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Unique, Weird and Unusual Dining in SF

Hello Chowhounders-
I am the editor of a travel magazine and just posted an article about unique dining experiences in San Francisco. I am curious to know what other spots locals from San Fran would recommend as a 'different' or unusual restaurant?


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  1. Well, if the criteria is simply "different or unusual" then Forbes Island is worth noting. Not too many people on this board would endorse the food. But nobody would argue that phoning a water taxi to motor you to a floating restaurant isn't unusual.

    Also, Joe's Cable Car Restaurant is pretty unique. http://www.joescablecar.com/

    9 Replies
    1. re: Shane Greenwood

      Many recent negative reviews.

      Joe's Cable Car
      4320 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94112

      1. re: wolfe

        Recent or not, has there -ever- been a positive review of Joe's?

      2. re: Shane Greenwood

        Heaven's ... not Forbes Island. Seriously, few self-respecting San Franciscans go there. Just brand a scarlett "T" on your forehead for 'tourist'.

        Just for reference the above link has these as the unique dining experiences

        Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market
        Boulettes Larder
        The Wok Shop
        Red Blossom Tea Company
        Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
        Local Tastes of the City Tour (XOX chocolates, Victoria Pastry, etc)
        Club Fugazi

        Well, I'm kind of torn here. On one hand, one doesn't want to have the local joints overrun by people flipping through guidebooks that tell them what dishes they must eat. On the other hand, I want people to enjoy the city as much as I do, have a good time and throw a little business worthy businesses. ... sooo ...

        - Blue Bottle Cafe
        A serious coffee maker with ... I forget ... a $50,000 coffee maker ... something expensive.

        - Aziza
        California cuisine with a morrocan touch.

        - The Sentinal
        Little sandwich/bakery shop by a top class chef.

        - Jai Yun
        A one-man unquie Chinese restaurant.

        - Cafe Gratitude
        A vegetarian / raw food restaurant with dishes with names like "I am beautiful", "I am estatic"

        - Food on Wheels
        The Korean food truck, the sushi truck, the Cuban sandwich truck, etc.

        A thousand little ethnic restaurants. Follow the boards and it will unearth a treasure trove.

        1. re: rworange

          What "above link"?

          There's no dining at The Wok Shop or Club Fugazi.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            The link in the OP. If you find the SF link, I'm assuming that is what the poster is referring to. There is no Chowhound restriction on food only in that article so those were the only other marginally food-related mentions. It was just a reference as to what the OP considers weird and unusual in SF.

            1. re: rworange

              The "Unique Dining Experiences in the City by the Bay" article I found mentions:

              Foreign Cinema
              Boudin Bistro Café
              Acqua [sic]
              Bar Crudo
              Yank Sing
              Tommy Toy's Cuisine Chinoise
              Pancho Villa Taqueria
              Taqueria Cancun
              Citizen Cake
              Mitchell's Ice Cream


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                bar crudo and yank sing are places i like a lot. unique? i don't know. i'll just keep going back.

        2. "If you're looking for lobster, tuna, salmon, cod, and more, try Acqua"
          It's Aqua,from the Latin for water. Not especially unique, weird or unusual but pricey.

          252 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

          13 Replies
          1. re: wolfe

            Plus, of "lobster, tuna, salmon, cod" only salmon is remotely indigenous.
            If you're going to be eating local seafood, that means huffing either up at
            least to Marshall or down to Princeton for barbecued oysters. Or hitting
            Tadich during sand dab season. And if you're heading towards Princeton
            may as well go a bit beyond to Pescadero and have a nice bowl of artichoke
            soup at Duarte's. And don't forget to stop in at Applejacks in La Honda to
            have a beer.

            That would be a weird day unapproachable anywhere else on earth. And tasty.

            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              I don't know what you mean by indigenous, but there are few places in the world that the fish swim up to the restaurant's back door. Having said that, there is plenty of cod and tuna in California waters.

              1. re: Xiao Yang

                XY and CTC
                I was only pointing out that some of the facts and opinions in the magazine article needed some better research. Not only was the restaurant name misspelled but Aqua was neither unusual or unique to San Francisco. As to weird,"It's the use of the word "weird" that makes this impossible and almost bordering on offensive." CTC 7/5/08

                1. re: wolfe

                  To be fair, the OP didn't use the word "weird" in either of the two articles by her I found on the website she writes for, just in her current request for additional suggestion. Offensive or not, I'd consider Supper Club to be "weird."

