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please review choices for SF in January (for this nyc chowhounder)

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im going to be in yr town in late january with my best friend. we're both around 30. im the foodie in the group but my buddy usually loves everywhere i take him to.

last time i was in SF was 2005 and did some of the semi-landmark/tourist spots...swan oyster depot, canteen, bar crudo, pancho villa, cancun, toronado sausages, dotties true blue...and some others. i enjoyed everything but im older and want to try some new places.

here's a list of stuff i found from some searches...please let me know what you think. being from nyc, i dont want to eat anything i can have better in my neck of the woods nor do i want to eat cali-style food for every meal while im in town. id like places where two guys can hang where it wont be too stuffy. id also love some mexican food recommendations (more tortas and tacos than burritos). Any good bar recommendations?

La Torta Gorda Torta on 24th street
chez panisse
Mission Street Food
the Sentinel

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  1. For tortas, I would go to Tortas Los Picudos over La Torta Gorda. No contest. La Torta Gorda has never really hit the mark for me. They use a really large, crumbly roll, they put refried beans on the torta, no vegetables other than onion and jalepeno, the milanesa de res is too thin. TLP, on the other hand, has fresh veggies, great bread, great milanesa, great fish torta, great everything. I'm a little biased, I eat here probably once a week.

    For tacos, depends on the meat that you are looking for. For al pastor, I say El Taco Loco #2, Taqueria San Jose, maybe La Altena. For carnitas, I say El Taco Loco #2, El Metate, maybe Guadalajara. For carne asada, I say El Farolito. In terms of a good place overall, I like El Taco Loco #2 and El Metate. Just my opinion, there is vigorous debate on this subject.

    Also, I see that you hit some burrito spots the last time you were here, but you might want to get in on the great La Taqueria v. El Farolito debate. Well, maybe it's a great debate only in my mind, but both have their supporters.

    I like the Sentinel, but it's a good takeout lunch spot, not a destination place, in my opinion.

    I like Tadich, more for the history and "old school" character of the restaurant, the food is simple and tasty, nothing unique.

    Delfina is fantastic. Seeing that you are coming in more than a month, a reservation should not be an issue, but even if it is, I have had good luck just dropping in (on weekdays).

    Also in the Mission is Range, a place I really enjoy. Great cocktails, great food, decent wine selection, lively atmosphere.

    In terms of bars, depends on what you want. There was an article today in the NYT about rum cocktails, and the SF bar featured in it was Smuggler's Cove, which opens this month. The new wave of fancy cocktail bars includes: Alembic, Bourbon and Branch, Rickhouse, Beretta (though more of a restaurant). I personally like Alembic.

    Whiskey Thieves is a great place if you like heavy pours of all kinds of whiskey, bourbon, and rye. Cash only.

    Toronado is one of my favorite places to drink beer, Monk's Kettle is good as well (though I wish the food were better).

    If you like dives, the Tenderloin and the Mission are good starting spots. Just throw a stone, there are too many to name.

    5 Replies
    1. re: david de berkeley

      thx a ton for this...definitely narrowed my choices considerably.

      i drink scotch and red wine and sort of avoid the mixology trend in nyc (it actually bores me to tears). id prefer just solid bars with good varieties of booze and a good crowd...no bowties please. any ideas?

      im sort of under the impression that spqr, nopa, and delfina are similar in terms of food quality and menu...care to pick a favorite here?

      1. re: sam1

        Nopa's more straight-up Cal, like Zuni.

        Delfina and SPQR are more Cal-Italian. I haven't been to SPQR since the chef change and menu makeover so can't compare.

        1. re: sam1

          Well, I am not sure about your tastes in bars. I have really good friends where we have pretty much diametically opposed tastes in where to have a drink or three.

          I think yelp.com is actually pretty useful for nightlife reviews in San Francisco.

          I'm going to speak in general terms, a lot of people might disagree and say I'm stereotyping. My apologies.

          I think the three major areas to go out are: (1) SOMA/Union Square; (2) the Marina; and (3) the Mission. There are obviously other areas (Castro, Tenderloin, NOPA, Haight, etc.), but I'm just going to speak in generalities.

