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Tasty treats in the Tenderloin and around?

Greetings SF Bay Area Hounds. A Vancouver friend is going on a last-minute trip to your fair city with her niece to find a grad dress and has asked for some reccos. They’ll be staying at the Hilton (O’Farrell btwn Taylor and Mason) and sticking pretty close to Union Square most of the time, so I’m going to focus on it and the Tenderloin. They’ll be visiting from March 9 to 12 (M-Th), so no weekend involved. Budget-wise, they’re trying to keep things reasonable (think Canteen or less $$-wise) and they’re not afraid of holes-in-the-wall. Oh and they’ll be using transit. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated by these non-Hounds who nonetheless seek tasty treats and are more-or-less omnivorous, though dimsum and sushi are pretty well covered at home. Here’s what I have so far, very thin on the ground for Union Square and I realize I am lacking Indian in the Tandoorloin -- starred places we’ve tried ourselves and enjoyed:

Breakfast options near hotel/Union Square:
Dottie’s: gave usual line caveats and closed Tues heads up
*Café Bean (800 Sutter at Jones)
Brenda's (also for lunch perhaps)
*Café de La Presse (also for lunch perhaps)
Cafe Mason
Cafe Andree in the Hotel Rex
The Nob Hill Grille
AVOID: Lori's or Sear's


Sai Jai Thai mieng come, angel wings, the kor moo yang, beef salad

Turtle Tower for pho, especially ga

Old Chelsea Fish and Chips

Saigon Sandwich, Wrap Delight or Baguette Express for banh mi (I know there are others that may be better/more authentic but these three seem safe) – all lunch only??

Pagolac for 7 courses of beef

Borobudur for roti prata, string beans with dried shrimp paste, lamb and chicken satays. ‘Ware karaoke in the evenings?!

**Larkin Express deli only open for dinner Sat IIRC

*Thai House Express go for lesser-known dishes: Kao Pad Ka-Na Pla Kem anchovy fried rice, interesting salads, pork leg dish ***catfish larb***

**Bodega Bistro for shaking beef, green papaya salad, roasted squab, beef, chicken or crab soup and noodles

**Canteen with usual caveats re tiny size, three dinner sittings per night, no resos at lunch, Tues prix fixe

*Asuka for some quick non-sushi comfort food


Sutter Café for tamales/aguas frescas to go

Bankgok Noodles (formerly King of Thai Noodle) chicken in red curry with jasmine rice and the spicy ground chicken or pork served with flat rice noodles, broccoli and eggs

*Utopia or The House if they decide to check out Chinatown
**La Ciccia if they get a bit more ambitious Muni-wise and want some kick-ass Sardinian food!

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    1. Your friend and her niece are used to marginal urban areas? And I don't mean Canadian urban.

      The Tenderloin has a lot of great eats and bars, but I would caution innocent prom dress shoppers there's also a lot of homelessness and strung out addicts. My mother would be uncomfortable and unhappy walking much of Geary or O Farrell.

      (Avoid Leavenworth near Market unless you like scary junkies).

      1 Reply
      1. re: Windy

        Vancouver has its share of scary junkies and surprisingly aggressive panhandlers. But the Tenderloin is dirtier than any Canadian city can imagine being.

        There's no Indian on the list, so I'll second the mention of Sultan farther down the thread.

        1. re: Adamsimpson

          Silly me. I thought that was a magical word for protection in the hood but it is a restaurant.

          Brenda's French Soul Food
          652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

        2. There's a charming pub called the Edinburgh Castle on Geary between Polk and Larkin. They serve fish and chips from Old Chelsea, which is around the corner. You place your order, it gets cooked up at Old Chelsea and hustled down the back alley to the pub. The pub is a more congenial atmosphere than the tiny and garishly lit Old Chelsea, though I've eaten at Old Chelsea. On the other hand, if the niece is graduating from High School rather than college, she's likely too young to be allowed in a bar.

          There's a relatively new restaurant attached to the Hilton where they'll be staying. It's called Urban Tavern. I ate there a couple weeks ago with friends, and we were all satisfied. It might be a little fancier than your friends are looking for, but there's no reason not to look at the menu and prices since it's right there.

