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English tourist..first time in US...visiting San Francisco...after advice of good places to eat

...not rich....happy to pay $40-$50 dollars for a meal for one but not a whole lot more....

have visited spain, italy, france, turkey, greece so dont want to try the american take on these cuisines but .am looking to try good american food.....dont mind if it is simple....seafood (dungeness crab ?) maybe chinatown (though we have one of those here in London.....will the food be markedly different....does anyone know)

any advice...very gratefully received

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    1. By stating that you do not want takes on Mediterranean cuisine you are writing off California cuisine which is the best thing you will find in this area. The San Francisco Bay Area is known for using local ingredients (which are some of the best in the world) and simple cooking techniques and flavor profiles of Southern France, Italy, Spain and North Africa. Your statement is as absurd as an American going to London and stating they only want British food like Steak and Kidney pie and not going to St. Johns or the Fat Duck because those guys use French techniques.

      So if you want to try our regional cuisine go to places like Chez Panisse (invented California cuisine in the 70's by melding influences from Provence with local ingredients), Incanto (local ingredients with an Italian flavor profiles), Nopa (pan med flavor profiles with local ingredients), Contigo (local ingredients with Catalan influences), Aziza (local ingredients, modern techniques, N. African flavor profiles), SPQR (local ingredients, modern techniques, Italian flavor profiles), Namu (local ingredients with Korean flavor profiles), Bar Tartine (pan med flavors with local ingredients). There are many more, but these are some of my favorites.

      The best Chinese food is had outside of Chinatown in the Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods were current Chinese immigrants tend to live and not in China town. There are various regional Chinese restaurants but you may have similar regional differences in London.

      Other local specialties and favorites are: burritos which is a unique take on a N. Mexican dish as well as taco trucks. Search the board for recommendations as it is a contended topic. And Hamburgers--ditto on searching.

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      Chez Panisse
      1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

      Nopa
      560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

      Namu
      439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

      Bar Tartine
      561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

      SPQR
      1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

      Contigo
      1320 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

      4 Replies
      1. re: Amy G

        Thanks for the advice Amy G, but had a look at some of the places you recommended, and they are not really what i am looking for....for example, why would I go to contiga for their 'artisan spanish hams' and tapas when I had the real deal in Seville and Cordoba a month back. If anyone asked specifically to try english cuisine I would in no way recommend the Fat Duck because it does not do english food.....current menu includes... gazpacho, foie gras, mock turtle soup etc........
        I think what i may do is make a list of specific dishes that i want to try when i come to SF and do it that way. It is obvious too that i probably need to read up a bit more about American cuisine ^^

        Thanks again for the advice, esp the list of places to try and the info on Chinatown.

        1. re: marcovanbatty

          Tadich, sand dabs or petrale sole and a local drink the martini and Memphis Minnie's for BBQ.

          1. re: marcovanbatty

            One thing to keep in mind is that the Bay Area does not do regional American food (BBQ, Soul Food, etc.) well. So ask yourself if you want mediocre examples of Regional American food, or great California cuisine? For great Regional American you will need to travel to the South and Mid West. As far as Contigo, for what it is worth, other than imported Spanish hams, their food does not taste like anything I had in Barcelona last December specially the salads and entrees, but I understand that it may be too close for you.

            San Francisco has a Mediterranean climate and other than Sand Dabs, Geoduck Clams, Salmon, Halibut, and Dungeness Crab (all when in season) we don't have much native seafood.

            Again, I suggest you read up on California cuisine or you will end up eating mediocre food instead of embracing what we do well.

            Other than that Mexican may be good for you since it is better than what you will in England although not nearly as good as what you would get in Southern California or even in Chicago which has a bigger Mexican population.

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            Contigo
            1320 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

            1. re: marcovanbatty

              You might try a different venue than Chowhound, which aims at finding delishishness wherever it might be - without concern of regionalism.

              A request for finding the best of specific dishes might be reasonably received, but a flat statement that our primary cuisine and way of eating is of no interest and a simple copy may be taken as insulting.

              Remember also that San Francisco does not do "american" well. Most of America doesn't consider us American - we're those freaks in san francisco. In reality, if you wish to visit America, you should skip San Francisco. Chicago, Atlanta, Houston might be better choices. New York and LA are similarly not very american.

              Chicago has both hot dogs and steak, Atlanta has southern food, Houston has tex mex and more steak.

              If you decide to come here, Tadish is a natural choice. It's a shrine to a particular time and place in san francisco, before globalization, which doesn't represent much of where the city or people are now but has unique dishes. The sourdough there is quite reasonable. You should clearly go to Fisherman's Wharf and get the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Boudin's is considered reasonable.

