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Eating in Noe Valley & the Castro

We're coming to SF from the UK for the first time and wil be staying on the border of Noe Valley & the Castro (near Douglass street & 20th) for 7 days. While we'll be eating all over the city I particulary want to narow down our options closer to home (for those days when you're too tired to venture far!). My boyfriend is veggie and I don't eat meat (although I love fish). Other than that we don't mind where we go - although I'm partial to comfort style food (especially for breakfast/brunch). We're looking for places for both dinner and brunch. I've come up with a list of places and I would love to hear what you think. Which are the best places, both for a nice atmosphere and food?
The list:

Orphan Andy
Sushi Time
Tangerine (brunch only)
Firefly (brunch)
Toast (brunch)
(also, is the Noe Valley farmers market worth going to?)

Many thanks!

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  1. No, no, a million times no to Tangerine. We went there once and it was beyond awful. That place must live on bar receipts -- that's the only possible way I can imagine it stays open.

    We've never done brunch at Firefly, but dinner there was solid.

    If you don't mind venturing to the other end of Noe, La Ciccia (Church and 30th) is fantastic -- well done and utterly authentic Sardinian (thus, a lot of seafood on the menu) food.

    4 Replies
    1. re: allsouls

      I would second La Ciccia for excellent Sardinian style fish dishes.

      1. re: danielmaung

        I would third this recommendation, especially if you both eat fish. If your boyfriend does not eat fish, I think La Ciccia would still be good but not *as* spectacular.

        1. re: Dave MP

          And I'd like to fourth this recommendation. La Ciccia is amazing. Funny thing... it you call to take out, they want to know where you live because they won't serve you certain dishes if you live too far away (luckily we don't) because they need to be eaten right away.

      2. re: allsouls

        Firefly does not do brunch... dinner only.

      3. I have never been to the Noe Valley Farmer's Market, though I've heard it's very nice. That said, I do not think it compares to the Ferry Building, and I think that's a must-see for visitors from the UK. So assuming you're here on a Saturday, I'd probably go there. Is the Noe Valley market also just on Saturdays?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Dave MP

          I like Cote Sud for an easygoing but above average meal. The 3 course prix fixe is a deal. Nothing is ever spectacular, almost everything is always very good. I believe that there are veggie and non-meat for each course, but you may want to check in advance.

          1. re: lmnopm

            Savor has excellent brunch and an outdoor area for seating if the weather permits.

        2. IMO, the Noe Valley Farmer's Market is not worthwhile. The produce is extremely limited and, in my experience, quality not great. That said, if I lived within an easy walk, we might journey there for the children's guitar player. My son loves that and I wish the Ferry Bldg had something as intimate for children.

          1 Reply
          1. re: zachschef

            Hey, the Ferry Building has the singing cowboy out back

          2. 2223 has a nice brunch -- nothing unusual, it's good. Toast has a great breakfast and lunch but it gets crowded (there are two locations, one on Church and one on 24th). I also like Savor for breakfast and lunch. Chow is always good. Other good lunch options in Noe: Fattoush (Mediterranean place but they make a great french toast), Restaurant Bacco (great Italian and very cozy place for dinner), Alice's (very good Chinese food), and if they are hankering for tea take them to Lovejoys. And of course, try to check out Noe Valley Bakery... cupcakes, bread, scones!

            2 Replies
            1. re: sfwork

              I like 2223 a lot.
              Also, they have specials on Tuesday nights; quite affordable and really tasty food.

              1. re: pauliface

                FYI, 2223 Restaurant has been sold.

                2223 Restaurant
                2223 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114

            2. I've lived in Noe for many years and go to other neighborhoods to eat. Noe and the Castro are generally known for mediocre food.

              Firefly is okay but overrated. Chow is well executed American food--really, not what you come to San Francisco for.

              Better: Kasa (Indian "tacos" in the Castro), Bacco is decent to very good. Thai House Express in the Castro, Eijii for homemade tofu and sushi. Minako in the Mission for Japanese vegetarian and seafood. Thorough Bread for pastries.

