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WHERE to eat for my first visit to San Francisco

I am planning a trip in august (yes I'm looking ahead, but I know some of these hot spots book up way in advance).. and I want all of the San Fran chows reccos.
We will like some tasting menu/michelin star dinners, some good breakfast and lunch options that are likely more informal, and any other foodie-related things I need to see.
No budget, really, whatever you think I should see. No Indian, Thai, Chinese etc (unless its fusion and a must-try)...
We will also be likely there on a sun and mon night so I will need the best options that are open those evenings.
Thanks in advance everyone, I'm so excited!!

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      1. re: hungryabbey

        Alright.. some extra info for you
        We're visitng from Toronto, ON.
        We will likely stay at the four seasons between Third and Fourth st.
        Like I said above, anything other than indian, thai or chinese
        I would like your high end suggestions and some more casual spots that are do not misses
        I AM willing to travel for chow.. anywhere in san fran.. and I dont have the sight seeing picked out yet.. because I plan that AROUND the food..
        I dont have a budget
        I have sun and mon night to accomodate.

        Thanks again. Sorry if I was too vague before.

        1. re: hungryabbey

          Of the threads you've read, are there restaurants that sound good or not so good to you? You may want to searchfor the Mission District and North Beach (Mexican and Italian, along with other cuisines) Search for tasting menus if that appeals. Avoid Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 IMO. You have months to go so do some reading and try to ask some specific questions. You'll get tons of help.

          -----
          Pier 39
          , San Francisco, CA 94102

          1. re: hungryabbey

            I think Quince is an absolute must - one of the two best restaurants in SF proper. Ask the kitchen to cook for you and you'll be in for a real treat.

            A few casual places I like:
            Bar Jules, Contigo, Pizzetta 211. Incanto is also worth checking out - the cooking can be uneven but the restaurant is a reflection of one man's passion/obsession and the place is a unique SF institution.

            Did you have any places already in mind?

            -----
            Pizzetta 211
            211 23rd Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

            Bar Jules
            609 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            Contigo
            1320 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

      2. I guess being excited about visiting SF (never San Fran) made an excellent long-time poster like yourself lose your mind and post a classic request that most SF chowhounds wouldn't touch with a 10 foot sausage :-)

        Actually, few restaurants other than French Laundry require that much advance notice. You can always book ahead of time to be comfortable, but over the next few months places will open and close, so keep an eye on the boards

        This might be a good starting place

        Visitng SF. Eat like a local not a tourist.
        http://www.chow.com/lists/1591

        As far as top dining spots, the top of the top lists above is still pretty on spot. Of those The Dining Room and Coi might be the best options. All the breakfast options are solid choices.

        As the first link indicates, there is a SF digest. If you sign up for that you'll be aware of some of the GOOD new openings.

        You might also ... gasp ... sign up for the Zagat buzz. While the reviews are not much, the weekly newsletter does note openings. So if a particular place catches your attention, you can ask on the board if the restaurant is any good. It usually takes Chowhounds 2 - 3 weeks to post after a new place opens ... so a query might be the quickest way to go.

        The SF Chroicle restaurant section also has openings and closings and general food info
        http://www.sfgate.com/food/

        You might look at the posts for a fellow Canadian, grayelf (though from Vancouver). The query posts are good examples of how to get a response on this board. Grayelf follows the SF then posts a list of where to go. Also grayelf will post followups on trip reports. These would be good for you because they cover a lot of what you are looking for. I did a search on 'Canteen' for grayelf's id since that is a favorite place and will cover most of the trip reports and queries.
        http://search.chow.com/search?query=c...

        So, look at some of this stuff, then come up with a starting itinerary. It would help to know what day you arrive and what time ... as well as departure.

        Personally, I'd put Zuni on a first time visitor list especially since it is open Monday night.

