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Recent Boston Transplants Make Bad Choices in SF

Hi Hounds,

I desperately need your help! My boyfriend and I recently located to SF from Boston. We love our new city - nice people, great weather, kick-ass farmers markets. However, we're stumbling when it comes to eating out. I KNOW there is incredible food here, but we just can't seem to find it and have had one mediocre meal after another.

A few of the places we've tried are: Jitlada and Assab (2 brights spots), Paxti's (realized I don't love Chicago-style pizza), Absinthe (decent), On the Bridge and Shabusen (meh), Pizzaria Orgasmica ($30 for a pizza??!), and Borobudur (just okay).

We live in the Lower Pacific Heights/Japantown/Hayes Valley area and we're looking for:

1. A few go-to places for those nights when we don't want to cook (For those familiar with the Boston scene, our regular haunts were Taiwan Cafe, Rod Dee, James Gate, Reef Cafe, Cafe Belo, Vee Vee, Cafe D, etc) These are the places that are inexpensive and very, very rarely let you down. Ideally they are in the neighborhood, but they don't have to be.

2. The place(s) you take your parents (or your parents take you). These are a bit nicer than your regular spots and have well-prepared food that price-wise won't freak out the parents (in Boston, this was Lala Rokh, 10 Tables, Penang, Aquitaine, Helmand, etc).

3. Neighborhood joints that deliver for when we can't muster up the energy to leave the house.

4. A great neighborhood bar - comfortable space not filled with meat heads or scene-sters. Good beer and wine list.

Any advice will be most welcome and appreciated! Thank you!

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  1. You might scroll through the Chow Digest (and sign up for the email). While it does cover the whole Bay Area, there's quite a a bit on SF.

    Here's a search of the Places database for Japantown

    There should be reports linked to many of these places. You can change the search critera to Pacific Heights or Hayes Valley for those neighborhoods.

    It is just a start. Hope you report back on where you go so we get familiar with what you like .. and don't

    BTW ... having grown up in New England, should you ever get a craving for Lobster or fried clams, there's Woodhouse and North Point Lobster Shack.

    Grubhub.com is great for finding places that deliver to your zipcode.Waiter on Wheels is a paid delivery service should you be interested.

    1. For a neighborhood bar, you might want to check out Solstice @California&Divisadero. No promises it will be to your taste, but it is worth a look.

      If you want to give deep dish pizza another try, go to Little Star (on Divisadero near McAllister). They make a thin crust pie as well, but the deep dish is awfully good.

      1. I used to live in Boston, and I particularly loved Taiwan Cafe and Reef Cafe.

        Here is a link to a post of top 10 tastes for 2007. Several of my favorites are listed there in my post.

        Other places that come to mind, which I have eaten in more recently:

        Category 1: Cafe Zitouna, Sultan, Il Borgo, Cordon Bleu, Shanghai Dumpling King, Spices II, Layaly, Poc Chuc (or Popul Vuh?), El Delfin, Lotus Garden, Angkor Borei, Yummy Yummy, Pagan, Yellow Pa Taut, Larkin Express Deli

        Category 2: Bar Jules, Suppenkuche, La Ciccia, Incanto, Aziza, Canteen...

        I can't help as much with categories 3 and 4 since I don't go to your neighborhood that frequently.

        There's a Chinese place in Japantown that is known for seafood soup. I ate there once and reported on it, but I currently forget the name. Also there are some other places in Japantown that people like.

        Hope this helps! Also, keep reading chowhound, since people here won't steer you wrong!

        Dave MP

        1 Reply
        1. For Japanese in Japantown, Maki, Ino Sushi, and Takara are far superior to On the Bridge. For Category 2, see if you like Cafe Kati.

          1. Shout out to the east coast - went to school in RI myself, have lots of family & friends boston way.

            Out of curiosity, what's keeping you from eating at lots of the "best of" kind of restaurants, just to get a feel for the town? Places like Zuni and Jardinere and Boulevard and the like? Eating the Tandoorloin? And the mexican places?

            It might be the navigation and parking. That got to me for the first 6 months. You just have to bite the bullet. It gets easier each time you do it - you'll learn when you should hit a garage, when you should take the valet, and when there's a spot right around the corner.

            Go use Yelp's distance search. Try every place within 0.25 miles. You'll laugh, you'll cry, but in a year you'll know a huge amount about your 'hood.

            And how do you feel about the height, distance-wise? It seems that between the upper and lower there's a few good neighborhood joints.

            About delivery - FAIL. WOW has already been suggested, it might be your best option, but in general it's just not a delivery town. Sorry about that.

            1. If you liked Helmand in Cambridge, you should know that the San Francisco version is the forerunner of that restaurant. Our version is now known as Helmand Palace, but it's still the same folks. I've been to both, and generally liked the food at the SF one better (except for the bread which is better in Cambridge). Cambridge is slightly nicer atmosphere.

