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Need 4 Fab SF Restaurants

My sister is taking her husband to San Francisco for a birthday trip. They're both sophisticated travelers but not over-the-top adventurous diners. I'd like to give her two restaurant suggestions for dinners and two for lunches - places that would really create a memorable SF dining experience for them. Iconic, quirky, high-brow, dive-ish - they would be open to all. With so many places in the city from which to choose, this task is a bit daunting for me. Any ideas?

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  1. sotto mare, jai yun, aziza, broken record

    1. that was meant to correspond with your four adjectives, in order. the only thing is that sotto mare isn't quite iconic, but it's very much "san francisco"

      1. How old are they and what kind of things do they like?

        6 Replies
        1. re: uberslop

          They're in their early 60s - very social, active and open to new things. They love a good cocktail and classic bar and have sampled these all over the world.

          1. re: onthemap

            scratch jai yun

            1. re: onthemap

              Love vulber's choices. I also love how his/her quirky position (Jai Yun) is kinda high-brow, and the high-brow (Aziza) is kinda quirky. Great choices. (I'd quibble with Sotto Mare, both for its choice as "iconic" and for its food (I'm not as much of a fan as others are), but there's no question it has a fun, homey atmosphere and if you're game you're gonna have a fun night of cioppino and beer.)

              Obviously anyone's choices in SF are going to be as personal and/or idiosyncratically selected as in any great food city -- the act of narrowing down a list of 200 fantastic options to a handful is necessarily a curatorial exercise. With that caveat, and taking into consideration my sense of your post -- i.e., that there are experiential criteria in the mix as well as culinary ones -- here's a stab:

              Iconic: Swan Oyster Depot. Go here for lunch.

              Quirky: Alembic. You mentioned they like a good cocktail. They may have tasted Alembic's equals, but I bet they've rarely if ever bested the ones they'll have here -- and the food is pretty darned great, too. (Opting to dine is a great way to get in, too, on a busy night at the bar. You miss the fun of watching/chatting with Alembic's bar staff -- the upside is you actually get in and grab a seat.)

              Small/Cute/Neighborhoody/Wonderful Highbrow: Frances. very hard to get in these days, but worth a try, especially if they're up for going at opening and waiting for a two-top to open up. The definition of small-restaurant delight. Alternatively (and nearby), I recommend L'Ardoise,a French bistro as perfectly situated in its neighborhood as a restaurant's ever been. The food's very good, but that's not why you'd go there -- it's the way the space feels, from the atmosphere inside to the way it sits on its corner.

              Quirky High-brow: Aziza, or Zare at Fly-Trap.

              Lovely Day High-brow: Sit in the courtyard at Foreign Cinema or Bar Agricole and think about moving to SF.

              Dive-ish Delight: I love Broken Record, but they might get a bigger kick out of Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, in every way -- cocktail-wise, food-wise, everything-wise. Also not as far south. Tell them to go early and have a drink in the Mexican dive bar that serves as Emmy's's foyer/waiting room for the full experience.

              The only thing left off this list is a great Italian/pizza place, as I'm convinced that SF's the best city in the US for both. Delfina, A16, Beretta, Flour + Water, et al. are all great choices as well. But I look at the weekend ahead of them with either vulber's choices or the ones I threw out above and I envy what's about to happen to them. (I.e., no pizza required.)

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              A16
              2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

              Delfina Restaurant
              3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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

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

              Sotto Mare
              552 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

              Broken Record
              1166 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA

              Bar Agricole
              355 11th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

              1. re: uberslop

                i love the food at alembic, but many of their best offerings lean toward "over the top/adventurous", like the duck hearts

                1. re: vulber

                  I think there's plenty of stuff there for the middle-of-the-roader. Took my parents here last year -- if my mom can eat there, *anyone* can eat there.

                2. re: uberslop

                  Dear uberslop, vulber & Robert, Thanks thanks thanks. I will look like a hero to my sis and you guys did all the work. Plus, I'll be in San Francisco this summer as well and will definitely take your suggestions. Now I'm hungry...

            2. More re: Bar Agricole, in keeping with my recommendation: they just won the James Beard award for best restaurant design, 2011.....

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              Bar Agricole
              355 11th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

              3 Replies
              1. re: uberslop

                Bar Agricole's certainly the *most* designed restaurant in town.

