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A New Englander’s Taste Of San Francisco

With two weeks to travel from San Francisco to Healdsburg, down to Monterey, San Simeon and back to San Francisco, I decided to check out Chowhound to find the best places to eat. Here’s a report card on some of the restaurants reviewed on your boards and a few others for consideration. As we were staying at the Parc 55 Hotel, we had to find some place for breakfast and ended up at Café Mason, 320 Mason Street. It’s an easy walk from the hotel and the food was consistently good. In fact, it was excellent. I wish I could say the same for Sears Fine Food at 439 Powell Street. Both the food and the service are much better at Café Mason. I found that someone recommended Tian Sing at 138 Cyril Magnin Street, right across from the hotel for dim sum. I would not recommend it, as the prices were high and what dim sum was offered was very limited. Their regular dishes were overpriced and underweight. The service was non-existent! On the other hand, you can’t go wrong at Great Eastern Restaurant at 649 Jackson Street in Chinatown. They have an extensive and interesting menu. As we were taking the “red-eye” back to Boston later that evening, we were careful what I ordered. The mu shu pork, beef in ginger and the fried noodle with crabmeat were excellent, as well as the service.

If you want halibut, have it at Sam’s Grille and Restaurant at 374 Bush Street. I was served a whole halibut steak, with the bone in the middle and it was overlapping both sides of the plate. It was cooked to perfection. As for Italian, Restorante Ideale, 1309 Grant Ave. is highly recommended. Although not on their online menu, I had the scallops in a light wine and tomato sauce with homemade pasta and my wife had ‘Tortelloni all a Paesana.” Both were excellent, but they don’t have a clue for a Caesar salad. As we live in and Italian neighborhood outside of Boston, We enjoy the best Italian food from either East Boston or the North End. My wife’s niece and her husband took us to Lingba Restaurant & Lounge, 1469 18th Street for some Southeast Asian food. We enjoyed both their grilled creekstone farms flatiron steak and the Panang lamb. It was a shot in the dark, but well worth the ride from our hotel. I realize that I’m biased, living less than a block away from the Atlantic Ocean, right outside Boston. We still have the best seafood, but California offers a different approach and presentation. For that very reason, it was difficult to find a bad meal. I wish we had more time to spend in San Francisco, as it was where we began and ended our trip to California. The only real criticism I have is that food is more expensive there, as breakfast or lunch is going to cost you $10.00 a head, no matter where you go as a tourist. I can do much better back here in Boston for far less money.

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  1. There are lots of places in San Francisco where you can get a great meal for well under $10. For example, Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen's lunch combo plates start at $6, El Cachanilla's super burrito is $6 (or for the same price you can get half a dozen tacos), a couple of pupusas typically costs under $5.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I'm sure that there are. Unfortunately, as a tourist, you usually end up staying in areas where the prices are jacked up. I checked out a number of places around Union Square and found the prices all about the same. That's what the tourist industry counts on. I didn't have the time in San Francisco that I had in Monterey. Thanks for your reply.

      1. re: clamarama

        There are cheap eats to be found even around Union Square and the Financial District. A tourist is unlikely to stumble on them--that's what Chowhound's good for.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I realize that now and should have posted a request for information before I went to San Francisco. I had gone on Chowhound with key words and reading other boards.

    2. Agreed (with Robert) it doesn't have to be expensive here. I'm from Boston, and you (OP) are right about Ideale, very good but nothing special.

      However, had you gone to the very reasonably priced Delfina, you'd be having Italian food on par with, if not better than, much Italian food in Italy, let alone the North End.

      Your brunch and dim sum choices are also questionable, you can get stuffed at Good Luck Dim Sum for $5 if you don't mind lack of ambience, there is also only one thing I believe) at Brenda's for over $10.

      Now, granted, I have not just mentioned some of the better food in the area, but also some of the most difficult restaurants to get into. SF is more of a tourist city than Boston and many restaurants charge accordingly; there is plenty of incredible bargain food to be found in SF if you are willign to put up with long waits and make reservations way ahead.

      1 Reply
      1. re: vulber

        I really dislike waiting in line and at my age, I can't waste time! Like any city, there are excellent restaurants waiting to be discovered. What you need is a little time and some tips from people who live in the area. The Maitre d at the Parc 55 didn't have a clue for any restaurants in the area! Usually you can get some good advise from them.

      2. Here's a great resource from rworange that you will find useful on your next trip:
        http://www.chow.com/lists/1591

        12 Replies
        1. re: PolarBear

          Thanks, I'll be out again and the list will be very helpful.

          1. re: clamarama

            Yes its a shame you did not have a chance to try some of our great bargins. I work in the financial district and we frequent several great places in china town where you can get a lunch special for less than $5 per person. Full plates of food too. Next time for dim sum try Louie's on Washington. We stuff ourselves for less than $10 per person. I will certainly Chowhound Boston next time before I go.....
            And right near Lingba is Goat Hill Gourmet Pizza. All you can eat on Monday's for $10 per head includes salad bar.

            1. re: myst

              myst, get serious I have it on good authority that Goat Hill on Mondays is over run, how should I say this delicately, families.
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6598...

              1. re: wolfe

                Simply talking about value i.e the OP asked about CHEAP. $10 for as much pizza as you can eat is a value. Personally, I go to Little Star.