        People will tell you to search the board. That is good too. However, as a visitor in other parts of the country and even when I returned to SF after living in SoCal for a while, from my experience that isn't really as easy as people who follow the boards closely think

        I believe I've given you some tools to search effectively. SF is a beautiful town with great food. I hope you enjoy your visit.

        BTW, other than the Ritz, the Four Seasons has some of the best service in SF. The cocktail lounge is great, but for the few days here, I wouldn't bother with the restaurant there.

        14 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          I was hoping you would weigh in here. I think by reading a few dozen (or more) SF threads one gets a sense of who knows their stuff and also whose taste (and budget) is similar to one's own. Then you read even more threads by particular CHs. Then you can go off-CH and see menus and other reviews. Oh, yeah, and scrolling to the bottom of this and other threads always helps me.

          1. re: c oliver

            For a good many restaurants, opentable is a good source of websites.
            http://www.opentable.com/start.aspx?m...

            For places that might not have menus, then menutable is a good source. Seasonal menus there might be outdated, but still a good place in general. I have also found them the most reliable in terms of hours
            http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/

            Also, the Chow Restaurants and Bars database is a pretty good place to look. A number of Chowhounds keep it up. I was being really meticulous about adding hours, menus, websites, blogs, chowhound reports because I got tired of having to search for info in to many places and wanted a single source with everything.

            Unfortunately, the constant errors in the site software have just turned the burner to low in terms of my own continued participation in updating it. It just got too dificult and discouraging.

            Here's a good example tho for Nopa about how you can find lots of info about many restaurants in one convenient place
            http://www.chow.com/restaurants/2160/...

          2. re: rworange

            Except Zuni's NOT open on Monday nights. Sundays it is, though.

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

            1. re: Frosty Melon

              Duh. And I actually input the hours for that place record. Thanks

              Whoa ... Zuni actually ... finally ... has a website with menus.

              They seem to have cut back their hours slightly and are only open till midnight on Fri-Sat

              IMO, the sample dessert menu should have included the infamous nectarine

              Interesting history. By time I was patronizing Zuni, it was pretty much what it is today. Looks like they are serving brunch again. For a while they went back to thier roots and offtered steamed eggs and grilled toast. It was only in the bar area and quiet. This was one of my favorite light breakfast spots as it was very low key at that time. The current brunch menu is more extensive.

            2. re: rworange

              Thank you so much. Yes, I have done a lot of searching on this board.. but I cant seem to find what I want.. at all.
              I also have looked through all of the open table reviews and looked their list of michelin star restos, so once I go through those all a few more times, Ill start asking more questions about specifics..
              I think I do need a list of good casual spots for my list.. usually when I plan a trip, I get all of the names of these places, put them on a map and then when I plan the itinerary, I look for close by options.
              Also, this might sound like a rediculous question, but I've tried to look this up online and had no success... how long a drive is it from downtown san fran at the Four Seasons to somewhere like Sonoma wine county?
              I will look into all of the resources you provided.. and when I had some more specific questions about the more *high-end* options I am considering, I will ask. But like I said.. more casual lunch/breakfast options will be good.
              I think I will be arriving after lunch on Friday.. leaving tuesday morning.

              -----
              Four Seasons Restaurant
              1163 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA 95129

              1. re: hungryabbey

                Driving distances; times are contingent on traffic:

                http://www.inetours.com/PagesWT/Wine_...

                See threads below for recs.

                1. re: hungryabbey

                  Definately plan on Ferry Plaza market for Saturday morning. If you go early you will usually see a lot of top chefs there. There are also cooking demos and other food events. Sign up for their newsletter to get a feel for what is coming up. Here's an example
                  http://www.cuesa.org/cuesa/e-letter/a...

