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Unique to San Francisco, off-beat, experimental?


We will be visiting San Francisco in December. We are from Seattle and this will be our first visit to Bay area.

Basically what I am hoping for here is some recommendations on food in San Francisco that is unique to the area or better in some way than in other cities. For instance, we can find good sea food here in Seattle so we would prefer to pick a few places that offer something we can't find here.
We also enjoy great food that is innovative and even experimental - (Stinking Rose or any theme based restaurants for example).

As of now I have Stinking Rose, El Farolito, In and Out Burger on the list.

Any advice/suggestions are highly appreciated.


Stinking Rose
325 Columbus, San Francisco, CA 94133

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  1. Do you have good Oaxacan or Peruvian food in Seattle?

    1. Off-beat yes.. good food probably not

      Opaque - Dining in the Dark

      1. The Stinking Rose is neither off-beat nor experimental -- it's mostly just a gimmick and reports on the food have been unfavorable.

        It would help if you would clarify what you mean by "innovative" and "experimental."

        Stinking Rose
        325 Columbus, San Francisco, CA 94133

        3 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          It may be a gimmick, but that doesn't disqualify it as off-beat or experimental. I'd say that much of a garlic overload qualifies as "off-beat."

          That being said -- I've read unfavorable reports, but I was talked into going by some people who wanted a gimmicky experience, and was VERY pleasantly surprised. Local, fresh ingredients (California seabass and Gilroy garlic) and perfect service.

          1. re: Radical347

            Isn't "Gilroy garlic" kinda redundant? :)

            1. re: c oliver

              I think that's to show it's not imported, like from China...and of course branding.

        2. In and Out Burger is none of the above.

          1. Stinking Rose is a tourist trap, plain and simple. Avoid it.

            I love In 'n' Out and eat there far too often (my 13-year-old daughter would cheerfully eat an animal-style cheeseburger every day, so I can pretend to be reluctant and let her "convince" me to go there). But although it's a really good fast food burger, it's just a fast food burger. Don't go too far out of your way for it, and don't expect too much from it, and you'll be fine.

            Mission burritos are quintessentially SF, and El Farolito makes a good one. Definitely worth trying.

            Is Coi in your price range? Or how about Aziza? (I haven't been yet, but am planning to be there in a couple of weeks.) You can get innovative Chinese food at Jai Yun. Or you might try Burmese food - it isn't innovative if you're in Burma, but it's certainly a change of pace for the typical American diner. Burmese Kitchen or Pagan are good options.

            Anyhow, provide more details about what you're looking for, where you'll be, and what you want to spend and you'll get better suggestions.

            Jai Yun
            680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

            Stinking Rose
            325 Columbus, San Francisco, CA 94133

            1. For me, the quintessential San Francisco "fine dining" experience is to go to Fisherman's Wharf and buy your meal from the street vendors -- Dungeness crab and plenty of it is a must, a loaf of crusty SF sourdough bread, a nice bottle of white wine and PAPER CUPS to drink it out of, maybe some cheese or a couple of pastries, lots of napkins, a nutcracker to share and some toothpicks for digging out stubborn morsels of crab meat, then find yourselves a GREAT bench or wall to sit on with maximum people watching opportunities, maybe a greedy seagull or two to throw breadcrumbs to, and have yourselves a blast! Fisherman's Wharf area brings the flavor of Dungeness crab to perfection like no other spot on planet earth. Enjoy! Oh, and if you can beg, borrow or swindle a cup of drawn butter and a quartered lemon or two just in case you get demanding crabs, it couldn't hurt!

              Oh, and if you really want to, it's okay to go back and eat in one of the many great restaurants. But the ambiance won't be the same. '-)

              7 Replies
              1. re: Caroline1

                Caroline, do you realize your Fisherman's wharf dining experience is geared wholly and entirely to tourists and that locals would never bother eating the "street food" there? And the OP already stated they get good seafood in Seattle so there is nothing at the wharf which would probably interest them.

                Considering what is available to them at Pike's market and restaurants I have dined at in Seattle, I would also recommend a Mission burrito, Aziza, and the likes of Canteen, Nombe, or Saison where fresh ingredients and farm-to-table dining is the norm.

                2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                1. re: CarrieWas218

                  Good point.
                  That Fisherman's Wharf Dungeness crab is probably coming from Washington.

                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                    Well, Carrie, I guess we'll have to color me strange, because all of the years I lived in the Bay Area (Burlingame and Belmont) it was one of our favorite things to do! That and the free Sunday concerts at Stern Grove, but that season is over. There is always a "local" or two who swims against the tide!

