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Visiting SF 10/31: Opinions for Dining on Our Trip?

Some friends of mine and I visiting San Francisco from Los Angeles over Halloween weekend. (We’re actually not coming for any Halloweeen festivities but for the Madonna concert in Oakland on November 1.) We’re staying in Japantown to avoid any Halloween craziness and hopefully as much of the Critical Mass chaos as possible on the evening of the 31st. It’s my first trip north of San Simeon, and I’m looking forward to a lot of things in San Francisco, but nothing so much as the food.

My other friends aren’t as hardcore foodies as I am, and none of us want to drop tons of money or go anywhere terribly formal. I’d love to experience Chez Panisse and the Gourmet Ghetto or to go out to Napa for the French Laundry, but this isn’t that trip. Gary Danko will have to wait for another day. I’ve looked for some places, and I thought I might throw them past you for your opinions, and other suggestions within what we’re looking for are great, too.

For lunch Friday, I really want to try BURMA SUPERSTAR on the way to seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. Burmese food isn’t something common in L.A., and the remarks for the place – good prices, popular with locals – make it sound exactly like the sort of place we’d like to experience. Is it worth the trek?

For dinner Friday night, our hotel is walking distance to both SPQR and the new Pacific Heights branch of PIZZERIA DELFINA. We had a friend of ours recently move to South San Francisco, and one of her favorite restaurants in L.A. was Pizzeria Mozza. Pizzeria Delfina sounds like it’s got a similar vibe and would be fun for a homesick Angeleno meeting friends. SPQR also looks really good, too, but more pricey. (Neither the Fillmore branches of Dosa or Out the Door look like they will be open in time for our visit.) We get enough Japanese food in L.A., so we’re not really looking for that, despite being in Japantown.

Both places are walk-in only, too. What time should we get there to make a 10:30 reservation at BOURBON & BRANCH? Is Bourbon & Branch worth the visit? How about TOSCA CAFÉ?

One friend is very particular about breakfasts; she likes big, stick-to-your-ribs type breakfasts to start the day. Both DOTTIE’S TRUE BLUE CAFÉ and MAMA’S sound like what she’s looking for, though both also seem like a bit of a chore (especially for a late-riser). Which is better? How much of a hassle are they? How is TARTINE? And are there any hidden alternatives? (Please don’t worry about my telling other obnoxious Angelenos about your secret places. We’ll be on our best behavior, and I promise I won’t tell.)

Haight-Ashbury is on the agenda around lunchtime; I don't know what's there, but one friend wants to check it out. What is there to eat in that part of town? All I know is, I want to go to BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE…

What is best in the Ferry Building? Is The Slanted Door really so good, or is it just overpriced and overdressed? What is the deal with TAYLOR’S REFRESHER? On paper, it looks like just a fast food joint, but there must be more to it. (I'm thinking of having us stop there before the concert.)

More recommendations are welcome. We’re looking for laid-back, not too expensive, easy to just drop into (i.e., not needing reservations if possible), kind of fun, unique, places San Francisco locals would go, not tourists. Thanks for your help, and I’m looking forward to your replies!

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  1. Kudos for doing your homework! I think Burma Superstar is a good choice for lunch, although you should read some of the discussions about it to help with ordering (I can't get the places link to work this morning, so check out the info under the "Restaurants and Bars" tab at the top of the page).

    If you're going over to Oakland for the concert anyway, you might want to think about checking out options there -- they'll certainly be "where the locals go" and less touristy! If your homesick friend is coming with you (or even if she isn't), you might enjoy Pizzaiolo, for example. I think Slanted Door doesn't have too much exceptional to offer to someone from LA.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      We're going to Oracle Arena by BART, so any Oakland dining would need to be near the train. I will look into Pizzaiolo - thanks for the recommendation!

      1. re: Woolsey

        Stuff that's near the train. There's some Mexican stuff including taco trucks near Fruitvale (which is on the train line you'll be taking), but there have been a number of heated debates on this board about the safety of the neighborhood at night.

        Oakland Chinatown isn't too far from Lake Merritt, although it's closer to 12th St if you don't mind a slight detour. Luka's is near 19th St Station, and there are lots of good options in Rockridge, but these are also detours from the direct line from SF to the Arena. Not saying don't go, but if I was planning I'd want to know.

        FWIW, Pizzaiolo is 11 blocks from the BART, and last time I checked, didn't take reservations.

    2. Definitely go to Burma Superstar, only be prepared to wait for a table. The best times to go are right when they open or between lunch and dinner, though recent experience suggests you may endure a short wait even then.

      Bourbon and Branch is absolutely worth going to. It's one of those places that seems like a gimmick but is actually quite cool. Also Tosca is the kind of place you might be prepared to hate, based on it's celebrity hangout rep, but have a drink there and it's hard not to love it. It's the real deal.

