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Need help on best cheap eats & bars for 2 visitors please!

My boyfriend and I will be visiting San Francisco at the end of October and I could not be more excited. We're staying in Nob Hill (it's not what you think, I just get a good discount at one of the hotels) but are happy to venture to any area.

Note: I'm a big cook and will eat pretty much anything but he's allergic to shellfish and, sadly, not so big on the Vietnamese cuisine.

I'm looking for some advice on any of the following:

1. Delicious "value" meals - anything up to $20 a plate (although some $15 entree joints would certainly be appreciated)

2. Best place to grab our morning coffee and a bite (preferably somewhere in Nob Hill for this)

3. Best, not to be missed ice cream place.

4. Best bars for a couple to hang out and drink beers without feeling cheesy

5. To go with the above, best hangover breakfast

Also, not exactly food related but what's the deal with the tenderloin? I don't tend to be phased by homeless people or prostitutes, are we really in some sort of grave danger at a restaurant or bar here?

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  1. 1. Value meals: lots of options in the city, depending on where you're interested in going. One option you shouldn't miss: Mission burritos. You can search on this board to find lots of recommendations. My favorite is the al pastor super burrito at El Farolito, which is next door to the 24th St. BART station.

    2. Breakfast: best place within close walking distance of Nob Hill is Dottie's True Blue Cafe. If you show up much past opening time (7:30), there's likely to be a line.

    4. Bars: I'm not clear on the whole "cheesy" thing. Hanging out and drinking beers is kind of the point of most bars, and I'm having trouble thinking of any bar in the city where you'd feel uncomfortable doing that. Nevertheless, there are lots and lots of good bars around here. Two of my favorites are across the street from each other in North Beach: Vesuvio's and Spec's. Both have been there more or less forever, and there's no risk of feeling cheesy if you hang out and drink an Anchor Steam or six. You could also try Tosca's, which is in the same block.

    5. Best hangover breakfast: a good bloody mary. Search this board for relevant threads. One possibility is Zuni. Not open until 11AM, but that may actually be early if you're nursing a hangover.

    In re the tenderloin: if you're not put off by prostitutes, homeless people and shady characters hanging around, most of the tenderloin is relatively safe until relatively late. By relatively late I mean eleven pm or so. And by relatively safe I mean it's unlikely you'll be assaulted, but not entirely impossible. I don't normally advise tourists to visit the tenderloin, either before or after dark, since stepping over drunks or walking past open air drug deals is not something most tourists are interested in. But if you're used to navigating low rent urban environments, and you take normal precautions, you should be OK. Emphasize should.

    Incidentally, Dottie's is close to the tenderloin (or possibly in it, since I'm not sure where the exact boundaries are). I've been there numerous times, and have never felt threatened. I've always been there in the morning, however. I'm not sure I'd be all that interested in walking to or from Dottie's after midnight.

    Zuni Cafe
    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

    Dottie's True Blue Cafe
    522 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

    Vesuvio Cafe
    255 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

    6 Replies
    1. re: johnq

      plenty of cheesy (and weirder) in the Tenderloin (try the Motherlode for full on factor) and most bars there open at 6 AM! I always wanted to do a crawl, but at dawn, cause yeah, if you're not used to it it can be creepy at night. just watch yourself and as you pass a doorway, look. I lived on 2 different sides and never had a problem (but then I ALWAYS stay aware of what's around me) what's weird about the Tenderloin, is there's great food to be found, it's mostly populated by families, yet...crime does persist.

      in the Mission is the 500 Club still around? or the Uptown? great people watching is found on the balcony at the Metro (Castro, Noe at Market) cheesy? see if Trad'r Sam's (bargain Tiki) is still open on Geary by the Russian Orthodox Cathedral (and stop in, service isn't interactive like other churches and pay your respects to the Bishop-in-a-Box) there are amazing icons quite worth your while and then head over to Clement or Balboa for pelmeni and what not for hearty Russian food.

      grab (or go online) a copy of the Guardian or the Weekly.

      if you're not carrying glass or obviously drinking from a container it's almost impossible to get get busted, I used to stroll from Alamo Square down to Market Street with a go-cup of bloody mary almost every Sunday with no problems. just don't scare the children is pretty much the rule. no glass on the beach, no unruly behavior, nothing on transit, and you can pretty much wander town a bit buzzed all you want. this is why the good lord invented knapsacks and convenience stores.

