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Brooklynite visits SF (my to-do list)

Yaqo Homo, a Brooklyn native, is visiting San Francisco for 3 nights and two days later this month and has a number of gastronomical and oenological tasks to accomplish in a limited timeframe.

1) Late night dining: Given when our flight arrives on Friday evening, we probably won't be able to eat until 10:30. I guess that's not super-late for a weekend, but we'd still like to know which places are known for their-late night food scene. I'm especially fond of wine bars (as long at they have real food menu), but am open to anyplace with delightful food and atmosphere.

2) Visit a wine store. YH loves wine stores and would love to know the best SF establishments are. I'm not necessarily looking for the most prestigious/acclaimed store (though that's certainly not a bad thing); what's important is a friendly, brainy staff to speak to and an impressive selection of perhaps lesser-known California wines that I might not encounter NYC.

3) Inexpensive lunches: Day 1: Where do I get the best burritos in the city? Day 2: Looking for some serious, authentic, memorable ethnic cuisine of any sort.

4) Splurge on a 4-star joint. Where do you people go on special occasions?. The ideal restaurant would still have reservations available 3 weeks in advance—so please don't suggest impossible-to-get-a-table places. I was thumbing through a magazine and the following restaurants caught my eye: Fifth Floor, Michael Mina and Gary Danko. However, I trust you chowhounds more than I trust slick food writers, so tell me what you think of any of those restaurants, or please suggest others instead.

5) Neighborhood bistro/brasserie (sorry to say I never learned the difference) serving dead-serious food in a relaxed atmopshere. A uniquely "Californian" vibe would be nice; I don't want to feel like I'm still in NYC

I love you chowhounds and will appreciate any suggestions.

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  1. YH: You are smart to ask ahead about late-night dining in San Francisco. As visitors, we found out the hard way it is a rare-ish thing there. I know you are looking for SF CH advice but I found an article in one of the local rags not long ago that listed places that were open late (I think it was the Chron) and I grabbed the names and addresses for future reference. The only one I've been to personally is Thai House Express but you might find the list useful, especially if others more knowledgeable chime in on any of these. Good luck and have a fantastic time in this great city!

    Late-night hot spots in SF
    Brick. 1085 Sutter St. (at Larkin St.), S.F.; (415) 441-4232. Dinner 5 p.m.-midnight nightly
    Farmer Brown. 25 Mason St. (at Turk), S.F.; (415) 409-3276. Dinner 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday
    Globe. 290 Pacific (near Battery), S.F.; (415) 391-4132. Dinner 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 6 p.m.-midnight Sunday
    Nopa. 560 Divisadero St. (at Hayes), S.F.; (415) 864-8643. Dinner 6 p.m.-1 a.m. nightly
    Oola Restaurant & Bar. 860 Folsom St. (between Fourth and Fifth streets), S.F.; (415) 995-2061. Dinner 6 p.m.-midnight Sunday and Monday; 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday
    Ryoko Restaurant & Bar. 619 Taylor St. (between Sutter and Post streets), S.F.; (415) 775-1028. Dinner 6 p.m.-2 a.m. nightly
    Thai House Express (Tenderloin). 901 Larkin St. (at Geary), S.F.; (415) 441-2248. Open noon-midnight daily
    Yuet Lee. 1300 Stockton St. (at Broadway), S.F.; (415) 982-6020. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Monday
    Cafe Maritime. 2417 Lombard St. (at Scott), S.F.; (415) 885-2530. Dinner 5:30 p.m.-1 a.m. nightly
    Grubstake. 1525 Pine St. (between Van Ness and Polk), S.F.; (415) 673-8268. 5 p.m.-4 a.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-4 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
    Osha Thai Noodle Cafe (Tenderloin). 696 Geary St. (at Leavenworth), S.F.; (415) 673-2368. 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Friday and Saturday

    19 Replies
    1. re: grayelf

      I'm finding that surprisingly North Beach seems to have the richest late night dining activity ... though not all of the joints are places one would want to go.

