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Am in SF now - First Impressions

For everyone who was nice enough to give me advice on best foodie neighborhoods for my extended visit, I've been here a few weeks and wanted to give some quick first impressions. I've ended up staying in the city near the Financial District/SOMA since the company arranged accommodations for me so I wasn't able to provide any input on location preference! It's not too bad during the day but it's dead on the weekends but at least I have a car so can drive around.

I've had a chance to visit the farmers' market at the Ferry building and that is got to be the best farmer's market I have ever seen! I think it's better than the one in Union Square in NYC because the variety of fresh vegetables and fruit was oustanding! Organic satsumas! I can't find any satsumas over on the East Coast right now and when I do they taste terrible.

Here's quick impressions of some places I have eaten at - no rhyme or reason on why I ate there besides I was probably nearby and hungry at the time!

Boccalone - salame sandwich was very tasty with lots of salame, great for a quick lunch

Thirsty Bear - fantastic beer selection (yes much better than what you see in NYC) but patatas bravas were not so good -cut like home fries (leftover from breakfast?) and the sauce tasted artificial

Barbacco - yummy bruschetta, delicious chicken thighs and roasted potatoes,the only missteps were the polenta which tasted sweet and red wine served too chilled - it make the wine tight and not very good until I warmed what wine was in my glass with my hands. this is a restaurant I'd expect to see in Manhattan.

Han's Korean (Palo Alto) - in the mood for Korean and this casual place did the job, nice cucumber kimchi but the food was nothing to write home about, am definitely seeing more Korean restaurants just randomly located throughout the peninsula and SF compared to NYC where it's basically Flushing or K-town on W.32nd St.

Paxti's pizza - I love deep dish but living in the NYC metro area makes finding deep dish pizza nearly impossible. The pepperoni, mushroom and roasted red pepper pizza I ordered was delicious! Nice greek salad too. Definitely coming back here for more deep dish pizza.

Mijita - great soft tacos! would love to have this over on the East Coast!!!

Overall, I've been pleasantly surprised by the SF dining scene - there's a lot more to choose from than what I was expecting and even experienved during previous, brief visits. Prices (for the most part) are lower than NYC metro area, which was another nice surprise. Looking forward to trying out more restaurants - feel free to post reccs and I'll do my best to visit them and report back!

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  1. The best Korean is in Oakland -- mostly along Telegraph between 27th and 48th. Worth a quick drive over the bridge if you really like Korean food. Lots of discussion on the board (hopefully if I add a couple of links it will generate some threads at the bottom of the page).

    4869 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

    Pyung Chang Tofu House
    4701 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

    Seoul Gom Tang
    3801 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

    6 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Second on Oakland (or San Jose) for Korean. I think Han Il Kwan's the best Korean I've had in SF proper. Toyose for fried chicken wings. My Tofu House for soondubu jjigae.

      I haven't tried it, but there have been some good reports on Stone Korean Kitchen, which is in the FiDi and open for dinner.

      First Korean is an excellent Korean market. Best kimchi I've found retail. If you get down as far as Sunnyvale, check out HanKook.

      My Tofu House
      4627 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

      Han IL Kwan Korean Restaurant
      1802 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

      3814 Noriega St, San Francisco, CA 94122

      Hankook Supermarket
      1092 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA

      First Korean Market
      4625 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        How does Oakland or San Jose Korean food stack up against Manhattan's Koreatown restaurants?

        1. re: steve h.

          At least as good, and I've liked the places I've been in Manhattan. Queens would be a harder battle.

            1. re: Windy

              we need Kyochon fried chicken in SF.

      2. I'm jealous. Snow up to my armpits here in Connecticut and there you are in San Francisco, SOMA no less, and living large. With a car! Mercy...

