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SF Visitor - Cheap, cheerful and chow worthy?

tinabull Feb 15, 2011 11:20 AM

Hi everyone, heading to SF in 9 weeks' time and will be there for 3 days. Hoping that you might have some good recommendations for me...

We're casual travellers and don't do fancy schamncy, so we're looking for places where jeans and sneakers are not a problem. Hoping for cheaper eats (less than $12 per entree if possible, can be a little higher) as this is the start of a 15 day holiday :)

Day 1 - looking for breakfast recommendations near the Union Square area. We're from the UK where you don't really get diners as such so a diner would be great. Think bacon, eggs, toast, etc. Maybe pancakes. If we get a good, hearty breakfast we won't eat lunch and that evening we plan Osha Thai. I've been to SF before and loved Osha - is it still good? Would like a rec for somewhere casual for a beer/cocktail before and / or after Osha and we don't mind going to any of the Osha restaurants or any part of SF. We like to walk!

Day 2 - looking for a good bakery close to Union Square for a take away croissant type breakfast and hopefully blue bottle coffee? We're headed out to Point Reyes that day so just ideas for an evening meal please. Preference for ramen, pizza, pasta, steak, burger, bbq, mexican food, again area doesn't matter as long as it isn't way out of the centre (i.e. we don't really want to get a cab).

Day 3 - doing the evening Alcatraz tour which should finish up around 9pm so looking for a quick bite to eat before we head off for the night in Santa Cruz. We might just head to In n Out for this one but any other recs close to Pier 33 gratefully received. No fish & seafood due to an allergy.

Looking forward to these recs and I promise to report back :)


Osha Thai
149 2nd St, San Francisco, CA 94105

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  1. Robert Lauriston RE: tinabull Feb 15, 2011 11:43 AM

    Are you renting a car to get to Point Reyes?

    1. k
      Keesey RE: tinabull Feb 15, 2011 12:04 PM

      Day 1 - Not too familiar with breakfast options around the Union Sq area, but I would recommend Farmerbrown for lunch. It's a Southern style restaurant... not too sure if you have that sort of option in the UK. Think fried buttermilk chicken, collared greens, grits, gumbo, mac n cheese! The price is more along the $15-20 range, but I still think that is a fair deal considering how delicious everything is.

      Osha Thai is still good, though I've always argued there are more authentic Thai restaurants out there. Osha is more American-Thai. Different preferences I guess.

      Day 2 - If you want ramen, Katana-Ya in Union Sq is a heavy favorite and the long lines will vouch for that. If you want to venture off, the Mission offers pretty much every one of your preferences. Some notable favorites, Nombe for Japanese small plates (and ramen), Pizzeria Delfina for pizza, almost any taqueria for Mexican (it is the hub of awesome burritos/tacos), and just because I think it would be fun for out of towners Cha Cha Cha for Spanish tapas and sangria. The Mission is accessible via BART... wouldn't rec walking there.

      Day 3 - All these touristy parts really make it a challenge to find cheap eats! But I agree with you, In and Out is a must! Do you know about their "secret menu"? Just google it and you will be amazed at the unique preparations they can make with your burger, fries, and shakes!

      430 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      Pizzeria Delfina
      2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115

      2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      1. wolfe RE: tinabull Feb 15, 2011 12:04 PM

        Pier 33 to Fog City Diner.
        11:30am-10:00pm MO-THU
        11:30am-11:00pm FRI
        10:30am-11:00pm SAT
        10:30am-10:00pm SUN

        Fog City Diner
        1300 Battery Street, San Francisco, CA 94111

        1. s
          selectiveomnivore RE: tinabull Feb 15, 2011 02:22 PM

          Day 1 - Not a diner, but you could try Brenda's French Soul Food (Tenderloin) for breakfast. They have some very hearty dishes available. If it's a weekend, there will be a wait.

          Osha - yes, it's still dependable. Every time I eat there with a group, everyone is happy. If you are concerned about money, there are less expensive thai options.

          Brenda's French Soul Food
          652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          1 Reply
          1. re: selectiveomnivore
            tinabull RE: selectiveomnivore Feb 18, 2011 11:28 AM

            On our last two visits we ate at an OSHA restaurant and were very happy.

          2. v
            vulber RE: tinabull Feb 19, 2011 09:49 AM

            Blue Bottle Coffee Mint Plaza fits #2 perfectly

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

            1. alanbarnes RE: tinabull Feb 20, 2011 08:18 AM

              If Day 1 is a Saturday or Sunday, I recommend brunch at Canteen. Although the space is a diner, the food is a big notch above traditional diner fare. The Eggs Benedict are very well done and the "big pancake" is tasty, but my favorite is the Chupacabra - a Yucatecan-influenced egg / sausage / black bean dish.