              But even better: walk downhill to the Mission. It's not that far, and you'll have 20 great choices.

              1. many thanks everyone. yes, i did get a sense that the castro and noe are not that great for foodies! it looks as if we'll have to make our way to the mission most of the time. i'll also look into all your other recommendations, so thanks again for that! la ciccia sounds great, as does savor.
                also, one last question, no one has said anything about home or blue (which have decent reviews on yelp for example). are they not worth going to at all? should we really just give up on the castro and go to the mission?

                9 Replies
                1. re: belma79

                  Home, Blue, Chow are all the same kind of food. Chow is the best of them. There's no reason to come to San Francisco and focus on places that serve hamburgers and fries and roast chicken, especially when you are a vegetarian and a seafood eater.

                  One other good place in the Castro is Ike's Sandwiches. Many vegetarian options, although the meats are great too.

                  I don't think Savor's good, but there will still be a line.

                  1. re: Windy

                    i grew up in noe valley and my mom still lives there - we have a long standing disagreement about the value of savor. that said, there is food there i will eat if she insists on going, which she does fairly regularly, but its hardly a destination.

                    1. re: tex.s.toast

                      thanks everyone. this really is helping. "it's hardly a destination" really hits the nail on the head. by posting on chowhound i'm looking for every bite in SF to be special (we are foodies after all!) and there's no point going somewhere if it's not great. so if you agree i might give 2223 a try and maybe firefly if i we really want to eat somewhere really close to where we're staying?

                      also, (last, last question, i promise!) since the mission is the way to go, what is the BEST place for brunch in the mission? looking for pancakes, french toast, egg dishes.

                      thank you again!

                      1. re: belma79

                        Re brunch I quite like Slow Club and Universal (on the weekend). Toast (near La Ciccia) is good, but it's popular (I won't wait in line for breakfast). Probably a good place to go during the week.

                        Universal Cafe
                        2814 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                        Slow Club
                        2501 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                        Toast Eatery
                        3991 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                        Toast Eatery
                        1748 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

                        1. re: Calvinist

                          i really like the sound of universal.
                          how about foreign cinema (for a more pricey brunch i guess!). i notice you can make a reservation, which means no lines. would you say it's a "desintation" brunch place and worth going to?

                          1. re: belma79

                            yes -- it's bigger than Universal, which is very much on the small side.

                          2. re: Calvinist

                            I like Bar Tartine, which opens at 11, so there's no line before 11:30. Great egg dishes, usually only 1-2 sweet choices which are pretty good, though i think they do savory better.

                            I ate at Mission Beach Cafe for the first time last weekend, and I didn't love it. But the pancakes there looked great. They definitely have a line by 10:30 or so.

                            Mission Beach Cafe
                            198 Guerrero St., San Francisco, CA 94103

                            Bar Tartine
                            561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                          3. re: belma79

                            If you want to eat somewhere very close to where you are staying, Bacco is only perhaps two blocks from Firefly, and, IMO, consistently better (service always better in my experience, and I find the food at Firefly to be hit or miss, but consistently good to very good at Bacco. If you like risotto, Bacco is the place to order it. OTOH, since one of you is vegetarian, Firefly does best with veggie dishes.).

                            Of course, La Ciccia isn't that far from either, and is exceptionally good. (and the place I will miss the most when I finally am officially moved out of the neighborhood). La Ciccia truly is a destination choice.

                            I've had brunch once at Foreign Cinema and enjoyed it. Not sure I would call it destination; it is pricey. The reservations are an advantage; I have never had the patience for Toast.

                            They serve brunch at Fattoush, that might be worth checking out, particularly for a vegetarian. Again, however, not a destination choice.

                            La Ciccia
                            291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                            Ristorante Bacco
                            737 Diamond Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

                            Firefly Restaurant
                            4288 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                            Foreign Cinema
                            2534 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                            Fattoush Restaurant
                            1361 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                            1. re: belma79

                              I like Foreign Cinema and Maverick for brunch in the Mission. If you want liquor with your brunch, like a Bloody Mary, go to Foreign Cinema. At Maverick, the andouille benedict is probably the best brunch dish I have ever had. At FC, go for the baked eggs.