      The 500 Club
      500 Guerrero Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Trad'r Sam
      6150 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

      1. re: hill food

        on re-reading this, and considering your hesitancy on VN food, (my first instinct on low-budget SF food is Asian, but have you tried Banh Mi? it's a sandwich) you MUST hit the Mission District and dive into the burritos (carne asada with brown beans are my fave, YMMV) also incredible shawarma and falafel to be found.

        1. re: hill food

          Thanks! We are quite excited to try all these burritos and tacos and I am a lover of shawarma from my days in Toronto--interested to try an authentic SF version so we will have to hit the mission.

          I love VN so may have to coax my better half to have at least one meal. Any suggestions for an adventurous eater (me) and a picky eater (boyfriend)?

        2. re: hill food

          500 Club is still there. as a divey hipster bar, it's fun. don't know the beer situation. i've heard these two places are good for beer, and they're both in the Mission - http://monkskettle.com/ and http://pibarsf.com/ - so maybe if you're in the Mission checking out the taquerias, you can stop in to one of these. There are a lot of fun bars in the Mission, enjoy! i don't know the area you're staying in well enough to recommend good hangover breakfasts. Low budget meals besides burritos are plentiful in the Mission as well. Boogaloos, for breakfast, Spork for dinner (fits in your $20 per plate range), Ti Couz (fits in your $15 range), Poc Chuc for a different take on Mexican, Limon Rotisserie for Peruvian (there's also Limon but it's more expensive)... there's more, but i don't know if you want to spend your entire time here in the Mission! (of course, I do, but that's because I live in it!)

          You should also check out the Ferry Bldg. on Saturday morning, because there are a lot of great prepared foods to be had, besides the usual vendors inside, and of course the produce itself.

          My sister used to live in the Tenderloin and what I always noticed about it is that it was highly trafficked by hookers and cops alike, and the lights are always on, so I never felt unsafe to walk around there. Maybe not the most pleasant area, but you should be fine traveling in and out. Maybe consider a cab on your way back to the hotel if it's late at night.

          1058 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

          Limon Restaurant
          524 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          Poc Chuc
          2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          3296 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          The 500 Club
          500 Guerrero Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

          Limon Rotisserie
          1001 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

          1. re: mariacarmen

            yes the more foot traffic, the better.

            1. re: mariacarmen

              monk's kettle is a great place for beer, but certainly not cheap.

              delirium and the attic have happy hours until 7 and 8 respectively (and all night sunday and monday for the attic) with a pretty good beer selection; and are also just generally cheap at all hours.

              other good happy hours at place w/ a deent beer selection include elbo room and doc's clock (both until 9pm), and mission bar (until 8)

        3. Hi!

          3) I think most agree in SF that place would be BiRite, but I don't know why you'd restrict yourself to one. I'm 100% stone cold in love with Lush, but it's not in SF.

          4) You're going to have to be more specific. Do you specifically like beer, or do you also like cocktails or wine? If beer, what kind of beer, and what part of town? Finding a nice bar in SF is not hard, "cheesy" is rare, and most are neighborhood places with a good mixed crowd. Which makes it unusual to recommend a certain place - few are worth traveling across town for, when there's probably a perfectly good place within a block or two. For beer in specific, people like the Tornado, Zeitgeist, and Lucky 13. La trappe if you like belgian. Vesuvio as recommended is quite nice, although their beer selection is limited, and 15 Romolo is about a block away with superior cocktails. Li Po and Tunnel Top and Buddah Lounge for dives on that side of town. And just about every restaurant has a bar, which is a great way to experience Boulevard's room without paying for a whole meal.

          You're almost better following your nose.

          5) If you're down with homeless people and prostitutes, you'll be fine in the tenderloin, especially if you're traveling as 2. My opinion is a little more relaxed than johnq above, I've eaten and hacked around the tenderloin plenty, with friends and without, and personally haven't had any assaults or assaults on my friends. I do know they happen.

          Lucky 13
          1301 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

          3 Replies
          1. re: bbulkow

            ahhh Tunnel Top went all upscale (is a cool space) but I liked it better when it was an early evening alcoholic place with Waylon Jennings on the jukebox, ditsy bartenders in spike heels that were easily confused and a bunch of fold out couches upstairs around a decrepit karaoke machine.

            what's left now? Ginger's Trois?

