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3 day food itinerary in San Fran - how does it look?

Hello chowhounds!
You've all been such an invaluable resource as I plan my trip to San Francisco. Usually I am very good at trip planning/eating planning (ha), but I am a little overwhelmed by San Francisco, both because of so many restaurants and the logistics of making sure we're not trying to go all over the place and tire ourselves out.

Quick background - my husband and I are making the trip - we are in our mid-20s. We live in Chicago and are very into food. We will also be spending three days in Napa. This is basically our first time in San Fran (I was there with my family long ago) and we are staying in the Union Square area and will not have a car except on our last day as we had out to Napa.
We don't want to go to a fancy restaurant every night, but are not averse to doing so once or twice. I also know from experience that as much as I try to plan everything, my husband will have some bizarre craving at some point and we will have to ditch the plan.
*we have some food restrictions - we do not eat pork or shellfish*

Here's what I"m thinking....
Thurs: arrival
lunch somewhere near the hotel
perhaps take a cable car trip, walk around North Beach OR do the alcatraz tour that day, stil haven't decided on when/if to do that
casual pizza dinner - should we just go somewhere in North Beach like Tony's or is it worth trekking to one of the Pizzeria Delfina locations? (and if we are just getting off the alcatraz tour, is one easier to get to than another by public transport)?

Fri:
would love to have lunch in Chinatown before a 2pm tour - is there anywhere to get dim sum where we can easily figure out what has pork/shellfish in it, or is it not even worth it?

dinner at Zuni Cafe - it's a bit out of the way from the hotel I think, but am fascinated by what I've read about the roast chicken, which is a favorite food of mine. Does it live up to the hype?

Sat:
farmers market!!! so excited for this...and my husband is a mexican food lover so we'll have to try Primavera

Made a dinner reservation at Aziza - which is not that far from Golden Gate Park from what I understand, but I am worried that the way we would be dressed for walking around the park would not be good for Aziza, but don't want to go all the way back to the hotel and back again so hmmm

Anyway, sorry this is so long - I appreciate any advice on what I have been planning!
Thanks!

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  1. Sounds like your itinerary is just fine. Your dress for Aziza after the park is no problem; the restaurant is dark and there are very few restaurants in SF which are concerned with dress codes. You will get dissenting reports on Zuni -- for me it is fine, but just that. I have a hard time getting worked up over a $50 roast chicken when I can do it just as well at home. And there are so many other San Francisco specialties.

    You are fine without a car in the city as it is very walkable; from Union Square through Chinatown to North Beach is a half-hour to 45-minute enjoyable stroll.

    22 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      Thanks - I do hear what you're saying about Zuni. I'm still thinking about whether it's worth it or not. Although I cook a lot, and have made roast chicken, I don't make it often so it might be a nice treat, but there are SO many restaurants I'm still not sure if it makes sense to go there.

      1. re: chicagofoodie84

        Does shellfish include shrimp? Because dim sum without either pork or shrimp is next to impossible. If you want to try, I suggest going to Great Eastern, where you can order off a menu and then double check your selections with the waiter, rather than trying to pick something off a cart just by looking at it (and asking a cart lady who may have limited English and may not know if there are small bits of pork or dried shrimp in something). If you don't mind spending more money for a more upscale dim sum experience, Yank Sing is very good at handling various food restrictions.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Yup, it does include shrimp unfortunately. Thanks for the recs. I suppose we could also just get some really good non-dim sum Chinese if the dim sum proves too difficult.

          1. re: chicagofoodie84

            For pizza, if you do want to go to North Beach, then Tomasso's would be the best choice. Pizzeria Delfina is great, but a different animal altogether. Really depends on what kind of pizza you crave.

            I believe that Zuni's roast chicken is delicious, and if it's a favorite of yours, I say go for it. The Caesar Salad is also known as a signature dish there. Don't stray too far from these, and you'll be happy.

            1. re: mrs bacon

              So you'd recommend Tomasso's over Tony's Neapolitan for pizza in North beach? Thanks for the Zuni vote!

              1. re: chicagofoodie84

                Tomasso's is the polar opposite of Tony's. Tony's is brand new, and its shtick is that it has four different kinds of ovens for four different styles of pizzas. Tomasso's has been there forever. It makes pizza. It makes good pizza. But it isn't self-consciously trying to make pizza that's authentic to any particular style, let alone several styles. So I think it really comes down to what kind of experience you want. I've also gotten the impression that at Tony's your experience can vary depending on how carefully you read the menu and understand the significance of the various options.

                Tony's is more trendy, if that makes any difference. You might find the crowd there to be more to your liking.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Thanks - not necessarily looking for trendy when I want pizza...we get enough of that in Chicago. In fact I'm starting it's silly to get pizza in San Fran at all, we'll see what we're in the mood for I suppose!

                  1. re: chicagofoodie84

                    I don't think that the pizza in North Beach will be worth a stop for someone from Chicago. Tommasso's has old school family pizzeria atmosphere, but the style of pizza is heavier on the cheese. I have not been to Tony's.