          14 Replies
          1. re: weem

            Thanks for the heads up on the "edginess" of the area, guys (that's realtor talk for the scary nabes in Vancouver, anyway). We have unfortunately been having an outbreak of gang crime here, and my friend has spent a fair bit of time in the worst 'hood in N America (Hastings and Main) here in the city, so I think they'll be okay as long as they're careful and don't get unlucky. We've wandered around the T'loin on our last three trips and I was mored scared below Market, to be honest.

            The niece is in fact graduating high school which I should have mentioned re the no pubs fandango. I'm stealing the Edinburgh Castle idea for me and the SO however :-), weem. Will also pass on intel re the in-house resto -- could be perfect after a serious day of shopping!

            I think I will include both Sam's and Tadich just because they are different than anything we have in Van, and because everyone should taste petrale sole and sand dabs before they die, 'Hound or no.

            Re Lers Ros, I've been following the various threads on it for our March trip, and I get the impression that it is more hard core than the other Thai restos in SF, that is to say, there are mostly dishes one wouldn't find at Thai places stateside. Is that so?

            1. re: grayelf

              Lers Ros has 100+ items on the menu, including a lot of familiar fare. You don't hear much about the familiar stuff because the unfamiliar is the big draw. For me at least...

              1. re: BernalKC

                Lers Ros has most of the basics covered pretty well. And the squeamish things are pretty easy to avoid since they are not shy about using words like "entrails." For example, the papaya salad with SHRIMP (not the crab or the salty egg), the silver noodle salad, the fish cakes, the fried trout, the fried/roasted meats, the basic curries, stirfried noodles are all safe choices. Also, I just found out their Thai iced tea is tasty.

                As for Chinatown, I was once a Chinatown brat, so here are a few places that may not have been covered in CH.

                1. Hon's Wun-Tun House, a true hole in the wall with countertop seating. Lunch only with an interesting mix of business people, little Chinese senior citizens, and workmen. Try a large bowl of the won ton noodles (with or without BBQ pork), the chinese broccoli, or if feeling adventurous, the curry beef over rice.
                During lunch rush, expect to share your table with several total strangers.
                2. New Woey Loy Goey--this is the kind of place Tony Bourdain went to in the Disappearing Manhattan episode. A hole in the ground rather than the wall. Open up the menu, point to the Chinese only set menu for $29 on the inside cover and be surprised. (If you want to spoil the surprise, it is soup of the day, garlic mustard greens, poached chicken with ginger and green onions, steamed meat patty, salt and pepper shrimp, real sweet and sour pork)

                3. Red Blossom Tea. The kids have taken over the old apothecary and are very knowledgeable and friendly. They have added some newfangled things like organic teas, rooibos, mint, etc to their top notch collection of Chinese teas. Unless it is crazy crowded, you can probably swing a free traditional tasting of several teas. (Although it would be nice if you bought a little something afterwards, which nearly everyone seems to do after tasting a few!)

                As for North Indian, I love Shalimar, but all my Indian friends are like, "Yuck!" Someone recently told me that Sultan near Union Square is actually pretty good, but I haven't been. I like Udupi Palace for South Indian, but that's definitely a schlep--there is also a new Dosa on Fillmore.

                Oh and Muracci's is very Japanese if you like curry. The katsu curries usually run out towards closing time.

                Red Blossom Tea Company
                831 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

                340 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                New Woey Loy Goey Restaurant
                699 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                Hon's Wun Tun House
                648 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

                532 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill
                307 Kearny St, San Francisco, Ca

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

                1. re: sfbing

                  Thanks for the clarification on Lers Ros, sfbing and bernalKC. I'm keen to try it myself on our trip later this month, but now feel more comfortable including it in my recco list for the non 'Hound!

                  Also intrigued by NWLG, and thanks for the other feedback. Can anyone compare Muracci's to Asuka?

                  1. re: grayelf

                    At the risk of starting another Chinese food war, with your busy list and as a Vancouverite, I would save New Woey Loy Goey for a "I'm wandering around Chinatown and I'm hungry" spot near the bottom. But so many tourists eat at traps in Chinatown, it is a good place to know. And I stress, insist on the CHINESE only set menus.

