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Picky, picky, picky

Not about food, but for this trip about how I'd like to limit my choices.

I'll be in SFrancisco for 4 days starting Wednesday and will be staying at the Hilton Financial on Kearny. I'll probably be eating alone and prefer walking distance choices.

Eating at a restaurant for me is as much about the whole experience as it is the food. I'd prefer some ethnic restaurants of which New Orleans has a shortage. This would be Greek, Central/Eastern European and some Middle Eastern or African. Unfortunately, too often these type restaurants are not located in central business districts.

I would try Chinese or Thai if one of them had a dish(es) that one would not normally find.

Since I am eating alone, a plus which might balance the type of food would be a place with an open kitchen. A nearby table or eating bar with a kitchen view is always of interest.

If you think there is a special "San Francisco Food" spot in the area I'd be glad to hear about it.

Thanks for your guidance.

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  1. Hilton Financial on Kearny is on the edge of Chinatown (actually, the point where Chinatown, North Beach and the Financial District intersect). I'm not sure what you would consider "dishes that one would not normally find" but there are some good options there (including Jai Yun, perhaps the most idiosyncratic Chinese restaurants in the US -- note that it has zero ambiance, though). R&G Lounge is almost across the street -- the salt and pepper Dungeness crab is their specialty, and it's more upscale. Since you mentioned Greek and "complete dining experience" Kokkari is also a short walk from your hotel, although there's been some suggestions that it's slipped recently. I'm not sure what you mean by "special San Francisco Food spot" -- could you elaborate?

    There have been a couple of topics similar to yours that generated long threads recently -- here's one:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/689762

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Ok, I hit that thread. I was there before but got derailed when there was the shellfish/pork limitations but now see that it really spread out and covered a lot of restaurants.

    2. I think you'd enjoy Canteen. It's walkable from your hotel. Sit at the counter and watch the chef in action.

      4 Replies
      1. re: saeyedoc

        Agree with Canteen. Does it need to be walking distance or can it be cab distance? For Thai, I would recommend Ler Ros - for a place that has different stuff, but I'll just say that Im actually not a huge fan of their curries, but of a lot of the other stuff that they have. Otherwise, Thai house Express just around the corner on Larkin is also very good, but has a lot more of the traditional stuff (but also some other additions). I hear La Mar Cebicheria Peruana isn't bad and it seems very doable in distance - it is peruvian food.

        1. re: jlfoodie

          The Peruvian restaurant sounds interesting. I had good meals the one business trip i had to Peru.

          When speaking of special SF food I was thinking of foods that are tied to SF, like ricearoni (sorry, couldn't help myself). Philadelphia=cheese steak;Chicago=pizza or steak; New Orleans=gumbo or shrimp dishes; Denver=omelette (oops, slipped again)

          Isn't that crazy that if you do a word connection between a city and a food you really come up with some misguided ideas?

          Thanks for the link on that old thread. I'll review it.

          1. re: collardman

            I would say quintessential SF is definitely not rice a roni, but definitely would center around great restaurants using local, fresh ingredients. Just simply highlighting our great produce in California... Canteen would fall in that bucket and many more- such as Boulevard, Zuni, etc...

            1. re: jlfoodie

              If I recall correctly, the "San Francisco Treat" was made in San Leandro.

      2. Tadich Grill is an easy walk from the Hilton, has an eating bar and is very old San Francisco--primarily seafood. The cioppino is very good there as is the sourdough bread.

        6 Replies
        1. re: bobpantzer

          I was trying to avoid cioppino as I make a great version at home, but I think I'll weaken before I get out of SF. It is such a good dish.

          Is there anyone that usually has octopus or squid in theirs or do the best ones vary by what is good in the market?

          1. re: collardman

            I don't believe I've ever had it with octopus or squid and it does vary a lot from place to place and from season to season. If you don't want the cioppino, Tadich has excellent sand dabs and the place is truly a San Francisco institution.

            1. re: collardman

              You can also order a number of other things there, not just cioppino. I like their sand dabs, which I don't think you can find everywhere, or a crab salad. With a side of SF sourdough and a glass of wine it's the perfect meal.