      Here's the over 100 places in the city of SF that are open late ... weekends are usually the best for late night actiity. Neighborhood will proably determine where you go. Hours and usually websites are on these records
      http://www.chow.com/search?Search.x=3...

      There are also links to many Chowhound reports on each place record.
      Of those not mentioned above, depending on the neighborhood you might stay some to consider are Eastside West, Bacar (known for their wine), Magnolia, The Monks Kettle, Zuni, Spices (which you should keep in mind for ethnic eats),
      Rogue Ales, Betelnut, Bix, Jardiniere, Rose Pistola, District Wine Bar, Epic Roasthouse, Orson

      Since Day One for you is Saturday, you would be missing a lot doing a burrito search that day for lunch. Instead go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (8-1). That will fulfill a number of your requests ... unique California experience, inexpensive lunch, wine store (Wine Merchant in Ferry Building). It might even fulfill your desire for Mexican at the Primavera stand ... I'm not a fan but I'm willing to give their chiquilies a try based on all the raves. If you look at the Place record for Ferry Plaza you will see lots of recent reports.

      Search Places for Wine Bars and you will similarily see recent reports. If you search the SF board itself there was a recent thread.

      For other requests in #3 - read "New to this board" at the top of the board for hints. This is a frequest reqest on the board and even if people answer this for the umpteenth time, it will only be a small slice of the many, many better topics on this board.

      For upscale splurge ... look at opentable.com for $$$$ restaurants. You can also search this board for that critera. The restaurants you mention have many reports on this board. The opinion on both Michael Mina and Gary Danko are VERY mixed on the board. Neither will give you a unique experience. My own personal favorite is the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton. Fifth Floor re-opened recently so there isn't much current info on the latest and greatest version.

      Even so, I would be more interested in trying out COI than Fifth Floor. The restaurant group that runs Fifth Floor is just starting to sound too upscale chain to me at this point with close to 200 restaurants under their management. While some of COI makes me roll my eyes, it is the labor of love of a single chef - Daniel Patterson ... and though he has made me roll my eyes a lot in the past ... well, it just seems more personal to me ... be sure to ask which flowers you sniff and which you eat ... and don't wear your own cologne ... they will provide it.

      Zuni screams unique to SF. I like Coco500 a lot. Go to Cafe Gratitude for lunch or breakfast so you can go home and mock those crazy Californians.

      Aziza is a Cal-Moroccan restaurant that is often first mentioned as a unique to SF place. I also like 1550 Hyde for a place that has a nice wine list and a good neighborhood California vibe.

      K & L is a good wine shop. Coco500 is near it. Should you go to Aziza, on the way up before dinner you might check out Blackwells. Search Wine Shop in Places for more suggestions and reports.

      Hope you report back. This not only keeps info fresh on the board but if you make a return visit we will know your tastes better.

      1. re: rworange

        LOL. Good recommendation on Cafe Gratitude for a uniquely SF experience. How about Cafe Gratitude for lunch, and AsiaSF for dinner? :-)

        1. re: weem

          Good one ... never thought to add AsiaSF as a uniquely SF experience. Will have to include that in future recs ... yes ... that would be a day to remember ... the duel combo of Gratitude and AsiaSF

          Yaqo Homo took some time in asking detailed questions ... however, I think that will be my standard response from now on when we get those one liners ... "Coming to SFO What is unique to San Fran? We want real Frisco food. No tourist traps"

          To YH ... to keep you in the loop ... Cafe Gratitude is a vegetarian/vegan/raw restaurant. Some of the food is pretty good, especially the pie ... but it is the Gratitude attitude that gets hard to take ... it's like a restaurant that Steve Martin would dream up as a parody of California ... all the dishes have self-affirming names ... "I am deliriously happy" ... and the atmosphere is aggressively grateful ... "I am not exaggerating"
          http://www.cafegratitude.com/

          Currently on the menu ...
          - I AM ALL OF IT E3live with cucumber juice and negative hydrogen ions for increased absorbtion
          - I AM CHEERFUL live sun burger
          - I AM COMMITTED noni shots

          You have to picture that they server calls out the order to the kitchen ... I am committed ... well, someone should be. Sometimes I AM IN THE MOOD to put up with this stuff ... but usually not.