            Tunnel Top
            601 Bush St, San Francisco, CA

            1. re: hill food

              Ginger's Trois disappeared last year - replaced by Rickhouse -yucky, yuppy and expensive. To me.

              Rickhouse Bar
              246 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA

              1. re: mariacarmen

                sad, where will stockbrokers in need of a tranny sighting at lunch go now I asks? (god that place was a dump) I will always miss the quickly disappearing SF of trash next door to treasure.

          2. Thanks to all for the advice--hugely appreciated! I'm happy to see so many Vesuvio recs as it caught my attention early on reading the boards. I'll have to check for the best bloody mary postings as well--I'm Canadian and love to compare my beloved Caesar to a bloody mary. (There are few differences anyhow)

            To address the cheesy factor--we're in our late 20s and traveling as a couple and sometimes you can end up at a certain bar scene and feel a bit corny amidst big groups of people--the "dive" bar recs are great, you can't get the real feel for a city without visiting the best dive bar.
            And of course we love wine and cocktails, although are more beer and wine drinkers than anything.

            Thanks again to everyone!

            Vesuvio Cafe
            255 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

            3 Replies
            1. re: little miss A

              Vulber gave you very good recs for dive bars, and they are all in the Mission. Mission Bar is where I go, or The Dovre Club (which is at 26th & Valencia.)

              the best Bloody Mary I've had in years is at a place in Noe Valley (which is very near the Mission district) - it has a restaurant attached to it, and i think it's called the Noe Grill, and there is one dear crotchety elderly black bartender during the day who HATES making them but he makes the best!

              Noe's Bar & Grill
              Neighborhood: Noe Valley
              1199 Church Street
              (between 24th St & Elizabeth St)
              San Francisco, CA 94114

              And if you want to have Vietnamese anyway, cheaply, check out Sunflower (on either Mission near 16th or Valencia near 16th - two locations that share a kitchen) and have your BF get Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac - basically big hunks of flavorful steak), and you get everything else! i really like the Bánh Xèo (filled crispy crepes) there.

              Dovre Club
              1498 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

              Church Street Cafe
              262 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

              1. re: mariacarmen

                I like Sunflower and the middle Eastern place right there on 16th at Valencia (Mission is the BART station and a bank) - name will always escape me (could be next door depending on which door you use) might be (edit, IS) the Truly Med Lauriston mentioned

              2. re: little miss A

                Comparing a Bloody Mary to a Caesar? There is NO comparison!
                (BTW, a drop of fish sauce really brings out the clam juice flavor.)

              3. My favorite cheap places:

                Angkor Borei
                Burmese Kitchen aka Larkin Express
                Helmand Palace
                Lers Ros
                Memphis Minnie's
                Saigon Sandwich
                Thai House Express
                Truly Mediterranean

                Hop BART to Oakland and drink beer at The Trappist.

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

                Thai House Express
                901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                Truly Mediterranean
                3109 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                Helmand Palace
                2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109

                1. For beers, Toranado's selection can't be beat, and you can get a sausage at the excellent Rosamunde stand next door. Zeitgeist has and outdoor patio and a lively scene. And Schmidt's deli is my favorite place for German beer and wine, with a nice, casual food selection.

                  You should have fun, there are a lot of places here that have what your looking for!

                  1. another place to check out would be hogs and rocks. great drinks, beer, cocktail and wine and the food is great too. loved the tomato salad and their mussels in chili sauce. all their food is under $20. most of their specialty cocktails are $7 and you can get wine by the half glass.

                    Hog and Rocks
                    3431 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    1. no one has commented on ice cream yet. In SF proper there are three or four players right now. It depends what you want.

                      1. Humphrey slocombe - interesting flavors, some really fantastic, some just good IMO. Not overly sweet or decadent. One of my favorites
                      2. Bi-rite creamery - decadent ice cream with nice flavor balance. Many flavors are sweeter than HS. More classic flavors and very creamy.
                      3. Mr. and Mrs. miscellaneous. New kid on the block. I really like their caramel type flavors and candied violet for instance. Also loved the chocolate basil.
                      4. Mitchell's. I list this one simply because they are an institution. the ice cream isn't as good IMO as the others, but their tropical flavors are interesting. They sell halo halo, although they may not be making it when you come (they don't make it in the fall/winter).