              In terms of researching regarding what we're discussing here, I'd suggest watching the movie Bottle Shock (2008), about the true story of the 1976 blind wine tasting in france where Napa valley wines won. They talk specifically about terrior and ingredients and the passion for food we have here.

              I wouldn't bother going to chinatown - all of that food is direct copies of what is available in china. You can read KK's posts, for example, where he rips on San Francisco's idea that they might possibly be approaching Hong Kong's level of sophistication or taste. Which we are not - and if we are, that food's not found in Chinatown.

              The Mission Burrito is considered very local (burritos aren't common in Mexico). There are many threads about the best mission burrito.

              You are in luck that the upscale hamburger is having a renaissance. However, meat in general is done far better in the midwest - Chicago, namely. There has been much moaning here about the lousy quality of hamburgers compared to Chicago. Yet the burgers at Namu, Nopa, Spruce, Zuni are well regarded.

              Crab is out of season now. Any place that sells you fresh crab is bringing it down from Washington or Alaska, or is serving your frozen.

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

              Nopa
              560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

              Namu
              439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

          2. I think if you want "good American food," you might want to research regional American specialties like the Tex-Mex food of the Southwest, barbecue/barbeque and Southern black cooking, Philadelphia cheesesteaks, hamburger varieties, Thanksgiving dinner takeoffs, Southern chess pie and pecan pie, Northwest smoked salmon, other regional dishes based on regional fish/produce/etc. rarely seen in Europe, etc. You won't get the experience in SF that you would travelling the US and trying the dishes in their native environment and the restaurants won't be as fancy in general (though there are exceptions) as those with French or Italian influence,

            Once you find food that interests you, search on this board or Yelp for local favorites. Often you'll find upscale variations.

            One of my fondest memories of English visitors is the first time some friends from the Isle of Wight tasted bush-ripened blueberries and said, "Now we know what the fuss was all about!"

            One of my fondest memories of visiting England was the Ploughman's lunches in the countryside. I found them more vibrant and refreshing and different than a lot of the fancy food in London. (That was a while ago, so things have probably changed.)

            People will probably hate this suggestion, but peruse the Websites for the TV shows "Best Thing I Ever Ate" (famous American chefs tell where in America their favorite dishes are) and "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and take a gander at low-end/traditional American fare.

            Also, you might want to check out Sam's Chowder Mobile, a food truck that makes a traditional New England steamed lobster dinner with clams, corn, potatoes as well as chowder. They park where you can sit outside (dress in layers!) and see the sites.

            1. I suggest trying Slow Club or Baker & Banker - both do seasonal cooking that is common here and they are both reasonably priced (Baker & Banker slightly more expensive). Tadich is classic SF. If you want Asian, I love the pho at Pagolac in the Tenderloin. Not the nicest neighborhood, but food is good. Gets crowded so go early. Zuni is another seasonal/SF classic - their roast chicken is famous.

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              Zuni Cafe
              1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Pagolac
              655 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              Slow Club
              2501 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

              Baker & Banker
              1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

              1 Reply
              1. re: njtaylor2001

                Slow club leans heavily on Spain / France / Italy. For example, they have antipasto, pimentos de padron, fromage blanc, piment d’espelette, affagato, spaetzle, fettucini, pot de creme. Even their burger has dijon mustard and swiss cheese. They are also consistantly innovative and a solid choice on the SF scene - such as the use of fennel right now when it's in season, and a desert made from tcho chocolate, one of our local "bean to bar" local artesianal producers.

                Baker and Banker serves fois gras. The OP specifically said any place that serves fois gras is considered suspect. I'm sure a dish like: "Grilled octopus salad, yellow watermelon, spicy Asian vinaigrette, sea beans" -- is also considered bad, as everyone knows grilled octopus is best had in portugal. The fact that it's mashed-up california style, very typically californian, bringing together the tastes of the Portuguese coast with American watermelon and an Asian vinaigrette is likely beside the point.

                Zuni's menu is covered in Italian. Piccolo fritto, La fettunta, La tagliata, pecorino sardo, gnocchi. Sure, you can avoid that and just order the chicken, but I don't think that's the OP's point. Remember that Chez Pannisse has been summarily rejected - Zuni can be thought of as CP v 2.0.

                I was thinking about the famous egg at Manresa. It's the arpege egg from paris, but Kinch uses the very american maple sugar. Which is either a very interesting dish - especially if you've eaten the original he's riffing off of, or simple a boring derivative.

                I was considering recommending the in-n-out at fisherman's wharf, but the fact is it's a southern californian thing. Even though very american, it's not unique to san francisco. So stay away from that.

