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NYC to SF - Must trys?

My husband and I are traveling to SF for a long weekend from Manhattan. Since our time is limited, we are looking for the best SF spots to hit for our meals. We are both adventurous eaters who appreciate unique culinary experiences. I have not been to SF since I was very young so I'd like to visit restaurants that are in interesting parts of the city as well.
What we are looking for:

1. Lunch/Brunch - We will spend one day exploring the city and are looking for a lunch spot in a neighborhood/area worth seeing. I have read a lot about the Pork Store Cafe on Haight St. Is that worth going to? Any other areas in the city that are must see w/ a great lunch spot?
2. Dinner - One night, we'd like to go to more of a fine dining restaurant. I was looking into Aqua, Fleur de Lys and Perbacco as options. I also keep coming back to Boulevard reading that is is a San Fran classic with excellent food and a good atmosphere. Which of those is the best and am I missing anything?
3. Lunch - We are traveling to wine country for a day and will stop in Yountville. Are the Thomas Keller restaurants the best bet out there?
4. Dinner - For our second dinner in SF, we want something unique to the city with more of a casual feel and maybe a different type of cuisine. I am very stumped on this one because there are so many restaurants. I was looking at the Mission district as it seems to have a lot of small cafes and a variety of ethnic cuisine but I am not sure what is the best. I was also thinking A16 may be a good option but coming from NYC, I am not dying for pizza/italian.

Please send your suggestions!

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Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

A16
2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

Pork Store Cafe
1451 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

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  1. I think Boulevard is more SF-specific in style. Zuni even more so.

    Fleur de Lys seems to me too much like what you could get in SF. Same goes for Aqua, which anyway is between chefs and being sold. I don't think high-end French really gets to the heart of the Northern California food scene.

    I'm not sure if NY has the level of Burmese or Peruvian food we have here.

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    Zuni Cafe
    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

    1. I go to New York often enough that I would recommend avoiding Fleur de Lys or Perbacco -- it is too similar to what you can get back there.

      I would, however, recommend Aziza which is unlike anything you will find on the East Coast.

      Regarding Yountville, the bar is set so high on the restaurants in wine country that it is hard to go wrong, exclusive of Keller. Is this for lunch or for dinner? If you are staying for dinner, I would recommend the restaurant at Meadowood.

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      Perbacco
      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

      17 Replies
      1. re: CarrieWas218

        Aziza is moroccan and I was underwhelmed on my visit there. I also think NYC (at least Queens) seemed to have a lot of peruvian joints. Burmese though could be a really nice option.

        Yountville area, I usually food hop and snack around since there are lots of good choices. Had a nice meal recently at Bottega (ordering all appetizers), but again this is Italian, so you may not be interested.

        If you do go to Zuni (last time I was there I saw Martha Stewart), make sure and order the margarita they have a great one.

        Another fun place in the Mission is Medjool (small plates).

        For brunch I like the food at Ella's or Chloe's but as a visitor it is sometimes fun to go to the Cliffhouse Bistro for the awesome view and free hot popovers they serve while you wait. Or go to dimsum - one of my favorite ways to have brunch.

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        Zuni Cafe
        1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

        Medjool
        2522 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

        Bottega
        6525 Washington Street Suite A9, Yountville, CA 94599

        1. re: myst

          Aziza's chef is Moroccan but he's taken his cooking a fairly long way from what you get at the usual belly-dancer joint.

          To a lesser extent I think the same goes for Mochica and La Mar compared with cheap Peruvian places.

          -----
          Mochica
          937 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions. I was afraid that the restaurants I was looking at may be a little too familiar.

            I like the menu at Zuni and definitely love a good Margarita. So you all would pick Zuni over Boulevard?

            I don't think I have ever had Burmese cuisine. What are the best places to try?

            We are still figuring out timing of our day in wine country and are not sure if we are looking to sit down for a long meal or food hop but it is nice to know we can't go wrong.

            -----
            Zuni Cafe
            1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

            1. re: MaggieM2315

              Zuni is better for lunch and lot more casual. Boulevard is a bit more upscale and both are tourist destination restaurants so get reservations.

              If you haven't had Burmese food, you owe it to yourself to try it! Burma Super Star is the more expensive and more "popular" around, but I prefer Larkin Express Burmese in the Tenderloin; considerably less expensive, less pretentious, and less busy.

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              Zuni Cafe
              1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                Absolutely agree with Burma Superstar, instead of The Pork Store, which I is just a regular bacon n eggs type of place. If Burma is too crowded, try B Star just a block away. They offer a very similar menu with a more casual atmosphere.

                Up in Yountville, I cant recommed anything as I myself haven't made the rounds of restaurants yet. I will recommend that you make a stop at Bouchon Bakery for pastries. To die for!