                    Muracci only serves Japanese curry with various toppings over white rice, brown rice, and noodles. Japanese curry can be an acquired taste (like the beef curry at Hon's) as an Indian postdoc I know called it an "offense against God" after trying my lunch.

                    1. re: sfbing

                      "an Indian postdoc I know called it an "offense against God" after trying my lunch"

                      Phew, good thing I wasn't drinking liquid when I read that -- LOL.

                      NWLG is in my back pocket for just the reasons you said -- we stay near Chinatown and it's not an unlikely scenario. Gotta be better than HONK, which we did go to in 2003 before I discovered the sanity that is Chowhound :-).

                      I think I will pass on Asuka rather than Muracci if only because it offers a wee bit more variety. It is not a "must" but rather in the good-to-have-nearby-when-your-feet-hurt-too-much-to-go-farther-afield category.

                  2. re: sfbing

                    Hon's is based in Vancouver, so no need for the visitors to try it in SF.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      One wonders if the food tastes the same in the two places? Hon's has been doing their thing here for over 30 years. I've been worried what I would do if the senior citizens who run the place died and I couldn't get their curry beef stew any more. I have no clue how they make it taste like that, but if they're making it in Vancouver I can rest easy!

                      1. re: sfbing

                        I've wondered if the Hon's in SF was connected to the chain in Vancouver. If so, I probably wouldn't bother. It doesn't get a heck of a lot of love here :-).

                        1. re: grayelf

                          It is but with a limited menu. If you have been to the one n the Richmond or even in Vancouver do not brother going to the one here. Not as good as what you have up there.

                          1. re: yimster

                            I agree that grayelf shouldn't bother, but they don't seem to have the curry beef in Canada.

                            1. re: sfbing

                              The one in Richmond has maybe a four hundred item menu with Beijing Duck (or it maybe spelled Peking) and a full kitchen. Great place and puts to shame the simple won ton house we have.

                              1. re: yimster

                                I like the simple won ton house--it reminds of the little places in HK that only make one or two things.

                                And, to me, it is not the same place at all if they don't have that curry dish. Which is bizarrely unreproduceable.

                        2. re: sfbing

                          At last, someone like the same thing I do. If anyone knows how to duplicate the curry beef, PLEASE let me have it.

                          Their curry beef is very unique, tender and so addictive especially after months of not having it. It is a comfort food.

                          With their chili hot sauce, the combination is really delish.

              2. Go to Pagolac for their 7 tastes of beef. $15 a person multiple beef courses. so yummy.
                You must take them to Bobs donuts for dessert after!

                655 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                Bob's Donut & Pastry Shop
                1621 Polk St, San Francisco, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: cupcake7

                  Thanks cupcake, Pagolac is on the list. I've heard about Bob's too but haven't been yet so will include it.

                2. Last fall, I was on the host committee for professional conference that was held at the Hilton. I put together extensive notes & maps for the attendees, many of whom were less adventurous and/or less ambilatory than I.

                  Here's some of the recommendations that I received positive feedback on that have not already been mentioned:

                  Emporio Rulli on Union Square, nice place for an outdoor espresso drink & pastry
                  Blue Bottle Cafe, a little further away but wonderful place for a breakfast and INCREDIBLE coffee.

                  Armani Cafe - its basicly a bar/food counter in an old bank. You can have lunch or light snack and a martini (or wine or tea) in the middle of the store surrounded by beautiful clothing. Really fun people watching spot, everyone I've taken has left happy.
                  Sultan - okay someone else already mentioned it but their lunch buffet is a good deal and I love being able to get little bites of many things.
                  Sentinel - they are open for breakfast, but I find their lunches more compelling, its same people as Canteen but the food is cheaper - more of a "gourmet office lunches" place.

                  Tian Sing - is very "new to dim sum" friendly and has good quality dim sum. Its where I go with my vegan/vegetarian friends because of the range of offerings and the staff so helpful.
                  Rotunda - go for afternoon tea. The food/tea is nice enough, the space is lovely, the rotunda is gorgeous, its a nice girls bonding spot.

