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Questions from a San Francisco first-timer

I'm looking for anyone who wants to weigh in on the following questions for a first-time visitor:

1) Greens vs. Millenium for a fairly (to us at least) pricey vegetarian meal - which one and why?

2) Is Saha a good option for a Valentine's meal that won't simply be an overpriced prix fixe with no veggie options for me, or should I look for somewhere else?

3) Do people who live in the city think Liguria Bakery deserves the recommendation it gets in Time magazine's San Francisco guide, or should somewhere else garner that sort of recommendation?

4) I'd like to hear people's suggestions for their favorite Indian and favorite Thai places in the city, with reasons why. We're staying in the Hotel Carlton where Saha is located, but we could travel anywhere fairly accessible by public transport for a place that comes highly recommended.

I have been browsing through the archives for some suggestions and ideas, so please go easy on the instant accusations of laziness! I'm just excited to sample the city's restaurant options and looking for some enthusiastic guidance from people who know what they're about.

Thanks in advance for all your help!

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  1. I don't know exactly how Time magazine describes Liguria Bakery, but it is certainly worth a visit. It is a very minimalist & old-school place. The specialty of the house is foccacia baked in 3 or 4 varieties. Try either the green onion or the tomato.

    1. my thoughts:

      1. Greens. At least the view will be great (haven't eaten there in a long, long while and reports are mixed, but I've never heard anything good about Millenium).

      2. Most probably, though I would call and ask if they are doing a prix fixe and if so, what it is (I suspect they are not). As I think I mentioned in another thread, Cafe Zitouna would also be a good option. I did think about Saha on that other thread too, and definitely think it is worth checking out (very good food, nice ambiance).

      3. haven't tried it , I am ashamed to admit :-(

      4. Favorite Indian: Sultan, favorite Thai: Thai House Express (though there have been some recent reports on a new place or two I haven't tried. Reason: the quality of the food.

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

      Greens Restaurant
      Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123

      Saha Arabic Fusion Restaurant
      1075 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

      340 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      1 Reply
      1. re: susancinsf

        Thanks to you both, especially susanc, for the replies. The Time description is here:


        I thought it might be somewhere to grab an on-the-go breakfast. But I'm also open to other suggestions for that.

      2. Reading between the lines, it looks like you're vegetarian. If so, Bang San Thai does a good honest job of making their food veggie or vegan if requested, in other words they'll leave out fish sauce, oyster sauce, eggs, whatever isn't desired and will substitute tofu, fake chicken, etc.

        I like Thai House Express at least as much for meat dishes, if not more, but I don't remember overhearing waiters taking orders for veggie or vegan changes to dishes on the regular menu there--they may do it, but respecting dietary restrictions is not emphasized at Thai House like it is at Bang San, where the meat is all Halal certified.

        Bang San Thai Cuisine (Second Location)
        791 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

        1. 1. Greens for the Fort Mason ambience. I would definitely eat in the restaurant and not grab a snack in the cafe. If you had a car and wanted something amazing and vegetarian, I would go to Ubuntu in Napa. We (a party of four) tried everything on the menu for $80pp including tip and drinks and the food was incredible.

          3. The focaccia is amazingly good and has been there forever. You'll need to go early for the full selection. When they run out, they close shop. The most depressing time is when a bunch of fire trucks pull up and clean out the shop before you can get inside. They'll cut it up so you can walk and eat at the same time if you ask. Tomato is most popular, intensely tomatoey with olive oil and green onion. The other flavors are pretty similar to each other and different from tomato: plain, mushroom, olive, onion, rosemary. I think I might be forgetting a flavor. Umm...they're not exactly the friendliest people, so don't take it personally.

          4. If you are a vegetarian, Udupi Palace and Dosa are good choices.

          3 Replies
            1. re: betterbeheaven

              There is usually pizza available at eleven, with some of the others available as well. Unless the aforementioned firemen get hungry. I usually get 2 slabs whole and 1 cut up to snack on while I walk through north beach and chinatown. They told me once that you can call early and reserve the ones of your choice for pickup later, if you're worried about that.

              I should mention that unlike most of the other foccacia I've had in SF, it is very soft, yeasty, and olive oily. Which I love because I've been eating it since I was a tot, but may not be to every one's taste. Its like the Dorian Gray focaccia shop--they were old and crotchety thirty years ago and they're exactly the same today.

              1. re: sfbing

                Just to be really clear, at Liguria, if you order one "for now" they will slice it into sticks and make a sort of paper cup wrapper thing so its easy to eat out of hand.

                I always order "___ sheets to go and one garlic (my fav) for now".

          1. 1) Greens (I haven't been in awhile either) but they don't try to serve you veggie "meat". I actually had a nice meal at Millenium with vegan friends but I would go to Greens even if I weren't with vegan friends.