                  A list of prepared food vendors
                  http://www.cuesa.org/markets/artisans/

                  Farmers ... at the height of summer there should be some good stuff.
                  http://www.cuesa.org/markets/farmers/

                  You could get up to the city of Sonoma in about an hour given good traffic conditions. That could give you a nice little taste of wine country without taking much time. Fremont Diner and La Bodega are two casual places with excellent food. The road where Fremont Diner is located is an attractive ride and will take you near the city of Napa ... probably the least attractive part of the Napa Valley. However, up the road is the pretty town of Yountville where French Laundry is located. There are lots of good restaurants in that general area. Once you leave the city of Napa and return to the city, the ride isn't that attractive, but you could always take a quick stop in Berkeley ... maybe plan on dinner at Chez Paniss ... which is another of the few places you would need major advanced reservations should you choose to dine downstairs.

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

                    1. re: hungryabbey

                      I was just in Napa/Sonoma last week and we're going there again just for the day tomorrow. Without traffic across Golden Gate Bridge it'll take prob. 45 mins. to downtown Sonoma - Girl and the Fig restaurant is good if you want to have lunch there. Two blocks down in a residential area is Vella cheese (behind the Sonoma Mission)... good stuff.

                      After Sonoma we're heading to the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. It's smaller than the Ferry Bldg. market in SF but it has all the tastings (food stalls) of good food - Model Bakery, Ritual Cafe, Pica Pica (great Venezuelan food). We're going to the cheese shop there for their dried berries of all things (good stuff) and to try the charcuterie there. http://www.oxbowpublicmarket.com/

                      After we're driving up to Yountville about 10 mins. away (going to try Bistro Jeanty for lunch) and stopping at Bouchon Bakery (sister to French Laundry) to load up on pastries... don't ask just do it because it's all good! Bouchon also serves lunch next door. While we're there we might even stop at a few wineries:) Enjoy!

                      -----
                      The French Laundry
                      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                      Bouchon Bakery
                      6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

                      Bistro Jeanty
                      6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                      Oxbow Public Market
                      610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

                      Model Bakery
                      610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

                      Bouchon
                      6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                      1. re: melcal

                        Good to hear girl and the fig is better these days. There have been a lot of downhill reports.

                        What do you suggest at Bouchon Bakery? I've ony found three things I ever liked there ... the donuts, the potato chips and the bread. Have you tried Sweetie Pies in Napa? I think they do a better job on baked goods than Bouchon Bakery.

                        The tomato soup is the thing to order at Bistro Jeanty, but be aware it is a Frenchh restaurant and if you have French restaurants at home it migh be something that isn't much different or specific to California ... ditto on Bouchon the restaurant.

                        -----
                        Bouchon Bakery
                        6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

                        Bistro Jeanty
                        6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                        Sweetie Pies
                        520 Main St, Napa, CA 94559

                        Bouchon
                        6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                  1. re: hungryabbey

                    Re: driving times of SF to Sonoma-- very event-dependent. . . You might want to check the website for Infinium Raceway:

                    http://www.infineonraceway.com/schedu...

                    to avoid the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, etc.

                    1. re: Stephanie Wong

                      Hungryabbey:

                      My boss has a home in SF Pacific Hts. and another in St. Helena (Sonoma County). On Friday afternoons in the summer he leaves the office EARLY to be across the GG Bridge before 2 p.m. to avoid bumper to bumper traffic. I don't know about the Bay Bridge, but it seems that those in SF not staying in the city are going up to the Wine Country or Lake Tahoe or the Monterey Peninsula

                      Good luck getting past these two bottlenecks aka Golden Gate Bridge & SF Bay Bridge to make your Friday, 5:30 res at TFL.

                      1. re: Stephanie Wong

                        Ah- really is it honestly that bad?!?! My flight gets in at 10:30!!

                        1. re: Stephanie Wong

                          I agree with you. Does a big wreck occur every day? Of course not. But it can happen. And, yes, Friday afternoons esp. in the summer are the worst. If there's no problem, OP can relax, do some walking around. If there is a problem, they shouldn't miss their res. 'Course I get to airports early as I'd rather hang out there than get stuck in traffic and miss my flight. If one more meal is THAT important to OP, then that's certainly her choice.

