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Med student from Charleston, SC here, and I'm spending 3 days in San Francisco before a weekend some end of season turns in Tahoe. Problem is that Step 1 boards are coming up and I'm looking for 4 or 5 coffee shops to knock out some morning studying. Lived previously in Seattle for a bit and got spoiled on that scene (Vivace, Zoka, Stumptown imports). Currently love Counter Culture on the east coast and some of the Intelligentsia we get shipped in.

From some quick research, roasters I've heard are worth checking out in SF are Ritual, Blue Bottle, Four Barrell, and Verve. The cafe/coffee shop itself is also important as I need to plant roots for several hours and knock out some quality time with the review books. I would so appreciate any suggestions!

And while people are at it - any can't miss backdoor/Anthony Bourdain style breakfast, lunch, bar food, cheap eats recs would be more than welcome. I've been reading the boards, but as y'all know, the SF foodie scene is a little overwhelming.

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  1. So it sounds like you're looking for cafes rather than coffee or roasters. There are great cafes all over the city.

    Where are you staying? Do you need internet and outlets or just a good place to spread out?

    I love Blue Bottle coffee, but if you want to get work done, go to Ritual (no outlets). The Mission is full of good cafes with free wireless.

    Suggest you read the board a little and do a search on "budget" or "cheap." There are at least five recent threads from tourists asking about local food, including bargains and cheap eats.

    I don't know what a backdoor breakfast is. Most of the places that claim to be underground, including the many popups and food carts, are anything but. They are worth seeking out at one of the Off the Grid events or a farmer's market or the extremely crowded "underground" markets. But they are hardly undiscovered.

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

    Off the Grid
    Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123

    5 Replies
    1. re: Windy

      Two thoughts: my seattle friends are always disappointed in SF cafes. Sorry.

      Cafes with the best coffee are the worst for spread-out working. Ritual has a good blend of both, but I don't like their coffee compared with BB and Four Barrel. The breakfast at BB on mint plaza is a treat - like the simple farm egg with a cup of their Syphon coffee, and there's some tolerance of laptop working.

      The best cafe I currently know is Red Rock in Mountain View, which upgraded to Four Barrel this year and has a very pleasant upstairs. But that's outside your range - hopefully someone will be up on the mission offerings. Like, how's Atlas these days? I always thought that was a little off the beaten path.

      Barefoot is excellent, beans easily at the quality of BB and Four Barrel. Their mothership is down in Santa Clara, too far, but they're very serious about their roasting.

      Red Rock Cafe
      1010 Lincoln Ave, Napa, CA 94558

      1. re: bbulkow

        Bulkow, have your Seattle friends been to SF in the past couple of years? Until four or five years ago, SF had nothing that compared with the better cafes in Seattle. But Ritual, Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, Local 123 and a few other Bay Area cafes are now on a par with the better cafes in the Pacific Northwest.

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

        Local 123
        2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

        1. re: TopoTail

          Yes, absolutely. They complain not so much about the coffee, but the cafe scene. The ability to sit and work for hours for the price of a cup, that's what they complain about. I wouldn't know myself, haven't been up to seattle in years.

          1. re: bbulkow

            You mean the ability to be a freeloader, because I would consider it bad etiquette to not spend the equivalent of the price of a cup of coffee an hour. Maybe space is too expensive in SF to allow people to hog space, use electricity and ruin the atmosphere for hours for the price of a cup of coffee.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I think this is exactly right. I was in Seattle a year or two ago and loved the cafe scene. I marveled that there were so many spacious, uncrowded cafes where people could sip coffee and work for hours. Then I went to dinner and noticed that when it's the restaurants that are 10% full, it's not so charming.

              One thing I really do appreciate about Seattle is that when you ask for a hot drink, it's HOT HOT HOT. Tea service usually comes to the table billowing steam from both the pot and pre-heated cups/saucers.

    2. Based on the few times I've been there (I haven't actually tried to set up shop for long hours, though I have seen people in there who seem to be in that status), Epicenter Cafe on Harrison might fit your needs (they brew up Barefoot Coffee and have some pretty decent pastries)

      2 Replies
      1. re: josquared

        It is a fine place to work if you're in that area. They also offer Teance teas, and delicious empanadas.

