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LA Hound's First Time in SF (aka "Help!")

So my wife and I have lived in LA for a few years, but have yet to make it up to SF proper. That's about to change, as part of her Christmas gift will revolve around a 5 day Gastronomical Tour of SF ... which is where I need YOUR help. Please! I've read through many a thread on this board, and all I find myself doing is trying to cram more and more meals into our schedule ... thus it's time to get some advice from the experts.

We will be flying up on a Saturday, getting into SFO around 3:30 and we are staying at the Four Seasons in the Union Square neighborhood. We will be staying for four nights, thus leaving on a Wednesday. We will most likely NOT rent a car. We've done Napa/Sonoma before, so those are not areas that interest us on this particular trip.

I am looking for an excellent, representative sample of SF cuisine -- in the sense that, I am trying to find food here that I cannot get in LA. From cheaper eats in the Mission to fine-dining like the French Laundry, and everything in between ... just so long as it is tasty!

We are looking for dinner recs for Saturday - Tuesday (4), breakfast/brunch recs Sunday - Wednesday (4), and lunch recs Saturday - Wednesday (5). Price is not really a concern.

I DEFINITELY am looking to try some tasty cuisine in the Mission. I've heard the al pastor burritos are spectacular, and am looking for recs for those as well as other places you think are amazing.

I am also really in search of a GREAT brunch, most likely for Sunday. As we both have huge sweet-tooths, a more sweet than savory brunch may be the way to go (think Bongo Room in Chicago if you are familiar).

Additionally, we're looking for great bakeries/dessert places; I'm 100% sure we're going to hit up Citizen Cake, but any other recs?

Also, I'm fairly certain we'll be doing Michael Mina (looked at the menu online and am LOVING it), but would love some other fine-dining recs. All cuisines are desirable, but we've been eating tons of seafood/sushi lately, so I'd actually prefer to stay away from those types of places. Bonus points to restaurants with Alba White Truffles (Mmmmm!!!).

Thanks in advance for all of your help, and let me know if there's any other info I can give to help with suggestions.

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  1. Yikes... well, here's what I'd recommend.

    Breakfast/Brunch:
    - Okay, best sweet tooth breakfast is at Tartine's in the Mission. Hands down the best bakery in the city. But go early or risk being trampled... they open at 8am.
    - You have to get dim sum in SF (dim sum is pretty sad in LA -- lived there for 5 years). If money is no object, go to Yank Sing and be sure to get a steamer of xiao loong boa -- it's the best.
    - Zazie in Cole Valley has the most consistently lovely breakfasts -- everything about the place is relaxing and lovely.

    Lunch:
    - SPQR is perfect for lunch because it's jammed in the evening for dinner. And you can walk off your food on Filmore. Stop by Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe for a spicy hot chocolate.
    - La Mar Cebicheria Peruana down near the Ferry building is the hottest reservation in town so go there for lunch instead. Slanted Door is another restaurant that's great for lunch. And then you can stroll the Ferry Building and get something sweet like macaroons at Miette's.

    Dinner:
    - Dosa has the best Indian in the city and the service here is fantastic. Located in the Mission.
    - If you can get a reservation, La Mar has the best vibe at night -- really hip, mellow, and the drinks and food are fantastic. And it's Gaston Acurio's (Peru's most famous chef) only restaurant in North America.
    - Ame in the St. Regis is first class and you're guaranteed a fantastic meal. They also have a great bar to hang out at before or after dinner.

    As for the best burritos... oy, you're opening a can of worms here. That's a favorite debate in the city. My favorite is La Coroneta in Glen Park (you can take BART to the Glen Park Station and it's a block away) but another favorite is the El Tonayense Taco Truck parked outside Best Buys on Harrison and 22nd.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sfwork

      You'll have a blast. I would consider Danko over Mina for a couple of reasons: 1. Mina has so many restaurants, you'll be able to sample his food other places (Vegas, etc). whereas Danko does not. 2. Danko lets you mix and match - you aren't locked in to one choice per course (you could choose two appetizers, for example) and will adjust portion sizes accordingly and 3. Although more or less the same price at first glance, Mina adds surcharges for some of their most popular items (lobster pot pie, for example) whereas there are no surcharges at Danko (except for Kobe beef, I believe) and the quality of the ingrediants is still superb.