      SPQR is a very small restaurant with exceptional food. The menu is rather limited, being strongest on small plates. Again, get there near opening time, (11:30 lunch or 5:30 Dinner) and get seated immediately, or prepare to wait. Also, if you have more than four people, seating becomes more of a problem. Many of the tables are two-tops and there is a conter area where two can often squeeze in.

      Tartine is every bit as good as everyone says and worth a pilgrimage. While there, grab a slice at Pizzeria Delfina or better yet, eat Dinner at Delfina itself.

      Taylor' s Refresher probably won't impress someone steeped in LA burger stand culture. The one in St. Helena is pretty good, though infuriatingly pricey. The one at the Ferry Bldg. is really worth missing.

      Blue Bottle coffee is fine, but I won't bother going out of my way for it. We have lots of great coffee here. But, if that's what you want to do, head on over to Hayes Valley, stand in line for a cup with the rest of the hipsters, then take if over to Hayes Street and do some shopping!

      1. Haight-Ashbury hasn't really grown as fast with the food biz as other neighborhoods, but you can try Alembic Bar (they do serve lunch I believe) and Magnolia Pub, which is an old-time restaurant that recently went through a renovation.

        You should definitely visit the Ferry Building, just to see the architecture and browse the shops. If you like oysters, you should try to get a seat at Hog's Island. This is the season for oysters, so would be worth it.

        Tartine is a fun place to check out, although a bit out of the neighborhoods you described. But the good thing is it's on the same street at Pizzeria Delfina/main Delfina restaurant, Bi-Rite Market and Bi-Rite creamery. I bet you could convince your friends to trek out there for a good baked goods from Tartine followed by creative ice cream flavors!

        1. Burma Superstar is certainly worth the trip if you have a car. Besides, you are half way there in Japantown.

          One suggestion for a "stick-to-your-ribs type breakfast" would be the Pork Store in the Height. Its popular with late rising locals, but the wait is rarely long. Also in the upper Height is a fun tapas place called Cha-Ca-Cha, which gets dissed by some critics for its lack of authenticity. But after your second or third sangria you wont care much about that.

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

          Pork Store Cafe
          1451 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

          Cha Cha Cha
          1801 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

          1 Reply
          1. re: Civil Bear

            Hearty second for Pork Store Cafe, doubt you could find a more stick to your ribs type place.

          2. Thanks for the replies so far, guys! Burma Superstar and Tartine (which was sort of on the margins) are must-visits for us. And, unless a bunch of people rush the thread with raves, Taylor's Refresher and The Slanted Door/Out the Door are squarely off the list.

            We're actually visiting Haight-Ashbury in the morning/daytime, not evening, so the recommendation for breakfast at The Pork Store sounds good. I've read about Kate's Kitchen in the area, too, but it doesn't seem worth the line. However, if we stray toward Alamo Square/Hayes Valley toward lunch, is there anywhere of note to dine?

            Any opinions on Pizzeria Delfina? Is there anything else in walking distance of Japantown/Fillmore of note?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Woolsey

              If you are looking to have lunch in Hayes Valley, you might want to go to Zuni Cafe or Absinthe. Both are open for lunch, both have great bars to get you primed for that Madonna concert (though I give Absinthe the edge on drinks) and both have excellent food and ambiance. You will leave either place very happy...

            2. I'd add Aziza to the list since you're staying in Japantown and that's half there from downtown, another mile from Burma Superstar. Not going to find anything like it in LA. Reasonably priced all things considered. $50 tasting menu.

              1. I think I have a more refined dining itinerary for our trip. Here it is:


                Lunch: BURMA SUPERSTAR
                Dinner: SPQR or PIZZERIA DELFINA (Pacific Heights) - leaning heavily toward SPQR
                Drinks: BOURBON & BRANCH


                Breakfast: TARTINE
                Visiting the Ferry Building Marketplace, Chinatown, and North Beach
                Late Lunch: GIORDANO BROS.


                Breakfast: PORK STORE
                Lunch: ZUNI CAFÉ

                I'm not quite sure about whether we'll stop at Giordano Bros., though it seems like a San Francisco landmark sort of place, fun and affordable. There seems to be no sort of consensus about where to eat in Chinatown - and, frankly, L.A. has a Chinatown, as well as all the amazing food in the San Gabriel Valley communities like Monterey Park. Is there anywhere with really great Chinese food (or just atmosphere) that should be visited? Or what is the place to be visited in North Beach? It's hard to cut through the static on these areas.

                And is the famous chicken served at lunch at Zuni? Yeah, yeah, I'm a tourist, but that's what I want to have when I go...

