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Jul 16, 2010 09:14 PM

Two Days in town on a Budget

I will be visiting San Francisco for the first time soon for two days and nights and I want to know what should I eat that will be a true representation of the city. I love Sour Dough Bread so this is basically going to be like a trip to Mecca for me, any suggestions on who has the best? What food or dish should I eat that will give me "San Francisco on a plate" (I'm from Philadelphia so I want to eat the San Francisco food that is analgolous to our cheesesteak). I also love crab so I would like to have dungeness crab out there, any suggestions that aren't a tourist trap? I am on a budget, I'm thinking $15-$30 per entree but I'm open to whatever! Thanks everyone for your help!

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  1. The tourist traps are at Fisherman's Wharf so stay away from there, whatever you do. Unfortunately, it is no longer really crab season so any crab you are eating here at this point is probably from Alaska (it starts in late October). However, the best place to taste it completely fresh an in its best state is Swan Oyster Bar; order the crab cocktail with the sauce on the side (otherwise it is over drenched with sauce).

    Quite probably the best bread is Acme which is available at The Ferry Plaza every day of the week but to get a full "San Francisco experience" go on Saturday morning for the Farmer's Market. It is quite an experience.

    Lastly, the "San Francisco on a plate" would be Cioppino, a rich, tomato-based fish stew laden with offerings like shrimp, crab, scallops, mussels, clams, et al. My favorite restaurants for that is Soto Mare, Tadich Grill, and Rose Pistola.

    Tadich Grill
    240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

    Rose Pistola
    532 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133-2802

    1. I disagree with Carrie. Our dish analogous to a cheesesteak is a Mission burrito. And just like the arguments about the best, Geno's, Pat's, John's, Jim's we have a best problem.about with rice/no rice, grilled/steamed tortilla just like wiz/provolone.
      Here is an example of a burrito blog.
      I'm not sure we have a major newspaper reviewer that would do a burrito crawl as Craig LaBan did a few years ago with a group of high schoolers for cheesesteaks.

      10 Replies
      1. re: wolfe

        I guess because I was born and raised in Southern California that the further away I got from the Mexican border, the less I liked or was impressed by Mexican food. What San Franciscans eat for Mexican food tastes vastly different than what is eaten in Los Angeles or San Diego (I've lived in both cities).

        I suppose for someone visiting from the East Coast, they would be quite happy with a Mission burrito and there is no doubt burritos are ubiquitous "California" cuisine by its development up and down the state, but only San Francisco can lay claim to its import of the genesis of cioppino. That dish originated here by the Italian immigrants of the late 1800s and offers history and local ingredients. It is uniquely a San Francisco dish. A burrito is not.

        The San Franciscan
        1525 North Main St., Walnut Creek, CA 94596

        1. re: CarrieWas218

          Don't you just love how the place link took San Franciscan out of context and found an an irrelevant restaurant in Walnut Creek?

          1. re: wolfe

            Yeah - and not enough time to be able to go back and edit it out!


          2. re: CarrieWas218

            Keg needs to try a real Mission burrito. Who knows if they will ever get a real taste in Philadelphia. Mission Burrito in Lansdowne apparently doesn't cut it.
            Cute coincedence, bbulkow is also on that thread but not about burritos.

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              I was born and raised in SoCal (it was 3 or 4 tacos for $1 as a kid) and to hear the dislike for the Mission burrito is ironic considering the famous SD California burrito - a fully loaded gringo-ized bomb filled with shredded lettuce, sour cream, yellow cheese and french fries for pete sake. FRENCH FRIES!

              Regardless I think the point about the burrito being California's answer to the pizza slice or Philly cheesesteak is appropo. All are immigrant generated and humble in origins. The Mission burrito just happens to be something specific to SF and worth a try as the Cal burrito is to SD.

              If not the Mission burrito, then the taco truck in Oakland's Fruitvale are every bit as good as LA. The fact is...there's plenty of below par Mexican food in SoCal, it's just there's such a larger and vibrant Mexican American community, the volume of good places is much higher.