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                Bar Agricole
                355 11th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Ha! I'm taking that as an encrypted dissent? I hear you if so -- but I like it. Just this side of tryingtoohardism, and the courtyard's awesome on a nice day....

                  1. re: uberslop

                    I like Bar Agricole's food and drinks a whole lot. Not crazy about the wacky ultra-modern decor. The air sometimes seems oddly warm and stuffy for a room with such high ceilings.

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                    Bar Agricole
                    355 11th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

              2. Swan Oyster (iconic), Canteen (quirky), Coi (high-brow), a taqueria in the Mission (dive-ish.)

                1. Iconic: Zuni
                  Quirky: Commonwealth
                  High-brow: Coi (2-star Michelin, mostly vegetable)
                  Dive-ish: Not my thing. Sorry, can't help

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                  Zuni Cafe
                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  1. Iconic: Zuni or Foreign Cinema
                    Quirky: Minako
                    High-brow: Spruce or Slanted Door
                    Dive-ish: Yamo or House of Nan King

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                    Slanted Door
                    Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                    Zuni Cafe
                    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

                    Yamo
                    3406 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    1. I'd put Rosamunde + Toranado in the mix as iconic-quirky-divey. I can't say how much my mother liked it, and she's in the same profile - lived all over the world. The only problem is the noise on the late side. Scratch it if they have no interest in beer or dogs.

                      To do foreign Cinema, have a drink at Doc's Clock across the street first. Sure, they do some decent mixing at Lazlo (FC's appendium), but Doc's Clock is pure mission dive - and they mix very fine drinks. In the case of Zuni, Martuni's is the nearest "only in SF" bar - or a good nightcap, as the queens hit the piano bar. Although a Cosmo at Zuni is a pure classic.

                      Just, for god's sake, no Gary Danko.
                      Overall, this is a very good list.

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                      Doc's Clock
                      2575 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: bbulkow

                        i feel mission bar is divier than doc's clock

                        1. re: vulber

                          i think so too.

                          1. re: mariacarmen

                            but not by much :)

                            doc's clock gets props for being tied for the latest happy hour in the mission (until 9, w/ elbo room and SOM); although mission bar's happy hour until 8 is still not too shabby

                            1. re: vulber

                              i think dive-iness happens in both bars at different hours. we tend to go out on the late side 11:30 to last call. a lot of hipster wannabes start stumbling their way home by then!

                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                oh definitely; i actually even prefer the attic to both of those bars; especially when they do their all night happy hours on sunday and monday

                                1. re: vulber

                                  i love the Attic! but that place is harder to get into late at night.

                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                    You can bring a plate of El Farolito's nachos into The Attic. That's good eatin'.

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      oh yum! People usually bring burritos into the Mission Bar. I always think about a bacon dog but then i like eating it on the way home.

                              2. re: vulber

                                Last time I was in Doc's Clock they had a really nice absinthe special, ie, they reside at the corner of hipster and dive.

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                                Doc's Clock
                                2575 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  it's getting VERY congested at that particular intersection, these days...

                        2. My picks would be:

                          iconic: Swan Oyster Depot or Scoma's
                          quirky: Lolo's or Aziza
                          high-brow: La Folie or Bix
                          dive-ish: Taqueria Cancun or Gyro King

                          and for Italian, my new favorite, La Ciccia.

                          Scoma's may be controversial as it's at Fisherman's Wharf, but I really like the place. Very classic old-style white tablecloth place. A bit overpriced, but a good place for a proper martini and cioppini, and they do have valet parking.
                          And Bix is maybe less high-brow and more night-on-the-town-jazzy, but they are good for cocktail lovers.

                          Regarding other recommendations on here:
                          + for all these:
                          Delfina, A16, Doc's Clock, Slanted Door (which is not high-end, but is good and fun)
                          I'm tepid on Zuni.
                          And I would steer you away from Frances and Coi, both huge disappointments.

                          1. My picks:
                            Iconic: Tadich
                            Quirky: Commonwealth or Canteen
                            High Brow: Saison
                            Dive-ish: Broken Record or a MIssion taqueria
                            Classic Cocktails: Alembic, Bourbon and Branch, Rye
                            Classic Cocktail in dive-ish atmosphere: Mr. Lew's Win-Win Bar & Grand Sazerac Emporium

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                            Broken Record
                            1166 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA

                            Saison
                            2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110