              Many people love Dottie's. It's not really a diner, but it's close. Problem is, the wait can be brutal. If you can make it there by 8am the lines are ostensibly manageable. But if there are people queued up out the door, find someplace else - IMO it isn't worth it. Another popular option is Brenda's, mentioned above. The only time I ate there I wasn't blown away.

              The two most popular "real" diners in the area are Lori's (a fairly ubiquitous local chain) and Pinecrest. I don't like either of them, though; food's indifferent, prices are high, and they're crowded with tourists. For diner food I'll roll down Geary another block to the Olympic Flame. It's a little shabby, and the neighborhood's a little rougher, but that keeps the tourists down. The food's nothing special, but it's competently prepared, the prices are fair, and (I'm looking at you, Pinecrest) - they don't charge for coffee refills.

              PS - as far as leaving the city center, I understand not wanting to take a cab. But you don't need to let that limit your options - SF has one of the best public transportation systems in the country. www.sfmta.com

              817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              Olympic Flame Cafe
              555 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

              Brenda's French Soul Food
              652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Pinecrest Diner
              401 Geary St, San Francisco, CA

              Lori's Diner
              336 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              6 Replies
              1. re: alanbarnes
                wolfe RE: alanbarnes Feb 20, 2011 09:08 AM

                Maybe the menu too high highfalutin for a "real" diner, although Guy Fieri might like it, but it looks like a diner.

                1. re: wolfe
                  alanbarnes RE: wolfe Feb 20, 2011 09:16 AM

                  Fog City Diner do indeed look like a diner. But do they serve breakfast?

                  Fog City Diner
                  1300 Battery Street, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1. re: alanbarnes
                    wolfe RE: alanbarnes Feb 20, 2011 09:27 AM

                    Actually brunch on the weekends but I was referring to "real" diners. I thought she could kill 2 birds with 1 stone. That should best easy since that is about 14 pounds.;-)

                2. re: alanbarnes
                  Windy RE: alanbarnes Feb 20, 2011 09:34 AM

                  Brenda's is wonderful, but go on a weekday when you don't have to stand in line on the street.

                  San Francisco isn't a diner town. There are better options for breakfast or burgers.

                  1. re: Windy
                    Melanie Wong RE: Windy Feb 20, 2011 09:47 AM

                    Have you been to Brenda's since it expanded?

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      Windy RE: Melanie Wong Feb 20, 2011 11:30 AM


                3. myst RE: tinabull Feb 22, 2011 10:16 AM

                  Blue Bottle also serves breakfast, so the location in Mint Plaza can take care of some of your requests. Also Specialty's is a local chain, but they have good morning pastries. They bake on premises and you can get things warm from the oven including gooey cookies. Sears Fine Foods is in Union Square and is definitely a diner type place.

                  I like Osha, but usually go there because it is open so late. There is more authentic Thai to be had if that is what you want. Osha though is nice for lounge/bar vibe - especially the 2nd St. or Embarcadero locations.

                  Maybe have a drink at the Redwood Room, or a beer at Irish Bank? Or if you want fancy with a posh ambiance, try Gitane for creative cocktails.

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

                  Sears Fine Food
                  439 Powell Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

                  Specialty's Cafe & Bakery
                  333 Pine St # 400, San Francisco, CA

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

                  Redwood Room
                  495 Geary St, San Francisco, CA

                  17 Replies
                  1. re: myst
                    Robert Lauriston RE: myst Feb 22, 2011 10:28 AM

                    Sears Fine Foods is now basically a branch of Lori's Diner. I don't think there's been any good reason to go there in many years.

                    Sears Fine Food
                    439 Powell Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                      mamachef RE: Robert Lauriston Feb 22, 2011 10:43 AM

                      RL, I haven't been there in years, but you just done broke my heart. Sniff.

                      1. re: mamachef
                        c oliver RE: mamachef Feb 24, 2011 10:15 AM

                        I used to work around the corner from Sears and went there once, maybe twice. But I could never understand people lining up down the block to get in. But there's alot about the pack mentality of certain diners that I don't understand :)

                        1. re: c oliver
                          mamachef RE: c oliver Feb 24, 2011 12:13 PM

                          Many years ago, in a land far away, the draw at Sears' was the little pancakes. Sadly, it sounds like things have changed, sorrily for the worse.

                          1. re: c oliver
                            ML8000 RE: c oliver Feb 24, 2011 12:33 PM

                            It's a pretty simple formula actually...safe, reasonably priced food with nostalgic charm (the waitresses were unis) in the heart of Union Square.

                            It use to be good enough if you didn't have to wait and the pancakes were good but not mind blowing or anything. I use to bring visitors there in the early '00s...never waited in line.

                            1. re: ML8000
                              c oliver RE: ML8000 Feb 24, 2011 12:42 PM

                              I worked in the nabe in the mid80s. Don't like pancakes :) I favored Lefty O'Douls.