          Huh ... looking at the updated website it seems they added wedding and special event cakes to their menu ... "All desserts are made to order and are always organic, vegan and raw. No refined sugars ever used." As if weddings aren't enough of a chore to attend as is ... though the cakes DO look amazing.

          AsiaSF is a lounge with female impersonators. Lots of batchorlette parties there.

          1. re: rworange

            My daughter, who has some foodie creds and is no kind of vegetarian, says the food at Cafe Gratitude actually tastes good. But then she was SF born and Berkeley raised, whereas I, a born New Yorker, don't think I could go there without gagging.

            AsiaSF? The OP is from NY, not Wichita, and maybe above getting his jollies from tee-heeing at trannies.

            1. re: Xiao Yang

              I'm not sure I could go to Cafe Gratitude without giggling. I can't read any description of the place or food without that reaction.

              1. re: Paul H

                Aw, come on, Paul. You like COI. The food isn't at all in that league but presentation is kind of my problem with COI. I suspect I would be there the entire meal with a raised eyebrow, shooting side glances at the waitstaff to see if they were snickering at me stopping to smell the posies and I might tend to react in an uncouth manner. A friend and I almost got tossed from Boulevard for breaking into a giggling fit when they did a presentation that was on the silly side. I know, I know. COI is delicious ... I just can't get over some of the stuff I've read ... and yet I would go to El Bulli in a blink and roll in powdered sugar should I be asked.

              2. re: Xiao Yang

                I was Berkeley born and raised, and think that the food at Cafe Gratitude is not worth an SF to do list (to put it nicely). Walk by, look at the menu, see the funny names, and then go on to have a great lunch elsewhere.

                1. re: JasmineG

                  I don't think my daughter would make it a destination recommendation either, but her reaction seemed to be that it tasted good in spite of itself. She, by the way, has lived in New York for the past 10 years and tried it on a home visit, either out of curiosity or because her flaky mother took her there.

                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                    Yeah, I don't think the food is that good -- the salads are fine (but I've had much better salads for less money elsewhere), but the rest of the food...I didn't particularly enjoy it.

                2. re: Xiao Yang

                  The food is good ... it is all that gratitude being stuffed down my throat that makes me gag. Like I said, there are days I think it is fun to play along, but I wish they would just serve the food and drop the show.

                  I always think of the lyrics from an old show Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

                  "Timid Frieda
                  Won't return now
                  To the home where
                  They do not need her
                  But always feed her
                  Little lessons
                  And platitudes from cans"

                  I usually feel like doing something less than virtuous when I leave Gratitude.after lapping up the food with all those lessons and platitudes.

                  Then again, when I recommend Gratitude it is for the show as well as the food. It is unique.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Aha, a new Cafe Gratitude dish, I am Nauseous.

                  2. re: Xiao Yang

                    Perhaps it's a question of perspective, but I've always found AsiaSF to be more of a "laughing with" than a "laughing at" place.

                3. re: weem

                  AsiaSF is a tourist trap and not even uniquely SF: Lucky Cheng's in NYC has exactly the same gimmick.

              3. re: grayelf

                One minor error there, Globe closes at 11:30 on Sundays.

                At least two significant omissions: Zuni's open till midnight Tues.-Sat., 11pm Sun. Scala's Bistro is open till midnight daily.

                1. re: grayelf

                  I've been to a few of these, since I live in the neighborhood. Thai House Express is very good. There are loads of excellent Thai places in SF, but indeed Thai House is open late. Grubstake is basically a burger joint (quite good, but not necessarily a destination for a visiting foodie). Farmer Brown is a hip, upscale bar/restaurant that serves "neo-soul food". They take the whole local/seasonal mantra one step further by buying mostly from African-American farmers, and are reputed to have among the best fried chicken in the city. I think one lesson of the above list is that late-night restaurants tend to be found in areas with an active nightlife. And while I don't know where Yago Homo is staying, most of the touristy hotels seem to be located in areas (Union Square, Marina, etc.) that have active nightlives. So check in and wander around.