        Sightglass has better coffee in that general vicinity, but that's takeout.

        1. re: josquared

          I like epicenter as a cafe, its bright and roomy. The coffee is good, though not as good as blue bottle. Food is tasty and they have some good bottles of beer. Its right around the corner from whole foods on 4th.

          Check out this site for ratings

          1. Don't need wifi, may not even have the laptop out.

            And the "backdoor" comment is more out of habit - I know the chowhound recs are usually not the touristy spots, which is what I guess I really mean by "backdoor"

            Thanks for the suggestions thus far. And I know as long as the beans are coming from the 4 or 5 top dog roasters, I'm sure the brewing methods are all kept at a pretty high quality level. The vibe of the place towards my planting down for a while is more important.

            While I'm on here, any bluegrass/acoustic/americana music fans here? Looking for a few more Freight and Salvage/Great American music hall types of places to check out some music if there's any while I'm in town.

            Thanks again everyone!

            2 Replies
            1. re: BadlyBentRambler

              Besides the BB, Four Barrel, Sightglass previously recommended, Contraband at California and Larkin is really very good. Easily in the same class as the others mentioned.

              1. re: BadlyBentRambler

                A few more places based on your criteria. These are all places with good atmospheres for working and reading. Most have decent food/snacks.

                Atlas Cafe, Nervous Dog, Haus, Velo Rouge, Apollo, Thorough Bread, maybe Summit

                Velo Rouge Cafe
                798 Arguello Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

              2. For quality of the coffee: Blue Bottle but I find the Mint Plaza cafe a bit uptight.
                For ambience: Four Barrel and Ritual, both in the Mission. Roomy with lots of tables. I like the vibe and furnishing better at Four Barrel. Great staff and music. The problem is that they only do single cup drip certain time of the day, otherwise, French pressed or the espresso machine.
                I also like the space and vibe at Sightglass but the coffee is not as consistent.
                Has Verve open a location in San Francisco?
                The Mission is full of cheap eats. Pork Store Cafe for mega calorie breakfast and lunch.

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

                10 Replies
                1. re: PBSF

                  The couple of times we've been to Philz on 24th in the Mission it seemed like folks were plunked down for the duration in comfy-looking, floppy couches and chairs. Would it be an option for the OP?

                  Also maybe Delise -- we once spent a longish time there waiting for the weather to clear (it didn't) without any 'tude from the lovely owners. They were serving Four Barrel along with some tasty in-house baked goods and very fine gelato (!) also in house made.

                  1. re: grayelf

                    Philz on 24th reminds me of Ritual Roaster, as many laptops as patrons. I have never gotten use to the floppy couches at either. Coffee is very good. I like the ambience of Four Barrel better: more eclectic crowd, fewer laptops and more conversation. Too bad that none has good eats. I've seen Dynamo donuts at Four Barrel but I am from the old donut school and can't bare to put down $2 or so for a donut that has been sitting around for a few hours.

                    1. re: PBSF

                      i think blue bottle mint plaza has the best eats of any coffeeshop - unfortunatley, not much of a place to get work done

                      1. re: PBSF

                        I spent some time in Four Barrel this weekend...not through choice I must add...the service was criminally slow and more than a little uppity that it annoyed me significantly. I "get" the hipster vibe they are projecting and all that but I really do think they try waaaaaay too hard at it. Also, the space is kinda sterile the way it's set out....like a bare bones room with tables and chairs flung along the sides...

                        I arrived with high expecations but left thinking "meh"...oh and the coffee was good but no better than BB or Ritual imo. Out of all discussed above, Philz has the best seattle-esque vibe...

                        1. re: Scotty100

                          Seriously, I don't think any of the coffee places' decor, may it be Philz, Four Barrel or Blue Bottle (maybe the MInt Plaza an exception though the plaza is sterile), will win any designer award. The budget is not there. Besides the coffee, it really comes down to what is comfortable for each individual, may it be the furniture, the patrons, the lighting, the music or the sexy staff. As for coffee, I like Blue Bottle's single drip cup the best, but the service at Ferry Plaza is slow as a turtle even on weekdays and the staff at the main bar has serious attitude and never smile.

