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First time in SF - Need (specific) recs!

The BF and I will be in SF for the first time for the long weekend (Fri night to late Mon night). We’ll be staying in Union Sq. (no car) but we’re willing to take public transportation/cabs anywhere that’s worth it.

Planning this trip has been overwhelming as there seems to be a lot of great places to try. Some specific things we’re looking for: (I don’t care about ambience. Just needs to be good and not exorbitantly priced. )

-We’re both originally from the east coast but now live in Dallas, so we’ll take any opportunity to get some great authentic Chinese food. I’m looking for a good dim sum (har gow) place and some good Cantonese/Hong Kong style cooking—pan fried noodles to be exact. Seriously, how crazy will Chinatown be for Chinese New Year? Should I expect long waits?

-The BF lived in Japan for 3 years so he’s always on the lookout for authentic Japanese, but NEVER finds it. I know LA might be better for this, but I thought it was worth a shot. He’s looking for the non-sushi staples: ramen, katsu curry, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, etc.

-Best clam chowder (BF’s fam is from Boston) and seafood generally. Saw that Swan was popular on the boards, but what else? How about some place w/ a bigger menu?

-Saw La Cumbre and Ike’s Place on Man vs. Food so we were thinking of trying those. Also thinking about Slanted Door as it seems to be at the top of everyone’s list. Thoughts?

We’re just looking to enjoy the great food SF has to offer so any other recs would be great. Sorry about the long post but after surfing the boards it seems that people always want specifics, so I thought I’d just lay it all out.


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  1. Chinatown is only really crazy if you are there during the New Year's Parade. Better food outside Chinatown (e.g., Koi Palace) but since you are in Union Square without a car, you can walk to R&G Lounge in Chinatown, among many others.

    You might try Nombe, a new place in the Mission, for non-sushi izakaya food.

    Slanted Door is fine if expectations aren't inflated by the difficulty getting a table. You might try lunch. Also, La Mar, an upscale Peruvian seafood place, is next door at Pier 1 1/2, and is a good alternative if you want to eat on the water.

    1. Thanks for your specificity!

      I don't think a Bostonian will be satisfied with chowder in SF -- clams are much more an East Coast thing.

      The Saturday morning farmers market at the Ferry Building is a must.

      I think it might be fun to just embrace the craziness of Chinatown and go with the flow. For a table for two you might not have to wait too long, anyway. Great Eastern is good for both dim sum and non-dim-sum dishes, but if it's crazy you might also want to look into Louie's, which is smaller and configured such that it's less likely to be crammed with large parties.

      There's a lot discussion about where the best "Mission-style" burrito can be found -- a lot of people like La Cumbre, so if you want to try it, I wouldn't tell you otherwise.

      Slanted Door is over-rated, IMHO. It's not bad, it's just not worth the money or the hassle.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Agreed, clams are more of an east coast thing, but I think the clam chowder at Hog Island is lovely (not traditional), especially if you get some beautiful west coast oysters to start.

        I'd skip Slanted Door too. La Mar is more interesting for sure.
        Not that you asked for it, but if you're willing to go to the Mission for a burrito, I'd go over to Noe Valley and have dinner at Incanto, that's not a meal you're likely to have elsewhere.

        1. re: jsgjewels

          The clam chowder at Hog Island is, indeed, delicious, and I say that as a woman who grew up in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The only problem is that it costs $14.00 a bowl.

          And just a fair warning to the OP, Swan is a great place for a casual meal (only cold food, though, as they don't have a kitchen), but their clam chowder comes out of a can labelled Campbell's.

          1. re: Euonymous

            As someone who grew up in Connecticut and lived in the Boston area, calling Hog Island's chowder untraditional is a major understatement. It is a bowl of clam still in their shells in broth. If you are lucky you'll find one diced carrot piece in it. Also they are some weird West Coast clams ... well, weird in relation to littlenecks and Ipswich clams.

            Woodhouse Fish would be VASTLY better for someone looking for real clam chowder, fried clams and lobster. There are two locations

            What is nice about Woodhouse is that they also carry West Coast seafood, so you can be chowing down on Dungeness in its various forms while your BF satisfies his New England seafood craving.