              1. re: Jeni Bean

                The petrale sole we had at Tadich was pretty outstanding. We asked for sand dabs and the waiter said, "You don't want the sand dabs today, you want the petrale sole." Which somehow came across not as peremptory or directive but rather as steering us away from the less-fresh dabs. Loved that.

              2. re: collardman

                Here is a current thread on places offering good squid/calamari dishes:

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693203

              3. re: bobpantzer

                I second the Tadich, even if you don't get the cioppino. Just order some nice fish. And it's really a great place to eat as a single diner. One of the oldest restaurants in SF

                Also, right across the park from where you're staying, on an alley off of Clay is Golden Star Vietnamese. Great place for Pho, can't vouch for how authentic it is, but it's very popular and very tasty. Cheap too. I like the BBQ Pork pho. Especially good if it's a rainy day.

                There's a decent greek place on Polk St (about $7 cab ride) called Myconos. They're baklava is some of the best I've tried, and I am PICKY about baklava since my mom made it (no, it's not as good as my Mom's). It's not spectacular but it is yummy.

                The only Turkish restaurant that I'd recommend is on Clement, which is a bit of a hike. It's called Troya. FYI I'm half Turkish, and most of the items in this restaurant are fairly authentic. Avoid the pizza like appetizer though, it's not what it should be...

                Also for a quick shwarma, or falafel, try Baladie on Kearny. Only open for lunch (closes around 4-5), but tasty.

                Kinda expensive and not the true SF that you want, but close and great for a single diner is Rose Pistola on Colombus. They serve a great cioppino, and some lovely fish and I did have a YUMMY veal chop there once. It's walking distance and open a bit later than the financial district.

                I haven't tried this place yet, but it's close and supposedly has yummy Xiǎolóngbāo (soup dumplings). It's had good reviews from several CHs: Bund Shanghai over on Jackson.

                I know you didn't ask about bars but her's a good SF one. For a really YUMMY margarita, or other freshly made yummy cocktail, go to Cantina on Sutter St. Owned by Duggan, who has some neat videos on this site. Bit of hike, but you'll want a drink more after it.

              4. Canteen was a good suggestion.
                Tadich's maybe, though it may be too similar to what you get in New Orleans.

                Burmese Kitchen on Larkin, or Vietnamese in the Tenderloin.
                Tartine. Bi Rite or Humphrey Slocombe for ice cream.
                Stop at a market and look for an ice cream sandwich called It's-It bars.
                Egg Custart Tarts, and pork buns from Golden Gate Bakery
                Kezar for potato pancakes and sausage
                Mexican and Latin American foods are important.
                Lunch at the Spruce bar, or an early dinner at Nopa's communal table.
                I dislike sending tourists to the Ferry Building, but in your case, it might be a good stop.

                SF isn't really a hotbed, currently, for any of the cuisines you used as examples, so even if you get suggestions, I wouldn't make Greek or Middle Eastern a priority. Old Jerusalem is one middle eastern option, with the best Humus in the city, for example, but it's seen better days, in my opinion. Sabra in Chinatown is an experience to say the least.

                What about Indian, instead?

                1. Albona Ristorante Istriano is a restaurant that specializes in the food of the northeastern corner of Italy, near Trieste.

                  Suppenkuche and Walzwerk offer German & Polish fare.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: DavidT

                    Great suggestions. There's also Schmidt's in the Mission.

                  2. Great things that aren't common elsewhere:

                    California cuisine a la Chez Panisse, Zuni Cafe
                    dim sum
                    Mission-style burrito
                    Indian pizza
                    cioppino
                    sand dabs
                    Dungeness crab

                    Local specialties I wouldn't bother about:

                    It's It
                    soup in sourdough bread bowl
                    Hangtown fry
                    Joe's Special
                    Mitchell's ice cream
                    Bud's ice cream
                    Joe's ice cream

                    17 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Thank you all very, very much. Chowhound hounds are often very similar in that it sometimes feel like they could meet under the Dueling Oaks over how they see various restaurants. But with enough responses, as you all did, one can get a feel for what directions to explore. I think the SF is similar to NOLA in that there are few bad choices but just some that are better than others depending on the night and the desires of the patron.