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

                          1. re: PBSF

                            I agree PBSF...I just found Four Barrel's contrived "hipster vibe atmosphere" to be cloyingly annoying. Definitely trying too hard imo. The service was awful.

                            1. re: Scotty100

                              I might tolerate it more if I liked their coffee better; I'm not crazy about the mood at BB at Mint Plaza, with its uncomfortable stools and narrow tables. But would happily stare at the siphon pots and Kyoto drip tubing for half an hour.

                              Four Barrel is a pretty space, but yes, trying very hard to be Portland or Seattle or Williamsburg.

                              It's still surprisingly hard to find a friendly place where you can relax and work that also has good (or better) coffee.

                              1. re: Windy

                                Windy -that's exactly what I thought...trying too hard to be Williamsburg 2005...and slightly off-topic but interestingly, the trend in NYC right now is to go minimal in terms of not letting people actually sit down! A lot of the hardcore artisan coffee bars are remodelling the insides to make it literally more a of a "bar" with no tables or chairs (or wi-fi!)...a bit like the old school italian espresso bars...pop in grab a shot at the bar, down it and leave all in 10 mins type thing...Gimme coffee is a good example...


                                1. re: Scotty100

                                  Scotty, have you been to Sightglass yet? It's in the same vein (converted garage). Although they do claim to be working on a cafe, but can't imagine it will be comfortable.

                                  Is Jackson Place Cafe still around? It's basically a cart that serves perfectly pulled Blue Bottle and little pizzas and sandwiches in a semi-public. I loved it when I worked nearby. But not a place for studying.

                                  1. re: Scotty100

                                    I like Four Barrel but I have trouble finding a place to sit down; last time I was there, my friend and I had to stand and drink the caps, like in Italy! And, this was a weekday afternoon.

                                    I like Haus a lot, great natural light, quiet enough to get work done, owner and staff friendly. (Great coffee, too .. Ritual and other beans.)

                    2. Coffee Bar in the Mission doesn't serve any of the big-name roasters, but their coffee is nonetheless organic and tastes good, and more importantly, is an excellent place to get work done.

                      One other coffee to check out is Philz, which has several locations around SF and the Bay Area.

                      Oh and also, a very underrated one (but definitely not a place to get work done) is Rodger's in the Mission.

                      1. I'd reccomend Haus (Ritual/De La Paz), Stable Cafe, Coffee Bar (Mr Espresso), or the Summit (Blue Bottle). All have good coffee and all are nice places to work for a few hours. I wouldn't recommend trying to work at Ritual - no outlets and the music can be extremely loud and obnoxious IMO.

                        For bluegrass, check out Amnesia on Monday Nights.

                        1. Sounds like you'll like Summit Cafe. I personally like Atlas Cafe or Sugarlump to work in, but to my knowledge neither serves the "brand name" coffees you're looking for.

                          Anthony Bourdain seemed to like the Cubano at That's It! on Mission and 23rd. Maybe you'll like it too. My favorite place to take out-of-town guests for Mexican breakfast is San Jalisco (formerly Jarritos) on S. Van Ness at 20th.

                          2862 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                          1. I'm not really one to get work done in coffee houses so I can't offer much in that regard. I do however, love the specialty coffee movement. I think if you like Counter Culture you should check out Blue Bottle's Mint Plaza location just for fun and The Summit for getting work done. Ritual and Four Barrel on Valencia should be on the list, too. Caffe Capriccio near North Beach serves ECCO (now owned by Intelligentsia) and might be a good place to work and drink very nice coffee. Epicenter serves Barefoot. Farm:Table is super small but a good place to taste Verve coffees. Ma'velous serves Stumptown.

                            If your looking for an alternative to the coffee house environment, UCSF's Parnassus Campus Library is somewhere where you can go for comfort and quiet (and free!). The amazing views of the city, Golden Gate Bridge, and Bay are a little distracting, though. Beverages in containers with lids are permitted, too.

                            I've been keeping this little list of breakfast places that serve specialty coffee: http://www.yelp.com/list/coffee-and-b...