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      Count me as one who swims against the tide. I like the crab and street vendors at Fisherman's Wharf. I don't do it often, but it's fun sometimes to be a tourist in one's own city. I usually follow it up with going to the maritime museum or the mechanical museum. Also hit the Buena Vista before I hit the cable car, which for me is the public transport bac to my house. Then again, I'm a native so that may affect my opinion. However doing this isn't really offbeat enough, but it is fun!

                      IMHO I think the Ferry Building is a tourist trap as well. Not at all what I thought it would be.

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

                      1. re: cosmogrrl

                        Regardless, the original poster stated that he was from Seattle (where they have plenty of Dungeness crab) and specifically that he wasn't interested in seafood.

                        1. re: cosmogrrl

                          No doubt the Ferry Building has plenty of tourists. Plenty of locals, too. Fact is it sometimes has too many people, period.

                          Regardless of who's there or where they're from, the quality of the food at Ferry Plaza is orders of magnitude better than what you'll find on Fisherman's Wharf. Sure, steamed crabs can be good either place, but only because they're hard to screw up.

                          Given the choice between gluey clam chowder in a bread bowl and a serving of Hog Island's oyster stew, I know which one I'd pick. Every. Single. Time.

                    2. re: Caroline1

                      I avoid Fisherman's Wharf like the plague. With rare exception the food is mediocre and overpriced, and the whole scene is geared entirely toward clueless tourists.

                      If the OP wants to pick up some good local food and eat it while watching crowds of people, Ferry Plaza is a better choice in every way. In December there will be local crab, but it's just one of many options. Bread from Acme, cheese from Cowgirl, salumi from Boccalone, and chocolates from Recchiuti are all delicious and uniquely Northern Californian.

                      And that's just what's available every day. Show up on Tuesday or Saturday when the farmers' market is going outside and the sky's the limit.

                    3. The two places that came to mind when I read the title were Canteen and Commonwealth, but I'm not totally sure they're what you have in mind. Both have ambitious food in a casual setting, with Commonwealth's being more avant-garde.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: daveena

                        Just thought I'd post a link to the Commonwealth menu: http://commonwealthsf.com/menus#a-la-... . Looks like a place I'd like to check out on my next trip to SF! Thanks for mentioning it, daveena!

                        Here is this week's menu at Canteen: http://sfcanteen.com/menu.html

                      2. If you end up in North Beach I would suggest getting a made to order sandwich at Molinari's Deli. Pick your bread and have them make you sandwich. I love these things and the store is fun. It's Old SF to my mind. Once you have yr sammich, go to Washington Square park and enjoy!

                        Molinari Delicatessen
                        373 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        1. Aziza is a good rec -- unique spin on moroccan, brilliant cocktails

                          Coi -- overpriced. Experimental, but the time I went half the experiments were failures. For high end, I recommend La Folie, which is less experimental, but much better food

                          Kappou Gomi -- my rec for interesting japanese dishes

                          Kiss - another japanese pick. His 5-6 course omakase is lovely. Pick this place for a small quiet location with an excellent preset menu. Pick Kappou Gomi for something more informal, with a huge menu to pick interesting dishes from

                          Lolo - unusual mix of Yucatan and Turkish styles

                          Don't be afraid of tourist experiences. SF is a place that really delivers even in the most touristy locales. I often say you could pick up any tourist book and do the top 3, 5 or 10 things it recommends, and you'd be fine. Not true for other cities (what to do in LA? I dunno!) but in SF, absolutely.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pauliface

                            Lolo was certainly delightful for us tonight. That shrimp taco was breathtaking on a jicama skin. And beef kofte wonderfully textured in a very flavorful sauce.

                            1. re: rotiprata

                              My sister's coming to town next weekend and I'll be taking her there!
                              Along with Kappou Gomi, Aziza, and L'ardoise.
                              If they have tables.

                              Kappou Gomi
                              5524 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

                          2. If you happen to be in SF Chinatown, try the Chinese-style seafood dishes at R & G Lounge or Great Eastern.
                            I spent a lot of time in SF (30%, the other 70% back in Singapore) between 2007-2009 and once, whilst on vacation in Seattle, was taken to what my friend called "the best Chinese restaurant in the International District". But, despite the terrifically fresh produce available there, its cooking standard was nowhere near what I had in SF Chinatown.

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

                            Great Eastern Restaurant
                            649 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                            1 Reply
                            1. Wow what a mish mash of opinions and recs!

                              On a first visit to the city, I think touristy is ok. But I would not go to Stinking Rose. In and Out is spreading and will probably be in Seattle soon, but no issue with grabbing a fast food burger. It does not take long or cost much.

                              I just went out for a sail on SF Bay. A great touristy experience that I as a local still enjoy (wish I had my own boat). This puts you smack in Fishermans Wharf Pier 39 where I sometimes get myself some hot mini donuts and go to Bubba Gump for a bucket of peel and eat shrimp (ACK tourist trap). But nice view and kinda fun.