        Maybe visit Tony's Pizza Napoletana up in North Beach when you get a chance. Pizza Margherita from the wood-fired oven is pretty good. Leave the car at home and take the J-Church out to Noe Valley so you can eat at Incanto. Do drive to the Marina so you can try A16. SPQR on Fillmore is a related and very good spot. None of these places are expensive. Lots more. Keep exploring.

        2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

        1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

        Tony's Pizza Napoletana
        1570 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

        8 Replies
        1. re: steve h.

          It was 80 degrees today -- we were all sweltering while buying our organic satasumas at the farmers market.

          1. re: steve h.

            I managed to leave between snowstorms #5 and #6 (or was it #6 and #7??) The night before, I spent 3hrs shoveling snow so I feel for you with that massive snowstorm that came through last week!

            Very surreal walking around with warm weather and seeing all the fresh produce that CT only gets during the summer. I don't know how I'll go back to the dinky Darien farmers' market after seeing the one at the Ferry Bldg.

            1. re: SeoulQueen

              Timing is everything. February in the Bay Area is the best.
              Keep us posted as you keep exploring.

              1. re: steve h.

                February in the Bay Area is often seemingly unceasing rain. We had a rainy December but it's only rained once in the last month, which is actually not good! Also, to get back on topic, we have some very confused plants (I have poppies blooming in my garden and in fact, almost everything in my garden leafed in the last three days) and if the fruit trees bloom early and then we get some cold weather and rain, it could be a bad stone fruit season.

                Just for you, steve: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  The cherry trees are already blooming on the peninsula and I had the same concern - really beautiful but what about the stone fruit season?

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I may have to pull the shades, sit on the floor in the dark and eat cold pizza until March (apologies to Jason Gay).

              2. re: steve h.

                In Noe Valley area, also put Contigo on your list of places to try. Refreshing tapas with clean, hearty flavors.

              3. Greetings! Thanks for posting on your original thoughts.

                You ate at Han's Korean? For the record, I consider Han's nearly inedible. There's a passible korean place on the south end of palo alto, but it has negative ambiance.

                There are a dozen quick lunches in PA that I would recommend. On the casual side is Med Wraps - get the schwarma or the falafel, and the hot Moroccan tea is a great surprise.

                And the beer selection at Thirsty Bear is average at best.

                Paxti's I'll agree with you on.

                If you're spending that much time in PA, make sure to get a lunch at Evvia. Order something that's been on the grill.

                8 Replies
                1. re: bbulkow

                  I'm coming from CT where there's ONE korean restaurant within a 30 minute drive of my house. Otherwise, I have to drive down to Flushing. The cucumber kimchi was decent but the bulgogi marinade was pretty weak, but like I said, I was really craving Korean food and given I hadn't had any Korean food in almost 2 months, anything remotely Korean is better than nothing.

                  1. re: SeoulQueen

                    The place you want is So Gong Dong tofu house. It's a bit far afield for lunch, but when you've got that korean itch.

                    You should also get over to Mayfield Bakery.

                    And since you like beer - hit the Rose and Crown. Assuming you're ok with british beer (and belgian). Otherwise, there's a peculiar dearth of good beer in PA, but hop-skip to MP and you've got the small number of fresh and well curated taps at Cafe Barrone, or British Banker's Club across the courtyard which has a very good selection of west coast, the world's slowest service, and very passible food. Either way, a one-stop-shop. (Palo Alto has Gordon Bierch, which only does their own beers and is only OK, empire tap room which has a peculiar selection and few west coast favorites


                    Yes, the peninsula's pretty good for 'burbs, and has a peculiar mix of mid-range and ethnic, and mid-range ethnic. It's not a bad place to eat (although, as we found in your other thread, it ain't the mission). I can't think of an area in the greater NYC area that's like the south peninsula.

                    Mayfield Bakery & Cafe
                    855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                    1. re: SeoulQueen

                      In Palo Alto you might want to check out So Gong Dong Tofu House. I'd say it's above average for the Bay Area and probably a lot better than Hahn's Hibachi. Seafood pancake is pretty good, kalbi is in the sweet side and not as charity as I like but decent, and as you'd suspect, soon dubu is good. I've only been there once for dinner and the staff were generous about checking and refilling panchan.

