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Casual, but Memorable rec's for 1 night in S.F.?

Okay, I'll keep it brief as possible. 3 guys (one is 17), arriving in S.F. on a Thursday late morning, and leaving the next morning. We're staying in Japantown, but will have BART passes to get us around. I've searched the boards high and low, and have found lots of rec's for places like Delfina, A16, Slanted Door, etc. Those places look nice, but the experience would be wasted on 2 of the 3 of us. We like good food, but we aren't snobby about it.

I'm after a recommendation for a "nice, memorable meal" - not the best meal in town. If those places above are considered "10's" then I'm looking for 6-8's. Nothing too fancy, though we aren't picky either. I was hoping something like Lou's Pier 47 or Scoma's, but seems like everyone says NOT to eat along the wharf. As far as type of food goes, I'd say it doesn't matter too much as long as it's good and it's a neat place, or has a neat view, etc... I don't want the kid thinking the meal was memorable because he had to eat oysters or something "weird".

I'd even be open to a chain type restaraunt as long as it was consistently good, and memorable. Sorry so vague, but at this point I'm just ready for someone to say "Go here ____" OR - any rec's of where to NOT go (like Joe's Cable Car, apparently!).


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  1. Trattoria Contadina might fit the bill. It puts you in in a fun part of town. Or maybe consider one of the Chinatown standards, like Great Eastern.

    Trattoria Contadina
    1800 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94133

    1. A16 and Delfina are very casual, lively, unpretentious places with great food. What specifically makes you wary of them?

      Maybe you could name some restaurants in other cities that are what you're looking for?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        A16, the menu seems a little "esoteric" for our tastes - though I'm sure it's good food.

        Delfina looks like a possibility, but where's the lasagne??? I'm just afraid that it'll be one of those places that charge $30 or a 3oz piece of meat and 2 sticks of asparagus. Is it "reasonably priced for what it is"???

      2. You fellas might want to try Cha Cha Cha on Haight St. In my opinion, it's a place where I take my buddies to everytime we head to the city. They don't take reservations though. As for the atmosphere, it's pretty different from the spots you listed. It's hard to explain, but maybe their website has pics. The experience will be memorable. Cajun Shrimp is a must order. www.cha3.com


        1 Reply
        1. re: Lando

          As fun as Cha Cha Cha is, the 17 yo might feel left out as the Sangria is what makes the food better.

          Some suggestions would be Thai House Express on Larking or Shalimar at Polk. Those will probably not break the bank but still offer delicious food options.

        2. Excellent! This is more the kind of recommendations I was looking for! Thanks a million!

          1 Reply
          1. re: honda21

            Tommaso is in a fun part of town, North Beach and Chinatown,
            and has lasagna and good pizza.

          2. I think you could have a great meal at Houston's (near Fish Wharf) along the Embarcadero. The menu has something for everyone, great steaks, great ribs and they are generous so you will not leave hungry. In the bar area, there are screens tuned to sports but it's not intrusive.
            If you really want to go to the wharf, Scoma's has really fresh fish, generous, right on the water but they don't take reservations.
            For great lasagne (fresh made pasta!) go to Umbria at the corner of 2nd & Howard.
            (My daughter took her friend to Bar Bambino -- it was $120 -- small plates, and they left hungry -- I don't go to those places.)

            1. Scoma's has great fish, so-so everthing else. It doesn't have the best view.Mostly it looks out on a small marina. They do have a great three-course lunch that lasts till 3:30 and only costs $22.

              If you are considering Houston's you might also consider Boudin Cafe which has a much, much better view.

              You could also hop the ferry to Tiburon and eat at Sam's. Not food greatness but a great place to sit on the water and stellar view of the city.

              I haven't been there yet but Poncho's in Tiburon is supposed to have good Salvadoran food.

              It might be fun to take a boat ride to Tiburon and see the city from a different viewpoint.

              In North Beach, Capp's Corner has reasonable dinners and it might be fun to spend some time in North Beach.