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                i have to agree with carriewas - "burrito" does not say "San Francisco" to me. and i also agree that Mexican food is less impressive here than in L.A. (grew up there) and that's probably the only thing i like better in L.A. than here.

                i love your recs - Swann Oyster, and yes, Tadich for cioppino (and fabulous bread!), and Ferry Market for a taste of a lot of things that now say San Francisco. but I think a trip to the Mission for a burrito is certainly not unwarranted, and fits in the budget. Gives you the "other end" of the San Francisco food experience.

                1. re: mariacarmen

                  Thanks, Maria - I have to laugh when I visit friends on the East Coast and they ASSUME that the food which screams "San Francisco" is Rice-A-Roni! Ah, the power of advertising....

                  I would add to the OP's list a stop at The Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee - there is another quintessentially San Francisco offering which, although can be had practically everywhere now, should be had where it originated.

                  Buena Vista Cafe
                  2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                    aack - get new east coast friends! ( :

              2. re: wolfe

                Go t to agree with wolfe here. Yes, cioppino is a San Francisco dish and it's tasty, and it is served in a handful of seafood restaurants about town, typically above the OP's price point.

                But when thinking what is analogous to Philly's cheesesteak, it has to be the Mission burrito It was first made in the Mission District in San Fransisco, and it is not meant to be similar to Mexican food you would find in Mexico or southern California. You can now get Mission burritos outside of the bay are, but that would be the equivalent of getting a cheesestake outside of Philadelphia or NC barbecue outside of North Carolina. It just wouldn't be the same.

                A couple of other regional things you may wish to try if you see them on a menu somewhere would be BBQ'd oysters, artichokes, and tri-tip sandwiches,

                Other inexpensive cuisines that San Francisco does particularly well that may not be readily available in Philly would be Yucatan (Poc Chuc), Peruvian (Inks's), Vietnamese (PPQ), and Burmese (Larkin Express Deli)

                1. re: Civil Bear

                  I have not heard of or eaten in the philly area Chinese like we have here, a la the Spices empire.

              3. If you really want good Dungeness crab for cheap. I would suggest PPQ. It is a vietnamese restaurant that does a full dinner for 2 for $48. It includes an appetizer of imperial rolls and salad. This is followed by a crab prepared in like 4 different ways that you can choose from. My wife and I love their fried salt n' pepper crab, but the classic buttery roasted crab is also excellent. The crab is also served w/ a big bowl of garlic noodles that is basically crack in the form of noodles. Not completely sure how they cook it, but it seems to involve butter and magic. The end the dinner off with fried bananas and mango and coconut ice cream. It is probably one of the best crab experiences in San Francisco.

                If you are adamant to do the tourist thing and get your crab from the FIsherman's Wharf/Pier 39 area, I would say Crabhouse does a respectable job, but it may be above your price range..not sure.

                1. Aside from a burrito, here are some suggestions of inexpensive local haunts that I love.

                  San Tung in the Sunset District, Rosamunde Sausage in the Mission or the Haight and Samovar Tea in any of its 3 locations, Hayes Valley, SOMA or the Castro district.

                  1. As a Philly cheese steak lover, I'd say the analogous local food is a bahn mi. Same relationship of a crusty loaf to a gooey, fatty interior. I'd go to Saigon Sandwich on Larkin and if the lines are long go down the street to Baguette Express. And be sure you get something with pate on it.

                    Saigon Sandwich Shop
                    560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                    Baguette Express
                    668 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: otis

                      You can get a decent bahn mi(Vietnamese hoagie) in Philadelphia but good Mission burritos have yet to make an appearance.

                      1. re: wolfe

                        ok - the OP can hang in the Mission... tamal at La Victoria or pozole at El Delfin. What about a torta? and street food trucks!

                        El Delfin
                        3066 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                        La Victoria
                        131 W Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113