                The Mission has a plethora of awesome taquerias which I know NYC lacks! It doesn't compare to the restaurant style of A16, but you will love a Mission burrito or taco nonetheless. Taqueria Cancun and La Taqueria are my favorites. If you want something with actual table service in the Mission, newly opened Nombe is a Japanese ikazaya with wonderful mini-dishes. Though I know NYC does ikazayas just as well.

                Other SF favorites - Delfina, NOPA, and The Slanted Door.

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                Bouchon Bakery
                6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

                Taqueria Cancun
                2288 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                B Star Bar
                127 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                La Taqueria
                2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                Nombe
                2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

              2. re: MaggieM2315

                Zuni has been one of my half-dozen favorite restaurants in the area for over 20 years. It's relatively casual but then so are most people who live here--we spend all our money on food and walk around in rags. (I think the French Laundry is the only restaurant that enforces a dress code and even they don't have the nerve to insist on neckties.)

                Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen is my favorite. They close early so you might consider lunch.

                http://www.burmesekitchen.com/Menu.html

                -----
                Zuni Cafe
                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                The French Laundry
                6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
                452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Great, thanks for the recs.

                  We are more interested in spending $$$ on the best food rather than the best place to be scene so glad to know that is what are getting into.

                  1. re: MaggieM2315

                    I'd definitely recommend La Mar Cebicheria as at least a lunch option. Pretty sure there's nothing like it in New York.
                    Another lunch option I love is at the Ferry Building, Hog Island Oyster Bar, a dozen oysters, clam chowder and a grilled cheese sandwich (and get some cowgirl creamery cheese to bring back with you, just pick the less stinky kind).
                    For your second, more casual dinner I highly recommend Incanto, I don't think there's something totally comparable in New York, even though it is Italian in style. I think you'll be disappointed with Delfina and Slanted Door.
                    Another one of my faves is Maverick in the Mission, a delicious and fun little place.

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                    Slanted Door
                    Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                    Delfina Restaurant
                    3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    1. re: jsgjewels

                      Great little place! I would definitely go there again. The Duck Prosciutto (photo attached) was a perfect balance of flavor. The duck itself was wonderful, little slices of heaven. I went duck crazy and had the Pappardelle with Duck - wonderfully tender and delicious duck confit. My hubby had the Southern Fried Chicken was perfectly crispy. The leftover chicken even microwaved well... staying crispy, no worry of sogginess.

                      -----
                      Maverick Restaurant
                      3316 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                       
          2. re: CarrieWas218

            The two recent reports from JJL and artemis on Aziza worry me - especially artemis, who seems to be a longtime regular:

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6958...
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6958...

            1. re: daveena

              aw daveena, you're making me blush. my vintage dates from the days of that endlessly scrolling, unformatted board, well before the cnet purchase.

              and to stay on topic, yes, aziza broke my heart a little.

            2. re: CarrieWas218

              I'd even go a step further and suggest avoiding fine dining altogether in SF since NY is really second to none in that category. Instead, as someone had suggested in another post recently about "strengths" of SF, you might want to do more mid-tier upscale "Californian" restaurants in SF like Salt House, NOPA, Boulevard, Bar Crudo, and Town Hall.

              A restaurant that I and practically everyone else I know really like is The House serving Asian fusion in North Beach. Asian fusion you can definitely find in Manhattan, but it's all ridiculously subpar to what The House puts forth. Then again, Asian sucks big time in Manhattan with the exception of high end Japanese like Masa and Yasuda - but I digress.

              As everyone has pointed out, Yountville is great with a ton of options.

              I personally detest Slanted Door and find it insulting to Vietnamese food (the guy who started it isn't even Vietnamese!), but then I can't think of anything that's decent in SF proper. If you had a car and were willing to drive, some places in SJ are great.

              Also, for what it's worth, I was just at La Mar again last week and sadly found the food to be awful. Not going back for a long, long time.

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              Town Hall Restaurant
              342 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105

              Bar Crudo
              655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

              1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                If you only count SF proper, you have a point. However if you count the whole Bay Area, SF does fine. TFL and Manresa are at the top of the U.S. I'd go to Manresa before I'd go to the TFL again.

                p.s. I'd hit a couple of taco trucks, El Tonayense (14th/Harrison) and Los Compadres (Spear and Folsom). Hard to beat the cheap prices.

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                Manresa Restaurant
                320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                El Tonayense
                2598 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA

                1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                  Opinions on Slanted Door vary wildly (and I am kind of mixed about it myself), but Charles Phan is Chinese-Vietnamese and I'm about as ok with saying he's Vietnamese as I am with saying I am American.

                  Also, NY's Vietnamese food is pretty ehh and people from NY seem to like Slanted Door, so it is a possibility for the OP, especially since she was looking for a lunch spot in a neighborhood worth seeing. And the Ferry Bldg on market day certainly qualifies.

