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Aug 23, 2010 09:50 PM

Need help on first visit to SF on a budget

Hi, my name is Luis and I need your help

My wife and I (both 32) will be travelling from our hometown, Guadalajara, in Mexico to SF for a week starting Friday Oct. 1st ending Friday Oct. 8th.

We love food and eating well, we are basically omnivores and like all kinds of food, but since Cristy (wife) will be 3 months pregnant at the moment of the trip, it´s probably best to avoid spicy and greasy food.

We are going to stay at “Powell Place” hotel at Nob Hill (Powell St. almost corner with California St.) and depending on public transportation and/or cabs. We plan to go sightseeing all around so that can even be accommodated according your suggestions.

We will be low on economic resources, I know the “new to SF” thread talks about being specific about amounts of dollars; but since I have not traveled much to the US I don’t really have an idea about what is expensive and what is not, but err on the inexpensive side.

I´m a lawyer starting up my own practice and most of my resources are tied up in remodeling the offices (that should give you some idea). Still I´d like to take Cristy for a fancy dinner or two, but I´d appreciate suggestions about quality food (btw we LOVE crab!) for low to medium prize.

I thank you all in advance!

Best regards


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  1. Bienvenidos, Luis! And felicitaciones to you and Christy on your pregnancy. You are in for a treat in San Francisco. It is such a great city for visitors with the wide variety of food available and of course the tourist attractions. Your hometown is one of my favourite places in the world, by the way.

    On to recommendations: Burmese cuisine is something that SF seems to do well. Burmese Kitchen is a good place to get it and it is very reasonable. Your wife may choose not to try the tea leaf salad (lots of caffeine) which is a favourite of mine, but there is much to recommend this little restaurant. It is not fancy and is located in an area of town where you need to keep your wits about you, but worth checking out. It will be hard to spend more than $30 for the two of you here, I think.

    For a more fancy option, my favourite place to go is Canteen. I consider a trip to the Bay Area wasted without a dinner there :-). It is not fancy inside, but the food is high end with lower price tags. You need to make a reservation as it is quite small.

    If you like Italian, there are two places I've been to that would bring me back (in fact, I have been to La Ciccia twice!). La Ciccia is Sardinian, and dining there is like going to someone's house. Perbacco is a bit fancier, with a more trendy but not too trendy feel. Both are good value, I think. You could spend $50 each and be happy, less if one of you isn't drinking alcohol.

    You didn't ask about other things to eat and drink but I will suggest a couple that stand out to me as a visitor: San Franciscans love their coffee and their ice cream. Blue Bottle is my favourite coffee but there are a number of other quality purveyors (and they all offer decaffeinated options for your wife). Ice cream is as subjective as coffee, but BiRite has many fans, as does Humphry Slocombe and there are others too.

    Coming from a great market town like Guadalajara, you might want to check out one of the area's farmers' markets. Perhaps the most celebrated one is the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. It is on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning, but the Saturday one is the most impressive. Lots to look at, sample and buy readymade to eat in a beautiful setting by the water.

    I'm sure you will get lots of help from the local Hounds but I thought this might be of some assistance. Buen viaje.

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

    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

    Blue Bottle Cafe
    66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

    1 Reply
    1. re: grayelf

      Missed the links for FPFM, Burmese Kitchen and Canteen. Here they are... (BK used to be called Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen).

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

      817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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

    2. Check this thread, it's the annual Bargain Bites article from the SF Chronicle.

      6 Replies
      1. re: ML8000

        Thank you both for your replies!

        Gray: Thanks! this would be our third (and final) son/daughter, we have a 3 year old boy and a 10 month old girl (luckily both are super well behaved so both grandparents offered to take care of them while we go to SF!)

        World is becoming smaller! it´s great that you know Guadalajara! next time you are here I could tip you on some awesome places to eat! I took note of your suggestions and try to follow them all.

        One of my favourite meals is crab, king crag, blue crab you name it, I just can get enough and over here it´s way over priced.. do you know of a good place for crab in SF?

        Also I´d like to treat Cristy for a nice dinner, no budget on it, what would be the place?

        We like all kinds of food, really, so it does not need to be french or italian, feel free to suggest!

        ML: thanks for the link I´m browsing it as we speak

        again thank you both and I hope you keep the suggestions coming!