                    I lived in North Beach many years ago and at that time I liked Ideale on Grant for authentic Roman style Italian, Mario's Bohemian for a casual meatball sandwich and beer and Buca Giovanni for old school Italian American.

                    Alternatively, iIf you are looking for something different than what you get in Chicago, you might consider Mexican. Coming from the alcatraz tour you are a bit of a distance from the taquerias in the Mission, but in the Marina district, Tacolicious has some excellent tacos and salsa. It's in a neighborhood that's a favorite for post fraternity/sorority folks and young professionals, so there are plenty of bars nearby.

                    If roast chicken is one of your favorites, I agree w mrs bacon -- you are right to go to Zuni. I'm not sure it's mind blowing, but it is better than any roast chicken I've had in that type of restaurant. Fyi you can only get chicken for two, so you'd be limited in ordering other things unless you have a huge appetite. You might consider one of the many many good options in the Mission.

                    1. re: chicagofoodie84

                      If you want good thin crust pizza, the best in the city is at A-16. I was surprised but it never disappoints. Beretta is a close second. Delfina's is up there but it can be hit or miss.

                  2. re: chicagofoodie84

                    No, sorry, I've not yet been to Tony's. Just throwing Tomasso's out there, as it's a favorite.

                    1. re: mrs bacon

                      Definitely recommend Tony's over Tomasso's..no comparison..there may be 4 ovens and a big menu but just order a margherita w/ sausage and you'll be happy Hounders!

                    2. re: chicagofoodie84

                      Tony makes a very good pizza margherita. He works in front of the wood-fired oven and does a pretty good job. You can walk back there and chat with him if you feel like it. He's passionate about his craft. A little piece of Naples in North Beach.

                  3. re: chicagofoodie84

                    I have vivid memories of going to a great dim sum restaurant with a friend we didn't realize kept kosher. We ordered item after item only to discover each one had undisclosed pork or shellfish. Finally, in desperation, we went for a vegetarian option: Sauteed String Beans. Surely that must be safe, right? Nope. They were tossed with a sauce containing tiny dried shrimp. Our friend went hungry that day.

                    1. re: chicagofoodie84

                      I wouldn't quite call it next to impossible, but this limits your dim-sum selection to chicken, which isn't difficult to find and I don't recall them sneaking pork or shrimp into chicken items. Sadly, though, I don't recall chicken dim-sum being too good.

                2. re: CarrieWas218

                  I think the chicken at Zuni's is overrated. If you want to do Zuni because it's an institution, do the oysters, fries, wine, i hear the burger is good, and enjoy the ambience - best on a sunny afternoon than dinner. Range, in the Mission District, has a better roast chicken, IMO, besides being a great restaurant overall. From where you're staying it's only a 3-4 stop Bart ride, or a short cab ride away. Range is on Valencia and 20th. And if you get left off at 16th and Valencia, you can walk up a trendy, hipster, 20s-something kind of street in the Mission - also fun for cocktails after - and not your normal touristy locale - you'll be taking care of your tourist quota by going to Alcatraz/China town.

                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    Oysters, fries, gimlets, burgers, chicken, wine pretty much round out my Zuni prefs. Take the "F" up Market, kick back a bit and have a good time. Bonus points if you and your doggie grab a table outside.

                    1. re: steve h.

                      If you're feeling ambitious, there are good after dinner walks after Zuni through the neighborhoods. Roughly, go south, then east. Your end destination would be Mission and 16th BART, and the short way has you walking a slightly dull section of valencia (although Zeitgeist and The Mighty might be worth a stop), but by extending out to Mission Dolores (lit up at night) or farther up through Castro St, then down to the mission,

                      But importantly, end up at BiRite for a post-nosh.

                      And if a nightcap or live music sounds right, the area around 16th and mission is full of nightlife. As a greater bonus, you can look for the Golden Fire Hydrant - http://www.naalarm.com/bill/golden.htm .

                      In the 16th and Mission area, I would probably recommend Dalva or Casanova for an honest cocktail, or The Uptown for a real neighborhood bar. If you go to birite, you might talk yourself into a walk down to Doc's Clock (a dive-look place with a good reputation for a cocktail - but dangerously close to 3rd desert at Foreign Cinema), or just hit Beauty Bar or Little Baobab.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Thanks for all the great after dinner recs! I definitely wanted to go to BiRite so that may work well.

                        1. re: chicagofoodie84

                          your itinerary is really great... good research! After your Alcatraz tour (which by the way is worth it) stay in North Beach weather its Tony"s, tomasso's,or something else. Its a great area to hang out especially if you haven't been no need to go to Delfina. The rest is really good I would stick with what you have and then let spontaneity take over when needs be. Have fun!

                          1. re: mick

                            Thank you!! It's always good to hear I'm on the right track!

                            1. re: mick

                              How about Tadich Grill after your Alcatraz tour?