            2) sorry, I'm can't help.

            3) Can't comment about Liguria, but I think Arizmendi is worth a trip to the Inner Sunset. And while you're in the neighborhood, you can check out Cafe Gratitude -- it's one of those places where nothing is cooked.

            4) Favorite Indian is Dosa. Haven't been to the new location in the Filmore, but LOVE the one in the Mission. Great food, great service. As for Thai... don't hate me but I like Osha Thai (several locations... mostly go to the one in SOMA). If you're vegetarian... they make a pumpkin curry that's wonderful!

            1 Reply
            1. re: sfwork

              Is the Osha youre talking about on 2nd street near mission? I get confused by the different Osha's. Had a wonderful beef and artichoke salad at the one on 2nd St over the summer. Nice ambiance too, but a little $$ than most thai places. Had some lackluster noodles at the Osha at Geary/Leavenworth. Is it the same people?

            2. 1) Millennium is fancier (and pricey) than Greens. They cater to different crowds: fine dining vs. comfort food. Millennium is not bad, but not everyone appreciates their out of the ordinary creativity. Sometimes their creations are excellent, but not always.

              2) Saha's prix fixe is $40 (veggie prix fixe is $30). In my opinion, their fusion Middle Eastern food is very good.

              3) Would I wake up early in the morning just to get some foccacia bread at Liguria Bakery? No. - Instead go to Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe, their focaccia sandwiches (available all day) use bread from Liguria Bakery. But if you want to try the other flavors (pizza, raisin, garlic, rosemary, mushroom, black olive), you can only get them at the bakery. You can also get good foccacia bread at John Campbell's Irish Bakery, along with other excellent baked goods.

              4) Osha Thai (6 locations) is a nice chain, each location is somewhat different in both decor and menu. But not everyone likes it. SF has hundreds of tiny Thai restaurants that are someone's favorite neighborhood Thai place. Thai Time is one of those places.
              Thai House Express is good and cheap but I should mention that it's located at the edge of one of our high crime areas, the "tenderloin".
              Regarding Indian food in the bay area: northern, southern, Pakistani-Indian cuisine, all-you-can-eat buffets, etc. there are too many choices so prices are very affordable. I would avoid any place that sells expensive Indian food, they aren't worth it.
              For example: Shalimar, Lahore Karahi, Naan-N-Curry (multiple locations - food quality varies), are some of the best known good & cheap no-frills places. Dosa is a relatively new southern Indian cuisine chain (better decor) that is currently popular in SF.

              Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe
              566 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

              John Campbell's Irish Bakery
              5625 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

              995 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

              Lahore Karahi
              612 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              Osha Thai
              149 2nd St, San Francisco, CA 94105

              OSHA Thai
              2033 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123

              Osha Thai Embarcadero
              100 Drumm St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              642 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

              532 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              1409 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              Thai Time Restaurant
              315 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

              Dosa on Fillmore
              1700 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

              3 Replies
              1. re: L C

                3. Definitely go to Liguria bakery if you have a chance. Andronico's grocery store in the Inner Sunset also sells at least 3 types of Liguria Bakery foccacia (tomato and olive for sure and maybe scallion). Previously mentioned Arizmendi bakery and Cafe Gratitude are also close by.

                1. re: tatertot

                  Getting the stuff straight from Liguria is better. The stuff at Andronico's just doesn't taste the same. It doesn't even taste as good as 2 day old leftovers from Liguria. I blame the plastic bag.

                  1. re: sfbing

                    Yeah, it's always stale tasting when bought from Andronico's

              2. 1) for me, millenium hands down. Greens' food is only average, and it's the kind of vegetarian that gives veggie a bad name (lightweight, flavorless). One poster called it "comfort food" - Stir Fry, Brochettes - veggies, cheese, potatoes, have-a-nice-day. Don't get me wrong - I used to love the place - had two birthdays there - but it's just tired. Millenium at least is doing something new and it sticks to your ribs, even though the dishes are very hit-or-miss. I'd prefer a restaurant that tries. Greens has the best view though.

                It sounds like you've got a half-veggie partnership. Watch out. Lots of SF upscale dining establishments have *no* decent veggie options (Zuni, Boulevard, I'm looking at you). My sister's veggie, and it's a challenge having a nice meal with her - we've had several fiascos (restaurant walk-outs after examining the menu and quizzing the staff about how they'd accomodate). She's really easy going, but I always keep a carefully researched Plan B in my back pocket (no reservation - great veggie option - no repark). The good news is most places have menus online now, and *most* restaurants are OK. But I keep thinking we live in the land of enlightment and veggies and a quality restaurant will have a great option or two - sometimes, just not so.

