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DC Hound looking for quirky, fun eats

I'll be in SF (staying at the Monaco, no car) in a few weeks, and I think I've got a good itinerary planned thanks to this board. I'm looking for low-to-mid-range bars and restaurants with quirky, fun food and drinks. Not like TGIMcBennigan's "fun" but things like creative, non-traditional sushi or non-pretentious but inventive cocktails.

All suggestions welcome, and sorry if I've been too vague.

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  1. As a former DC resident (15 years!), I have a few suggestions. They aren't necessarily low range but a value compared to what you get in DC. Italian (because DC doesn't have the hardcore authentic Italian SF does) - Perbacco, Delfina, Bar Bambino . High end (but surprising how much cheaper than than in DC) - Fringale, B Restaurant.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dcfoodblog

      I wouldn't consider either Fringale or B Restaurant to be more upscale than the others you listed. In the same general price range and for atmosphere, Perbacco is probably the most high end.

    2. Some of my favorites in order of most recent visits:

      1) SPQR: The most inventive Italian food in SF at the moment (prefer it to Quince, Delfina, A16, Perbacco, and all the other top Italian spots right now). The house made pastas are just incredible such as tortellini stuffed with sunchoke puree and served with black truffle butter or triangle shaped chestnut flour pasta stuffed with chestnut puree with a burnt orange butter sauce. Unusual Italian wines, vibrant atmosphere with no dish over $20.

      2) Range: California cuisine with a GREAT bar program. Food is sophisticated yet comforting at the same time. One of my favorite date spots.

      3) Fraces: A bit more upscale food wise than Range, hot and new.

      4) Aziza: New Moroccan which has become much more refined and experimental over the years. Cocktails are fantastic.

      1. Here is an idea: The counter at Zushi Puzzle. Note that you'd want to make a reservation since the counter is quite small and the dining room is not much fun even if the sushi is excellent.

        1. Thanks, all! Italian wasn't even on my radar, since I never bother going out for it here. (Grew up with an Italian gramma...and it's just never the same.)

          Sushi rec looks good too, and thanks for the tip about reservations.

          1. I'd stop at a taqueria or taco truck and some Vietnamese or Burmese for cheap eats and quirky. Larkin Street Express is close to the Monaco. Closest decent taqueria is Cancun at 6th and Market. The quesadilla suiza and burrito al pastor (regular) are excellent.

            1. You might like to take a Geary, Clement, or California bus out to the Inner Richmond and walk around Clement Street between, say, 3rd and 10th one day. I highly recommend Halu which is fun and friendly, Beatles-themed yakitori (dinner only); I have a soft spot for the Erotica pesto/potato/corn/garlic pizza at Pizza Orgasmica and the hippie room where you sit on the floor with Indian print bedspreads; you can grab a few pork or chicken buns for later at Wing Lee Bakery; and join the throngs at Burma Superstar. The enormous new/used bookstore Green Apple and Asian restaurant supply house Kamei are good places to pass the time between meals, and you can get back on a westward bus and go out to look at the ocean.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Nina

                Thanks! We are definitely planning on getting a MUNI pass and exploring as much as our schedule allows.

              2. I see my man has weighed in (dcfoodblog) but wanted to add a few things. I second Italian and would add pizza to the list. Very good pizza here compared to DC and several discussions on this board. Tony's in North Beach seems to be the hot spot along with Delfina's pizzeria which might be easier for you to get to. B at Yerba Buena Gardens is close enough for you to go grab a fun cocktail and enjoy the view of SF (across from SF MOMA). Solid Cal cuisine.

                A quirky little place not far from you for a glass of wine is The Hidden VIne http://www.thehiddenvine.com/ . They mean it when they say hidden, but once you find it the place is laid back, kind of reminiscent of someone's living room/library (think Cafe Berlin on Capitol Hill?) and quaint. Not a place for food.

                I also would tend towards bread-focused restaurants. I find the baked goods here much better than in DC (where, to be fair I prefer Vietnamese, the breadth of Korean choices, much Ethiopian, etc.). Monk's Kettle in the mission serves a pulled pork sandwich with the softest most lovely bread and a huge selection of beers from places I've never heard of at a broad range of price points. A total cutie if not a bit of a trek.

                Last, Foreign Cinema seems pretty unique for SF but I cannot vouch. Again, not right by where you are, but foreign movies and tasty dining might be worth the trip.

                2 Replies
                1. re: dcfb

                  Your post has me thinking that Outerlands would be a unexpected, quirky fit. Did not come to mind when I read the OPs post, but when you suggest 'bread-focused' places it hit me. Their levian bread is outstanding. No bar, but an interesting selection of beers and a decent wine list. I just love the place, and to me it is an organic, unique slice of SF.