                      2. If you find a need for take out, Pastagina is a deli that my husband and I rely on for very good soup. They have bread, pasta, and all kinds of other dishes. I love their cannolli. Soup is pricey (6.95 I think) but good.

                        741 Diamond St
                        San Francisco, CA 94114

                        (415) 282-0738‎

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: rln

                          Cannoli? That's good to know. The best thing about Pasta Gina is they will cut very small amounts of fresh pasta to order.

                          The cafe on the corner of Diamond and 24th used to have good blueberry pancakes, but I haven't been lately.

                          1. re: Windy

                            Thai House Express at the intersection of Castro St and 19th St is actually really good and serves pretty authentic Thai food. The following dishes are very good and you might be able to request veggie versions: (1) kao soy--ribbon egg noodle in thick yellow curry with chicken, purple onion slices and pickles (2) yellow curry powder fried rice with shrimp, onions, carrots and celery--I believe you can substitute the shrimp with tofu (3) salmon steamed in banana leaf--once in a while they over-steam it but usually they get it right (4) pad see ew--flat rice noodles stir fried with broccoli and pork, but again you can probably substitute out the meat. The last one is a very common Thai dish but it is a good litmus test for good Thai food since Thai people are very adept at stir-frying flat rice noodles and making sure that the sauce is spread evenly but thinly throughout the dish without too much oil.

                            1. re: Windy

                              Yes, they prepare (fill) the cannoli when you order it. I'm a purist usually when it comes to cannolis... their cannoli has small choc. chips in the filling-- but it's not overwhelming at all and I like them. If you try them, please report what you think!

                            2. re: rln

                              Pasta Gina makes the best meatball sandwich in San Francisco, (and I've tried dozens) with homemade meatballs beautifully seasoned with fresh herbs, and with exceptional marinara and really high quality cheese.

                              1. re: lmarie

                                Meatballs and cannoli. Yum. Bottle of wine and you have all the food groups covered.

                                1. re: Windy


                                  Pasta Gina
                                  741 Diamond St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                            3. Home has gone downhill significantly over the years. Even the drinks aren't as good as the used to be, although I enjoy the crowd at the bar and have met a lot of people I've stayed in touch with.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: realspear

                                thank you again - it's so wonderful that you've all taken the time to reply to my post, a true case of kindness of strangers!
                                i'll check out all the new places mentioned, and i definitely know which ones to avoid too.
                                going back to the mission, i've seen places like Luna Park and St Francis Fountain mentioned (for a diner style pancake/egg brunch). are they any good??
                                whenever I come to the US I do need my American pancake fix! (my favourite in new york if anyone's ever been - clinton street bakery - best pancakes I've ever had!).

                                1. re: belma79

                                  Luna Park and St. Francis Fountain--not for me, although others may disagree.

                                  Slow Club is the best American brunch I've seen listed here. Sadly SF is not a great town for pancakes or waffles. Mission Beach is wonderful at any time esp snacks and pastries.

                                  1. re: Windy

                                    I really enjoy Mission Beach too...have you tried their canelles??

                                    They had a guy from New Jersey making GREAT BAGELS (finally!!!) but he quit after a few days (DAMN!) They do make their own English Muffins and Croissant stuff (danish etc) and their pork hash has huge chunks of meat...I think it's a beautiful space, nice staff as well.

                                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                      Alan, the co-owner, has been their baker from the start. Excellent cookies, pastries, canneles, and pies. I love the black and white angel food cake.

                                      The regular kitchen has had a number of chefs, some very good. We still remember the corn soup from my birthday. It's a lovely spot.

                                      1. re: Windy

                                        The Angel Food Cake I haven't seen for breakfast...I'll try lunch there, and will definitely look for it ..Thanks!

                              2. Incanto

                                Hardy and rustic Italian inspired restaurant. Famous for house cured meats. One of the best restaurants in the city. Some will say it's THE best. Has a nice but casual vibe, the atmosphere is very warm and comfortable.


