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Challenge: impressing a non-seafoodie Chicagoan with SF fare (on a budget)

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Hi everyone,

This is my first post, so please excuse the number of conditions. But I'm at a loss. Not being part of the SF food scene, I don't even know how to research this issue! I want this boy to fly back with his head blown and his stomach amazed. Or something.

This is a tough case, I think. The kid's not into seafood, not impressed with tapas, nor energized by the organic. I think he is more into: hearty, unpretentious, retro, but slightly interesting. Anyone know a life-changing burger place?

Any suggestions very welcome. As far as location goes, we'll be doing touristy stuff all over, but his flight arrives into San Jose at ten PM (which is it's own challenge) and we'll be paying a visit to Berkeley for sure. Thank you!!

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  1. How old is this boy?

    1 Reply
    1. re: wolfe

      Late twenties! ;)

    2. Is that it? All he wants is burgers? You are eliminating all ethnic cuisine?

      If you are going one on one with Chicago in terms of beef, your boy is going home dissapointed.

      Not life changing, but lots of people want to try In-N-Out burger chain. There are three in San Jose and they are open until 1am. NoCal isn't exactly a late night place

      Just how little does he want the burger messed with? This is the land of the organic and places tend to do ... things ... with burgers ... like put them on sourdough rolls ... and addiny stuff ... and charge $15.

      1. There is a slight lack of unanimity on hamburgers on this board.

        1. nopa

          1. You can get a good burger but I'd say taqueria or taco truck crawl in Oakland. Cheap, tasty, hearty, etc.

            Beyond that, I'd just take him somewhere with a safe menu that you like, something like Park Chow, NOPA, whatever just don't mention it's pretentous, organic, etc.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ML8000

              Despite the fact that the NOPA chef used to work at Park Chow, and the fact that they both serve organic American food, that's about as far as I'd go as grouping those two restaurants together.

              I don't feel NOPA is pretentious at all, unlike Chow, which makes sure you know it's all organic before stepping into the restaurant; NOPA just lets the food speak for itself.

              For an entirely different non-organic burger experience, assuming he doesn't mind [lack of] ambience, hit up Mission Burger.

              Park Chow
              1238 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122

              1. re: vulber

                Yes they're both American menus and that's it...no other connections. Just examples of safe menus. Again, wouldn't mention it's organic and all that. It's probably more of a knee jerk reaction to the idea of organic/frou-frou and nothing else.

                Again, I'd just go somewhere the OP likes and maybe the kid will like it. Trying to please someone on the premise of a great burgers is a bit far-fetched and frankly who knows what kind of burger he'd appreciate?

                On that note, I'd go to Zuni Cafe, get the burger after 10 p.m. or the chicken.

                Zuni Cafe
                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

            2. Tommy's Joint and/or a burrito in the Mission would be a good SF start. If willing to go more ethnic, go Vietnamese or Indian Pakistani in the tenderloin, all of the above can be done for the cost of one meal at Nopa. You can search the archives here or check this:
              I'm partial to Gregoire's in Berkeley for lunch.

              560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

              1 Reply
              1. re: trespinero

                How about Canteen for brunch? Hearty, unpretentious but well made brekky fare in an old-shoe-comfy-but-hip real diner setting. Only on weekends though.

              2. On your Berkeley day, you have many options, though it would help if you clarified your budget.

                For a cheap, tasty, and slightly unusual burger, try the Persian Burger at Bongo Burger (three locations near the Cal campus -- South side, North side, and downtown Berkeley). Another great cheap and hearty option is Cancun Taqueria in downtown Berkeley, assuming he likes Mexican food. If you would prefer a more upscale option, head just over the border into Oakland for lunch at Wood Tavern, home to an excellent burger and Pastrami sandwich (probably out of your price range at dinner). For dessert, hit up Lush Gelato in Epicurious Garden.

                Wood Tavern
                6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                Bongo Burger
                2154 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                Bongo Burger
                2505 Dwight Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

                2134 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

                Lush Gelato
                1511 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

                1. Having lived in Chicago I can tell you that there are no burgers in the bay area that will blow him away. The typical burgers around here are not as good as the average ones in Chicago (eg Moodys, Jury's, Boston Blackies, etc.). The excellent burgers here cost $15+ so they don't get much adoration from out of towners. If his tastes are safe, American comfort food, SF is not going be impressive. We have lots of that food, but it'll be comprable quality and probably more expensive than Chicago. Try introducing him to something new if you want to give him a memorable experience. We blow Chicago away in Chinese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Northern Italian, Mexican (maybe a tie for Norteño food), thin crust pizza, and our Japanese is better. Chicago blows us away on American standard comfort food, family style Italian, BBQ, delis, Thai, diners, and hot dogs.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Shane Greenwood

                    Yeah, excellent post. I worked for a number of years with two hard-core natives of Chicago. After a few years I was amused to go to dinner with them and have them talk about California cuisine like natives. I don't know the situation in Chicago other than Polish food which I gravitate to when I'm in town as the situation for that cuisine is deplorable for the most part in the Bay Area

                    So maybe Chicago doesn't excell in organic and that might be a turnoff. If you are here on Saturday morning, take him to the Ferry Plaza Farmers market where there are a lot of vendors that are high quality yet reasonable. Maybe after a Roli Roti porchetta sandwich he can return to Chicago with his head held high.

                    I get that he isn't into precious food and presentations. However, I hope he will be open to Cal Cuisine because like my Chicago friends, I think he will really like it once he tries some good examples

                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                      Have you tried the Mission Burger? I realize I'm probably more of a fan of it than anyone else on this board, but it's an absolutely incredible burger like no other, and only $8. Granted, i'ts more of a grab-and-go place than sitdown

                    2. Trying to impress someone from Chicago with our retro beef dishes seems like a losing proposition.

                      Places like Zuni, Incanto, Marlowe, and Wood Tavern seem like a better bet to me: meat-centric menus, unfancy preparations, lots of flavor.