                  1. re: dcfb

                    You are right about the bread, I was just complaining about the lack of bakeries around here yesterday. And I do love my carbs. Thanks for the tips!

                  2. My folks were just here from the DC area and were pretty enamored of Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches and at 2-4 bucks fit in to the frugal category.
                    I think the Bay Area has superior Asian, Mexican and Mid range to upscale California cuisine(hard to define) restaurants than DC does.
                    Barreta and Range both have great cocktails and are in the Mission neighborhood. As well as Henry Slocombe, Mitchell's and Bi Rite for great and unusual Ice Creams Unfortunately I cant make a lot of suggestions in the city especially in the neighborhood your hotel is in, but I am sure that others can help.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: chefj

                      I'm not massively knowledgeable about DC, but my limited experience is south-east asian (Viet + Thai) cuisine is very strong in the strip malls outside of DC, especially on the Virginia side. Some parts of the bay area have Viet as strong as DC, but if they eat that stuff in DC, they won't be wowed out here.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        I am from DC and spent a good amount of time in the Vietnamese areas of NOVA. Really did not find a lot of the same style of Thai and Vietnamese as we have here and almost no Laotian (which i believe effects the style of our Thai restaurants here).Other than Banh Mi I was mostly referring to our many regional Chinese restaurants.

                        1. re: chefj

                          Thanks! We do have good Korean, Thai and Vietnamese nearby but not so much authentic Chinese. I actually work steps from DC's "Chinatown" which is like the saddest thing you ever saw.

                          1. re: JoanArkham

                            What's interesting here is the chinatown districts are from particular, early waves of immigration. Many of the regional eats discussed here are harder to get to - like the Hakka eats of a recent Chowdown. If you're serious about regional chinese, you'll have to plan for some travel time - like the BART to Millbrea, or MUNI to the outer parts of SF.

                            1. re: JoanArkham

                              Oh MY GOD. I can second your sentiment. DC's Chinatown is seriously the most depressing thing for anyone who values neighborhood charm.

                              1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                DC's Chinatown is seriously one of the most depressing things for anyone who values human life and creativity.

                                (spent 9 years in DC, moved to the bay a year ago)

                              2. re: JoanArkham

                                You should really get over to Oakland for Korean it is a world of difference. Check out some of the threads posted on this board about Korean foood

                                1. re: JoanArkham

                                  If they eat Korean in Northern Virginia, they will find it comparable here (both are gooood) but unlikely better. A note to look for the re-opening of Hollywood East up in Wheaton for Hong Kong - style Chinese and better dim sum than I have found here (still looking) or in NY, Boston Toronto Chinatowns.

                          2. Just wanted to say THANK YOU for making our vacation delicious. We mostly stuck to the "cheap eats" end of the spectrum. Places we enjoyed:

                            Dim sum at Great Eastern: I wish we had been more hungry, but we were kind of there for "second breakfast". Or maybe "first lunch". Baked pork buns are my favorite, and these were fresh and delicious.

                            Burritos at El Farolito: I had the marinated pork, and it was fab. Now I know what those "California burrito" places are trying to do, I think.

                            Ice cream at Bi-Rite: Mr. Arkham and I each got a 3-flavor bowl. The salted caramel was to die for, but the surprise standout was banana.

                            Hog Island for oysters: We stumbled on the Monday happy hour deal, and tore through 3 dozen small but tasty oysters, plus two servings of mussels in red sauce.

                            Dotties for breakfast: We got there right at 7:30, and sat down right away. Everything was great (and we took half home for "second lunch") but I'm not sure any breakfast is worth an hour wait on vacation. Way too much to see and do.

                            Mission Street Food: We were served a "re-imagined San Fransisco classics" menu (http://blog.missionstreetfood.com/201...) I don't think I'm sophisticated enough to appreciate deconstructed cioppino, but everything else was delicious. (I'm still not sure if the salt and pepper on our dessert plate was on purpose or not though.


                            Everything baked in the whole city was, indeed, outstanding. We did the tourist thing and got a loaf of sourdough at the airport (I know, I know) to take home. And even the *airport bread* was good.

                            Thanks again, all!

                            Great Eastern Restaurant
                            649 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                            Mission Chinese Food
                            2234 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: JoanArkham

                              Thanks for reporting back! Yes, we're really lucky that the Bay Area has some of the best bread in the world. It's always had a strong tradition, and since the '80s we've had the artisan bakery boom as well.