                      I'm looking forward to my exploration of a small bit of SF foodom and to maybe pick up some good ideas from menus along my journey. You have dropped a few new ingredients into the mix (sand dabs...heard the term but never sampled) that has me primed.

                      Merci!

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        If you want uniquely San Francisco, an It's-Its are very much worth bothering about. They come in mint, coffee, vanilla, and chocolate.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          I liked It's-It when I was a kid, but now I find them cloyingly sweet. If you do eat one, it's best to leave it out for a while so the ice cream isn't rock-hard.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            You bring up a great point - if it's rock hard, go to another store and look for a freshly stacked box. The texture of the cookies, and ice cream will be noticeably different.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              I don't think the texture has anything to do with how long they've been stored, only with how long you leave them out of the freezer before eating them.

                              I haven't had one in maybe 30 years so they might have reformulated to make them softer at freezer temperature.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Sounds like it's time to try one in this decade.

                                When they're hard, it's usually from sitting in the freezer too long, and they never regain the same texture even if you let them defrost. They shouldn't be rock hard, and obviously, avoid them smashed down as if previously melted. The 3 pack boxes in supermarkets are always too hard in my experience.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Also, they did switch to a factory manufactured product in 1978.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I liked It's-It when I was a kid, but now I find them cloyingly sweet.
                                    I haven't had one in maybe 30 years.
                                    Excuse me but that is some long taste memory RL.

                                    1. re: wolfe

                                      Yeah, I have a nearly eidetic taste memory. When I think about my favorite dishes from when I was a kid, such as a casserole made with hamburger, Knorr onion soup mix, and Uncle Ben's rice, the nostalgia is ruined since to my adult palate it's rancid and inedible. Or conversely a salad I had at a friend's house when I was about eight or nine that I thought was revolting then I can recognize now as a nice blue cheese dressing with lots of freshly ground pepper.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        "When I think about my favorite dishes from when I was a kid, such as a casserole made with hamburger, Knorr onion soup mix, and Uncle Ben's rice, the nostalgia is ruined since to my adult palate it's rancid and inedible."
                                        How sad.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          We sometimes grow to appreciate certain tastes, so your memory of "cloyingly sweet" might be clouded on this one.

                                          I'm not going to argue that Humphrey/Twins/Bi-RIte doesn't make a superior ice cream, but It's-it itself isn't a low quality product. If someone is after a regional treat, they are a better option than Rice-a-Roni, and still fit the bill.

                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                            It's-It is better than Rice-a-Roni, that's for sure.

                                        2. re: wolfe

                                          I too remember them fondly from 30+ years back. I'm always disappointed by them today because the cookies are too hard and too uniform. I remember them being chewy, and sometimes the raisins would be a bit caramelized, almost burnt.

                                          1. re: lexdevil

                                            Inspired by this thread, I had a Cappucino It's It this afternoon. I thought it was pretty good. The ice cream was certainly not a simple "coffee" tasting ice cream. It really did have a cappucino taste to it. I will have another soon!

                                            1. re: lexdevil

                                              Following my tip above will help you find one with a nice crumbly cookie, chewy like you remember. Otherwise, you lose the flavor and it gets lost with the other components.The shape is pretty uniform now.

                                    2. re: sugartoof

                                      Cappuccino actually, available at the outlet store 12 for 9 or 10 dollars.
                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/688497

                                      1. re: wolfe

                                        cappucino is the best one of the ones named.. but i'd still pick bi-rite/three twins/humphrey slocombe over an its it any day. I think these places even have cookie icecream sandwiches.

                                  2. It is puzzling that the OP asks for "middle eastern" and no one suggests Aziza? Has this place lost its buzz?

                                    -----
                                    Aziza
                                    5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Paul H

                                      OP wants within walking distance of Chinatown...

                                    2. For Middle Eastern food you might want to try Eden's Restaurant, which RWOrange and Melanie Wong recently reviewed favorably: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/603989 It's not too far from Chinatown and sounds definitely worth it. Turkish food.