              Tadich Grill is an old time seafood joint

              1. Go to Fog City Diner. It's not the greatest food that San Francisco has to offer, but the setting is fun, the food is consistent and pretty good, and it's near the water. There's a good burger on the menu for the kid, and a good bar for the ones over 21.

                Actually, or you could go to Town Hall. The food isn't super, but it's consistently a 6 or so, and sometimes better, and the menu is pretty easy going, and the portions are big. The burger is great, the jalepeno corn sticks are good, and they have good cocktails.

                1. Actually, 3 of the first 4 restaurants I thought of were a16, Delfina, and Slanted Door. I think you may have gotten the wrong impression of those restaurants... they are "favorites" but by no means "10's" -- they are casual and young (though a16 people do try to look sharp when they go). They are all (well A16 and Delfina, anyway) less expensive than Scoma's. Slanted Door has an amazing view of the Bay Bridge.

                  The other restauarnt that came to mind was Laiola. Modern Spanish, mostly small plates, mostly bar seating. http://www.laiola.com/

                  There is a great hole-in-the-wall Italian place in North Beech (great area) called L'Osteria del Forno: http://www.losteriadelforno.com/info/...

                  You guys might also enjoy nopa. VERY casual. Of course, the menu is a bit more modern, so perhaps that is not what you are going for: http://www.nopasf.com/

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: whiner

                    I think we need to make a distinction between, shall we call it, trendy-casual and casual. A-16, Incanto, or Zuni would be “trendy casual”, and Tommaso’s and Capp’s Corner casual.

                    Given you comment about “one of those places that charge $30 or a 3oz piece of meat and 2 sticks of asparagus” I’d go with the casual recs.

                    1. re: Calvinist

                      Capp's is a lot of food for the $ but I've never enjoyed it. My own home cooking tastes much better; when I go out, I want something a little more special.

                      1. re: walker

                        Ok - re-capp from the OP ...

                        - Delfina, A16, Slanted Door, etc. Those places look nice, but the experience would be wasted on 2 of the 3 of us.

                        - Nothing too fancy, though we aren't picky either.

                        - I was hoping something like Lou's Pier 47 or Scoma's

                        - as long as it's good and it's a neat place, or has a neat view, etc

                        - I don't want the kid thinking the meal was memorable because he had to eat oysters or something "weird".

                        - I'd even be open to a chain type restaraunt as long as it was consistently good, and memorable.

                        - any rec's of where to NOT go (like Joe's Cable Car, apparently!).

                        Living day in and out with mainly non-chowhounds ... my efforts to introduce them to what I considered good food finally pissed me off. I wasn't having a good time. They weren't having a good time. A horrible experinience at Yank Sing finally broke me and I swore when eating with them I would make THEM happy and eat out myself to make me happy.

                        SOME 17 year olds are not ... uh, tactful. One teen, living on frozen dinners and fast food called her aunt's home-made pot roast delicious but weird ... "You make such weird dishes".

                        The OP only knows how much the 17 year old 'guy' would put up with ... you can get away with a little more with teen girls. The menus for A16, Slanted Door ... etc ... can be found in the Place records.

                        I was just trying to think of places I would take my non-chowhounds. Slanted Door would be totally lost on them ... view or no view. A-16 ... never. Zuni ... well, that is great chicken but I'm not sure how they would react to the vibe.

                        L'Osteria del Forno sounds like a good idea.

                        Come on ... there must be food-worthy places out there that are casual and memoralbe and the food is ok ... maybe Tadich with its old-time SF vibe. I'm even at this point thinking they could just jump on the a Geary bus and go to the Cliff House. Good view and tourists seem to like it.

                        I was thinking the Mission, but I know teens who think any Mexican food outside of Taco Bell or ... at a real stretch ... Chipotle ... is weird.

                        To the OP, the reason people get warned away from Fisherman's Wharf is that the prices are at least double of anywhere else with the quality being half as good, with a few exceptions. Scoma's and Alioto's are about as good as I've found to date with Scoma's having the better fish and Alioto's the better view ... but even then ... Tadich with no view would be a better choice in that category.