                      And if you need a Pinkberry fix, there's one in the Stanford shopping center. That said, if you like froyo, there are local, organic shops.

                      There is a loose cluster of Korean restaurants in SF's Richmond district and along the Geary corridor. But if you have time to drive further, do check out the places Ruth recommended in Oakland. There's a bigger and better Koreatown in Santa Clara also.

                      So Gong Dong Tofu House
                      4127 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        In downtown PA, the froyo is all about fraiche. That place is great. And Blue Bottle coffee.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Fraiche is one. I preferred Culture Organic on California Ave.

                          Along Korean lines, besides Pinkberry, there's a Red Mango on University Ave.

                          P.S. For autolinking to work, you need to capitalize.

                          644 Emerson St Ste 110, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                          Red Mango
                          429 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

                          Culture Organic Frozen Yogurt
                          340 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            +1 on Fraiche. Had it on Friday. Delicious as always, but I'll have to try Culture Organic now too.

                            1. re: artemis

                              When I was on California Ave. last week, I stopped at Culture Organic. The seasonal flavor, tangerine, is available again and i still love it.

                              Culture Organic Frozen Yogurt
                              340 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA

                          2. re: bbulkow

                            There's also a Fraiche on Fillmore in the city in Pacific Heights. Could get a fro-yo after trying SPQR or Dosa.

                    2. If you're a beer lover, you'll want to study the schedule for San Francisco Beer Week.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Wow. It looks like R&C is doing something cool every night, then there's a beer-train-crawl.

                      2. What part of the Financial District Soma? I lived on Harrison and Main for over a decade. One of my favorite breakfast spots was Town's End.

                        Speaking about traveling over to the other side of the Bay, you must ... MUST ... go to Berkeley Bowl West. I found out tonight my families papers were just approved by the American Embassy and I'l be home soon ... home. To say I left my heart in SF, is an understatement. Berkeley Bowl West is the first place I'm planning to go. Ok ... it ain't SF, but close enough. There is nothing like BB in SF ... Rainbow is good ... but not in the same league. And Cheeseboard in Berkeley with it's 400 or more cheeses.

                        You might spend some time up in Wine Country. I like that more than the Penninsula.

                        Thanks for posting. I've been away for the last nine months and this will be useful in giving me ideas on new stuff to look forward to.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: rworange

                          Congratulations on your papers! I hope you do a thread on the first few restaurants/shops you go and things you eat when you come back - it would probably be a spectacular read.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, Cheeseboard, Acme Bread and Tokyo Fish Market...the fivefecta of Berkeley shopping eats. Once you go BB there's no where else you'll be happy with.

                            Acme Bread
                            1601 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                            Berkeley Bowl
                            2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                          2. get out of your neighborhood one weekend and head over to the Mission - 3 or 4 bart stops away from you to try the soft tacos there. there are a plethora of taquerias, besides a ton of other dining options in the Mission. if you get off on 16th street Mission, walk one block to Valencia and then you can walk all the way up Valencia, crisscrossing between Guerrero and Mission all the way to about 26th Street - you'll especially want to check out 24th street - go left from either Valencia or Mission, for about 8 blocks.

                            And Ruth is right - all the great Korean is in Oakland. Since you have a car, check out Ohgane on Broadway. For that matter, there's a whole newish great food scene in Oakland too. Wood Tavern, Pizzaiolo, Commis, Plum (which i haven't tried yet but I have been to his fancier restaurant in the City, Coi.) Enjoy, and keep reporting back!

                            second the recommendation to Tony's in North Beach.

                            3915 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611

                            5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                            Wood Tavern
                            6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                            3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              Well, there's plenty of decent Korean in the city (Muguboka, Shin Toe Bul Yi, To Hyang), but you have to go to the Richmond or Sunset. The 38 Geary will get you to To Hyang in 20 minutes, and you should be exploring the Richmond any way.