                15 Replies
                1. re: Woolsey

                  Scrap Giordano Bros. Saturday. I cannot for the life of me figure out where to eat in the Chinatown/North Beach/Nob Hill area. (Tadich Grill would be nice to visit if it didn't cost an arm and a leg.) Any help here would be nice. We may end up back in Japantown at a noodle joint...

                  1. re: Woolsey

                    Giordano Bros is worth a stop if you're there, but not a destination stop.

                    For Chinese food, you're right that you'll do as well in SGV. The exception might be Koi Palace in Daly City (just south of SF, on the way from SFO). A few Angelenos even say it's a cut above anything in SGV. It's expensive and crowded however. In Chinatown, R&G Lounge usually gets mentioned for a nicer place.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      We're going to be on transit, so it will narrow our options. Also, we're limited with time and will be looking to stay in the city.

                      As for atmosphere, I think we're less concerned with "nice" as opposed to "unique."

                    2. re: Woolsey

                      SF has great sandwiches but I wouldn't go out of my way for Giordano. If you're going to the Ferry Building you might get a sandwich with Molinari's Coppa while there to take home with you for a snack.

                      Tadich Grill isn't super pricey. If you can handle Zuni you can handle Tadich.

                      I'd skip Pork Store. Personally I think it's mediocre diner food and really nothing special for someone coming from LA. I mean it's an okay breakfast, but nothing memorable. You might replace it with Momma's or Canteen.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Agreed, I'd definitely recommend Canteen for breakfast.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          True that the Pork Store is not gourmet like Canteen, but I believe the call was for a big stick-to-your-ribs type place with less hassle. And you must admit that the convenient Haight location, if not the food, is rather unique.

                          1. re: Civil Bear

                            The Haight location is actually perfect for where we're going that day, so the Pork Store is almost certainly just what we're looking for. Canteen seems nice but rather fancy; since we're going to Tartine the morning before, I think Canteen will wait for another visit, but I'm very glad to know about it.

                            1. re: Woolsey

                              See, that's what I love about Canteen, the food is a little upscale, but the setting is the least fancy you can imagine. It's one of the only in San Francisco kinds of places -- tiniest little restaurant and kitchen that you can imagine, along with fantastic food.

                              1. re: JasmineG

                                Ah. Maybe it's just the elegant little website that gave the impression. (Sadly, the breakfast/brunch offerings aren't listed, but dinner looks really good.) Canteen is definitely on my radar, and, with so many great dining options overflowing my list just for breakfast, I have a feeling I'm going to come back to try them very soon.

                        2. re: Woolsey

                          I would highly recommend Tadich Grill for a unique San Francisco institution, and the prices are actually fairly reasonable for a white tablecloth type place. It would be hard to get more "San Francisco" than ordering a bowl of Cioppino and a side of sourdough at Tadich!

                          1. re: Civil Bear

                            Zuni is off for time reasons Sunday, so Tadich may be on...

                            1. re: Woolsey

                              Tadich is closed Sundays. It's a very good, only-in-SF kind of place though, so maybe you should have your late lunch there on Saturday. Lots of good food at Ferry Plaza market on Saturday morning too, but I can understand your wanting to go to Tartine.

                              1. re: Steve Green

                                Yeah, we're in that area Saturday, and we're not going to have time for Zuni on Sunday - it's all coming together as I meticulously overplan...

                        3. re: Woolsey

                          I would push for SPQR over Pizzeria Delfina because I think it's pretty unique to SF. PD can be kept in your back pocket if something falls through and you want dinner/lunch close to the hotel.

                          Your instinct to avoid Japanese here is a good one. We have good Japanese, but LA has better so you won't be enhancing your trip by having it.

                          From Japantown, it's an easy walk to Polk as well. There you have Cafe Zitouna for Tunisian, a couple wine bars (Amelie and SNOB close to the hotel), Tajine, an outpost of Shalimar (though not as good as the Tenderloin). Further down (near Broadway) is a good place to window shop. If you get there, go to the Candy Store for good old-fashioned candies.

                          Also for drinks, it's a quick cab ride from the hotel to NOPA. (or you can take the 38 Geary to the 24 Divisadero pretty quickly). Fantastic drinks. I love sitting at the bar or community table and getting a cocktail and snacks.

                          One more: Spruce is an expensive place that's about a mile from the hotel up Sacramento. BUT if you're craving a great burger ($14) and great cocktails, it's fun to go sit at the bar there and have duck fat fries.

                          Sorry if I confused the conversation by giving you lots more options, but I just wanted to give you a picture of what's around the hotel.

                          1. re: Woolsey

                            Oh, and one more thing.

                            Brenda's is close-ish to the hotel. I haven't been there, but hear it's great for breakfast/brunch. Maybe Windy or someone else who has been can pipe up with whether it's worth swapping out Pork Store for Brenda's.

                          2. Another question - Is Bi-Rite Creamery worth the time?

                            1 Reply