                But I do have friends that live a block from Goat Hill, and sometimes they are jonesing for lots of pizza. I've been a few times and never had to wait more than 10 minutes and did not find it objectionable to eat in the same room as a few families. I belong to a family myself.

                I'm small and never manage to put much of a dent in any AYCE places and generally avoid like the plague. I hate brunch buffets! $30 for breakfast and I can only finish two pancakes.

                1. re: myst

                  Goat Hill AYCE pizza is $21.90 for two, which is 50% more than I usually spend on a much better pizza that my wife and I can't always finish.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I'm probably in the same boat as you. But I was assuming the OP might be a young strapping guy. My friends of the same description can chow down a large pizza on their own and generally devour about 15 slices each at Goat Hill plus multiple trips to the salad bar.

                    For me I can still only eat about 4 slices - so yes $10 not the best deal. I never get value from any AYCE. Keep me FAR away from those Brazilian places.

                    But I would like to know where you buy this delicious $11 Pizza??

                    1. re: myst

                      If you usually need to spend more than $11 on pizza to fill up, then Goat Hill's ACYE is a deal, sure.

                      The 16-inch "Carnivore" at Lanesplitter is $14.50. ($14.50 * 1.5 = $22.75)

                      1. re: myst

                        The 19" cheese at Lanesplitter Albany, pick up only, is $11. That's 283 square inches.

                        1. re: wolfe

                          The 19" pizzas don't come out as well as the 16" (and I'm pretty sure both are bigger than the official diameter).

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Thanks guys. Good to know. Berkeley is close enough to me that I will roll over there and try some!

                            I usually have Tomatina or Bowser's since they are close to home, but I rarely get pizza (my SO is a carb-phobic! arrgh)

                            1. re: myst

                              I get the extra-large half cooked, uncut and finish it on my pizza stone in a 500 degree oven. I have to fold up one side to close the oven door. Urfa biber scattered on the top is a new addition.

                2. re: myst

                  Goat Hill's pizza isn't great. The AYCE is kind of fun since you get to try a bunch of different toppings, but there are other places where $10 worth of better pizza is more than I can finish.

            2. Yes, if you had asked first, you might have had a better experience.

              The Parc55 is a hop-skip (4 blocks? 5?) from the Tandoor-loin, home to several excellent and super-cheap Indian restaurants. I know Indian's pretty strong in boston, but these places are better than any I've had around there.

              1. I agree. Seafood is generally better and better prepared along the New England coast than out here. More shellfish...especially the clams and scallops. Fresh swordfish, scrod, bluefish, striper, cod, fluke, and of course, lobster. But what we have here is pretty darn excellent...specifically the crab, oysters, salmon and halibut.

                I still drool thinking of the awesome Italian style seafood at Franco's in Norwood. MA. Their clams on the half shell are to die for.

                2 Replies
                1. "Both were excellent, but they don’t have a clue for a Caesar salad."

                  This is a citywide problem with a few exceptions.

                  As for cheap eats, there 's no shortage, but you have to go out of your way to seek out the bargains, and it's not suited for every visitor. There are a few places near your hotel which would have likely been suggested to you (Brenda's, Dottie's) for lunch/breakfast but I don't know many tourists who would want to spend the bulk of their trip venturing into the Tenderloin or going out of their way to say $6 on lunch - unless the food was supposedly superior.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: sugartoof

                    what about the zuni caesar salad?

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      The same can be said for Boston or any other place for that matter. One of problems is that most restaurants do not want to use a raw egg, as they are fearful of law suits. the best Caesar salad is probably the one you make at home!

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Finding a great Caesar salad is easy (Zuni, Alfred's), but I wouldn't expect an Italian restaurant with a Roman chef-owner to make one.

                      2. I don't eat breakfast out, but I do find that lunch these days costs me $10 fairly often. There are cheap places, but I consider them "cheap places". Dim Sum lunch today at HK Causeway Bay in San Mateo was about $13/pp. Pastrami lunch at The Refuge was closer to $20 than $15. Burger & ice tea at City Pub in RC was well over $10 (on par with a half-dozen other good peninsula lunch burgers). Tortas at Casita Chilanga are about $7, with with a horchata and tax and a buck tip you're at $10.

                        I do believe the OP is unfair and comparing apples to oranges, but I'll certainly agree I'm paying $10 or more for lunch frequently these days. On the other-other hand, some of those mentioned are superlative food - I jones for the Tesorito from Chilanga.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: bbulkow

                          I had half a Tesorito torta on friday for the first time in ages. Seems larger than in the past, no?

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Looks like I know where I'm going for lunch today!
                            (Are we both talking about Casita on Middlefield, instead of Casa on El Camino?)

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              I'm informed the torta came from the El Camino Real location. Have you noticed that it has expanded into the adjoining space?

                        2. It all depends on how much you want to pay for quality of ingredients.

                          I had a delicious 3$ banh mi from Sing Sing today - even through it was probably from a factory farmed pig. Still delicious.

                          1. You are right on with your Chinese restaurant reviews. I came from the east coast Washington DC area looking for the best Peking Duck and was highly disappointed with Chowhound suggestion of Great China in Berkley. When I return into SF Chinatown for our last day in SF we stubble upon Great Eastern, and their food and service was great, the BBQ plate with jellyfish was my favorite. Perfect flavor