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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.

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          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. The original comment has been removed