                  What's weird to me is that SF isn't shown as one of the "Most Popular" destinations on the website's main page, though San Diego, Denver and Portland are.

              2. re: Chuckles the Clone

                If you're going out by La Honda. You'd have to stop at Buck's of Woodside for weird and unusual too (with a heavy dose of eccentricity). For sure you'll have a hard time finding a more unusual decor. And the food is pretty darn good there. The homemade tortillas are killer.


                1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                  Coincidentally, today's Tablehopper newsletter reported that La Honda once again has a restaurant of its own, called Sullivan's, apparently servig British (Yorkshire) pub food. Scroll to last paragraph:


                2. re: wolfe

                  I think what's unusual about Aqua is the decor.

                  1. re: Kim Cooper

                    Are you sure you are not thinking of Farallon?

                    1. re: wolfe

                      Yes, you are right, I was probably thinking of Farallon. Oh well.
                      By the way, is Farallon any good? We are thinking of going there soon.

                      1. re: Kim Cooper

                        I've been to Farallon twice, most recently last April for a birthday lunch. Having dined there before, I really tried to convince my friend to go elsewhere, but he inisisted on going there. The decor is something to see, although way over the top and I really felt like I was in a Disney ride with the huge shells everywhere, despite the luxurious fabrics. The food is not good, which is especially sad, considering the expense. The amuse bouche was a fish pudding foam (yes, it was as bad as it sounds -- thinking of it still makes me shudder), the bread was dry and tasteless, the salad was fine, and the entrees fair. Even dessert was so-so. There are definitely better choices.

                        1. re: melisky

                          Just to go and experience the décor, I think the best thing you can do at Farallon is sit at the bar, have a cocktail or champagne and share some oysters; you don't spend nearly as much money and it can be a delightful experience.

                          1. re: Carrie 218

                            Regarding the decor, unless it's dark outside and you're sitting near the front of the room, you'll miss most of it. The larger back of room area is pretty basic. Agreed that the food is only so-so and has a disney aspect to it.

                          2. re: melisky

                            Even dessert was so-so? That's sad. Emily Luchetti is still the executive pastry chef. I guess she's more focused on her cookbooks or something.

                  2. Incanto is different/innovative in its use of offal.

                    AsiaSF would fall under the "unusual" category.

                    1. What's unique about Joe's Cable Car?

                      Previous topic on the same subject:


                      1 Reply
                      1. breakfast at primavera's stall saturday morning at the ferry building is pure san francisco. so is loading up at the best stands for breads, cheeses, meats, terrines, fruits, wines and so on for killer picnics that require walks (greenwich/filbert steps) or water travel (ferry to angel island, walk to the top of mt. livermore). hiking mt. tam to see wizard of oz is pretty cool. san francisco gets mass transit.

                        "j-church" to incanto is cool. the "f" to zuni works. neither is weird, both are wonderful. somehow, they capture the modest vibe that says, "san francisco" to me.

                        beer. san francisco gets beer. magnolia is ok. haven't been since the remodel (tried twice). there are others.

                        1. To save others a remarkable level of frustration navigating the site to find
                          the article in question, it's here. I think: http://www.52perfectdays.com/articles...

                          I'm not sure it's right to direct visitors to gimmicky "unusual" places rather than
                          towards good food. Generally you don't end up with both in the same place. Forbes
                          Island, for example, or that chowder in a bread bowl place.

                          One place I can think of that's simultaneously good and unlikely to be available
                          back home no matter where they come from is Greens. Beautiful, spooky at night
                          in the fog, out of the (tourist) way, waterfront location. Completely vegetarian but
                          very not-like-other-vegetarian restaurants.

                          Here's a long previous thread on the same subject which also collapses because
                          it's not clear what the question really is or why someone would be asking it:

                          1. Caffe Sport on Green in North Beach. I know, I know. I like it, so kill me.


                            5 Replies
                            1. re: zippo

                              Have you been recently? It seems there were never any reports about the place since the owner died a few years ago. I liked it too long ago. I'm just curious how it is these days.

                              1. re: rworange

                                yes, went there for lunch about 2 months ago after a long, long absence. they're open for lunch on Friday and Saturday and the prices are about 1/3rd less than the dinner menu.

                                had the Fritto Misto Combination (fried seafood combo with shrimp, mussels, crab legs, etc.) for about $11 before tax and tip. Good-sized serving that was too large for me to finish and I took home the leftovers. Came with a garlicky dip for the bread which could have been a meal in itself.