      1. re: sfwork

        Hmmm ... this is one of those cases of different people having different tastes. Some of those would be on my don't go list.

        I agree that you are wasting your precious SF time going to Michael Minna since you can pretty much get that menu across the country. Danko isn;t my favorite, but it is a two star Michelan restaurant and lots of people like it. It is a good value for a top scale restaurant.

        In that category, my favorite is The Dining Room at the Ritz. I would like to get around to COI. Here's one of the best reports I've seen and it links to a blog with photos. I think after reading that you will know if it is for you or not. The second link is to the place record which has the website and other reports
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/574796
        http://www.chow.com/places/444

        I am flat out not a fan of Miette. The baked goods look beautiful, but rarely have much taste. In the Ferry Building Acme, Frog Hollow or Boulettes, have better baked goods, IMO.

        I like Tartine, but I wouldn't choose it for breakfast. It is annoying with the cramped room, people in line waiting for baked goods and leaning all over you or bumping into your chair. It is not a full breakfast either. If you do drop by for the baked goods then walk up the street to Bi-Rite Creamery which has some great ice cream.

        IMO, the best bakery in SF in Thorough Bread and Pastry. It doesn't look like much, but everything is so tasty. Citizen Cake is hit and miss. I like their chocolates a lot. I love their ice cream. That's little neighborhood is becoming interesting to wander around.

        I put together this list for people whose first time is in SF. If you click on the restaurant name it will take you to the Place record with the websites and links to chowhound reports and some restaurant reviews.
        http://www.chow.com/lists/edit/790

        It is aimed at people who want the uniquely SF experience, so it is more tried and true standards than the latest and greatest. They are places that have proved themselves over the years.

        For your requirements Mama's and Dotties would meet your breakfast requirements. If you go to Mamas then stop by Liguira Bakery and XOX truffles.

        For dinner/lunch you might consider Zuni, Aziza is a long bus or cab ride down Geary, but it is probably one of the more different restaurants in the country.

        My favorite for Cal Cuisine is 1550 Hyde, a true neighborhood restaurant and right on a cable car stop.

        Tadich doesn't have cutting edge food. They have been serving pretty much the same menu for decades. However, for a piece of old time SF, it can't be beat. It is crab season (from the Pacific Northwest currently) and Tadich's cioppino is my favorite. They have the last true sourdough bread in the city ... bakery or restaurant.

        BTW, The Four Seasons is a fabulous hotel. Great service. The restaurant is only ok at best. I wouldn't choose it. HOWEVER, do have a drink at the lounge. It is one of my favorite places for a relaxing drink in the city and they have fabulous complimentary snacks.

        In the mission if you search the board there were two recent taco and burrito threads. I'd go to 24 street and walk down it for a flavor of the mission. As far as different, there's a lot of Yucatan cuisine in the city. On 16th Street in the mission there is Poc Chuc which is the best of the lot, IMO.

        Have fun. Hope you report back after your trip. Then we will have an idea of what you like and don't on your next visit.

        B

      2. Thank you all so much for your help. I realized that I completely forgot that I had already made reservations for Tuesday evening at COI, so that one will be covered.

        I'm still digesting everything else that was written (sounds like most are down on MMina), and reading through some of the linked threads, but please do keep any/all suggestions coming!

        7 Replies
        1. re: a213b

          I've been to COI and it's fantastic -- you won't be disappointed. Personally, I just like the dining room at Ame better and the Japanese influences.

          Also totally forgot about Mama's so agree with rworange about going there for breakfast. Also agree with rw about Citizen Cake in that it's hit and miss... and in my opinion not worth it. Hayes Valley opened a La Boulange recently (gets crowded) and you're better off going there for something sweet and a big hot bowl of cafe au lait. Also in that neck of the woods is two great food stops: Suppenküche (schnitzel and beer!) and Frjtz (frites with some great sauces to dip into) and very good shopping.

          1. re: sfwork

            I forgot about La Boulange. Good call. If still stopping by Citizen Cake you could also scope out La Boulange. There's also one in North Beach.

            1. re: rworange

              Thanks rw ... I'll definitely put that on the itinerary.