              Helmand Palace
              2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109

              1. It would help if you could say what type of food you're looking for....

                Here are a couple of possibilities, some in the neighborhood, most not so much:
                1. Thai House Express, Sai Jai Thai (special pork shoulder fried rice), Turtle Tower (Hanoi style chicken pho), Bodega Bistro (squab, crab, jerky salad), Pagolac (7 flavors of beef), Cafe Zitouna, De Afghanan Kabob (I think they deliver sometimes and I love their bolani).
                2. SPQR (Roman), maki (wappa meshi), Takara (small plates and iron rice pot), Park Chow (casual american), Laiola (Cal-Spanish), A16 (sister of SPQR), Incanto (rustic Italian), Canteen (Dennis Leary is a genius), Nopa, Sebo Sushi (izakaya nights are on Sundays)
                3. Most decent places in SF don't deliver.

                Good luck!

                1 Reply
                1. re: sfbing

                  A16 is a restaurant that featuress the food of Campania and is rather different in many ways from its spawn, SPQR, beginning with its taking reservations. The latter is a pricey "small plates" affair.

                  Although I'm off Chinese food because of all the negative and scary news from the PRC, I would recommend exploring Chinatown if you're not quite so squeamish as I. Read menus, do a little research, then plunge in and find your own favorites. Try places where the clientele is all Chinese. (And take notes!)

                  I haven't been to Korea House (Post near Laguna) lately, but it's been a more or less old-reliable since I had my first Korean meal there in the sixties, with periodic lapses. It no longer stays open late, alas, but I at least figuratively drooled through many a last act at the Opera House anticipating my post-performance meal there.

                2. I'm going to help translate for the SF Board what you are looking for in terms of the Boston restaurants, as the names won't help anyone.

                  Thai House Express in the Tenderloin is as close as you will get to Rod Dee. They usually have specials and lunch type stuff (like fried chicken over rice with various sauces) like you would get at Rod Dee. THE is actually closer to Dok Bua. For the SF Board, RD is a great take out Thai Place that kind of has a mix of the usual and Thai street food/fast food. Lots of rice plates- almost Thai fast food, but authentic and not the same menu you'd get at your usual neihborhood Thai Place.

                  For Malaysian (Penang), I'm not sure in the city.

                  For Afghan (Helmand), there is a Helmand location here (one of three in the US that I know are related somehow). I've never been in Boston, but I thought the Baltimore location was better than the one here.

                  For expensive bistro/haute cuisine (Aquitaine), there are a lot of places, but we can't afford that in the city so I can't help.

                  Boston is easier to get around in so you likely have a larger radius that feels like your neighborhood, and while SF has much more to offer, what it does offer in terms of the best is really spread out. You won't find a neighborhood comparable to Brookline with the two best Thai places, very good vietnamese, malaysian, many decent sushi options, a passable to very good clean taqueria, and a late night chinese takeout place with a giant menu and great East Coast eggrolls (Lucky Wah shout out).

                  My experience here is that there are so many restaurants that I think the average quality is lower in SF in terms of satisfying meal relative to price point and other things (like the restaurant being freezing and/or dirty). BUT, if you are pickier and do some food work, there are some amazing things, you'll just have to cover more ground.

                  Thai House Express
                  901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  Helmand Palace
                  2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  1. Go to places- Cordon Bleu on California, Super Subs on Gough, Valencia Pizza and Pasta on Valencia (get the pork chops),Erics or Alice's in Noe Valley,Pizzeria Delfina, Esperpento, Sauce, the food court in the Westfield Center.

                    When the parents pay - Delfina, 415, Roys (the chocolate souffle is heaven on a plate), 2223, The Slanted door.

                    1. I don't frequent lower pac heights or japantown very much but love hayes valley. My favorite brunch place in hayes valley is J's Pots of Soul and a neighborhood wine bar I would recommend is Hotel Biron. Hayes valley is also very close to lower haight and two great places there falling under category 1 are Memphis Minnies BBQ and Rosamunde's Sausages (both of which you order at a counter).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: felice

                        I've heard great things about the Hayes Valley area. I'm a former Boston-ite also (Cambridge/Somerville to be exact). While I don't live in CA, I'm visiting in Feb. and have been frequenting this board for ideas and suggestions. While I'm a bit of a food snob (I'm a chef, gimme a break) I absolutely love hole-in-the-wall/hidden gem/dive places with great food. This thread gives me some great comparisons to the OP's Boston favorites.


                      2. For Malaysian cuisine, you might try the Singapore Malaysia Cafe in the Avenues; I have not been but recently heard very good things about.

                        You should also definitely explore the places on or near Valencia St., Maverick, Spork, Delfina, Range Lolo's are all interesting and fun and not too far from where you are.

                        Singapore Malaysian Restaurant
                        836 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                        842 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                        1058 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                        Maverick Restaurant
                        3316 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                        3234 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110