      2. Hong Kong Lounge (take the 38 Geary) is where I would go for dim sum and noodles. If you don't want to travel, consider Yank Sing if price is no object or Great Eastern in Chinatown.

        It is likely that it will be extremely difficult to get in to many of the good Chinese restaurants for dinner New Year (Sunday) and New Year's eve (saturday). You must make a reservation for a place like R&G, and I suspect that the service and food might be a little rocky due to chaos.

        Check out Muracci's near Chinatown for curry and katsu.

        1 Reply
        1. Chinatown is crazy practically 365 days of the year! But yes it will be even more crowded then usual during this weekend. R&G Lounge is one of the most popular restaurant in Chinatown. Good for their salt n pepper deep fried crab. Go to Golden Gate Bakery for their famed egg tarts... long wait btw. Get extra for breakfast.

          For ramen and japanese hot foods, Katana-Ya is located around Union Sq. Not the best Japanese food likely, but convenient and pretty decent for a very touristy area.

          Clam chowder? I think you'd enjoy Boudin's at Fishermen's Wharf. Super touristy yes, but even as a native, i still don't mind their clam chowder. I also really enjoyed Bar Crudo's seafood chowder... extremely fresh seafood and the chowder isn't that thick gloppy kind. They serve mainly raw fish, but not necessarily in sushi style. Just great raw seafood. I've never tried Swan's but you will have to wait in a very long line outside w/o seats in this particularly cold/damp weekend.

          Ike's is good and the line will prove it. Sorry lots of long line warnings in this post. But you can call well ahead and they will tell you a time when you can pick it up. It's usually 1 - 1 1/2 hr wait from the call to the pickup time. I stood in line for 1 hr for a sandwich... wish I thought to call ahead myself. I believe Man v Food ordered the Menage Trois sandwich.

          Delfina Pizzeria in the Mission is a SF staple. Really, really great pizzas there. Bi-Rite Ice Cream is 2 blocks down and you must have heard of their Salted Caramel. Delfina restaurant (next door to their pizzeria) is a wonderful restaurant too, but it's likely all seats are booked. But call just in case. Worth a try!

          Other restuarants to look into: NOPA (American), Blue Plate (American), Park Chow (American), Farmerbrown (Southern), Memphis and Minnie's (BBQ), all pretty affordable and solid places. Good luck! 30 years in SF and I still get overwhelmed with the food scene here. And SF is perfect for Valentine's Day. You will love it here.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Keesey

            They can also buy a can of Boudin's chowder because it is the same thing.

          2. Thank you guys so much! Great info!

              1. it seems like everyone here slams slanted door, ie. not authentic, overrated, etc.etc... however, every time i've taken visitors they've enjoyed it as i do myself. i recommend it. a dinner reservation is very hard to get but if you go there for early lunch, you'd be able to at least get a seat at the bar as a walk in.

                my other recommendation would be to at least have a burrito in the mission. that's a sf must!

                1 Reply
                1. re: lucymom

                  2nd a taqueria visit. There's bunch in the Mission, easy by BART. Do a search.

                  Not far from Union Sq, at Market/6th (10 min walk) is Taqueria Cancun. The al pastor is excellent in a a mission burrito. Also the quesadilla suiza w/ carne asada is excellent.

                  Or a taco truck visit. If not Oakland, then Los Compadres Taco Truck or maybe El Tonayense Taco Truck. Los Compadres (Spear St. and Folsom) is an easy walk from Union Sq. Very healthy lunch crowd. Really inexpensive.

                2. I totally agree with lucymom about Slanted Door. I always enjoy going there. The setting is stunning. I have no complaints about the food either. Its just a fun place for a special meal.

                  And +1 to the cioppino suggestion above. Good, fresh seafood can be maddeningly hard to get around here, but cioppino is the answer. Or else think Asian.