                                I went there frequently in the mid-1980's when chef Tony was there and the waiters were one of the best acts in the City. Over the years, I've taken a lot of out-of-town visitors there and they all loved it - the food and the quirky settings. Their Pasta con Pesto and the Scampi All' Antonio were must-haves.

                                If you make it over there, I'd be interested in what you think of it. It doesn't get the play that it deserves.

                                1. re: zippo


                                  Caffe Sport
                                  574 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                  1. re: zippo

                                    Is the main waiter still there? I sometimes got a big wet smooch from him when I showed up with out of town visitors.

                                    1. re: zippo

                                      We dined at Caffe Sport twice in July of this year. Although Tony will always be missed, the pesto and scampi remained the same as when he was there. We also sampled the Fritto Misto combination plate you mentioned. We have been dining there since the 70's and plan to continue.

                                2. Sam Wo's kinda unique and/or weird, even without Edsel.

                                  1. imho, the most truly unusual eating experience in SF is AsiaSF. The food is middling at best, but the accompanying entertainment, of asian transvestites doing runway walks down the bar, cannot be found anywhere else. Teatro Zinzani, as dinner theater also qualifies.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: sfoperalover

                                      won't be unique to SF for long, they're scheduled to open one in Hollywood

                                      edit: referring to Asia SF

                                      1. re: kc72

                                        Never was unique to SF. It started in Seattle

                                        It is amazing all the horrid 'unique and weird' recs are on this thread. Over half I would be warning people against going. How about "uniique, weird ..and GOOD".

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          It's the use of the word "weird" that makes this impossible and almost bordering on offensive.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Good restaurants don't need gimmicks, and if they're successful they don't stay unique for long.

                                        2. re: sfoperalover

                                          Transvestite / transsexual waitresses aren't unique to Asia SF. Lucky Cheng's in New York did it first, and they've got a branch in Las Vegas. There are similar places around the world in many cities with enough tourists to make it profitable to set traps.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Cf. Elf Scharfrichter and Simplicissimus in Munich, Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Eldorado in Berlin, and many others. With that sort of history as a backdrop, AsiaSF begins to look awfully provincial.

                                          2. re: sfoperalover

                                            Just got back from my first visit to Teatro Zinzanni. True, it's not technically unique to San Francisco, and I wouldn't even really call it weird. But it's definitely unusual. It's circus dinner theater. It's a longish evening, and not cheap. But my companions and I all found it thoroughly enjoyable. The entertainment flags periodically, though rarely, and the acrobats and dancers are uniformly breathtaking. The fleet of servers manages to maintain an upbeat attitude as they serve dishes to hundreds of people at once like a banquet, plus keeping our water filled and empty plates cleared, even as they are required to perform some choreography and wear funny outfits. All requests, including a replacement of the candle, were cheerfully attended to immediately. Our service only slipped at the dessert course as the coffee orders were screwed up (not to mention the desserts were served in near darkness while a singer sang in the spotlight, and I couldn't quite tell what I was eating until the lights came up - there was a single rose petal which looked in the dark like a strawberry slice, and caught a few at my table by surprise). Afterwards, our primary waitress talked to us about how much she loves her job, which was heartening. And, this being chowhounds.com, how was the food? Certainly not four-star. And I wouldn't recommend the place just for the food. But everyone liked their food. It's far better than you would expect for dinner theater, and I would have been satisfied eating it at a regular restaurant. All the various elements of the evening combined to make what I, in my humble opinion, considered a satisfying and worthwhile experience.

                                            1. re: weem


                                              Teatro ZinZanni
                                              29 San Pier, Francisco, CA

                                          3. I nominate Weird Fish to the list, simply because it has the word "weird" in it... Plus, I always enjoy the food (regular and vegan fish n' chips type of theme).

                                            Weird Fish
                                            2193 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: rahir

                                              When my friends and I showed up there five minutes before closing time, utterly and probably obnoxiously though it didn't seem that way to us, drunk after an opening down the street, the Weird Fish people were so nice to us. Served us dinner. Offered dessert. Didn't actually kick us out an hour later but maybe turned some bad music on. I try very hard to not be "that guy" but sometimes despite everything I guess I am. But now I can provide first-hand reportage that the staff at Weird Fish are complete pros. Also -- real tasty fish and chips.

                                              Yeah, this would be an excellent addition to whatever list Alexa is compiling.

                                              1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                                We once stayed too late at a restaurant (only a little though) and they put, very loud, "A Hard Day's Night" on the stereo....