                  2. Over the years first time visitors want to know where to find the quintessential SF meal. Over the years I have recommended Tadich or Sam's Grill for sand dabs. Always get raves. You can get elegant, often overpriced food in any big city...but plain, well cooked sand dabs are hard to find. And don't forget the ubiquitous boiled potato.

                    21 Replies
                    1. re: OldTimer

                      Alright.. so dont judge me.. what is a sand dab????

                      And.. I cant find a menu for Tadich, what type of food and atmosphere is it?

                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        Citharichthys sordidus It is a popular game fish in California, and is regarded as a delicacy,
                        Old school restaurant.
                        http://farm1.static.flickr.com/68/212...
                        http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/res...

                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          Yeah, sand dabs, cioppino and strong drinks at Tadick ... don't waste your time on much else there. The appetizers are sort of meh. However, those two dishes star ... and it has the best version of SF sourdough bread in the Bay Area. This is how it was once made ... not the junk sold elsewhere these days.

                          There are always mixed reports on Tadich ... IMO ordering incorrectly. My first visit to Tadich ... long before there was a Chowhound ... made me write it off ... I remember ordering this seafood salad ... and don't remember what else ... but that app was such a dissapointment that I remember it to this day.

                          Then I read this wonderful CHowhound report that so captures the place that I was compelled to go back and I've been a major fan since. Not much as changed at SF's oldest restuarant so this is as true today as it was when it was originally written
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/2043...

                          Even if you decide not to go to Tadich, it is a wonderful read

                          1. re: rworange

                            would it be inappropriate for a lunch? Not sure I'm willing to risk a dinner somewhere that has mixed reports.

                            1. re: hungryabbey

                              If you can find a restaurant on this board that doesn't have a mixed report please point it out and I may try it.

                              1. re: wolfe

                                Ha- good point.
                                I guess I just got the feeling that this restaurant was particularly spotty, I try to choose the *most* consistent ones I can. Last year I planned a trip to NYC and took a risk at WD 50 despite the board being 1/2 and 1/2 love it and hate it.. and I still hear from my b/f that it was "the worst meal ever".
                                Point being, I'm aiming for consistency I guess. But this Tadick seems to be a "must go" for authentic san fran chow, am I right?

                                1. re: hungryabbey

                                  Tadich is a favorite of mine for a late lunch (after 2 p.m.). I sit at the food bar, wear a blazer, drink martinis and ask my waiter for something good. I've never been disappointed. It's in the Financial District. Lots of regulars show up near the end of the mid day meal.

                                  1. re: steve h.

                                    Excellent. Has anyone done lunch there or just dinner?

                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                      Lunch at Taddich is bustling and fun, except that it gets packed quickly around noon with Financial District lunchers. I would suggest getting there either around 11:30 or after 2:00. Also, I've never been there for lunch on a weekend so I have no idea what it's like on Sunday.

                                      1. re: yehfromthebay

                                        Very quiet, no line, closed on Sunday.

                                        1. re: yehfromthebay

                                          Thanks, I will write this one down too!

                            2. re: hungryabbey

                              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citharic...

                              I just googled that.

                              Tadich:

                              http://www.tadichgrill.com/

                              I think you might be having some computer problems if these aren't showing up for you.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                No no I did find the website, just not the menu. But Wolfe directed me to another site with it. Thanks.

                              2. re: hungryabbey

                                There is a difference in sand dabs between Tadich and Sam's. I much prefer Sam's...although my wife is not fond of them swimming in butter. Tadich has bigger fish, but preparation is similar. There seems to be occasional problems with "in season" (is that code for we forgot to order?) so you may want to call first. As with most seafood, it is best fresh, and places that do a record business are your best bet. If they are out of sand dabs, rex sole is the next best bet.

                                1. re: OldTimer

                                  So, how are sand dabs served in San Fran? fried? broiled? whole?