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                  Slanted Door
                  Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1. re: sfbing

                    Just to add something substantive to the Slanted Door discussion, my take on it (based on admittedly limited experience) is that the more fusion dishes are their strengths. For straight-up Vietnamese in a nice atmosphere (admittedly not as fancy as Slanted Door), try Bodega Bistro.

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                    Slanted Door
                    Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                    Bodega Bistro
                    607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    1. re: sfbing

                      I ate at the Slanted Door in 2006. It was actually quite good. And I was really POed being there. 45 min wait for a table with a res? And moronic hostess with a bit of an attitude.Though I guess she heard the same complaints about "HOW LONG?" and given that it was quite crowded she could do little. Not quite the same as when they string you along with empty tables. Nonetheless, unacceptable and I do not really care about service. Be on time, do your job, bring the food, be polite. The same way you should conduct yourself in general.If you screw up and are sincere in your efforts, I have no issue. And I would expect that if you have a young, snooty hostess, she should be more attractive. At least I understand the attitude in that case though it does not make it right.
                      My SF host really botched up that whole day so the fact I thought the food was still good says something, I think. Of course, it might have gone downhill. Most places that do well do not maintain quality. That is why I have a very short list of restaurants I think are worthy of a visit.
                      And I would not have considered that to be Vietnamese food proper.

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                      Slanted Door
                      Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                2. 1. I think Pork Store is a pretty average place for brunch/lunch. Other places that you might consider are: Canteen on weekends (near downtown), Boulevard (very pretty for lunch), someplace in the Ferry Bldg like Slanted Door (especially on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays), Tartine (in the Mission), Mama's in North Beach (fits requirement for interesting part of city, but long lines), Tadich (old SF), Yank Sing (expensive dim sum and not my favorite place, but very pleasant).

                  2. Fine dining not mentioned yet: The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton (the food is good, but I find the atmosphere a tad stuffy), Quince (pastas are excellent--way, way better than Marea which I found quite disappointing), Coi (my favorite--very light, very inventive food).

                  3. If you have the money and can score a reservation, can't say anything but great things about The French Laundry. I think it is better than Per Se, but that may have more to do with the fact that Per Se is in a mall and TFL is in Napa. Ad Hoc is kind of hit or miss. The fried chicken is a definite winner. I would've recommended Ubuntu, but the chef has departed and it is in flux at the moment.

                  4. Casual restaurants not mentioned yet: Canteen and Incanto.

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                  Slanted Door
                  Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  The French Laundry
                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                  Ad Hoc
                  6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

                  Yank Sing
                  49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

                  Pork Store Cafe
                  1451 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: sfbing

                    Thanks for those additional suggestions. I too was underwhelmed by Marea so I will look into Quince.

                    1. re: sfbing

                      Second the recommendation for The Dining Room, it's definitely one of my top spots. Would also like to throw Manresa into the ring for fine dining, if you're willing to take the trek to the South Bay. Gary Danko is always nice, though I'm not sure if it will be much different from what you can get in NYC (aside from the fact that it's more reasonably priced). And of course, TFL goes without saying, if you can score a reservation.

                      As far as ethnic cuisines, South East Asian food does tend to be done well here. Aside from the Burmese, I think the bay area has great Vietnamese food (both upscale and dives).

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                      Manresa Restaurant
                      320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                      Gary Danko
                      800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                      1. re: arlenemae

                        Hello - What is the travel distance to TFL from San Fran, The Mandarin to be specific as it will be my 1st visit to the bay area and am completely ignorant.

                        thanks

                        1. re: Alex318

                          It's an hour to 90+ minutes depending on traffic.

                      2. re: sfbing

                        The slanted door, how authentic is it? The mrs is vietnamese and we like pretty authentic...seems like everyone is up and down on the place

                        is the ppq place better for getting some crab dishes, in the summertime?

                        is ppq and slanted door both in the ferry building?

                        1. re: Dapuma

                          Some of the dishes at Slanted Door are pretty close to "authentic" but most are more "fusion." If your wife is Vietnamese then I wouldn't recommend it. PPQ is the other side of town from the Ferry Building and it's kind of a trek for a visitor. You should read and ask follow up questions on some of the other threads about crab, especially in the summer "off" season, since that topic is not really related to the rest of the discussion in this thread and people aren't likely to see it.

                          -----
                          Slanted Door
                          Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                          1. re: Dapuma

                            Slanted Door is not authentic at all and the chef / founder himself is Chinese, so it's very much one of those standard Vietnamese places you'll find in SF -- i.e. Vietnamese food made by Chinese for Chinese. Most Americans just (1) don't know better and (2) prize it for being a clean, upscale restaurant in a good location with a gorgeous view and a nice atmosphere (which admittedly is a rare thing for Asian food outside of Asia).