                                            2. You really haven't had the San Francisco experience without enjoying happy hour at the Tonga Room....


                                              1. I know I'm coming late to this thread, but it's a fun one.

                                                My favorite for unusual and fun: It's Tops on Market @ McCoppin - great buckwheat waffles made with a 50-year old waffle iron, owned by the daughter of the guy who owned it in the '50s, '50s decor that isn't retro, just ancient, and a great juke box.

                                                1. Thanks for all the amazing suggestions. What a fun discussion.

                                                  1. didn't samantha brown go to some place where you sit on beds to eat in her recent show on SF? and there travsvestites performing??? i wasn't paying that close attention so don't know the name. looked intersting tho and food looked great

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: toncasmo

                                                      The trannies were probably AsiaSF, and you dine on beds at supperclub.

                                                      1. re: toncasmo

                                                        The one in the show was SupperClub in SOMA. And that's part of a chain which started off in the Netherlands.

                                                        657 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                                      2. When I first read this post, I just assumed the OP meant an unusual dining experience, not unusual food. Immediately, I thought of Opaque, where people dine in complete blackness and are served by blind waiters. It's hardly unique to SF, though, as it's part of a California chain -- http://www.darkdining.com and I first heard of the concept in Switzerland, where there's a similar place in Zurich, I think.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: melisky

                                                          Oh, man, I had never heard of Opaque, and it sounds like an amazing experience. Just browsed their website. Frankly, I'm a little intimidated by it. I proposed it to a couple of my foodie friends, and they had similar reactions. I don't care if it's a chain or inspired by some other place (it's not like I've been to Zurich). Have you been? How was it?

                                                          1. re: weem

                                                            A good friend of mine (and professional food writer) went to the Los Angeles version and his review is here: http://www.lacitybeat.com/cms/story/d...

                                                            After lengthy discussions with him about it, I'm not going to bother. Seems for $99, you are getting more of an experience than truly remarkable food.

                                                            1. re: Carrie 218

                                                              i guess the judging on Iron Chef can eliminate the points for plating.

                                                            2. re: weem

                                                              I have not been there, but there are several reviews on Yelp.com that are mixed. Even if people didn't like the food, they agreed that it was a new experience.

                                                          2. El Toreador in West Portal. I like the food but you go to look at all the crazy stuff and read the funky placemats. Prices are good for what you get so you don't break the bank by eating there.

                                                            1. Two recent favorites in the city for me are Eiji on 317 Sanchez Street serving pretty authentic Japanese food and Yoshi's Jazz Club on 1330 Fillmore that features fusion Japanese (they call it kaiseki but it's not the kaiseki I'm familiar with in Japan). If you go to Eiji, check out the home-made tofu, fresh sashimi and sushi and don't forget to look on their board for seasonal specialties, Outstanding dishes at Yoshi's include seasonal organic vegetables roasted on cedar paper and innovative makizushi such as kimono and sarusa.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: moriminamimachikko


                                                                Restaurant Eiji
                                                                317 Sanchez St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                                                                Yoshi's Jazz Club & Japanese Restaurant
                                                                1330 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA

                                                                1. re: moriminamimachikko

                                                                  If you had to choose between Eiji on 317 Sanchez Street and Yoshi's Jazz Club on 1330 Fillmore which would it be? Craving Japanese and want something really fun and delicious.

                                                                2. How about Foreign Cinema? http://www.foreigncinema.com/home.html

                                                                  My cousin told me about it recently. I have yet to check it out myself. It looks to be a unique experience with the foreign film playing during your meal. I will be stopping by soon during a nice warm summer night.


                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Lando

                                                                    This is an amazing thread. Was wondering if someone could give an update and share what the newest great 'unique', 'odd' & 'weird' restaurants are still in biz and which new ones should be added to the list.

                                                                  2. The Supperclub....One of my favorites. Always changing, Great food, unique shows throughout the night and turns into a nightclub after dinner.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Foodiephotography

                                                                      "supperclub is a restaurant, cocktailbar, club, gallery and experimental free state all rolled into one whether it's in Istanbul, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London or Dubai."
                                                                      How can it be unique if it's a chain?

                                                                      1. re: Foodiephotography

                                                                        I have been to Supperclub twice, but each time it was a gougey experience (in particular the wine is really expensive and the pricing isn't clear) and I feel like there are better/more interesting variety shows for cheaper in the Castro and elsewhere.