                  And I'm not a La Cumbre guy. Can't really comment on it since I just don't go there. it certainly is an institution. But if you want a place with table service, excellent nachos, a menu with lots more options, and a bar (margaritas), head across the street to Puerto Allegre.

                  1. Thanks again guys! Still a bit overwhelmed...worried that we won't be able to fit everything in.

                    We were able to get Valentine's dinner reservations for La Mar so we're pretty excited about that. Peruvian will be new for us.

                    The BF is set on going to Ike's, checked out their website and it said to avoid the place from 11:30 to 3:30, so we're going to try and call it in somewhere outside of that time frame.

                    We're open to other options outside of La Cumbre. Thoughts? Will a lot of the alternatives be in the Mission district?

                    I'm not convinced about R & G. I still have dreams daily about our Hong Kong trip last year. so in other words, I'm looking for a trancendental Cantonese experience and the salt and pepper crab is not completely selling me. How are their other menu items?

                    Definitely grabbing the egg custard tarts as they are a childhood staple for me.

                    We'll be hitting the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market one of the mornings and dim sum on the other and maybe Swan for an (big) snack. Farmer's Market--Saturday morning versus Monday morning?

                    A friend of mine from Dallas who was just in SF for her b-day last year recommended Caffe Delucchi and I've also gotten Suppenkuche and Cha Cha Cha in the Mission. Thoughts?


                    7 Replies
                    1. re: kvillasi

                      There is no farmer's market Monday morning. Although the Ferry Building *market hall* is open every day, there are only farmers markets on Tuesday and Saturday, with the major one being Saturday.

                      I wouldn't bother the Suppenkuche or Cha Cha Cha. The latter is mostly about the scene, and as for the former, you probably have as good German food in Dallas. California has it's own native cuisine. Think of it as going to Italy: you wouldn't eat German food on the long weekend in Italy, you'd eat the local cuisine. Same for San Francisco. BTW, I consider a Mission burrito (which is what you'd go to La Cumbre for) to be "local cuisine" -- it's no more Mexican than Tex-Mex is Mexican.

                      I'm not sure that anything in San Francisco will match up to memories of "transcendental" food in Hong Kong. I still think the salt and pepper crab at R&G is worth ordering, but I wouldn't go there to order anything else, as the menu can be a bit of a minefield (a lot of mediocre stuff mixed in with the very good stuff).

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        If Suppenkuche's on the radar for the food, then I'd agree with you. If for beer, I seriously doubt anywhere in Dallas has comparable beer. The Texas ABC is far too protectionist and simple-minded to allow a wide range of small imports.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Ferry Plaza also has a farmers market on Thursday as well.
                          On that day, the emphasis is more on street-y prepared food with a smaller number of farmers. But my friends visiting from the East Coast had a good time at the Thursday market last week. As I believe you've said before, our local farmers markets may be at their most impressive to visitors during the winter with the array of colorful citrus and other local winter crops. That was certainly their feedback to me, and my friend Sheryl is a Master Gardener with a great appreciation for growing seasons.

                          Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
                          One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Yeah, I don't really consider the Thursday market a farmers market. But it's certainly worth a stop for lunch.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              There are a handful of farmers on Thursday. And what they had for sale was more than enough to impress the visitors from Connecticut. They said that their home market is year-round and has some leafy greens and hard squash this time of year. Not nearly the abundance available at Ferry Plaza farmers market last thursday.

                        2. re: kvillasi

                          As noted by others, I don't think there is "transcendental" Cantonese food in San Francisco proper. If you're willing to take the BART down to Millbrae (near the airport), however, there is much better dim sum/Cantonese food. We've enjoyed Hong Kong Flower Lounge, Zen Peninsula, and The Kitchen, in particular. I would try to hit these on the Monday if possible, though, as they will all be crazy crowded (if not completely booked) this weekend for the New Year. You might also want to double-check to make sure they're open on that Monday.

                          Also in Millbrae (and some might disagree with me about this pick), I like Cafe Salina for Hong Kong style cafe food -- solid Hainan chicken rice, superb fried rice, a very good noodle soup with a fish broth.