                              I would rather go to Little Star Pizza or Burma Superstar for cheap meals and yes taco trucks - there is decent one by the ballbark at Arkansas and 17th.

                              I'm not a fan of Aziza, but near there is Vietnamese Crab place - PPQ Dungeness Island Vietnamese Cuisine.

                              In the Mission its fun to bar hop - maybe Medjool. Cheap Tapas at Picaro. Ice Cream at Bi-Rite, Cappucino at Tartine.

                              Also recently sent to Gitane. Loved the BEAUTIFUL bar and tasty cocktails.

                              Irish Bank very quaint with good fish and chips and pub food. Have a black and tan and relax.

                              Links never seem to work for me. Burma SuperStar on Clement. If crowded leave your number and have a drink across the street at Blue Danube (Clement St)

                              Little Star Pizza
                              846 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                              Burma Superstar
                              1345 Park Street, Alameda, CA

                              Pier 39
                              , San Francisco, CA 94102

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: myst

                                irish bank - www.theirishbank.com
                                Burma Superstar -www.burmasuperstar.com
                                picaro - www.picarotapasrestaurant.com
                                medjool - www.medjoolsf.com
                                bi-rite www.biritemarket.com
                                ppq - www.ppqdungeness.com
                                tartine - www.tartinebakery.com

                                Oh and the Cliff House (Tourist Alert!) nice to go to the bistro and have hot free popovers while you wait for overpriced, but tasty breakfast. Sometimes its worth it...

                                1. re: myst

                                  I disagree with some of your recommendations, but agree with some of them!

                                  irish bank - www.theirishbank.com
                                  Cool place, especially during st. patricks day

                                  Burma Superstar -www.burmasuperstar.com
                                  I used to like this place a few years ago. The quality has dropped and the lines could be tremendous.

                                  picaro - www.picarotapasrestaurant.com
                                  Very low quality food, would not recommend it. I ate there 2 weeks ago, the chicken tasted like it came out of the freezer. Wouldn't recommend Tapas in SF at all. I think they all are low quality. I've been to Spain twice as well, just no comparison at all. They just don't get it here.

                                  medjool - www.medjoolsf.com
                                  Not as good as when it first opened. Also stay away from this place on the weekends. It turns into a club and it's pretty ghetto.

                                  bi-rite www.biritemarket.com
                                  Awesome market, although the owner I heard is not a nice person and doesn't treat his employees well.

                                  Food has gotten better here, but still seems low quality to me. Beers are good. Can be a little touristy and business people oriented because of the area it's in.

                                  ppq - www.ppqdungeness.com
                                  Great crab! Definitely check out. Their side dishes aren't anything to be exited about though.

                                  tartine - www.tartinebakery.com
                                  One of the best bakeries in SF! Expensive, and lines can be long but worth the wait!

                                  Burma Superstar
                                  4721 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

                                  1. re: mitcha

                                    Thanks for update on Picaro etc. too bad that place used to awesome value for Tapas. Thirsty Bear though was always reliable for a bear and a few tasty snacks (not dinner/not paella).

                                    Burma line was always long, but did not mind as I could have beer/coffee across the street and they would call my cell. But if food is slipping - thats too bad :(

                                    I love Irish Bank though. I love the dark woody vibe . Cheers!

                                    Irish Bank Bar and Restaurant
                                    10 Mark Ln, San Francisco, CA 94108

                                    Picaro Cafe
                                    3120 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                    1. re: mitcha

                                      Have you been to Caesar in Berkeley - it used to be good, but that was at least 7 years ago.....

                                      I just had Tapas in Melbourne and was disappointed by its 4 star Tapas place.....

                                      1. re: mitcha

                                        Re: tapas - have you been to Ibera in Menlo Park? Not having been to spain, I suspect it's on the map for actual tapas.

                                        [Yes, yes, the service is peculiar there, let's just talk food]

                                  2. Hmm, so far Myst is the only one who's mentioned ice cream. Not sure if it's new or exclusive (probably not) to SF, but there are certainly a good choice of artisan ice creams in SF.

                                    Hotly contested as to who's the best, yuo can always try a few to see which one you like. My choices:

                                    Bi-Rite -- probably one of the first and home of the delightful salted caramel. Even though they are very good and rich they are not on the top of my list.
                                    Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous -- out of the way (in my hood!) in the Dogpatch is a small ice cream shop that hand-makes all their ice creams from organic ingredients. A combination of classic flavors plus a few experimental ones (old fashioned -- booze soaked cherries and toasted almonds in Makers' Mark Bourbon ice cream) are standouts. Great cookies and peanut brittle as well. They make their own cones too!!
                                    Humphrey Slocombe -- barely edges out my neighborhood favorite, but I love me some Secret Breakfast (candied corn flakes in bourbon ice cream).