                                Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar
                                1550 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                  Also, a very unusual wine selection, available in several different ways.

                                  I like the tuna heart with pasta dish they serve, even more than the meats.

                                  1. re: realspear

                                    Incanto is wonderful but I don't think I would recommend it for a couple that doesn't eat meat. They do have a few nice seafood dishes - but half the couple is vegetarian. They do have a great Italian wine list - you could stop by for a glass of wine.

                                    Those neighborhoods have several solid options but you definitely want to - at some point during your trip - branch out from "No Eats" Valley as some like to call it...

                                    1. re: Truffle Dog

                                      Right! I missed that detail in the original post. Not the best choice if you don't eat meat.

                                      1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                        Quite true. Even the wine has pork in it. :-)

                                        Tremendous restaurant, though. I was there last weekend, and it was far and away the best food AND the best service I experienced during my entire stay. BTW, Henry's Hunan (a last-minute sub for Mission Chinese, which was closed on Labor Day) was simply dreadful - oddly bland food, and the squid I had was something I would have thrown out at home. The service was comically bad, too. AVOID.

                                2. I live in Noe Valley (hence the screen name) and it is not a food wasteland as others describe. Lupa is a great neighborhood authentic Italian very near you, LeZinc is very good authentic French (read ... don't be in a hurry) . And don't forget that a Henry's Hunan branch is now open serving very good and spicy Hunan dishes.

                                  Le Zinc
                                  4063 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

                                  4109 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                                  Henry's Hunan
                                  1708 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

                                  1. great, great, great! my list is coming on nicely. now for that most important american pancake for breakfast, would you recommend Mama's? i've been researching this and it seems to have good reviews - but it's also in my lonely planet guide book! so is it just a touristy place or truly the best for Pancakes and French Toast?? thank you all!

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: belma79

                                      Probably Toast for pancakes would be your best bet in NV. Either the new one on 24th or the original on Church.

                                      1. re: belma79

                                        We are branching away from Noe Valley at this point, but I think that if you want really good American pancakes, you should consider Dottie's. It's crowded with tourists and non-tourists all the time, but if you can go early on a weekday it shouldn't be too bad (early = right when they open....8 AM?). I think their pancakes are really good - but only on a weekday. Just not worth it on the weekend IMO.

                                        I have heard Mama's is good too, but I haven't been. Also super long lines.

                                        1. re: Dave MP

                                          No one's lines are as long as they were a few months ago.

                                          1. re: Windy

                                            You're right. I ate at Dottie's on Thursday morning at 9 AM - no line at all. It was the least crowded I've ever seen it.

                                            So I think the OP should go to Dottie's on a weekday for sure - their food is very good.

                                            Dave MP

                                          2. re: Dave MP

                                            ...and Dotties baked breakfast pastries are truly fresh and amazing...but that line!!...I wish they had been able to open their second place in Hayes Valley as planned...oh well...I'd like to invite them to Upper Market...! There are nice empty spaces available here!!!

                                          3. re: belma79

                                            Yup, Mama's is worthy of the hype. I like other things there more then pancakes, and french toast, but both are good and served with really fresh delicious fruit. Their french toast is made with their own house made nut and berry breads, which I think are best had plain instead.

                                            Toast on 24th was awful when I had it. Their french toast is made with store bought thin sliced sourdough (on of the brands with zero taste that's all air), and it wasn't soaked through. Add insult to injury, the grill must have been coated with old bacon grease or something that gave it a bitter after taste. I mean, even when french toast isn't good, it's hard to make it bad, but this was bad.

                                          4. You could also try Contigo. After all, it gets five stars on Yelp!

                                            (Sorry, bad local humour here... but really do try it... if it is open yet that is :-)

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: twenex

                                              oh no, you know i have been looking at yelp for reviews of places! i've never used the site before but somehow it comes up a lot for SF restaurants. when you say 'bad local humor here' do you mean you wouldn't consider it reliable? let me know and i'll stop looking at it!