                4) SF is generally only average for Thai. Most neighborhoods have decent thai but nothing special - green curry chicken and choo chee salmon is a familiar comfort food. 20 years ago I said thai was a strength, but there hasn't been much Thai immigration, so the food's staying static in a world of rising expectations. Indian, however, we have immigrants. My favorites are the Tandoorloin-style places like Shalimar and Pakwan, or heading to the south bay where the actual indian-immigrant technies live (probably not an option for you). Dosa's new and hot and I haven't tried it.

                LC's pretty on the mark - don't do fancy indian here.

                1. 1. Millennium! I've had some of the worst vegetarian meals anywhere at Greens. Don't go unless you're kidnapped and forced to eat there.

                  2. Saha always offers veggie and vegan options in addition to their meat ones. You'll probably go home in a food coma, it'll be that good.

                  3. N/A

                  4. Dosa is a fantastic option, and you can get to the one on Post at Fillmore via the Sutter St. buses. I've had good luck at the downtown Osha Thai, but that's it.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: rahir

                    What was so bad about the meals at Greens? I'm kind of surprised by the division between proponents of Greens and Millenium. I wonder why the split is so strong!

                    1. re: saraindc

                      I gave Greens two chances - the last meal was a few years ago, but it doesn't sound like things have changed much, so hopefully my experience is still relevant.

                      Basically, the food seemed extremely uninventive and stuck in an early-80's vegetarian mode - vegetable brochettes, bean and grain cakes, "global" influences that neither accurately replicate the original nor give a fresh or inspired twist.

                      Look at the menu: http://www.greensrestaurant.com/menu-...
                      There are way too many components in every dish, to the point where it becomes one big amorphous mass of meh. No components get a chance to shine. The sad thing is, I didn't even think the produce was all that great, compared to what I get at my local farmer's market. Oh, and the plating was sloppy and uninspired.

                      I grew up with a lot of vegetarian friends and we used to cook out of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook together - Greens' food kind of reminds me of the stuff we cooked in high school, except our stuff tasted better.

                      I don't know if you have access to a car, but I would go to the Cafe at Chez Panisse in Berkeley to experience minimalist preparations of outstanding produce, and Ubuntu in Napa to experience creative and innovative preparations of vegetables.

                      1. re: daveena

                        Amen! Greens is heavy on the cheese, is 80's inspired, and seems to have been coasting for the last 10 years.

                        The problem with "Millenium vs Greens" is neither is favored - Millenium is too offbeat, half the dishes don't work, service is not flawless, and it's expensive.

                        The choice *between these two flawed places* comes down to whether you'd rather take a chance at brilliance but likely get something very peculiar, or have a sedate, uninspired meal with a great view. Fancy all-veg dining is hard - Ubuntu seems the winner.

                        Although, for the life of me, I can't understand how people call the current food at Greens "great". What exactly they're comparing with is beyond me. Greens is also an old war horse - you tend to get positive reactions for a place like that.

                        Great feature of chowhound is you can go read people's posts easily. Figure out if you're more like Rahir or SFWork.

                    2. 1. I've been to Greens and Millenium, each once, many years ago. I thought the food at Greens was far better executed and more flavorful -- to me it seemed as though Millenium was being experimental but didn't really know what they were doing. That said, ISTR that Millenium's food was low-fat; not so at Greens by a long shot. Great view at Greens.

                      2. Haven't been there, but tend to avoid all restaurants on V-day -- they are never at their best..

                      3. Although the tomato-onion foccacia at Liguiria is good, I prefer the same variety at Danilo Bakery on Green St. (near Grant). I discovered them a while back when Liguiria was closed for vacation, and noticed locals carrying around the obvious foccacia parcels. I stopped someone on the street and asked where the foccacia came from, and I've been a Danilo's fan ever since. They also tend to sell out early.

                      4. Amber India is our favorite Indian in SF of the few we've tried, but I'm not too sure of their veg options. No current opinion on SF Thai.

                      Caffe BaoNecci
                      516 Green St, San Francisco, CA

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Steve Green

                        i went there a couple weeks ago and it was fabulous. it is upscale though, which i liked (cloth napkins! wine list! cocktails! helpful service! high quality ingredients! incredible depth of flavor!) but it is not even remotely inexpensive.

                        1. re: artemis

                          Which 'there' are you referring to?

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            ooops. amber india is the "there" i was speaking of. rereading my post, there was no way to discern the reference. i hope to return to amber india soonish, but it's been about six months since my last visit to aziza, so that's next. a girl's got to have priorities!

                            as for greens, i was there last year and agree with daveena: uninventive.

                            liguria foccacia is delicious; i like the tomato one best. i have found the andronico's stock of liguria to be dry.