        1. re: lcasarin

          Re crab: this is our native crab:

          The season has been bad, and crab won't be good by the time you get here. When you order crab, you'll get crab from further north, which will still be pretty good, but not as succulent as on a good year. I strongly recommend going for asian preparations, like at board favorite R & G Lounge in chinatown. You can also buy crab fresh & cracked at fisherman's wharf. On a budget, don't go into the restaurants, see something you like on the curb, point out your crab, and get that particular one steamed while you watch. Take it over to the water and enjoy! The crab's better and more authentic that way, no matter what the price. You do need to know how to eat a cracked crab straight up. On no account go for a crab that you haven't had steamed while you watch - just like street food anywhere.

          In my opinion, SF does poorly at crabcakes - either dungeness, rock crab, or (even worse) blue crab. Best preps are things like crab and pasta.

          What you should really study is oysters. Oysters are a near religion here. We have several species of west coast, the seasons have been good. For the cheapest way to eat, there are some $1 happy hour oysters. At the ferry building you can get a la cart oysters. I disrecommend Swann oyster house because it's crowded and in a stinky party of town.

          Good luck

          R & G Lounge
          631 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

          1. re: lcasarin


            PPQ Dungness is a vietnamese restaurant in the Richmond know for Crab and Garlic Noodles. May be worth a stop if you are headed out to Ocean Beach/Cliff House or Golden Gate Park area.

            1. re: myst

              I second the crab at PPQ Dungeness, but only the black pepper version. For fried galic crab, Spices II is place to go!

              Spices II
              291 6th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

              1. re: Civil Bear

                I third the recommendation for PPQ Dungeness, though I (and everyone at my table the one time I went) preferred the classic Vietnamese roasted crab (which they roast with tons of butter). The black pepper version was good too, but because it was fried and very peppery, it sort of overwhelmed our palates after a few pieces. That roasted crab, though, I could eat the whole thing by myself. I think that preparation is better, too, if you want to taste the natural sweetness of the crab meat. The garlic noodles are also highly addictive.

                I've only gone during the local crab season, but I'll take the word of others on the board who say the ones shipped here from further north are still good.

            2. re: lcasarin

              You're welcome, and as predicted you are getting great ideas from local Hounds. I didn't answer on the crab thing because, sadly, I can't eat it. I have seen PPQ suggested many times, though perhaps the chiles will be a problem there (you mentioned Cristy can't do spicy right now).

              Also, not be a mother hen (or mother elf) but I think raw oysters are a no-no when you are expecting, aren't they?

          2. Hi, Luis, I, too, love crab! And I'd second the suggestion to go to R&G Lounge: if you and your wife like chilies, order the Typhoon Shelter crab--it's deep fried and tossed with garlic, chili, and lots of tasty stuff. The salt-and-pepper is the house specialty and the next best thing. They run around $48 per crab, but one crab should suffice for two, unless you are both serious crab fiends, in which case you might want one more crab simply steamed or sautéed with ginger and green onion. If you go with one crab, the addition of some noodles or rice, and a vegetable dish (the ongchoy with fu yi is excellent) should fill you up nicely. Here's the link to R & G. You can download the menu from there, check out the dishes and the prices. (N.B., You'll have to factor in a 9.25% tax, and you will be expected to leave a 15% tip, so your $48 crab will cost you $60.)


            If you want a San Francisco style crab dish, go to Tadich Grill, but stick to the cioppino, pan-fried local fish, or even the fried crab legs. The website is not complete yet, but here it is:


            I was just at Koi Palace in Daly City last week, and the crab with dumplings was delicious! The crab legs are deep fried, and the steamed dumplings are stuffed with crabmeat and pork. You'll find many threads on Koi here, as it has some of the best dimsum around. They also have quite a number of crab dishes available. (But you will need a cab.



            For the (almost) spare-no-expense dinner, you might want to consider Fleur de Lys. Gorgeous space, very good food, and Hubert Keller is a chef known well beyond the SF city limits. (Note, however, that the least expensive menu will cost $90 pp, including tax and tip, but without wine.



            Congratulations on your new baby, and your new office, and I hope you have as great time in San Francisco as we did in Mexico!

            Koi Palace Restaurant
            365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

            Tadich Grill
            240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

            5 Replies
            1. re: pilinut

              Bb: Thanks for the info! I´ll watch out that they do not serve me “soft” crabs.

              I´m not really a fan of oysters, but Cristy is, she loves them, if you have any specific recommendations we would appreciate it.