                Namu, at least, is a mashup of local-sustainable and asian. No fois gras. Local oysters. Likely the best of the upper-crust burgers. They have one of the hot new dishes - korean tacos, written up last week in the New York Times. If french and italian can't be uttered, Namu might be a good choice.

                I also suggest staying away from Blue Bottle coffee. Even though it's astonishing, locally roasted, has a sense of the san francisco terrior, and innovative drinks (like the famous gibraltar), and changed the entire way I view coffee (having been throughout italy) it's still just espresso. Why make the lines longer? Especially the lines I stand in. Stay away.

                Most places in San Francisco are as American as apple pie. Apple pie is a fundamentially german dish (strudel) mashed up with a more french style of pastry dough until it becomes American.

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

                Namu
                439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

              2. It looks like you inadvertently hit a nerve about American culinary cultural identity here!

                California Cuisine certainly has a lot of French and Italian influence but is quite distinct from those cuisines. As Amy G mentioned, Chez Panisse is pretty much where it all began, in the downstairs restaurant. In San Francisco itself, Zuni Cafe is the exemplar of this type of simpler cooking. Other places like the Ritz Carlton take this further with more complex preparations and Asian influences, but a lot of those places are out of your budget. But there are plenty of fine simpler American places in San Francisco too, such
                as Maverick in the Mission.

                I think that Hayes Street Grill is a better place to try local seafood than Tadich, though Tadich certainly has the old San Francisco atmosphere. It's too bad that Dungeness crab is out of season, since it's so different from what's available in Europe, though you can still get some from further north.

                Mexican food is another thing to try - California used to be part of Mexico. Nopalito is my favorite place in San Francisco, though there are many others I have not tried yet. I agree with others that Mission burritos are a must-try. Carne asada from Pancho Villa is my favorite, but there are lots of great choices there.

                For drinks, you'll probably enjoy our wine more than our beer.

                The one thing I would suggest you might reconsider is avoiding Italian food. By all means avoid the mediocrities in North Beach. But many Italian visitors look at California Italian restaurants like another region of Italy. You wouldn't avoid a Campanian restaurant because you've been to Tuscany, I hope, and I think the same applies here. When you apply Italian techniques to California ingredients, you get something different and delicious. Incanto, La Ciccia, Perbacco/Barbacco, and SPQR are classics in this area within San Francisco.

                Pizza may have originated in Italy but San Francisco has its own individual takes on it. Most distinctive perhaps is Gialina - a very individual personality there, unlike the more Naples-style places like A16 (which I love, but would not be what you are looking for).

                I just got back from a midwest vacation where I indeed had some transcendent burgers. But places like Burgermeister do a fantastic job with hamburgers in their own Californian way.

                As others have mentioned, there are lots of classic regional American dishes that San Francisco does not do as well (pretty much any food specialty from the South). I think it's better to stick to what California does well and save the others for another trip.

                Enjoy!

                Michael

                -----
                Gialina
                2842 Diamond St, San Francisco, CA 94131

                Zuni Cafe
                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                La Ciccia
                291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                A16
                2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                Chez Panisse
                1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                SPQR
                1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

                Hayes Street Grill
                324 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                Pancho Villa
                3071 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                4 Replies
                1. re: mdg

                  I agree about the beers. West coast beers - west coast IPAs in specific - are a unique addition to the world, extraordinarily tasty, and - due to the high aromatic hops content - travels poorly. But after you've had beer in pilzen and munich, why bother?

                  What is truly American is the SF cocktail scene. Local distillers (alameda's hangar one making the first legal american absinthe), local innovations (like the ill-fated bacon manhattan). The british can no longer make a cocktail to save their lives (laws about the exact alcohol content make fine-tuning difficult), France doesn't seem to care, germany is all beer, and all of Asia is a cocktail wasteland. Lots of honey and local spices in use. Slow club, sister Serpentine, Gitane, Rickhouse, Heaven's Dog, a few more I'm forgetting.

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                  Gitane Restaurant & Bar
                  6 Claude Lane, San Francisco, CA 94108

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

                  Rickhouse Bar
                  246 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Your take on IPA is ironic since the original ale had extra hops to help to keep it palatable after the long trip around the Cape from Britain to India.

                    Those who are unfamiliar with West Coast IPAs may find some to be excessively hopped up.

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                    West Coast Cafe
                    466 San Mateo Ave, San Bruno, CA 94066

                    1. re: PorkButt

                      It is indeed ironic, but if you've had IPA in england, there's little in common today between british IPA and west coast IPA. I think they were closer in the early 90's, but something like a Speakeasy would be shocking in the british isles, I'd wager.

                    2. re: bbulkow

                      Speaking of cocktails, I had an awesome Bloody Mary at the Slanted Door yesterday....possibly the best I've ever had.

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                      Slanted Door
                      Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111