                                            2. Such a great thread, thanks again everyone! I'll try either Mama's or Dottie's (although not looking fwd to the lines!) for my pancake fix and I need to narrow down all your other suggestions for dinner choices.
                                              You've also convinced me that I must definitely try La Ciccia even though initially I wasn't that drawn to it (I suppose because I go to Italy quite often and you can get amazing Italian dishes in London). But it sounds like it can't be missed. What is the general consensus on Bacco though? Since it's walking distance and seems to be liked a lot too, should I consider it as well? Or is La Ciccia more of a must than Bacco?

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: belma79

                                                If you like Risotto, Bacco is possibly the best in town. Also, all the pasta is freshly handmade daily. That level of TLC goes for everything on the menu...........

                                                1. re: NoeMan

                                                  Bacco is quite good, but Sardinian (La Ciccia) food is more 'rare'!!

                                              2. 1. No one has mentioned Lime, which I am very partial. Small bites late night with drinks - menu is all over the map, but perhaps too meat oriented. (near 2223).

                                                2. I'll get some dissent here, but the Belgian Waffles at Bagdad Cafe are pretty good. They're properly sweet and crusty - however, they stop serving them at some hour, and Bagdad Cafe's main attraction is the open-ness past 2am - when there are sadly no waffles.

                                                3. HK foodie is right about the thai place. Very tasty.

                                                4. Orphan Andy is a fairly run of the mill burger, although the vibe is fun.

                                                5. Lots of folks rave about the burgers at BurgerMeister on Church just north of market. I think they're good but if I had only 7 lunches in SF, they wouldn't make the list.

                                                6. I just looked up 20th and Douglass. Wow. You should really budget about $20 in cab rides every day. And become friends with the 33 bus and the castro muni stop. Check out the muni "7 day passport" - it'll get you to more good eats than our recs.

                                                9 Replies
                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                  Good call making friends w/ the 33 bus. 20th and Douglass is about in the middle of this route. Go one way and you'll go through the Castro, past Dolores Park, up Mission, across 16th and down Potrero to 25th. Tons of good food in that stretch - ice cream at Bi Rite, Tartine Bakery, Oaxacan and Yucatecan on Mission, Yamo Burmese, 24th St taquerias - that's just a brief list.

                                                  In the other direction you can get to Haight Ashbury, GG Park, and Inner Richmond. Good food there too (esp. Inner Richmond). It's a reliable bus, and again, no trip is too far from 20th and Douglas since it's in the middle.

                                                  1. re: Dave MP

                                                    you've made me slightly worried now bbulkow! are we staying in the middle of nowhere?? it's not very central but i thought it was still okay as muni is close by and there are a couple of bus routes. i hope we didn't make a mistake staying there! mission, which seems to have the best eats, seems very close. thanks dave MP, you've made me feel slightly better!
                                                    yes, definitely planning to try other places outside of castro/noe. really like the sound of canteen for example.

                                                    1. re: belma79

                                                      You're staying most of the way up a hill, with access to several valleys (Noe, Eureka aka the Castro, Cole Valley).

                                                      A very good website to know about is nextbus.com, which has also has fine mobile site. That way you can see when the next 33 is leaving from the stop nearest you.

                                                      1. re: Windy

                                                        thanks, what a great website! very useful. seems like we're really not that far from anywhere, especially with all the transport links in the area. also, unless we stayed right in the mission for example, we'd have to use the muni to get to most of the good eats, wherever we stay anyway!

                                                        1. re: belma79

                                                          You're really central to get to most everything, with a lot of easy bus line. With Nextbus and a bus map you're really not limited to any one area for food exploration. The Mission is probably the easiest and quickest to get to with the most fun array of options, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice to get too caught up with your local Noe Valley options. Now at least you have suggestions if you decide to stay close to "home" one night too.

                                                          1. re: belma79

                                                            It's not actually far from things distance wise, but I always feel like anything that high up is far. The views are lovely though :)

                                                            But once you're on the bus, it generally moves pretty fast, so like sugartoof says, it's easy and quick to get to the Mission. With no traffic a 5-7 minute bus ride. A lot of the bus stops on that route also have tickers that tell you how soon the next bus is coming.