                            1. Cafe Divis (fronts on Davisadero, corner of Oak) has BB coffee, plenty of tables, WiFi (I think) and when I walked in a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like plenty of folks camping out including a number with textbooks and other scholarly appearing material.
                              Side note: As someone who suffered through all Steps...don't spend too much time preparing for the boards...won't change the outcome much ...and enjoy the City.

                              1. I'd second (or third, or whatever we're up to) Epicenter for excellent coffee + good work space. But Farley's in Potrero Hill is also a great option for studying through the day. The coffee isn't all that great, but they're perfectly set up for work, and you can buy sandwiches at the cafe next door and bring them to eat in.

                                1315 18th St, San Francisco, CA

                                764 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                1. Whenever the bride and I hit SF we spend 2-3 hrs at Caffe Roma in North Beach, reading the paper, books, doing the xwords....lotsa room to spread out...good coffee....then head down the street to Bocadillos for a great breakfast!

                                  710 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                  Caffe Roma
                                  526 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: salmotrutta79

                                    Little update - 2nd day of studying, currently at the Summit. Nice layout, ambiance. Not necessarily the friendliest staff, but one day, small sample size, not a ton of interaction. I've had a Uganda/Sumatra blend and an Ethiopian, and they may have been brewed a little on the weak side. Good aromas with both, slightly watery in taste (again in both). Definitely not bad though.

                                    Yesterday was spent at Ritual - much preferred for me in most categories. Little tougher to focus with a little more people, less space, louder music, but I was all in all pretty productive. I had two Brazilian Santos (one a bourbon) and both were really great. Brewed very well, one had a great acid/fruit profile (which I'm a big fan of). Whatever espresso they were pulling was also very good - again, lots of acid/fruit. Enjoyed the staff - little intense hipster vibe, but that's to be expected. All in all, both were great and thanks for the recs - I'm gonna try to hit up 4 barrel and a place that does verve before I leave.

                                    Thanks for all the suggestions!

                                    Next stop...Farolito for burritos! (unless someone convinces me to switch to Taqueria Cancun)

                                    Taqueria Cancun
                                    2288 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                    1. re: BadlyBentRambler

                                      Late to post but I think Blue Danube on Clement and the Grove Cafe on Chestnut or Fillmore are good places to chill with coffee and a snack.

                                      I love Blue Bottle coffee, but don't see it as a place to lounge about very long.

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

                                      Blue Bottle
                                      151 Third St, San Francisco, CA

                                      Blue Danube
                                      306 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                      1. re: BadlyBentRambler


                                        The Summit
                                        777 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                        1. re: BadlyBentRambler

                                          I'm so NOT a coffee cognoscenta but if you like the citrusy notes in your coffee, do give Four Barrel a try if you can find it in a cafe that suits your other requirements. I recall it being very lemony the couple of times I tried it (espresso that is).

                                      2. Try Contraband, a fairly new shop on Nob Hill. Small, no upholstered seating, very clean and exceptional coffee. I think they use a house brand, but I'm not sure. Drip/cone coffee, nice and strong in 3 or 4 varieties.

                                        Contraband Coffee
                                        1415 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                        1. As you're probably figuring out, you're going to see a disconnect between the hip marketed "third wave" coffee places, and cafes where you can sit comfortably in a casual atmosphere.

                                          I think these have all been mentioned but I'll post anyway...

                                          Four Barrel is part owned by Stumptown (or was, not sure of the current arrangement) and the coffee is usually a syrupy bourbon brew that should have fit that craving....but I guess it didn't? It's nowhere to study.

                                          I've seen people study at Coffee Bar (roasted by Mr. Espresso) during the day.

                                          If you find you like Blue Bottle, The Summit is a little loud, but full of loitering that beats out any of their own locations.

                                          We have our old school cafes like Simple Pleasure, and Farley's. I'd say check out Farley's. It's a neighborhood place, and they roast in house.

                                          Haus was a good idea. There's a back patio area, and I see people studying. The beans change day to day, and like Counter Culture, there's a good range in what they serve. Sugarlump nearby also takes on a study hall vibe at times. Not the best coffee at all, but there's mid century furniture to spread out on.

                                          2862 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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

                                          Simple Pleasures Cafe
                                          3434 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121