          SOMA/Union Square is where you find clubs, lounges, hotel bars, and the people who love the scene (clothing = Helmut Lang, Neil Barrett). The Marina is where you find sports bars, wine bars, younger, preppier, ex-fraternity and sorority folks (clothing = Lulu Lemon and Tory Burch). The Mission is where you find dive bars, hipsters, and people who hate on hipsters (who are actually hipsters) (clothing = vintage, selvedge denim, fixie as an accessory). These are gross generalizations, I know. In my defense, I like places in all these neighborhoods.

          So pick a neighborhood and have at it. I feel like a lot of people come to the Mission to go out. The two main areas in the Mission are 16th and Valencia, and 24th and Mission (maybe more like 22nd and Valencia). 16th and Valencia is more of a scene, where people go to bars to meet new people. In that neighborhood, I like Casanova, Dalva, Monk's Kettle, Gestalt Haus (but beer only), 500 Club. Delerium is hit or miss, but definitely a place where people go to meet each other. 24th and Mission is a bit mellower, still lively, but feels more neighborhood/groups of friends hanging out. I go to the Dovre, Doc's Clock, Latin American Club, Mission Bar, the Attic, Phone Booth. The Makeout Room can be fun and is one of the few places in the neighborhood to dance.

          Re: SPQR v. NOPA v. Delfina, sadly, I have not been to SPQR or NOPA. Too many places in the Mission to eat at. I have heard good things about SPQR and NOPA, I just think Delfina is terrific and a real fixture here in San Francisco. And it's close to the aforementioned bars in the Mission (though NOPA is by a good bar called Madrone and also by a great music venue, the Independent).

        2. re: david de berkeley

          Driving by La Torta Gorda recently I noticed the "Poblana" banner. Anyone know if it offers cemitas? The online menu has many sandwiches and no cemitas, but I thought the tortas might be cemitas style.

          1. re: david de berkeley

            +1 (tourist vote though) for Los Picudos. I had a seriously good pork carnitas one there just a few weeks ago -- see pic.For gut-busting fun, you and your buddy could always get one at Los P and one at Gorda, split 'em and do a back-to-back taste test as the two establishments are very close together...

          2. You might consider À Côté in Oakland. Food's along the lines of the places on your list and they have an amazing wine-by-the-glass list and a great selection of whiskey.

            T-Rex Barbecue also has a great whiskey list.

            1. For bars, I think you might like Alembic (the food is pretty good, too). Also, I haven't been there, but have heard good things about the Broken Record in the Excelsior. Supposedly a very good whiskey bar.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mrs bacon

                Chez Panisse is great, the historical center of California cuisine, and the time to reserve is now - exactly one month before the day that you want to go.

                I have not been to Spruce, but the same group runs two excellent places on the Peninsula. If Spruce is similar (which it seems to be), it might be closer to what you can get at home than some of your other choices.

                Incanto is a great Italian choice with a very California sensibility. Another place to consider is La Ciccia, a wonderful Sardinian restaurant that's also in Noe Valley.


              2. It might help if you could list some of your favorite haunts in NYC. I was just there and had some great meals.@ places like dell'anima, perilla ,momofuko ssam and the little owl.

                I am just lukewarm on NOPA but folks really like their mexican place.:Nopalito.(Be warned: it is not the Mission)

                Agree you should check out Delfina altho I never understand why folks would eat Italian here when they can have the real thing in NYC.

                I was just @ the cafe at Chez Panisse and usually count the food as fairly reliable. I had the first mediocre thing I have ever eaten there(in 30 years). BUT consider the Monday night three course meal which is served downstairs.

                There are some pretty interesting places in Oakland to eat and it should be relatively easy to get here. I whole heartedly recommend a place called Pizzaiolo on Telegraph Avenue. If you can get to Commis, you can get to Pizzaiolo. Check out their website.

                Tadich is blech to me. Really, really blech. You will be here in dungeness crab season. It will not take much to enjoy these beauties. Just go to Swan's on Polk Street for a most informal sit down and have some crab.

                You will also be here for oysters. Head on down to Ferry Plaza for lunch @ Hog Island. You need to taste kumamoto oysters. Their clam chowder is very good!

                I will always cross water for a burger and a caesar salad @ Zuni. You can also get some pretty amazing oysters there.

                Check out a small jewel box of a place called "Bar Jules" in Hayes Valley. It's like some of those hidden gems in NYC.

                4 Replies
                1. re: roxie

                  great post...thx for this...i think we eat alike...im a huge fan of dell'anima's pastas, perilla, and momofuku ssam (though its more than a little overrated).

                  in nyc, favorites include keens for steak, sushi yasuda or ushiwakamaru for sushi, barbuto, ino, freemans, wallse...food id like to skip in SF.

                  ive been to swan oyster so ill probably try hog island this time. not a huge fan of dungeness crab (dont shoot me).