                              Oakland is probably faster if you don't drive.

                              Shin Toe Bul Yi
                              2001 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA 94116

                              To Hyang
                              3815 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                            2. Not sure where you're staying. I consider the Financial District and South of Market neighbors but not the same area. Yes, FD is somewhat dead at night and weekends but you're within walking distance of hundreds of restaurants probably. And as others note, public transp is terrific, esp. to and from where you're staying. Did you have a compelling reason to go to Palo Alto? It seems an awfully long way to travel with so many options available close by. Here's a site that may help you with Muni/BART:


                              When we've stayed in the North Beach area, we never use our car unless leaving the city.

                              I just have to ask why you're "pleasantly surprised"? I'm probably myopic but I've always thought of SF as one of the top food destinations in the world. But CHs will keep you happy as I'm sure you're seeing :)

                              1. Since you were in SOMA..next time..hit Zare at Fly Trap for dinner! On Folsom. The Cuke Linguini with smoked trout is to die for...among other things. Here is the menu...and the chef is out and about, serving food and checking on diners. ..service is fabulous. Fun place too. We love it there.


                                Zare at Fly Trap
                                606 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Thanks for the reminder! I've posted below about a few of the places I have eaten at so far... too many restaurants to list all of them so will try to post every few months.

                                    1. re: SeoulQueen

                                      I'm glad I asked! A year later, I really didn't expect you to fill us in. Glad you're still enjoying SF, thanks again.

                                      517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                      525 Laguna St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

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

                                      Ryoko Restaurant & Bar
                                      619 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                      Twenty Five Lusk
                                      25 Lusk, San Francisco, CA

                                      Bun Mee
                                      2015 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                                  2. Ok so I’m out here in SF for a lot longer than the initial assignment and have been busy trying as many places as possible. One thing I’ve noticed is that parking is difficult ! I definitely need my car as there are not enough taxis but it’s almost impossible to find street parking in places like Chinatown, Fillmore or North Beach. If anyone has secret parking spots they know of, please share! ☺

                                    Anyways, here is a sampling of some of the restaurants I have been to and what I thought of them….

                                    Perbacco – I LOVE this restaurant, it really reminds me of NYC. I could inhale their pork dish! They have a nicely edited wine list, a quiet buzz in the dining room (not too loud but not deafeningly silent either) and the professional waitstaff made for a very smooth and seamless dining experience. When I am dining here I can almost believe I‘m back in Manhattan.

                                    Twenty Five Lusk – was apprehensive to try this place as it seems to have a “scene” and I’m too old for that now (LOL!) but finally tried it with some co-workers who were visiting. We came around 6pm and although they had no tables available for dinner that night, we were able to sit downstairs at the communal table. The food wast nothing memorable and the kitchen struggled to get dishes out in a timely manner. As the evening wore on, the increasing noise and crowds transformed the downstairs space into a “club” atmosphere making it difficult to have a conversation, so we skipped dessert and left. Didn’t eat anything compelling enough to make me want to go back and sit in their dining room.

                                    La Ciccia – This neighborhood gem in Noe Valley served some of the best, authentic Italian food I’ve had while in SF. Certainly better food than what I had A16 and I would say overall I even preferred it to Incanto. Hard to find parking though!

                                    A16 – what a disaster! I guess this restaurant is an example of what can happen when your star chef leaves. The proscuttio tasting was a disappointment – the meat tasted store bought and the presentation was careless – 2 piles haphazardly dumped on a tray. Even had to ask for bread to eat with it! The pizza was a mess – burnt crust, hardly any basil (only 2 leaves?) – might as well order Dominos! Definitely a low point and seriously damages SF’s reputation as a foodie destination.