                              1. re: ML8000
                                rworange RE: ML8000 Feb 24, 2011 01:59 PM

                                Yeah, "good enough" is about what I thought about Sears. It was one of the first places, along with Sears, that I had breakfast when moving to SF a few decades back. I revisited Pinecrest a year ago after it closed and remodeled, and these joints rarely get better. They remain mediocre ... and overpriced

                                Canteen is a good weekend suggestion.

                                Does Emporio Ruli still have the coffee shop in Union Square? Good pastries, no Blue Bottle and waiters with attitude ... but the baked goods are good.

                                If you are driving to Santa Cruz, can you hold out half way there and maybe stop for lunch in either Pescadero or Half Moon Bay (assuming you are taking route 1).

                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                            myst RE: Robert Lauriston Feb 22, 2011 12:45 PM

                            Certainly not a destination, but if one is looking for bacon and eggs in a diner it fits the bill location wise.

                            I would just eat at Blue Bottle. Its kind of pricy but they have several tasty choices. I usually get my bacon and eggs at Garden Restaurant its Chinese but they may good french toast so you can have pancakes and jook...

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

                            1. re: myst
                              bbulkow RE: myst Feb 24, 2011 03:57 AM

                              Hold on. If you get breakfast there, for an extra $5, you get the syphon cup coffee, and you can sit at the bar where they do their little steampunk magic. That's worth a stop for a visitor. And the coffee's great - the siphon thing hit best-ever-non-espresso for me.

                              1. re: bbulkow
                                myst RE: bbulkow Feb 24, 2011 08:08 AM

                                I agree. Its fun at blue bottle. I feel like young Frankenstein

                                1. re: bbulkow
                                  alanbarnes RE: bbulkow Feb 24, 2011 08:15 AM

                                  Just to clarify, "there" is Blue Bottle, not Sears. And yes, the siphon coffee is outstanding. But it doesn't fit the OP's "cheap" criterion - ham and eggs and a pot of coffee (very good ham, very good eggs, and very good coffee, admittedly) will set you back about $20 including tax and tip.

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

                                  1. re: alanbarnes
                                    bbulkow RE: alanbarnes Feb 24, 2011 11:42 AM

                                    When I was there I got the poached egg, which didn't sound like much, but was on a huge slab of bread, so I left feeling quite satisfied for my $13 (10+tax/tip) given the quality of the siphon coffee.

                                    I'll agree that's not *cheap*. I might argue it's good value.

                                    1. re: bbulkow
                                      alanbarnes RE: bbulkow Feb 24, 2011 11:53 AM

                                      I agree completely. And it's most definitely cheerful and chow-worthy.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes
                                        Windy RE: alanbarnes Feb 24, 2011 12:15 PM

                                        You also don't have to get a siphon pot; you can just watch entranced while it turns gold and burbles.

                                        It's not like their regular coffee and espresso drinks are bad.

                                        1. re: Windy
                                          grayelf RE: Windy Feb 24, 2011 08:35 PM

                                          A trip to SF without a New Orleans coffee from the Blue Bottle at Mint Plaza is a wasted trip for me :-). Great place to perch and do a cryptic crossword too....

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

                                          1. re: grayelf
                                            Windy RE: grayelf Feb 24, 2011 11:50 PM

                                            Does that mean you haven't had the Kyoto iced coffee?

                                            1. re: Windy
                                              grayelf RE: Windy Feb 25, 2011 08:33 AM

                                              I'm a sucker for chicory!

                          3. t
                            trespinero RE: tinabull Feb 22, 2011 10:59 AM

                            The local chain Toast opened up a new spot on Polk and Sacramento (ish) which would require a bus ride up Sacramento. It is updated diner fare and the 2 times I have been it been above average. Lers Roo on Larkin gets the ch nod for Thai these days, offers much more variety then OSHA.

                            1. mamachef RE: tinabull Feb 22, 2011 05:05 PM

                              You might consider Tommy's Joynt on Geary for your dinner before you leave for Santa Cruz. True old SF flavah and a cheerful, convivial vibe - and really decent hofbrau style food to boot, for not much money.

                              Tommy's Joynt
                              1101 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94109

                              1. 5
                                5thAndNowhere RE: tinabull Feb 23, 2011 05:31 AM

                                As a recent SF visitor, I can second third and fourth Brenda's (a refreshing walk from Union Sq - mind which way you cut over). Dottie's True Blue Cafe is closer to Union, also delicious, also popular and may include a wait (WILL on the weekends).

                                The Hangtown Fry - fried oysters and bacon omlette - is a must at Brenda's! Generous portions - choice of home fries and bread on side. Everything looked amazing tho. For non seafooders, they had cheddar grits, bananas foster french toast and flights of beignets.

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

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