                            I've been there a number of times (regrettably) for work and once ordered the pho ga which was HORRIBLE. The soup was bland, the noodles were clumpy, and the chicken was so dry and flavorless. How can ANY respectable Vietnamese restaurant not make a good pho ga?

                            PPQ on the other hand is worth a try and a place liked by both Asians and Americans.

                            1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                              Just to clarify, the owner of Slanted Door is ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, as are many owners of Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area. To say he is not Vietnamese is the same as saying that an American of Asian decent is not American, which I think most people would find offensive.

                              -----
                              Slanted Door
                              Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                              1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                                This kinda reminds me of Iron Chef Morimoto. Is his cuisine authentic enough to be called Japanese? Remember Le Poisson Japonais in downtown Palo Alto almost a decade ago? When I mentioned the word fusion to the manager, he immediately "corrected" me by saying their cuisine was Japanese. I guess *modern* Japanese.

                                As for the disappointing pho ga at Slanted Door, I wonder if maybe that's because they don't add MSG at all? I've noticed that for many Asian restaurants that have "upgraded" and decided to forgo MSG completely, their broths and soups turn bland instantly.

                                -----
                                Slanted Door
                                Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                Morimoto
                                610 Main Street, Napa, CA

                                1. re: vincentlo

                                  Le Poisson Japonais!!! LOVED that place and never run into anyone who remembers it. Any idea where the chef/host ended up?

                                  1. re: yummersf

                                    One of the LPJ chefs, Masahiko Takei, owns Gochi in Cupertino. Don't know where Kenji is.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      I was just going to say the same thing about LPJ. I loved that place!

                              2. re: Dapuma

                                Regrettably for you, the Vietnamese influx mostly took hold in San Jose, so there are a few decent viet places in SF proper, but not a lot.

                                There's a lot of up and down because it's upscale and great ingredients. If you go in for a great meal (of some undefined fusion sort), you enjoy it. If you go in for authentic, you're disappointed (and feel ripped off).

                            2. Manhattan poster j.jessica.lee did a nice series of posts on her recent trips:

                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/689080
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/694235
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/695822
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/696279

                              To respond to your questions:
                              1) I'd maybe get an almond croissant from Tartine Bakery for breakfast, then walk around the Mission (see Melanie Wong's SF Mission Murals and Antojitos Walk) http://www.chow.com/lists/465
                              For North Beach, I like Liguria Bakery (get there early, bring handi-wipes for all the grease that will inevitably coat your hand), XOX Truffles, and L'Osteria del Forno.

                              2) My best upscale meals in SF proper have been at Coi (by a long shot), Quince, and Ame. I have not been to Acquerello, the Dining Room at the Ritz, or La Folie, all of which have been recommended by people I trust. Of the three, the Dining Room at the Ritz has the most "local" looking menu.

                              I've never been all that impressed with Boulevard - haven't been back in a long time, but here's another excellent trip report that reports a similarly disappointing experience to my own:
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/692054

                              3. What kind of lunch experience are you looking for? I've found in the past that leisurely lunches end up eating too much into tasting time, since most tasting rooms close between 4-5 - I've always been a fan of either bringing bread, cheese, and salumi to snack on (a lot of tasting rooms have picnic areas), or stopping at Taylor's Refresher for an ahi burger and garlic fries.

                              4. Zuni, Canteen, and Range all fit the bill. I don't think it makes sense to go to A16 - the original chef, Nate Appleman, just opened Pulino in NYC. I imagine the menu is pretty similar.

                              Oh, and while I don't personally love Slanted Door, I've seen a consistent pattern of NYC visitors loving it, so I have to respect that.

                              -----
                              Zuni Cafe
                              1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                              Tartine Bakery
                              600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                              A16
                              2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                              XOX Truffles
                              754 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                              L'Osteria del Forno
                              519 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                              La Folie
                              2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                              Liguria Bakery
                              1700 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                              Acquerello Restaurant
                              1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: daveena

                                I was going to recommend Coi for fine dining. I think Daniel Patterson's food is very California (although the atmosphere is definitely something you could get in NYC).

                              2. I would highly recommend:
                                Nopalito (fantastic Mexican restaurant, owned by the Nopa folks in awesome SF area).
                                Heavens' Dog (owned by the Slanted Door folks, amazing food w.out the attitude)
                                And I love Zazies for brunch, followed by an afternoon in GG Park.
                                Have fun!

                                -----
                                Slanted Door
                                Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                Zazie
                                941 Cole St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                Nopa
                                560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: moldovana

                                  My experience, and I believe the consensus, is drink at Heaven's Dog, but don't bother with more than snacks. The food is average at best. The drinks, however, might be in the top 5.

                                  -----
                                  Heaven's Dog
                                  1148 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    The pork belly sandwich at Heaven's Dog was excellent, I'd go back for that alone.

                                    -----
                                    Heaven's Dog
                                    1148 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103