                  1. re: weem

                    Grubstake is a diner but the menu also includes Portugese dishes, so it's of significantly more culinary interest than the other diners in town. Though that's probably not a major draw for someone from NYC.

                    -----
                    Grubstake
                    1525 Pine St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      The only reason it got mentioned in this thread was because of the request for late night eats. Never been there very late, but I hear it gets a little wild after the bars close.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Yeah, Grubstake and the 24/7 Naan 'n' Curry probably have the most interesting food in town between 3 and 4am. Before that there are a few Mexican and Chinese places.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Use to be wacky back in the day..as in "Hello ladies..uh, okay, well hello ladies and gentlemen all in the same."

                  2. 1 through 4, there are recent and thorough topics. Use this "search this board" feature and search for title:late, title:"wine shop", title:"best burrito", title:"tasting menu".

                    Inexpensive ethnic lunch, do you have great Burmese in NY these days? If not, Larkin Express Deli. More ethnic lunch options: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/359937

                    1. 1) Late night dining - I keep hearing good things about Cav Wine Bar, although I haven't been there yet. Kitchen closes at midnight on Friday evening.
                      http://www.cavwinebar.com/

                      2) Wine Stores: Extensive discussion: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/374974

                      3) Burritos - there is no acknowledged single "best", and I don't really love burritos so I don't have a personal fave to recommend, so I'd look through one of these threads and see what appeals to you: http://www.chow.com/search?search%5Bq...

                      Aside from Burmese, I'd look into Yucatecan as well - good reviews on Poc-Chuc in the Mission. http://www.chow.com/places/16830

                      4) 4-star splurge: my personal upscale food experiences in SF haven't been very good (Michael Mina and Gary Danko included). I would either go up to Healdsburg in Sonoma for Cyrus, or I'd eliminate 4-star meals and have a second mid-range dinner instead.

                      5) I routinely recommend Bar Tartine for great Cal-Mediterranean food in a laid-back environment, and feedback from visitors (NYers in particular) has been very positive. Canteen is another favorite. Both have the uniquely Californian vibe.

                      1. Based on your suggestions thus far, I'm leaning against dining at a four-star restaurant at all, given the mixed reviews and the apparent, abundant high quality of less extravagant options (maybe we'll save our "special occasion" dinner for New York instead!)

                        I've done some searching on the Board for "Best Burrito" and have a couple questions. What is a "Mission"-style burrito? I found a thread that sung the praises of El Farolito. What style of burrito do they make? Sorry if I sound ignorant.

                        I'm also loving all the restaurant suggestions--particularly the California-oriented selections: upon inspection, Coco500, 1550 Hyde, Bar Tartine, Canteen all sound lovely.

                        Maybe we'll even go for late night burritos the first night, then go somewhere for drinks, or to a wine bar. On Saturday, I like the idea of checking out the Farmers market and Wine Merchant at Ferry Plaza.

                        These are wonderful ideas. Please keep them coming.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Yaqo Homo

                          A Mission Burrito is "all-in-one" in the sense that everything you might put on a plate to accompany the burrito is IN the burrito: rice, beans, avacado, everything. That takes one huge tortilla, and it's a dinner-sized hand-held snack. On menus it's often called a "super" burrito.

                          El Farolito serves both the "regular" and the "super" burrito.

                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                            The El Faro at Kearny near Pine serves a "baby burrito" that is big enough for a meal.

                          2. re: Yaqo Homo

                            Beyond the all-in-factor, there are also different choices for filling: carnitas, al pastor, tripas, tongue, chicken, grilled chicken, carne asada, plus veggie options and usually three kinds of beans (black, refried, pinto).

                            The contentiousness of "the best" comes from all the possible combos and that usually a place will do 2-3 really well and others possibly not so well, i.e., you go to one place for a certain thing like al pastor...another place for another thing like carne asada.

                            These will explain better; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Fran...

                            Here's an enormous list of places:
                            http://www.burritoeater.com/main.php
                            http://www.burritophile.com/directory...
                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Fran...