                  1. re: roxie

                    Heh. I'd say just the opposite. Why waste time eating Italian food in NY when we have the best you can get outside of Italy? They can't match our produce, particularly in cold months.

                    We went to Incanto with some NY friends who know Babbo etc. well, and they were impressed by the food and the prices, especially on the wine.

                    Tadich is fun but you have to order carefully to eat semi-well. The decor and atmosphere are wonderful but the kitchen's stuck in the past in a bad way.

                    1. re: roxie

                      Speaking of oysters and San Francisco food, not sure if the OP has tried the hangtown fry: an omelette or scramble with oysters and bacon. Pretty delicious, though a bit tough on the arteries. I actually like the rendition at Tadich (I have one friend who vigorously disagrees because the oysters are deep fried), two other favorite spots are Brenda's and Just for You. As a warning, the wait at Brenda's for brunch is a bit mind-blowing.

                      1. re: roxie

                        We had lunch at Yasuda Sushi. I would say nothing could ever beat that here in SF. BTW~I agree about the hupe at Momofuko Ssam.

                        It's true the produce here is like no other especially at that time of the year.

                        Since you are thinking about Napa...I recommend you check out Ad Hoc(Yountville) for dinner or for Sunday brunch. Check out their menus for awhile and get an idea of what there is.

                      2. From your list, I would say definite on

                        SEBO: even though NYC has great sushi, have you seen sushi from two white dudes?

                        NOPA: Handsome space and more local flavor than touristy parts

                        COMMIS: Real special place that's pretty reasonable for the high level of food you get there.

                        UBUNTU: I like this place and you get to go to Napa, but be warned that you might not feel full because portion size seems to have shrunk.

                        And a few others for your consideration:

                        FLOUR + WATER: Not necessarily for pizza (which is the hot trend here) but more for the pasta. Oh, so good. Plus, nice neighborhood casual vibe, although a bit pack depending on when you go.

                        CONTIGO: Off the beaten track Barcelona-like food in Noe Valley area.

                        LIMON ROTISSERIE: Get a taste of Peruvian food in a neighborhood vibe. If you don't want to deal with crowds at night, the exact dinner menu is offered for lunch.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: singleguychef

                          why go to limon rotisserie when the actual limon restaurant is open?

                          i would also say that 16th and valencia has a much better vibe than 21st and van ness

                          1. re: singleguychef

                            Great comments so far. I haven't lived in the Bay Area for a few years so some of the newer places I haven't tried.

                            Delfina is my favorite restaurant in SF for delicious, reasonably priced seasonal Italian. Since it is a white truffle season, getting the truffle supplement is a must! The bakery at the end of the street, Tartine is my favorite bakery in the country. Also, Bi-rite across the street has good ice cream. That block is just amazing for food.
                            I have not tried any Italian restaurants in Manhattan that I like better than Delfina in the price range. It is very ingredient driven and their sourcing is excellent.

                            As people said NOPA is more CA cuisine while Delfina is CA-Italian. When I visit, I think of Delfina as a must-go although NOPA is good. SPQR I haven't tried. If you go to Chez Panisse, I don't see a need to go to NOPA.

                            I also like Range, as someone mentioned, for delicious meat and Aqua for upscale seafood.

                            I'm a huge Yasuda fan too - definitely never found sushi up to that level in SF

                            Chez Panisse - I love it but some dishes are better than others. If the dish sounds TOO simple you might be disappointed (really depends on your taste) We ate in the Cafe and the lamb and polenta was delicious. Amazing corn. But the simple fish with vegetables was boring.

                            If you end up in wine country Ad Hoc is one of my faves for the price point.

                            Tadich is good ambiance for old school SF. As other people said it is not necessarily the best food (huge portions, really heavy/cheesy) but they do make good cioppino. If you want to check it out, I would maybe split an order of that for lunch and then head over to the Ferry Building for more bites.

                            Tacos - I like La Taqueria more than El Farolito but I only tried El Farolito once whereas La Taqueria was a go-to post-drinking spot.

                            1. re: silverlainy

                              Since I'm not much for shellfish, I always order a simple preparation of either sanddabs (when available) or petrale sole (when sanddabs are not available) at Tadich. And a cold artichoke for a starter. Not heavy or cheesy, but definitely a huge portion. Sometimes stuck in the past isn't a bad thing.