                                    Bun Mee – cute little Vietnamese in Fillmore, perfect for dropping in for a quick, casual lunch. When the warm sun is shining in Dec and I’m sitting by the window with a delicious grilled pork bun mee, life in SF is pretty good!

                                    Foreign Cinema – thought this place was just a gimmick with the whole “watch a movie while you eat dinner” concept and only serve average food but I was pleasantly surprised by the upscale dining room décor with the large fireplace. The food was a nice surprise as well. The salumi here was excellent (A16 take note!) and although my roasted chicken was possibly a touch too dry, the skin was suitably crisped and the accompanying vegetables were on point. When the weather gets warmer, I’ll come back to sit in the patio and have that “dinner and a movie”.

                                    And here is just a few comments regarding SF coffeeshops and ramen joints:

                                    Coffeeshops – wow, the coffee out here is excellent but some of the places are a little too full of their hipster-selves (I’m talking to you Four Barrel! Your coffee might be great but 20-25 minutes to get a latte?? Seriously!!??!! )

                                    Ramen Joints – have been to Genki, Tanpopo, Katana-Ya and Himwari (San Mateo) and these places are ok in a pinch but nothing comes close to Ippudo in Manhattan. I thought the ramen down in soCal was better than what I’ve had so far in SF.

                                    I’m still searching for good sushi and Saturday brunch spots so any recommendations would be welcome. And I realize I have yet to go to the East Bay/Oakland but hope to remedy that soon.

                                    14 Replies
                                    1. re: SeoulQueen

                                      SeoulQueen, you really should just be walking the neighborhoods, or taking Bart - driving around the City and finding parking is a huge waste of time.

                                      I'm glad you liked FC, as i think it's always snobbishly overlooked on this site.
                                      And La Ciccia is one of my faves!

                                      Glad you're enjoying yourself, hope you get some more good recs here.

                                      1. re: mariacarmen

                                        I half-agree on the walking. A certain amount of wandering and poking, instead of point-hit destinations, is a strategy richly rewarded in SF. On the other hand, restaurants are far enough apart in most places that it's a long walk if you don't have a plan. When I've been working, and SeoulQueen has come out on assignments - doing SF by car is the only way. I have a set of my personal parking spots (sometimes individual blocks), most important is to know a couple of key garages. Like the one in the center of the mission, the one at market and castro.

                                        re: coffee shops. If you're drinking a latte, don't bother with four barrel. You can't taste the coffee.

                                        re: FC - amusingly, the "dinner and a movie" thing is *always* a gimmic, because later in the year it's foggy at night, so it's never a good time for a movie outside. There's a few weeks in spring, and a few weeks in the fall, and that's that.

                                        You should try Zuni.

                                        I can't believe you said that the beer selection at Thirsty Bear was good. There are a dozen places with better. Like the Rose and Crown in Palo Alto (since you've been hanging out there).

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          Yes, I tried to forgo having a car but after one too many Friday nights futilely trying to find a taxi, let alone one that was free and also spending too many Sat afternoons waiting 20 minutes for my MUNI train, I gave up. Now I just drive my car everywhere (if it's not the SouthBeach/SOMA neighborhood) but I make it a point to arrive 1-2hrs early, park the car and explore whatever neighborhood the restaurant is located in before I go for my meal.

                                          My bad on the Thirsty Bear comment but that was when I had just arrived. I completely agree with you there are better places. I love Monk's Kettle and you'll be glad to know I haven't been back to Thirsty Bear since that one time

                                          I did try Zuni twice. First time was for dinner and I thought they did a good job representing Californian/local cooking. Second time was for lunch and it was horrible! But on the basis of the dinner, I am going to to back again for dinner and try their
                                          signature whole chicken dish.

                                          1. re: SeoulQueen

                                            Use nextmuni.com, and you'll find MUNI vastly more usable. Walk and take one bus or train rather than attempting to transfer. BART is considerably more efficient including in the city if it's anywhere near where you're going.