                            1. re: Yaqo Homo

                              For a New Yorker, I would go for a classic tin foil wrapped burrito, with something standard like carne asada, or shredded chicken. I've always found El Farolito to be more of a drunk at 2am type of place, but there are people who swear by it. You'll find it's difficult to pick through reviews, and what happens is, we all have multiple favorites, depending on mood and convenience, and some make certain things better then others. There's also this phenomenon where the places getting hyped the most was usually best 3 years before they got popular, then by the time there's lines out the door the die hards will say it's not the same....and they're not being pretentious, it probably isn't. I've been suggesting El Burrito Express as alternative to the Mission. Even on their off days, they get the flavors right, and it's a good crash course on what they're supposed to taste like. Tacos, and Tostadas would open up a whole other can of conversation.

                              I also usually suggest a stop by the Tartine bakery, and if you're a coffee drinker, then Ritual Coffee on Valencia.

                              There's been a lot of sandwich talk on both the NY and SF forum....and SF really tops New York in the sandwich dept. so you might grab one for the flight home or something like that.

                              I'd also encourage you to try some sourdough, buy an it's-it bar, and Calistoga water in the small glass bottles.

                              1. re: Yaqo Homo

                                The canonical "Mission-style burrito" as first served at El Faro is your choice of meat with rice, refried beans, and salsa in a steamed extra-large flour tortilla. A "super" typically adds cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. Old-school places offer brains and tongue among the meats. Modern variations include whole pinto or black beans in place of refried, tofu and/or vegetables in place of meat, and grilled rather than steamed tortillas.

                                This is in contrast to the original, smaller burrito from Sonora that was just meat (or just beans) and sauce in a flour tortilla.

                                More discussion on the General board with a link to a detailed history:

                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/321622

                              2. 1. Cav is a great wine bar with very good food right on Market St. Kitchen open until 12 on Friday. Bacar is another good choice. Late night menu from 11-12. Live music downstairs until 12:30. Great by the glass list. I love to order a bunch of appetizers and wine vs the whole dinner menu. Lots of seating at the bar.
                                2. Plumpjack in Noe Valley.
                                3. I won't pretend its the best, but Pancho Villa on 16th is a good choice. Very easy from Bart. Thai and Vietnamese are other good bets.
                                5. Add Range to your list of possibilities. Luella is a good bet. IMHO, Delfina is the one of the most uniquely SF restaurants.

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: Chris Rising

                                  There is also a Pancho Villa right next door to the Ferry Building.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    That franchise is owned and run by gringos. I'm don't know how PV does by Mission burritos, but in general I would hesitate to recommend PV (any branch) to someone from New York, which certainly has better taquerias than Pancho Villa these days.

                                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                                      PV use to be owned by a Mexicano family, at least into the early 90s. Did ownership change? I haven't been there for a long time.

                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        I was talking about the Pier 1 branch, which is separately owned and operated, essentially as a franchise. The owner of the former Pier 1 Deli bought the name, the recipes and some training from PV's owners.

                                        I may have misfired in referring to him as a "gringo", though, as the Pier 1 Deli/Pier 1 Pancho Villa owner's name is Tulio Silva (which sounds Brazilian to me).

                                        The scoop is here:

                                        http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                                          Ok, that explains why this PV shows up in Brazilian newspapers. I made a point of stopping there to see if there was something Brazilian on the menu ... nope.

                                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                                            Have you eaten at Silva's franchise and at one of the Espinoza brothers' places to compare the food?

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              No, but I am not a fan of the original PV, which is already too focused on "safe" choices and I can't imagine the Pier 1 outlet taking any less tentative an approach, due to its location. I'd be falling for a third-order simulacra, as it were.

                                              1. re: Xiao Yang

                                                Not a fan of PV but you do know what you're getting and it's consistent. They pretty much took the McDonald's operating manual and applied to the taqueria.

                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                I used to love the PV in the mission. I think it has gone downhill, I really don't like it much anymore but in a pinch it will do. The Pier 1 location however was not good at all the one time I visited. The ingredients were not fresh and the burrito was wrapped so loose it just fell apart.