                          (Note also that there's quite literally nothing to do in Millbrae except eat, so, without a car, I don't know if I'd go this route if I only had three days in SF. Though making it your last stop before you head to the airport might be a good way to go.)

                          If you're willing to venture beyond Cantonese food, there are some great Chinese options in San Francisco -- Jai Yun (prix-fixe, many threads on this board) and Old Mandarin Islamic (Muslim/Northern Chinese cuisine, also many threads) are tops in my book. Some of the best Chinese meals I've had anywhere in the U.S. were at those two places.

                          Jai Yun
                          680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                          Hong Kong Flower Lounge
                          51 Millbrae Ave, Millbrae, CA 94030

                          Cafe Salina
                          235 Broadway, Millbrae, CA 94030

                          Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
                          3132 Vicente St, San Francisco, CA 94116

                          Zen Peninsula
                          1180 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

                          The Kitchen
                          279 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

                          1. re: kvillasi

                            If you want HK quality Cantonese food, go to Koi Palace in Daly City. For a mission burrito near Union Sq, Cancun Taqueria is at 6th and Market, a 10 min walk.

                          2. Here's a list I put together that might be useful

                            Visitng SF. Eat like a local not a tourist.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: rworange

                              Are you kidding? Urbanspoon : Pizza Nostra 83%, Judy's Cafe 71%, HK Seafood 57%. Jeez.

                              What I've discovered for my October trip: Tadich (2pm late lunch of cioppino at the bar), House of Nanking (spicy chicken), Incanto (almost everything), Bar Crudo (raw fish), Sotto Mar (sandabs / cioppino) and Nick's Crispy Tacos (fish tacos). Haven't even looked into street food yet.

                              1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                Are you responding to my post becauce I'm not sure what you mean. What do the % mean? Is 83% good or bad?

                                I've never even been to urbanspoon so I would doubt it is in my lists though I have some recs in there based on constant good reports.

                                With the exception of House of Nanking I like the places you like. I haven't tried the spicy chicken at House of Nanking so I might have misordered. Should I ever go there again I'll keep it in mind.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Hi RW. 83% on Urbanspoon is good (it's % who liked the restaurant). I've had great luck using it all over NA as another reference to Chow. Check out how it matches up to your favorites.

                                  Thanks for the warning about HofN. Toronto does a variety of authentic Chinese very well, but IMHO, there is still a place for well made old school North American Chinese.

                                  1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                    HoN isn't old school Chinese/Canto. You might like it...but the suggestion is to avoid it is sincere and real.

                                    1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                      Yelp has 182 reviews for Pizza Nostra. Urbanspoon has only 62 reviews in total for restaurants in that neighborhood; Yelp lists 76 restaurants.

                                      That particular 83% on Urbanspoon means five of six votes, not a big enough sample to mean anything.

                                      1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                        OH ... urbanspoon ... duh.

                                        With the Restarant and Bar database having its problems for the past few monthsn and me focusing on Guatemala, I haven't updated US restaurant stuff for a while. With the way they layout their web page, I never even knew they had user review. If you look at Chez Panisse you have to scroll quite a way down the page to see the reviews

                                        It is one of the sites like Gayot and Citysearch that in the past hasn't given me any information, and usually less, than I find on Chowhound or Yelp so I usually bypass those when I'm searching for something. I'll have to give it another look when I come back.

                                        IWhat is nice is it seems they have an autimatic way of lining to blogs, reviews and other restaurant revew website. That migh be a nice featue on the Restaurant and Bar database ... if thouroughly tested ... and it worked correctly ... hahahahahaha ha... etc. I don't be urbanssppon, I mean if chow tested it. I'll have to take a closer look to see if there is meaningful data in those sections.

                                        Will check out the user reviews. It would be nice to have an alternate site without the attitude to check.

                                        ANYWAY ... back to the food.

                                        The problem with House of Nanking ... and the reason it would get such a high rating on a site like that is because it is a guidebook favorite. I see Sears Fine Food, a similar joint has a 77% rating.