                      Zuni Cafe
                      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                      Wood Tavern
                      6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                      1. Check out Gregoire in Berkeley for lunch. It's a little counter on the North Side. I crave the lamb sandwich and potato puffs.

                        1. Thank you so much, everyone!

                          I get now that impressing a Chicagoan with an SF burger is not the way to go! I think that I am just trying to conceptualize his palate (and, you know, scheme my way to his heart through his stomach...)

                          Places I have jotted down and am considering:

                          Zuni Cafe
                          Wood Tavern
                          Le Garage
                          Kokkari Estiatorio
                          Fremont Diner
                          Ferry Marketplace building
                          Mission burrito
                          Cliff house (tourist trap?)

                          Bourbon and Branch
                          Triple Rock
                          Broken Record

                          Superlate night:

                          Zuni Cafe
                          1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                          Kokkari Estiatorio
                          200 Jackson St., San Francisco, CA 94111

                          560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                          Wood Tavern
                          6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                          Le Garage
                          85 Liberty Ship Way Ste 109, Sausalito, CA

                          Broken Record
                          1166 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA

                          Fremont Diner
                          2660 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: existing

                            note that while they're on opposite ends of the burger spectrum, in n' out is only open half an hour later (1:30am vs. 1am) than NOPA

                            1. re: vulber

                              He's flying innto San Jose at 10 pm which is the only reason I mentioned in-n-Out. If they are driving up from the airport to SF that night there are a few along the way.

                              I think Fremont diner would be just his type of place, but is is in Sonoma. If you are going up that way, there's a few more places he might like.

                              Yeah ... skip the Cliff House. unless you want to get a drink in the lounge and enjoy the view. The fancy restaurant doesn't sound like his speed and their star chef left a while ago. The cafe is way overpriced and mediocre. The brunch is one of the worst Ive had in my life. Nearby is Azziza, a Cal-Morrocan place. You might look at the menu to see if he wouuld go for it.


                              It isn't as fussy as the menu reads. It is basically Morrocan food ... but better ... with California produce. The meat dishes focus on the meat with the other stuff listed as flavoring or garnish

                              1. re: rworange

                                I'm taking notes! Thanks.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Aziza is one of the best restaurants in the city, but I wouldn't consider it hearty or unpretentious

                                  1. re: vulber

                                    Maybe ... it has gotten more upscale with that Michelan star.

                                    HOWEVER, that reminds me ... in that area there is a joint I'm pretty sure he'd love. After watching the sunset at the Cliff House from the lounge, head over to Tee Off ... a dive bar with outrageously good and inexpensive food.

                                    A few years back it was featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      My experience has generally found that an appearance on Diners/Drive-ins and Dives" means terrible food; although it seems like that is definitely not the case with Tee-Off.

                                      Or maybe I'm still just pissed off with how many of my East Coast friends called me after Joe's Cable Car was featured to ask me if I had tried this place with this amazing-looking burger

                                      Joe's Cable Car
                                      4320 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94112

                                      1. re: vulber

                                        I have been there and it is fabulous. Check the links provided. Another poster also gave it five stars for food. The man is serious about food. The portions are huge. the prices are low. The draft beer selection is excellent.

                                        I strongly suggest you stop by and give it a try

                                        You know, there are Chowhound darlings that suck as well. No one is 100% on target. One of my favorite Sonoma restaurants with the best damn canoli in the Bay Area is Cafe Citi which DDD is featuring on a show this month.

                                        I wouldn't normally send a visitor to a place I didn't try and like a lot. Sometimes I'll throw in references like Michelan or DDD or something like that because it impresses some people. So if that gets them to good chow, so be it.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          Fair enough; it's just that mentioning a DDD appearance could also turn someone off from the food; whereas mentioning Michelin will rarely turn someone off from the food (although it could turn someone off from other aspects of the food).

                                          And yes, I have heard nothing but good things about Tee Off and plan on trying it

                                          1. re: vulber

                                            Yeah, good point. I take very little seriously if it is recommended by the Road Food site. It has taken me years to get over my aversion to Zagat and seeing the sign in the window usually made me run the other way. Not that I like the reviews there, but the newsletter is good to find out about recent openings..

                              2. re: existing

                                Canteen didn't make the cut? It's great for dinner as well (reservations required). It's sort of French-American with liberties taken, but it comes off as just plain tasty, not edgy or pretentious. And though it's recognizably a former diner, the space is cozy, with books on the walls, and even romantic (if you get the extra-small booth!).

                              3. Late twenties? Here's some ideas in San Francisco:
                                Beretta for pizza and cocktails
                                Brunos for BBQ (and cocktails)
                                Pi Bar for pizza and beer
                                Suppenkuche or Walzwerk for German food, scene, and beer.
                                Rosamunde Sausage Grill -- either the stand up place next to Toronado in the Haight or the very casual sit-down location in the Mission.
                                La Trappe Cafe. Belgian Bistro & Trappist Lounge in North Beach
                                Front Porch for Southern
                                Emmy's Spaghetti Shack for hipster retro-Italian
                                Yuet Lee for late night Chinese

                                The Front Porch
                                65 29th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
                                18 Virginia Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                525 Laguna St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                381 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                La Trappe
                                800 Greenwich St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                Rosamunde Sausage Grill
                                2832 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Calvinist

                                  Rosamunde is an excellent choice. Imagine the grab and go get a beer convenience of Weiners Circle, but without the insults, and the quality of Hot Dougs, in a sausage. My Chicago native wife swears by Rosamunde.