                  Saha - "arabic, fusion" food. After years, its still one of my favorite places and I still manage to impress out-of-towners with it. And its a lot nicer decor than the dives on Polk street without being too expensive
                  Johnny Foley's - go for lunch, dinner or drinks. Its a very popular spot. The food is solid. They have live music at night. Definitely not "only in SF" but its a nice, friendly, enjoyable spot just across the street from the Hilton.

                  I'm sure your friend will want to get out of Union Square but I just want you to know that there is plenty of good food in that area so they don't have to eat at awful places like Lefty O'Douls, Lori's & Sears!

                  Emporio Rulli Union Square
                  333 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94108

                  Tian Sing Chinese Restaurant
                  138 Cyril Magnin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

                  Blue Bottle Cafe
                  66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus
                  150 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

                  The Sentinel
                  55 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                  Johnny Foley's Irish House
                  243 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  Armani Cafe
                  1 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: larochelle

                    This is a great list, Larochelle, with some stuff I'm going to crib for MY visit too :-). I'll be passing it on for sure.

                  2. COMIDA YUCATAN Y CITY PIZZA!!!!!

                    Comida Yucatan y City Pizza
                    294 Turk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: kirinraj

                      I think we may have a 'Hound in training here. I received the following report via email last night:

                      "So we just got back from an excellent meal at Canteen (the Tuesday night prix fixe). First - warm lobster bisque in a wee glass, with outstanding brioche. Then smoked mackerel with olive butter, and raw artichoke and frisee salad (yum), followed by duck confit with beans and green onion sausage (also yum). Dessert was roast rhubarb with meringue and strawberry sauce (yum again). "

                      I am told her dining companion pretty much licked her plates as well after a long and successful day of dress shopping.

                      What impressed me was that I got the report immediately after the meal. More to come I'm sure...

                      She also asked that I pass on her thanks to all of you for your generous and entertaining responses about the Tenderloin!

                      1. re: grayelf

                        Avoid Loris yes why SEARS its classic sf touristy yes but thats the good thing

                        1. re: mick

                          I disagree. Since the Loris people bought Sears, its gone even further downhill. The only thing left is the great sign & touristy decor and bad food, particulary the signature pancakes.

                          If you must, go in and have a cup of bad coffee, soak up the atmosphere and pat yourself on the back for not spending any more $$ or calories when there are plenty of great SF meals ahead of you!

                          1. re: larochelle

                            could not disagree more its breakfast,basic,goodand cheap. a cheap sparkling wine mimosa will liven up those pancakes you dont like

                            1. re: mick

                              FWIW, one reason to avoid Sear's as a tourist is the lineups, which I assume were still in effect. I don't line up for food at home, why would I do so on my holidays? Just sayin'...

                              1. re: mick

                                the line moves quickly but you can usually avoid it by taking a seat at the counter

                      2. I've heard good things about Melba's Crack Shack.
                        Wait is it too early for April Fools?

                        I love Shalimar but I think that's more "Tender Nob" or "Lower Nob Hill" although it's definitely Tenderloin adjacent.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: gourmandadventurer

                          Another update from my Crackberrying pal:

                          Food very nice at Sultan apart from a rather fatty lamb dish. Wait staff fine but not exactly warm and fuzzy...

                          Also went to Cafe Bean for brekkie - just had fruit and yoghurt and coffee
                          but enjoyed it - and had lunch at Emporio Rulli on Union Square - also good (counter service, half a panini and tea and ate at their nice sunny outside tables...)

                          1. re: gourmandadventurer

                            There are two locations of Shalimar in the City. One is in the heart of the Tenderloin on Jones and the other, which you seem to be referring to, is on Polk St. The original location on Jones is usually considered superior, but I've not been to Polk for some time now to offer a personal view.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Shalimar was good 5plus years ago time to move on

                              1. re: mick

                                A final dinner report from my compatriot:

                                We had a tasty Peruvian meal at fresca on Fillmore (north of california) - we shared 4 appies and a dessert. Highlights: grilled scallops on plantain and the mussels in a chorizo tomato sauce. Including one glass of wine it was 70 so not particularly cheap.