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Dec 2, 2009 08:03 AM

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

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 bowties please. any ideas?

        im sort of under the impression that spqr, nopa, and delfina are similar in terms of food quality and 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 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 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, 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.