                              1. re: silverlainy

                                I feel the opposite about Chez Panisse, it's the dishes that sound the simplest and most boring that usually impress me the most.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Wow, getting picked apart for my first reply post to Chow...

                                  I didn't mean that the simple sounding dishes were bad. I definitely appreciate simple, fresh dishes where the sum is more than the parts. I meant that some people get put off by seeing a bowl of cherries on the menu (the whole figs on a plate criticism) and the restaurant is very much a matter of taste. I personally have liked everything I've ordered at CP but last time my cousin ordered a very boring, as in underseasoned, fish and just by looking at the description I had a feeling it would be the case. She ended up eating half of my dish cause it was so much better.

                                  Anyways, I'm not trying to start a debate about the merits of Chez Panisse. I am a big fan of the restaurant, I was just pointing out that there are people who are disappointed by the experience and for the cafe, it helps to talk to the waiter to narrow down your choices.

                                  1. re: silverlainy

                                    I'm not picking apart your report, just reporting a different experience.

                                    I'm often impressed by the most humble things there, for example, I have not been able to find hazelnuts as good as they get.

                            2. hey folks...thx again for yr help here...ive narrowed my choices to the following:

                              thur late night: sushi at Ryoko's or dinner at tommy's joynt (is this a tourist trap? its open late)...drinks at whiskey thieves...both are semi near my hotel
                              friday dinner: sebo...with NOPA as a backup if the wait is stupidly long
                              sat dinner: mission street food (looks very cool to me)...with range or bar tartine as a backup
                              sun dinner: delfina

                              a question...i eat great sushi in nyc on the high end...should i go to sebo on sunday for their izakaya night or is it mainly only worth going for their fish? whats the wait to be expected for a friday night at the bar?

                              other places i intend to stop at for lunch and brunch and whatnot: zuni, hog island, loads of mexican and dim sum.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: sam1

                                Tommy's Joynt is not just a tourist trap but the food's just OK. It's your basic hofbrau.

                                1. re: sam1

                                  Go early - I tried to eat at MSF and the wait was insane on a thurs night. I recommend reservations for the places that will take it (delfina, range, etc) to make things easier

                                  Other than Koi Palace I can't think of any particularly special dim sum in SF. I guess Peony in Oakland was not bad. I would fill up on more Mexican instead and breakfast at Tartine!

                                  1. re: sam1

                                    Go to Sebo on Sunday night - the sushi doesn't come close to Yasuda's. Good quality fish, and interesting selection, but the knife work and rice aren't as good.

                                    1. re: sam1

                                      If you like the concept of Mission Street food and don't mind splurging a bit, Saison in the Mission is an amazing pop-up restaurant serving high-end food in a space that feels sort of like someone's living room. It's $70 for five courses and the food is sensational. One caveat: dinner service takes forEVER. It takes three hours from start to finish. Still, it's very unique and they specialize in the ultra-seasonal, local produce-driven cuisine that I think of as one of California's strengths over NYC.

                                      Another option to consider, across the street from NOPA and in my mind, much tastier, is Bar Crudo. As the name implies, they serve lots of little raw fish dishes (it's not sushi, more European than Asian). However, it looks like you have lots of raw fish covered in your itinerary.

                                      Also, I second the reco for Flour+Water. Really fabulous thin-crust pizza and house-made pastas. My husband, an NYC transplant, says it's the best pizza he's ever eaten.

                                      1. re: possumspice

                                        For thin crust Californian Pizza, I'd recommend Gialina. I'd take Gialina any day over Flour+Water. The benefits of Flour+Water is that if you like pasta, they also have a great pasta selection. I wouldn't recommend Ryoko's - I went for lunch once and it was just not impressive. This would fall way short of NYC. I'd second Bar Crudo (but I wouldn't say it's better than NOPA, it's a completely different genre).....but I'd also put out there Kappou Gomi - for some amazing authentic Japanese food. BTW, I wasn't too impressed with Range.

                                        1. re: jlfoodie

                                          I've tried Gialina, and I feel like they don't get the truly thin, crispy yet magically chewy crust the way Flour + Water manages to. But perhaps it's just a question of taste? I've heard people profess a preference for crust at pretty much every thickness available, including deep dish, which is so not my cup of tea.