              Myst: We will of course go to the golden gate park, I´ll make sure to schedule a stop at PPQ, Thanks!

              Pili: Thanks! we are pretty excited for both; in Mexico we say that all babies come with a cake under the arm (the cake being good omens and economic opportunities) I´ve worked both as general counsel for companies and as associate lawyer in some firms, but this will by my first personal venture!

              R&G is already on my “definitively going” list, we are going to be there for 7 full days so I´ll try to hit all the spots.

              The “fleur de lys” sounds good! How many days/months in advance do I have to make reservations? Any specific dish we should not miss?

              Thanks to all and best regards!


              1. re: lcasarin

                It's been a while since i was at Fleur de Lys, but I do remember the sweetbreads. There may be, from a purely food standpoint, better restaurants, but Fleur de Lys has a singularly romantic ambiance. Ask to be seated in the tented dining area.

                Here's a link to Open Table, where you can make reservations for free at many restaurants:


                1. re: lcasarin

                  Luis - have fun on your trip here.

                  For a reasonably priced and very good breakfast, i recommend Canteen. It's a small place and likely walking distance from your hotel.

                  I also think you'll have a lot of fun at the Ferry Building. There's an oyster restaurant there that is very popular as well so your wife will like that.

                  For upscale, spare no expense places, I think La Folie is great.

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

                2. re: pilinut

                  It might just be me, but the salt and pepper crab I had last month at R&G seemed a bit wanting. While the gradual increase in price over the years is to be expected, the crab seemed smaller and a bit underseasoned compared to versions I've had over the years.

                  It's still good for a first time visit to try it out, but surely there must be something similar, perhaps somewhere in the Richmond or Sunset, for a bit less? Any alternative recs out there?

                  1. re: ristretto

                    I had the salt and pepper crab at R&G last month and it was excellent but pricey. It was expertly prepared. Frankly I was surprised since I was expecting less and I generally believe the best way to prepare crab is steamed.

                3. Luis - Bienvenidos!
                  A lot of people on Chowhound really like Boulevard. I'm not the biggest fan but I do think it's a very nice restaurant and may be good for one of your fancy dinners. It has beautiful views of the Bay Bridge, which is what makes it special to me.

                  You might also like to go one weeknight to Belden Place - a little alley with 5 or 6 restaurants you can choose from. The alley has a bit of a European feel to it you might enjoy - it can be fun and festive on a nice night.
                  I particularly like B44, Tiramisu and Plouf.

                  Another place you might like is called Foreign Cinema. It has an outdoor patio (with heatlamps) that plays a movie every night outside while you're eating. It's not played very loud, it's just a nice background. The food is very good, and not super expensive. Make sure you get a table outside - inside is too noisy and you don't get the movie.

                  44 Belden Place, San Francisco, CA 94104

                  Foreign Cinema
                  2534 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                  Belden Place
                  44 Belden Pl, San Francisco, CA 94104

                  40 Belden Place, San Francisco, CA 94104

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    I would not recommend Boulevard for Luis because of the price/performance ratio. I might instead suggest Slanted Door as more of a treat across the street for better views, lower prices, more interesting/unique food unless you have a lot of fusion/upscale vietnamese where you come from.

                    There are lots of cheap, authentic, and better vietnamese restaurants, without a view, and some of them will be near your hotel. Getting armed with those is a good idea.

                    Regarding oysters:
                    If you decide she can eat them (issue is uncooked food for any pregnant person, given the lower immune system response), your first stop should be Hog Island at the ferry building. It's a simple raw bar among an area with lots of other food, so she can have a bunch either while you shop elsewhere. They make have baked oysters too, which are a specialty of the area but not my cup of tea. For further oyster fun, a good list is: Zuni, at the bar (special oyster list, usually about 8 kinds available); Salt House, bar a good choice as well but it's a quite good restaurant (oyster chalkboard, not as great a selection, seemed darn fresh).

                    Slanted Door
                    Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                    Zuni Cafe
                    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                    Salt House
                    2 Shaw Aly, San Francisco, CA 94105

                  2. Hard to go wrong at PPQ since you can get the crab dinner special for 2 people (1 crab, garlic noodles, usually a beef dish, dessert) for $50 bucks (or around there). It's really enough for 3-4 people. (I'd just focus on the crab and eat the other stuff sparingly.)

                    That said, Yuet Lee's crab can be every bit as good or better...but the environment is hole-in-the-wall.