                              -----
                              Tadich Grill
                              240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                          2. re: bbulkow

                            for may 5th(cinco) we were thinking of pizza delphina. where would you go after that in the area for FUN bar? thanks also delphina or Pesce?

                    2. Try the alcatraz tour at night then walk up through North Beach for Italian or Pizza....and if you stop at Versuvio for a few beers..and you miss the last bus...it's a safe walk back to the hotel...do not miss Sushi Ran over at Sausalito. From Union Square it is a great walk through chinatown down to North Beach or Embacadero....All the way from AUS ...SF is a great food city....that's why they put the hills there

                      1. I just wanted to add on that we just switched hotels - we're not staying at the Hyatt Regency in the Embarcadero thanks to a great priceline deal - I'm happy about this as I don't need the craziness of Union Square all the time, there seems to be a lot of good public transportation outside the hotel, and ferry bldg nearby.

                        1. I agree with the suggestions to check out the Mission one of your nights. Similar vibe as Wicker Park. Many, many good places to eat, including Range, Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina, flour + water, Bar Bambino, Nombe . . . Also, if you like drinks, many, many places, from divey (500 Club, Doc's Clock, Dovre Club) to a bit more polished (Monk's Kettle, Beretta, Range). Range is my neighborhood favorite for cocktails, well edited wine list, and great food.

                          Re: pizza, I think it is worth your while to check out at least one pizza place in San Francisco. Pizza places have been springing up like weeds, with some very good places. I like flour + water, other people will have other favorites. When I lived in Chicago, I found it a bit difficult to find a non deep dish crust that I liked, though Pizza DOC was very nice.

                          Re: dim sum, I once went with a friend who was allergic to pork and shellfish, and he ended up eating only Chinese brocolli. It was sad. So I would say skip it. Even with the card ordering system, I think you'll find your selections pretty limited, and some of the the descriptions on the card may not clearly indicate what has pork or shellfish in it. For example, "Radish Cake" will have pork in it. I think the only place that would be safe would be Yank Sing, since communication will be easier. If you don't do dim sum, I can't really think of any "destination" Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, with the exception of Jai Yun. It's prix fixe, and I'm not sure how the would handle food restrictions, maybe some other hounds could elaborate. It is an excellent restaurant, and a decent deal for lunch.

                          Re: Zuni, I agree that you should try it since you are a fan of roast chicken. It is pretty darn famous, so I think you might want to satisfy your curiosity. I'm in the camp of "It's delcious, but it's just a roast chicken." Others feel very strongly about its merits.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: david de berkeley

                            Definitely make a point to do pizza in SF. So different from Chicago style and Sunset magazine just did a piece on all of the worthy gourmet pizza joints in the Bay Area. http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/techn...

                            I've been to Tony's a bunch of times but in North Beach I vote for Tommaso's based on atmosphere. Also you really can't go wrong with Delfina pizza. I have a feeling it will be like nothing you've ever had. And you'd be right in the heart of the Mission district for nightlife if you hit the Mission location.

                            Also note - SF is SMALL. You really don't need to worry about not having a car/being close to Golden Gate Park (Aziza is still a drive from GG Park btw) because nothing on your list is really going to be more than a 10-minute cab drive away from anything else.

                            Food for thought re: Zuni night. If I were you I'd do Frascati - romantic, delicious, right on the Hyde St. cable car line. Then walk down the hill to the bars in the Marina.

                            1. re: hungry20

                              i'm on the opposite side of the zuni chicken debate -- it's great. yes, it's expensive, but it also is plenty of food for two. my only argument against it would be if you were determined to try a greater variety on the menu. that said, the chicken at range is also excellent. and for the money, i have no qualms about saying range is the best restaurant in the city.

                              for pizza, tony's >>> tomasso's, which isn't bad, but is certainly not the same class. the cal-italia is excellent, as well as the margherita. there definitely could be a long wait tho, and if you don't mind sitting at the bar, you can definitely do better by sliding in when someone leaves.

                              lastly, there is definitely no problem getting around sf. essentially, a $15 cab will get you from any part of town to another. and of course, there's PT also.

                              it might be a bit out of the way, but i'd absolutely slide in tartine in place of the dim sum meal. morning bun, ham and cheese croissant, scones, and bread pudding are all to die for.

                              1. re: huberto

                                a three day "passport" is a good investment. You get unlimited travel on cable cars, buses, street cars.
                                Mass transit in San Francisco is good.

                          2. Great itinerary,
                            Thurs lunch - for a taste of old San Francisco, go to Sams or Tadich's. If you'd rather go upscale Vietnamese - make a reservation at Slanted Door. If you want to make it quick pick up - sandwiches at Sentinel and go sit outside at the Crocker Galleria.
                            Thursday dinner - since you're from Chicago - I'd probably go with Chinatown over pizza - R&G Lounge would be my pick.
                            Friday dinner - Zuni is such a tradition in San Francisco - you should check it out. To me when touristing - eating out is not just about the food and the chef, it's also about the places that give you a feel for the food culture of a city - that's Zuni.
                            Sat dinner - Aziza is a great pick.