                                        People are told it is good. They visit the city. They are not familiar with other better local restaurants and these are good enoug. Like it is sad that people would go to Sears when Canteen is nearby Even though Canteen has a higher rating only half as many people voted on it.

                                        So yes, you will get crowd pleasers looking at urbanspoon, but you might miss some better places that are under the radar.

                                        For example I see that Fenton's Creamery is currently number three in best casual dining ... though even in a popularity contest I can't see how that could be.

                                        I like Fenton's ice cream well enough, but ice cream wise Lush Gelato is only a few blocks away ... yeah, yeah, ice cream/gelato ... to-may-to / to-mah-to ... you would still have the vastly better frozen dessert at Lush, IMO ... it is ... lusher.

                                        I haven't eaten at Fenton's but still don't know why they would get such high ratings with some pretty great casual restaurants in the Bay Area. Well, Zachary's Pizza is number two. Truly sad if someone chose that with all the great pizza places opening.

                                        Cha cha cha number 5 in fine dining? It is not a fine dining joint.

                                        Truly a bizare list of the top 100 in the Bay Area

                                        I wonder how they are making the selections? Dutch Goose in Menlo Park only has three actual review but it is number 41 in the top 100. Enthusiastic friends and workers hitting the "like it" button?
                                        I look at that list and I see the problem with cumulative votes. Chef's have left, there are new owners, etc, etc. In the 1990's Greens was an ok restaurant ... it was at least innovative for that time ... not so much today.

                                        That is not to say you won't get decent meals from most of those ... but there is so much better.

                                        I see from your profile that you are from Ontario. Have you looked at the restaurants on urbanspoon for your neck of the woods? Are they in line with what you think is the best in that area? Or, knowing the local scene, are there better that are not just well-known?

                                        Still, I will take another look at urbanspoon when I get back beause it has been so long. Thanks for bringing it up. I might not use the rating, but I want to take a look at how the reports stack up.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          I've had the food at Fenton's. It's pretty awful (and I have a big soft spot for Fenton's). Your basic grilled cheese, chicken fingers, frozen fries, etc.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Thanks RW I appreciate all your advice,

                                            Definitely US ratings need to be vetted and number of votes is very important. The top 100 list is usually bazarre. As far as I can tell, it takes number of votes and does some weird rating.

                                            However, if the score is low, there is a good chance the place is bad. If the score is high, the place is either popular or good. Most times it is easy to eliminate some of the overrated (eg.chains, tourist joints).

                                            My BEST finds in Toronto and NYC have been high US scores (85%+), relatively low number of votes (30 - 50), and only a few CH mentions. Those are the diamonds in the rough. Sotto Mare (91% / 49 votes) looks like one of them too.

                                            1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                              >>> My BEST finds in Toronto and NYC have been high US scores (85%+), relatively low number of votes (30 - 50), and only a few CH mentions. Those are the diamonds in the rough. Sotto Mare (91% / 49 votes) looks like one of them too.

                                              Yeah, that's a good way to go. I tend to get a lot of good finds from obscure places on yelp and one line mentions on Chowhound. With yelp you have to read the posts to get the the subtleties of whethere something is good or not

                                              In Urbanspoon, Lush Gelato only had 12 votes, but a 100% like it as of this post

                                              IMO, ratings have some merit because sometimes you just don't want to read a lot and get a quick field. I've been playing with my own rating system on my Chowhound reports.

                                              But that is on a dish by dish basis.

                                              1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                                Given the relative unpopularity of Urbanspoon in SF, looking at its ratings is actually an excellent way to steer yourself to places that are popular with tourists. For example, the top two Chinese restaurants are Burma Superstar (not a Chinese restaurant and not the best Burmese) and House of Nanking (which seems to be patronized mostly by tourists).

                                        2. re: PoppiYYZ

                                          I'd pass on House of Nanking and Nick's.

                                          House of Nanking
                                          919 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                          1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                            Urbanspoon doesn't get much traction around here so the ratings might be pretty random.

                                            The most active review sites in San Francisco seem to be Yelp, Chowhound, and Opentable.