Young Montreal couple looking for the goods.
We are a couple in our mid-20s staying in SF for a week (Union Sq. area) without a car. We are budding foodies who know the Montreal scene of French and market fresh bistro/brasserie fare, and we're hoping that late June will be a good time to check out the food in San Francisco. I heard that SF is an easy city to walk, is this true? What restaurants are excellent and accessible by metro/tram/bus/feet from Union Sq.?
We love all types of cuisine and would like to try some things uniquely Californian, but mostly just excellent food - both cheap and expensive, just not that middle ground where the food is garbage and not worth the price. Thanks!!
I hope you're not missing fete St Jean Baptiste? Seems to me if you survived a Montreal winter you need to collect your reward that weekend. But I digress...
SF has decent transit and many walkable neighborhoods. Union Square is a good home base, though most people here will recommend that you get out of Union Square to get the good eats.
One direction to go is the Mission. Nice vibrant street scene up and down Valencia and Mission Street with lots of good restaurants and bars. On the high end I'd recommend Range and Delfina. Foreign Cinema is another good choice, and also a great brunch place. Range is probably more "California" in terms of attention to fresh, local ingredients with a creative flair.
One other idea I'll nominate is Ler Ros Thai in the Tenderloin. Search the board for extensive reports about this place. It has a huge menu filled with great food that you won't find at other Thai places -- and they're open late. It will be close to you, but the Tenderloin is not for the feint of heart, and US cities are not even remotely as safe as Canadian cities - so take a bus or a cab.
There are literally 100's of restaurants in SF that fit you criteria. My suggestion is get more specific, do a search on the board, and then come back for recommendations of what interested you.
That being said, any budding foody from out of town must visit the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. Just take a street car east on Market Street to the Ferry Plaza.
For someone in their mid 20's you can walk to almost every spot in San Francisco, and for those destinations for which you don't have the time public transportation is quite good.
I wouldn't say SF is an easy city to walk at all, but if you pick neighborhoods in sections, you'll find most of your destinations to be very accessible depending on the areas. There are some streets which are very spread out, and the hills, and slopes can be a factor in how many stops you can make - the city really lends itself to driving, but parking can be so difficult that a tourist would probably get to see more on foot anyway.
The "walkability index" isn't perfect, but it gives a pretty good idea of what's around. Presumably a hound isn't going to be spending a lot of time at chains and tourist traps, but the fact remains that there's a lot of stuff within easy walking distance of Union Square, including Chinatown, North Beach, the Embarcadero, SoMa, etc.
As far as maps vs. actual walking, you got that right. When walking SF you have to take into account both horizontal and vertical distance. Union Square to North Beach via Kearny / Broadway / Powell Streets is a much different walk than staying on Kearny over Telegraph Hill (or worse yet the straight shot up - and down and up and down - Jones Street). A topographic map is helpful for the uninitiated.
I just know, if one were to say, try to do a tour of Blue Bottle at Mint Plaza Table:Farm, , Coffee Bar, and then Ritual Coffee.... or maybe a detour like Humphrey Slocombe... ending at Mission Pie or Taqueria... on a map it would look really easy, without hills, but in reality few of us on this forum have ever (or would) do that walk. Plus finding Mint Plaza, or the roundabout entrance for Coffee Bar alone could throw someone off on foot.
re: Xiao Yang
I'll race you. Any time, any day. You'd have the leg up being an old New Yorker.
p.s. It was Mint Plaza to Bryant and 17th, and then to 24th and Mission in my hypothetical scenario ....and the point was, mapping and breaking it down by miles is misleading. Coffee Bar would be a lot more out of the way by foot then it looks. Anyway, I think our visitors get it now, and there's no need to debate this into a pissing contest.
I may be an old New Yorker, but I've been a San Francisco for 47 years, which is a few more than most Chowhounds. A point here, though, is that traveling motivates one to walk, out of curiosity about what one might see. I averaged 7 miles a day walking for the month I was in Shanghai, but average about half of that here because I use transportation to cover the more boring stretches.
re: Paul H
We visit San Francisco twice a year for 4 or 5 days and stay at Bush and Powell, very near Union Square. The first thing we do upon arrival is go to the kiosk at the foot of Powell by the cable car turnaround and buy a one-week Muni pass for $24. This pass gives you unlimited travel on all Muni buses, streetcars and the cable cars which are $5 one way otherwise. They are the best way to save your legs on the hill near your hotel. You will quickly figure out ways to avoid the egregious lines and that there is some great dining along the less crowded California Line (see links for a couple of ideas).
If you supplement your walking and Muni pass with the occasional $1.50 trip on BART eg to get to within a block of Poc Chuc in the Mission for some great Yucatecan food, you will optimise your time and money. We only take cabs occasionally because if you get stuck in traffic they can get expensive but they are pretty easy to flag down.
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111
240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111
2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
I beg to differ. I find San Francisco eminently walkable, even more so than Montreal (which I visit yearly) mostly due to the fact that the restos aren't as spread out. Sure, there are some grades I avoid (Nob Hill and Russian Hill, for example) but I'm pushing 70 and am no Jack Lalanne. By and large, the OPs won't have to deal with grades any more daunting than they would hoofing it from the Quartier to the Plateau, and will find plenty to look at along the way.
One of the best resources for SF dining has been compiled by our own rworange right here on Chowhound. The master list is "Visitng SF. Eat like a local not a tourist." It links to more than a dozen other lists that describe everything from Chinatown hits and misses to fine dining establishments.
Seriously, check it out. Once you have, you'll be able to ask much more specific questions and get much better answers.
Funny, I just returned from a four-day vacation in Montreal. Loved the city's French food and design-forward restaurants and lounges!
As a contrast to your city, I also recommend checking out SF's Mission neighborhood. You can get off BART at 16th/Mission and walk over to Valencia, or take the N/J-line muni to Castro/Market, cross Market and walk up Church St., and cross over to Valencia. Go to Four Barrel Coffee (15th & Valencia for coffee and interesting donuts - like maple bacon and salted caramel). I definitely recommend searching these boards for "Mission burrito." On the higher end, your "foodie" dinner/lunch/brunch options on Valencia include Bar Tartine, Range, Beretta, Spork (very American with twists), Dosa. And there's great ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery.
Closer to where you are staying, you have a variety of cheap ethnic restaurants/dives. Grab Vietnamese sandwiches or noodles during the day (do a search on this board for banh mi and pho). Other food options include Thai House Express, Lahore Karahi, Katana-ya....too many for me to list.
Also, check out the Haight neighborhood with its beautiful old Victorians. Take the N muni to Duboce/Fillmore (I think). Grab a sausage at Rosamunde and a beer at Toronado. Or a cocktail at Alembic. Magnolia is a well known "gastropub" but they've been through some kitchen changes lately, so I can't vouch for their current menu.
And if you are in Hayes Valley, I recommend Bar Jules for American cuisine.
430 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102
3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Thai House Express
901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109
842 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
1058 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
1725 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Magnolia Pub & Brewery
1398 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
612 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109
561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
547 Haight St, San Francisco, CA
Rosamunde Sausage Grill
545 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
609 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102
1199 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Four Barrel Coffee
375 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103