                                    The last two rotate flavors daily. Not sure about Bi-Rite.

                                    Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous
                                    699 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: stomsf

                                      Mr. & Mrs. M is half a block from Poquito, which has some unusual Ecuadorean dishes.

                                      2368 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                    2. PPQ is good value but the crabs will probably be from WA or AK at this time of year.

                                      Regarding taco and burritos, literally everyone will have a different opinion of what's the best. That happens when you have probably 100 different taco joints in SF. Look at this thread and you'll get a not-so-quick breakdown...but you'll also get the gist of the question.


                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        Crabs should be local in December when the OP is in town.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          Yeah. If that's changed, I need to know about it as planning a post-Christmas crab dinner when our "kids" and we are in the city.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            This year the recreational season opens on Saturday (11/6). The commercial season opens 11/15 south of Mendocino County and 12/1 north of Sonoma County. The harvest is forecast to be decent this year, so you should be in good shape.

                                            I'm about ready for some Dungies. Blue crab are tasty, but too darn much work.

                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                              Tommys Joynt on Geary.

                                              Half meat cafeteria/emporium half beers of the world bar. One of a kind place.


                                              Stew, sandwiches, amazing beer, and its cheap. Dont forget a vat of free pickles

                                              This is real SF

                                              1. re: eglbc

                                                Since you're responding to my post (for whatever reason)...

                                                I happen to like Tommys Joynt. It's an old-school cafeteria-style Hofbrau, and yeah, it's real SF. The food is decent and the price is right. It's a good spot for a turkey sandwich or a bowl of stew and a beer (with the aforementioned pickles). But there's nothing even faintly off-beat or experimental about it.

                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                  The paint job, unconventional for the neighborhood, especially garish considering it's new neighbor.

                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                    I prefer Lefty O'Douls which to me has more SF 'character.' I had many a breakfast or lunch there when I worked in the nabe. Certainly not "off-beat, experimental." Far from it.


                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      oh wow, unless its drastically changed I avoid Lefty's at all costs. As a baseball fan, especially Philadelphia Phillies fan and knowing how much that place meant to the late great Harry Kalas, it pains me to say that.

                                                      For the great SF experience, I've been been enjoying the food trucks. You can go onto the Twitter and follow them to get locations.

                                                      1. re: m00se1111

                                                        In SF, food truck licenses are tied to specific locations and times, so they can't just pick a location and tweet the way they do in LA, at least not for long without getting busted.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          It's true that the licenses are tied to locations and times. However, some have more than one approved location and will often appear at special events. So, keeping track of them by day of the week or hour of the day can take some doing.

                                            2. re: alanbarnes

                                              You were right about crab season...turns out it's a very bountiful one.

                                          2. 10 year veteran here and here's my list that I often send to friends/family when visiting:

                                            Pricier end/SF notables: Kokkari (Greek), Blowfish (Sushi), Flour + Water (Authentic Italian), Frances (New American?), The Slanted Door (Vietnemese), Betelnut (French/Asian), A16 (Italian), Little Star (thin crust pizza), NOPA (New American), Fish & Farm

                                            On the super cheap (no resvs): Pagolac (Vietnemese), Yamo or Burma Superstar (Burmese), Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, Puerto Alegre (Mexican), Brothers Restaurant (Korean)

                                            Slanted Door
                                            Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                            2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                                            655 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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

                                            2030 Union Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                            3406 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                            Puerto Alegre Restaurant
                                            546 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                            Burma Superstar
                                            4721 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: MeredithR

                                              flour + water is more cal-italian than true italian (but still excellent)

                                            2. Here's my advice, FWIW: Google "Off the Grid" and go to one (or more) of their weekly lunchtime food truck gatherings, and get some gourmet but relatively inexpensive food from a truck. I like Green Cyclo and Chairman Bao. Spend some time at some of the recommended places in Chinatown -- it's pretty different from anything you'd find in Seattle Chinatown. Try some xiao lon bau (sp?) at one of the Shanghai places around the city. Go to Hong Kong Flower Lounge or Zen Peninsula in Millbrae or Koi Palace in Daly City for amazing Dim Sum. Burma Superstar for Burmese, Angkor Borei for Cambodian, Bodega Bistro for Vietnamese, Thai House Express for Thai. Oh, and definitely get a burrito or two in the Mission. And don't confuse "innovative" with "gimmick."

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

                                              Hong Kong Flower Lounge
                                              51 Millbrae Ave, Millbrae, CA 94030

                                              Bodega Bistro
                                              607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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

                                              Zen Peninsula
                                              1180 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

                                              Burma Superstar
                                              4721 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

                                              Chairman Bao
                                              San Francisco, San Francisco, CA