                        2. re: Steve Green

                          Was your Danilo trip recent? The owner was trying to turn it into a wine bar last I heard, and I'm not so sure he's focusing on making his paninis. Either way, I was pretty sure the foccacia has become much less of a focus. For a while though, wow...it was probably better then Liguiria.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            Haven't been there for 6 months or so -- last I was there he had added some tables and was selling paninis, but everything else seemed unchanged. I didn't look too closely though.

                        3. Forgot to link to Amber:

                          Amber India
                          Mission and Fourth, San Francisco, CA

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Steve Green

                            I went to Amber India with a vegetarian friend a few weeks back, and we shared everything -- there were lots of good vegetarian options and all of the food that we had was great. Also, after we gave the waiter our choices, he said "Vegetarian?" And then he suggested something else that he said that we should definitely try, the spinach chaat. It was completely delicious, definitely the best thing that we had, so listen to your waiter if you go there.

                            I do want to go back for some of the meaty dishes, though, because they looked great going by, but I'll totally get the spinach chaat again.

                          2. Saha is one of my favorite restaurants. We went on Valentine's a couple of years ago and while it was one of our best V-day experiences, we both agreed that it was not one of the better experiences we've had at Saha because 1) the place was jam-packed the whole time so the staff was over-whelmed and 2) they had a special menu with more luxury foods than normal so it was more expensive than it usually is.

                            If you have to go out on V-day, Saha is probably as good a choice as any but if you want the best Saha experience possible, go another night.

                            Also, since you're staying at the Carlton, I'd highly recommend doing a Polk Street "ethnic" progressive dinner -- there's tons of good bars & casual restaurants.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: larochelle

                              Thai House Express has multiple locations, and the one in the Tenderloin on Geary St is definitely ghetto but it's also where all the Thais go and arguably the most authentic. That said, the Thai House Express at the intersection of Castro St and 19th St is actually really good and also 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.

                            2. If you will have a car I REALLY suggest ubuntu - I've never had anything like it and even non-veg love it. If you don't have a car......well not such a good option.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: estnet

                                Ubuntu is so good that I would consider renting a car just to go!

                              2. What did Time say about Liguria?
                                If you're in the area and they're open, then yes you should. Is it the ultimate bakery, and an absolute must? Well if you really love Focaccia, then yeah. If you're looking for a place caught in time, then yeah. It's basically an empty old shop, that looks like it was set designed for a film, and the sometimes cranky but well meaning family that runs it. There's a workshop in the back, and they'll wrap your focaccia in butcher paper. It's in a fun part of town and near lots of cool stuff (across the street from Mama's for brunch).... so it's worth a visit if all this intrigues you. I suggest trying the raisin, which is the unexpected sleeper there.

                                1. The Greens/Millenium choice brought a recent Bauer (Chron food critic) blog post to mind (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/s...) "Raising the ire of vegetarians", where he notes that you have lots of good options at many of the best places, and not to get too focused on veggie places per se. He calls out the prix fix veggie menus at Fleur de Lys, La Folie and the French Laundry (not that I can vouch for any of those). So you might want to widen your search for good vegetarian offerings.

                                  I'll second the Arizmendi recommendations too. Nothing against Liguria, mind you. Go to both!

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: BernalKC

                                    Yeah, given the lukewarm to poor reviews of both Millenium and Greens, I'd choose instead to go to a great restaurant that also has great vegetarian options, instead of a mediocre vegetarian restaurant. If you search the board for vegetarian, there should be some good suggestions, and I think a meal at Chez Panisse is a great idea for a vegetarian, because they do such an excellent job with vegetables.

                                    1. re: JasmineG

                                      Coi has choices for their tasting menu allowing easy construction of a vegetarian tasting menu. It is easily the best and most elegant vegetarian option in the city.

                                      373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                      1. re: Paul H

                                        Might be out of the OP's price range, although they could eat in the lounge, which has its own menu.

                                  2. Thanks for all the advice. Reading these replies, and more information elsewhere - including PETA's list of top veggie restaurants and a recent NYTimes piece on veggie restaurants - I've gone from leaning towards Greens to leaning towards Millenium. I want the chance to experience exciting food, even if it doesn't always work, without feeling anything on the menu is off-limits. There are plenty of places I can go and construct a veggie meal, but I'm excited about a place where I can eat anything! I've heard and read that Ubuntu is great and I hope to get there at some point, but our trip is too short and we don't have a car, so no luck this time around!

                                    So, I think I'm going to have a meal at Millenium and go to Saha for a Valentine's Day that doesn't involve a ridiculous prix-fixe. I have one other dinner meal spot free to work out either in advance, or as the mood strikes me when I get there!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: saraindc

                                      Have a wonderful time, and please post afterward regarding your experience!

                                      1. re: rahir

                                        Thanks. I'll post with all the details.