              Bakeries/Choclatiers/Patisseries are easy, since we can just pop in and get a small taste of what it is about, so I'll take as many ideas on that front as I can get. And then we can just pop into a location whenever we are in that part of the city.

              Thanks!

              1. re: a213b

                Some of my favorite things at La Boulange are the mini quiche lorraine and the lemon tart. Also their almond croissant has a big following. There are people from France who have raved about it on the board. The quiche has nice cubes of ham in it. The lemon tart ... well, it just tastes like the lemon pie my grandmother made. Lots of people like the canneles there, but I have yet to have one like those described by the fans.

                Should you ever decide you need a car, there is a zip car program in SF
                http://www.zipcar.com/

                1. re: rworange

                  Nice! Thanks rworange!

                  Oh, and I love LOVE canneles, so I'm going to have to try them! I'll check into the zipcar program; I remember reading an article about it in the past 6 months and thinking it sounded pretty cool.

            2. re: sfwork

              Oh, yes! I am ALL over Frijtz. I order frites/fries anytime I see them on any menu ... they are my addiction.

              Mmmmmm, fries (eyes glaze over).

            3. re: a213b

              Let me know what you thought of Coi after your visit. I am in the minority as far as popular concensus but personally, I thought the staff was PRENTENTIOUS and I was just not impressed at all with the food . We went to Tomasso's and got a pizza after eating at Coi.
              I agree with the breakfast suggestion for Dotties True Blue Cafe. That's a breakfast I get in line for on occasion. Mama's is good but not good enough for me to stand in line.

              I have no background as far as sweets so I won't even try although I love, love Stella's Bakery on Columbus for their sacrapantina cake. Spongecake, rum, cream - what could be better. If you want it - get there early.

              Danko is always spot on. Yes, I agree that the menu does not get very adventurous - but they are consistent and consistenetly good. I go every couple of months or so and I may not be WOWED by the ingenuity of the menu, but I ALWAYS leave happy. That is so much more than I can say for some of those wonderfully reviewed yet disappointing restaurants (Murray Circle & Coi)
              I love Mina, but not real SF since he is almost a chain now, Ame is ok - Terra is better

              I would do Danko, Quince, Delfina & Canteen for finer food.

              Then as rworange suggested just walk down 24th (toward Florida) and snack here and there. Las Palmas serves great food to go - great chicharrones too.

              I only do The French Laundry for lunch now so haven't been for dinner in about a year but if you like them you would love Manresa in Los Gatos. If you can't do them this trip try to catch them later. it's a bucolic little town as well.

              Happy Dining!!

            4. Near the Four Seasons is Amber India, a more refined dressy take on Indian food. Worth checking out.
              Agreed with RWOrgange's suggestion of Tadich's - it's a San Francisco classic, other options would be Sam's, or John's Grill.
              Also second the suggestion of Aziza for something unique.
              Enjoy your visit.

              1. Haven't been to Tadich (sigh) but I wonder if all those recommending it noticed your not wanting seafood?

                1 Reply
                1. re: estnet

                  Yikes ... thanks. Yeah, skip Tadich's if you don't want seafood ... of course you could always stop by the bar for a classic martini after visiting the Ferry Builidng.

                2. You should certainly go to Michael Mina. I have had uniformly excellent experiences there. I found the food and decor at Gary Danko to be dated. It is hard to get into and inexpensive for fine dining but is not at the MM caliber. My favorite dish at MM is the foie gras and kobe beef shabu shabu.

                  I don't think that dim sum in SF proper is essential if you live in LA. The options in the San Gabriel Valley are far superior to anything available in the city of SF. The best I have had in SF proper is in the Richmond district at Ton Kiang. I found Yank Sing to be a ripoff.

                  Azizza could be an interesting choice for you as it is rather unique Moroccan restaurant. They also make wonderful cocktails.

                  People rave about Dottie's True Blue cafe for brunch but apparently the waits are an hour plus and sometimes significantly longer at prime time.

                  It is a taxi ride away, but i recommend you getting a car service or taxi to take you to dinner at Murray Circle, at the new Cavallo Point resort just across the Golden Gate Bridge. The food is wonderful as is the setting. Comfortable luxury.