                                  1. re: hungryabbey

                                    Grilled or pan fried. They're small, so they're served whole (deboned at the table).

                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                      If you're skilled, tell the waiter NOT to debone . . I've had a Tadich waiter botch the job so badly I ended up with cold fish with stray bones scattered amongst the sand dab flesh . . . ugh. Even though that is not the norm at this place, I prefer to "bone my fish" myself.

                                      As RWO said, the simpler preparations are what shine at Tadich.

                                2. re: OldTimer

                                  I love, love, love sand dabs! But are they in season in August?

                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                    From Cal Gov something or other.
                                    Pacific Sanddab and “Other Flatfish”3
                                    (see Section 28.48)
                                    OPEN year-round3
                                    Pacific sanddab: No limit
                                    I guess it's just if they are biting.

                                    1. re: wolfe

                                      I think I've only seen them in spring.

                                3. Ame is a must. Very SF, very good Michelin*

                                  Tasting? Coi is Michelin ** and excellent, but of the 11 dishes, you're bound to find a couple less than ideal.

                                  I like the relaxed atmosphere of La Folie. French, but not snooty at all. A Michelin *, but very close to deserving a second star, imo.

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

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: whiner

                                    Great. Theyre on the list.
                                    I am going to buy a map this week so I can start to plan this out better.

                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                      La Folie is pretty special: pricey but a bargain at the same time. It's a family-run shop. Incanto is a favorite of mine. I like taking mass transit there.
                                      Bar Crudo is flat-out fun.

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

                                      Bar Crudo
                                      655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                    2. re: whiner

                                      I had one of my best meals at La Folie. I would suggest Incanto, though, because it has all the qualities of a great SF meal: good representation of Italian with a strong emphasis on fresh, local produce and meats.

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

                                      1. re: yehfromthebay

                                        Great. The menus of both look nice, so I'll look into that further. Thanks!

                                    3. Okay..
                                      so now I got a map and am working out the logistics of the area..
                                      Two questions:
                                      1. If there wasnt much traffic.. like at night.. would it still be foolish to have a dinner at French Laundry (which is North in Yountville?) and then come back South to our hotel in SF at the Four Seasons? Is that a long cab ride? Should I stay in that area or should I rent a car? WHat do you propose? I'm assuming the meal there will be long.. and end.. late..
                                      2. I noticed French Laundry is open 7 days a week.. is Thomas Keller ever in the kitchen? If so, in your experience are there days of the week he is not there? Because.. if I'm going to spend that kind of money, I would rather try for a night when hes there if possible.

                                      Thanks again.

                                      -----
                                      The French Laundry
                                      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                      Four Seasons Restaurant
                                      1163 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA 95129

                                      14 Replies
                                      1. re: hungryabbey

                                        In my experience, a kitchen of this caliber does not depend on the presence of The Big Name. S/he has trained staff to execute the recipes to a high standard. At a great restaurant, you shouldn't know if the chef is in house, or not. Even if the chef is in house, s/he is preparing only a small percentage of the plates leaving the kitchen.

                                        1. re: hungryabbey

                                          The French Laundry is about an hour drive from San Francisco without traffic, so that would be a very very expensive cab ride (even if you could get a cab to take you that route). You should either rent a car or stay in Yountville that night. Well, either way you should rent a car, because getting to TFL without a car is a long and arduous process).

                                          -----
                                          The French Laundry
                                          6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                          1. re: hungryabbey

                                            1) rent a car - if you don't drink wine or are willing to designate. Cab doesn't work - it's across multiple county lines. Unless your negotiating skills are very, very good. Your other option is some kind of hired car, there's lots of "wine car" things where you can get a town car at a reasonable price for the 4 or 5 hours. By "reasonable" I mean 20% of the cost of TFL for 2 - and don't quote me. I think it can be done. Also, take the east bay route on your way home. The Marin route, the section along there is called "blood alley", and rather unforgiving.

