. Perfunctory and aloof perhaps, and I have generally no great expectations for service. It's the darndest thing.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: epicurious_sf

                                Ed Ruiz, the sommelier, is an affable guy. It's fun to sit at his end of the bar and chat with him about the wines.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  all the wait staff at incanto know wine and will talk your head off if you let them. i let them. they're a good bunch.

                                2. re: epicurious_sf

                                  I tend to agree; have been very underwhelmed by service at Incanto. Guess the 'talking my head off about wine' doesn't apply to the time someone left an ordered glass of wine on my table while I was in the restroom (a real turnoff service wise) and never came back to see what I thought...

                                  My nominations for great food and fun staff might include:

                                  Hog Island Oyster Bar (the staff I've interacted with here really do have a sense of fun, and while it isnt out of the way, it also matches your beautiful views criteria)
                                  possibly Range (love the staff, food is very good, not sure if I would call it great or not)
                                  and La Ciccia (depending upon your definition of fun staff, perhaps, but the food definitely is great and so is the staff...they are very friendly and welcoming, but perhaps too busy to be really 'fun'...)

                                  -----
                                  La Ciccia
                                  291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                                  Range
                                  842 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                  Hog Island Oyster Bar
                                  Ferry Building,, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    I completely agree with you on the staff at La Ciccia -- I went about a month ago based mostly on your recommendations, and my party and I were all impressed by how friendly and nice and funny the staff were to us (and the food was great too).

                                3. Since you have access to a car, pack up a picnic and head over to Alameda to the St Georges Spirits tasting room. It's on the old Navy supply station. There's a picnic table outside overlooking SF and Oakland harbors. You can watch the tankers come in. Very Harold and Maude. Oh.. and the tasting of spirits is not to be missed. Absinthe makes a great souvenir.

                                  1. I'll throw in my two cents for classic, only in SF:

                                    Zuni Cafe -- Great food, Bay Area vibe. Ceasar salad, great burger if there during lunch or late afternoon or latenight bar menu.

                                    Tadich Grill -- Claim to be the oldest restaurant west of the Mississippi. Gruff, pro waiters/bartenders who have been there forever. No reservations. Definitely order the petrale sole or the sand dabs.

                                    If you get over to the East Bay -- A meal at the Cafe in Chez Panisse. A stop at the Berkeley Bowl.