                        SF MUST have SOME neat, casual, memorable places with good food.

                        Where ARE you from, honda21 and what are restaurants the group likes to eat at in that neck of the woods?

                  2. Wow... lots of info to take in! That last re-cap post really hit the nail on the head. I think I should be able to narrow it down to a few of these after looking at the websites. I need to see who takes reservations (I like reservations), and see who's near the BART stops, and check out the menus. Thanks again for the excellent information I've been looking for for weeks!

                    1. ===Okay, I've got it narrowed down. Upon arrival in town Thursday, we'll be looking for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning. Here's what I'm looking at:
                      Lunch: Boudin Bistro; Fog City Diner
                      Dinner: Trattoria Contadina; Town Hall; Nopa; and Slanted Door if none of those 3 work out.
                      Breakfast: Mama's or Dotties True Blue Cafe.

                      Any final thoughts? Even if not, this has been a great thread and you all have been a tremendous help! Thank you!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: honda21

                        Boudin Bistro has the MUCH better view and less fussy food.

                        In Fisherman's Wharf, the maritime museum is a nice stop. You get to board old ships. Also there are sea lions off Pier 39 that are fun to watch You just missed the latest attraction of the dead whale they hauled out from under one of the piers. If you decide on a boat ride, consider the ferries to Tiburon or Sausalito unless having "California here I come" blared over loud speakers is your idea of fun. The commuter ferries are more relaxing and ... same bay. The Alcatraz tour is ok.

                        Havent been to any of the three for dinner. Nopa is closest to your hotel. That being said, given the Town Hall and Nopa choices I'd consider Zuni.

                        I like Mama's better than Dottie's. It is in North Beach which is more scenic than the Tenderloin and I think the food is a bit better. Either place try to get there at opening.

                        Should you get pressed for time, halfway up the hill from your hotel on Fillmore is La Boulange which has a few breakfast dishes and pastries from a popular local French bakery , Bay Breads.

                        Stay away from breakfast places called Lori's. Sears or Mel's.

                        1. re: honda21

                          Your dinner choices are in three very different neighborhoods with Trattoria Contadina probably being in the liveliest (North Beach). Town Hall locale is pretty dead at night but not far from the Embarcadero. Others can chime about this as well as Nopa. Unrelated thread recently had suggestions of Nopa & Town Hall. So pretty similar I'm guessing, haven't been to Nopa.

                          If you go to Town Hall (we've taken our 9 & 12 year old daughters because of the relatively "safe" menu), I recommend the "ham & cheese toast with poached egg & jalapeno cream sauce" for the foodie. Who knows, the others may lap up that cream sauce (basically like an eggs benedict but nicer). Also had the fried chicken & the beef short ribs and can recommend them. Do not get the risotto. Last but not in the least, their chocolate pot de creme dessert imho is worth the visit alone.

                          1. re: honda21

                            Of your dinner options I cannot stress enough how much I think you would prefer Slanted Door for the overall experience. I also do like the ideas of Nopa and Town Hall. Nopa, imo, has better food than Town Hall and is certainly in a livelier spot. However, the atmosphere at Town Hall may be more to your liking. Super-super laid back, chill, no tablecloths, jean-and-a-t-shirt casual, but a really really nice restauarant, too. Trattoria Contadina is a nice place, but EVERY city has one of these tyopes of quasi-generic quasi-Northern Italian bistros -- other than that it is a few blocks from the heart of North Beach, I really don't think there is anything special about it.

                            Also, I would take Boudin over Fog City for lunch.

                          2. Not recommending anything specific, but there were some suggestions for places in North Beach and Haight St, both of which are fun neighborhoods to take a stroll in (especially Haight St for the 17yr old).

                            Also, Japantown isn't that close to BART. While BART is useful for getting into/out of SF proper, Muni is a far better option within the city:

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: aburitoro

                              Yeah, this is another key point -- it won't really do you good to check to see which restaurants are near BART stations, since you're not really staying near a BART station. It will be more useful to check out the above Muni map, and see where you're near, and see where it's easier to get to.