                                            2) coming back at night is only slightly foolish if you get an early table. If you get a 6:00 you'll be out around 9:30, but you'll be blissed out and happy. Not the best driving conditions, but manageable. If you get a 9:00 table, and get the extended tasting menu, you'd be an idiot to drive.

                                            3) Rushing it might be what you need to do, but my favorite part of Yountville is the smell. Between the grapes and the earth and the warm air. Do try to schedule some kind of stroll around, either in the morning or on either end of your visit.

                                            1. re: hungryabbey

                                              Just wanted to make you know that you can't just decide to eat at French Laundry -- reservations are extremely difficult to get. Reservations for any given date are opened exactly two months before the date at 10:00 a.m. Pacific time; phone lines are jammed and the reservations are typically gone by 10:30. If you can go on a weekend, lunch reservations are slightly easier to get and many people actually prefer lunch (same menu), especially since, in your case, it would give you time to drive back to the city afterwards.

                                              -----
                                              The French Laundry
                                              6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                              1. re: hungryabbey

                                                In short, Thomas Keller is rarely in the kitchen anymore. Your chances are probably best if you go on a Friday or Saturday night, but he's been very busy recently with the opening of the new Bouchon in Beverly Hills.

                                                And in response to pikawicca, even if the chef is in house, they're probably not preparing any of the plates leaving the kitchen, they're likely tasting them.

                                                -----
                                                Bouchon
                                                6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                1. re: hungryabbey

                                                  Wonderful thread on alternate ways to get to TFL with evidence of the warm hearted way some local chowhounders take visitors to their bosoms.
                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6283...

                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                    Thank you to all for your replies.. I will consider all of this.. probably better to get a car or look into getting a driver.. I'll call the hotel and see what they think.
                                                    I think it would be smart to spend at least one night in Sonoma area.. so that way its not a far drive if we *do* manage a reservation.
                                                    Ill let you know when I have more questions. Thanks again.

                                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                                      Someone reported back that The French Laundry had a list of car services they recommended and the prices were reasonable. But really, until you know you can get a reservation, you're getting ahead of yourself.

                                                      -----
                                                      The French Laundry
                                                      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                      1. re: hungryabbey

                                                        FYI, The French Laundry is in Yountville, which is in Napa County, and that's at least a 30-45 minute drive from a lot of places in the Sonoma area. If you go to TFL, you should either stay the night somewhere in the Napa area if you're going to stay up there.

                                                        -----
                                                        The French Laundry
                                                        6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                        1. re: JasmineG

                                                          Oh right, yes. I now have a map, but still have no concept of time... thank you for the heads up.

                                                          1. re: hungryabbey

                                                            does google maps not offer you adequate time estimations for driving? depending on the time of day there will be more traffic or less, but for the most part it is accurate.

                                                            if you do manage a TFL reservation, be aware that lunch isn't any less an event than dinner. as one of the last reservations, we were leaving as dinner guests were arriving.

                                                            not sure if we were lucky but snagged an 8pm downstairs (i didn't realize there was an upstairs until we arrived) reservation at chez panisse the day before on open table.

                                                            one casual breakfast suggestion is a southern place that offers up po'boys, beignets, etc. the name escapes me at the moment but it is west of chinatown and gets a reasonable amount of love on these boards and so should be easily searchable. we have nothing like it in toronto and the crawfish beignets are a very beautiful few bites.

                                                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                              Brenda's French Soul Food?

                                                              -----
                                                              Brenda's French Soul Food
                                                              652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                                              1. re: wolfe

                                                                yes that's it. curious i didn't see all the negative reviews when i put it on my list. only had a po'boy and beignets (which were thinner than fluffy but i assumed that was because of the filling) and definitely did not have to wait in line on my weekday visit. it is still a more novel option considering what is available in toronto.

                                                                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                                  Excellent. I need more of those inexpensive brunch/lunch spots for my list.