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: jsaimd

                        I thought somebody did mention Bi-Rite, but there's also Toy Boat out in the Richmond for unusual flavors.(on the way to or from the beach - there's some cheap beach walking fun! and the Cliff House can turn out a decent bloody.) but since Pronto Pup is gone, I have no food recs out there. it's all dead to me.

                        1. re: hill food

                          Toy Boat serves Double Rainbow ice ream, which I haven't been overly impressed with, and is certainly not unique to Toy Boat.

                          Some lesser known ice cream places that often slip under the radar:

                          Joe's on Geary in the Outer Richmond - old school ice cream parlor with delicious flavors and friendly service - perhaps a cut below Mitchell's but still excellent
                          Bombay Creamery on Valenica (really interesting Indian flavors)
                          Marco Polo ICe Cream way out on Taraval - interesting Asian-influened flavors.

                          Double Rainbow Cafe
                          560 1st St, Benicia, CA 94510

                        2. re: jsaimd

                          i think i responded on some other thread about ice cream. I like Bi-rite better than Humphrey Slocombe's - HS's flavors can get cloying after 2-3 bites, in my opinion. Agree with Mitchell's.

                        3. I'd second the recommendation for Spec's bar (or Adler Museum and Cafe) across from city lights. To my mind the finest dive bar/museum on the planet. They still serve Old Overholt (straight rye whiskey, and better than you think) and the collection of maritime souveniers is fun too. For old fashioned on the waterfront ambience Red's Java House (not The Java House at pier 40). The only problem with Red's is there isn't that much worth eating there. Corned beef hash is wonderful and fish and chips are good (and at about $8, some of the cheapest in town. DO NOT get a hamburger. Corned beef sandwich might be a good choice when available, but you can't go wrong with the hash.

                          Java House
                          40 Pier 45, San Francisco, CA 94133

                          Red's Java House
                          Pier 30, San Francisco, CA

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: little big al

                            Fantastic. Corn beef hash is excellent. I would like to check out City Lights so the Spec's bar rec is perfect!

                          2. Value meals:
                            Ike's Place (located in Lime in the Castro) while not a "cheap" sandwich The Menage Trois is a very good sandwich.

                            Napolito - great upscale mexican (entrees around $15) brought to you buy NOPA (which I also like)

                            Memphis Minnie's - great meat but I wasn't all that impressed with the sides.

                            On a Tuesday - Rosamunde's "Cheeseburger Tuesday". Order your monster burger and that wait for your name to be called next door at the monstrously awesome Toronado. THE funnest afternoon I had on my whole trip. The beer list is epic. (Did I mention I like Toronado?)

                            Crumb cake donut at Bob's Donut and Pastry - if this place was down the street from me I'd have larger breasts than my wife.

                            I tried Blue Bottle and Four Barrel, but found Philz Coffee to be my favorite.

                            [There is no such thing as "The Best Ice Cream in San Francisco]
                            For me the Ube ice cream at Mitchell's is out of this world.
                            Bi Rite sells an "Afternoon Snack" sundae that is a very close second.
                            Humphrey Slocumbe - is very inventive and has a fun atmosphere, although there was the occasional shard of ice.
                            Mr. + Mrs. Miscellaneous - get high praises, but we didn't have the time to go all the way over there.

                            The 'ZillaDog at the 4505 meats stand at the Ferry Building Farmers market was off the chain.
                            There was a monster line for a pork sandwich (from a different vendor) that I wasn't about to wait for, but I hear good things about.

                            I'm sure I'm missing something so here's the map we made:


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

                            Blue Bottle
                            151 Third St, San Francisco, CA

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: ladybugthepug

                              There are plenty of sandwiches comparable to Ike's that aren't as over priced, like Deli Board, Estela's, Lou's cafe, etc.....

                              Deli Board
                              1058 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                1. re: jsaimd

                                  Ike's reopened at Lime, a restaurant in the Castro

                              1. re: ladybugthepug

                                You are oh so helpful! I appreciate your sharing the map as I haven't had time yet to start doing this myself. :)

                              2. Thanks again to everyone for your replies. Can't wait to get mapping things out and get my list together! You all let me know when you need recs for Banff Alberta!