                                      2. re: SeoulQueen

                                        If you're back at Perbacco, I recommend their veal tonnato, which I could eat all night long. Sebo and Ryoko (in a surreal subterranean den) both get their fish from Tokyo, so you can get great sushi there. Brunch at Suppenkuche is unconventionally good (may only be Sun). You can have beer with your schnitzel. Foreign Cinema makes their own pop tarts for brunch. Blue Bottle @ Mint Plaza employs the cool Japanese gadgets for coffeemaking and offers a few tidbits to go along. The most relaxed brunch I know of right now is at Camino in Oakland. No lines, great cocktails and everything made on the open fire, including your toast.

                                        1. re: SeoulQueen

                                          For sushi, check out Sushi Aka Tombo on the Buchanan Street mall by Japantown.

                                          Loads of great cafes, but takeout cappuccino Blue Bottle from Linden Alley still my favorite along with a Kyoto iced coffee from the cafe on Mint Plaza. Not a Four Barrel fan. Neither is a cafe for hanging out in.

                                          Get to the East Bay. Pick a BART stop and explore. It's close and easy.

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

                                          Blue Bottle
                                          151 Third St, San Francisco, CA

                                          Sushi Aka Tombo
                                          1737 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                                          1. re: Windy

                                            There are a lot of East Bay BART stops with nothing very interesting in the immediate area.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              But there a few BART stops with something interesting, at least for this poster.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Thank you for a very helpful response.

                                                1. re: Windy

                                                  Rockridge BART you could just walk out and head up or down College. 12th or 19th St. Oakland, you really should have a map or smartphone, as the immediate environs of the stations have nothing and if you head in the wrong direction it's more of the same. South Berkeley and MacArthur more so.

                                              2. re: Windy

                                                I really like Ritual coffee in the Mission- I try to stop by if I'm in that neighborhood. Have tried Blue Bottle once from their Ferry bldg location- thought it was good coffee too but not worth waiting in the massively long queue, so haven't gone back since. When I want my coffee, I don't expect to have to wait a ridiculously long time - it's not like I'm in the queue for Space Mountain at Disneyland!

                                                Any other coffee places I am missing out on? Oh and good recommendations for places to buy high quality tea leaves would be welcome too!

                                                1. re: SeoulQueen

                                                  Ferry Plaza on a Saturday is a ridiculous scene. Other BB locations are faster, especially Linden, but they are making it to order.

                                                  Sightglass is worth stopping in; it's a very pretty buildout on 7th and Folsom. I've long loved Piccino's cafe for BB, but they're using Sightglass beans now so who knows.

                                                  Peet's sells good quality looseleaf teas at fair prices and you get a free cup when you buy a tin; but they use boiling water, so best for black teas. Red Blossom on Grant in Chinatown is one of the best places to buy high-end teas. Teance on 4th in Berkeley specializes in Chinese and Japanese teas. Leland Tea on Sutter near Polk is another good spot for buying tea.

                                                  I'd recommend other places if you want to sit and have pots of tea (Samovar especially the one on Hayes, Tal y Tara out by the Legion of Honor).

                                                  Red Blossom Tea Company
                                                  831 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

                                                  Legion of Honor Cafe
                                                  100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA

                                                  Leland Tea Company
                                                  1416 Bush St, San Francisco, CA

                                                  2531B 9th St, Berkeley, CA

                                                  Tal-Y-Tara Tea & Polo Shoppe
                                                  6439 California St, San Francisco, CA 94121

                                                  Sightglass Coffee
                                                  270 7th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                  1. re: Windy

                                                    Second the recommendation for Red Blossom Tea Company. It's the best tea purveyor in the city. And if you are still downtown, it's walking distance.

                                                    Red Blossom Tea Company
                                                    831 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

                                                    1. re: Windy

                                                      Coffee ratings (subjective, but helpful)

                                                      Cafes to relax in is a different story. Many great cafes. Just depends on your neighborhood.