                                                            I also agree with sugartoof that you'd be doing yourself a disservice to eat in Noe Valley too much....SF is small, and you are staying smack in the middle of it, so getting anywhere will be fast.

                                                          2. re: Windy

                                                            I noticed there's now a www.nextmuni.com too, which would be faster on a mobile phone. (Most of the buses and streetcars here have GPSs to track how far they are from specific stops. Some of the bus shelters have a ticker with this info on it--same feed as nextbus/nextmuni.)

                                                          3. re: belma79

                                                            No, you're fine - in fact, you're to be commended for not staying at fisherman's wharf or the union sq hotels. You'll get a feel for SF that natives have. Which means, you might spend a week cursing the hill you live a few blocks up, your calves might ache a little, and hopefully you'll have a great view of something. Try to keep that in mind when you're slogging up your hill - "wow! I'm in SF and it's cool!"

                                                            But it also means you'll have to walk a few blocks to get to anything, then hop some kind of transit to get to anywhere spectacular. Renting a bicycle won't really help because there are too many hills. Renting a car is a pain (although everyone here has a car) because of parking. But it's always only a few blocks, and you're in a fairly transit-happy place as mentioned.

                                                            Food-wise, consider keeping some snacks in your room. Oranges, chocolate, a bottle of wine, a good baguette and some Cowgirl cheese, whatever suits, because in the morning you might need some refreshment simply to get to breakfast, or a snack when you get home.

                                                            If you look carefully at sfmuni.org, you'll see somewhat of a crazy-quilt of bus options. There's a method to the madness, like the 33 (and its sister the 22) in that they run east-west, then do a right turn north-south, so it covers more of the city - you can get more places without a transfer (ie, a wait). Muni maps are generally available at drugstores like Long's and Walgreens.

                                                            Good trip!

                                                        2. re: bbulkow

                                                          You know, I never want to end up at Bagdad Cafe, but I've always had good food there when I did....and I've seen those waffles, and they were really impressive. The grilled cheese on Sourdough is probably the thing I've ordered there the most, and it's always buttery and surprisingly good. I wouldn't make it one of my 7 meals in town, but for a late night snack it's fine.

                                                        3. I live in Baja Noe Valley and would have to agree that most restaurants are mediocre. When I go out to eat in the hood I do so for sustenance more than anything else. I do like the funky vibe and the specials at Tamasei sushi bar. I always ask the Japanese waitresses what to order off the specials menu and they have never done me wrong.
                                                          Do yourselves a favor and venture out a few blocks farther to go to the area known as the Gourmet Ghetto on 18th Street between Dolores and Guerrero. There you will find the best and also most crowded bakery in SF. I can say this because I studied pastry in France. Just about anything you get will be spectacular if you don't mind a long wait in line. They also serve wine, sandwiches, and salads. Just next door is Pizzeria Delfina. Also excellent, but often a long wait. Bes sure to get some Salted Caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery.
                                                          Chow is a favorite for good comfort food and the atmosphere is cozy. Same with Home, only a bit more expensive.
                                                          Mission Beach Cafe has one of the best burgers in the city at $13 bucks a pop, and It comes with yummy fries (chips to you). Also, their pies look really good, although I was too full to order a piece. And I do not sing the praises of pastries very often.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: aka helen

                                                            I pretty much agree with Helen. But what makes SF special, mainly is the amount of solid Mexican, Salvadoranian, and Vietnamese resteraunts that take the place of low cost casual "american food". This is best found in the Mission and the Tenderloin.

                                                          2. just to say a big thank you to everyone for replying to my post. you've answered all my questions and more! it's really made a difference. i'll make sure to report back after our trip. can't wait to try all the yummy food!

                                                            1. 2223 is great for dinner and also does an excellent brunch -- Indeed I think that it and Foreign Cinema are the two best places for brunch in the Noe/Castro/Mission area.

                                                              Foreign Cinema
                                                              2534 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110