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Top 10 Must-visit SF Eateries - The Budget Version

Hi everyone -

Have 2 friends coming in from Wales in August. It's their first time in the Bay Area for both of them - for one, her first time ever in California!

Been trying to think of places to take them while they're here and honestly, it's pretty difficult. I have places that I love, and I've been asking for suggestions with friends, AS WELL as scoping past Chowhound postings (like the one posted by NYC girl mchien623)... and it just succeeded in making me more at a loss. And so I extend my cry for help to you, fellow Chowhounders:

In your opinion, what would be the TOP 10 places in SF to take California newbies from out of the country for LUNCH or DINNER? Here are my requests:

1) All of us are on a budget, and so we want mostly places that are $20/person or less (not counting booze and tips)

2) One of the top 10 could be an all-out splurge restaurant - but just one. :)

3) All cuisines are welcome, especially those that represent what SF does fabulously!

4) Prefer places near the "touristy" areas, i.e. we won't be hanging out much in the Sunset/Richmond areas (unfortunately.)

5) Hole-in-the-walls, trucks, proper restos, mom & pop establishments - all are great. Places that only do lunch or only do dinner are fine too.

I await your wisdom! ... and thanks.

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  1. Swan Oyster Depot.

    Sam Wo Have to smile, was searching UK board for places in Wales and found the phrase "seedy looking Chinese restaurant. Sam Wo would be like a touch of home.

    Mario's Bohemian

    Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Saturday morning.

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    Swan Oyster Depot
    1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    Sam Wo Restaurant
    813 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

    Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
    One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

    1. Angkor Borei
      Burmese Kitchen aka Larkin Express
      Esperpento
      Helmand Palace
      Lers Ros
      Maykadeh
      Memphis Minnie's
      Poc-Chuc
      Saigon Sandwich
      Thai House Express
      Truly Mediterranean

      Splurge on a budget, Plum in Oakland.

      -----
      Saigon Sandwich Shop
      560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      Angkor-Borei Restaurant
      3471 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
      452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      Maykadeh Persian Cuisine
      470 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

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

      Truly Mediterranean
      3109 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      Memphis Minnie's BBQ
      576 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

      Helmand Palace
      2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109

      Poc Chuc
      2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      Lers Ros Thai
      730 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA

      Esperpento Restaurant
      3295 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      36 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        A second for Memphis Minnie's. Bring your food across the street to Toronado for an outstanding selection of beers, reasonably priced all day.

        Nopalito.

        -----
        Toronado Pub
        547 Haight St, San Francisco, CA

        Nopalito
        306 Broderick St, San Francisco, CA

        1. re: tranewreck

          Especially if that day at Toronado is a Tuesday.

          1. re: grayelf

            In that case, you want to stop next door to toronado for a burger at rosamunde.

          2. re: tranewreck

            No, Memphis Minnie's is terrible and has absolutely nothing to do with California. It's only good for satisfying a craving for the actually good barbecue in other parts of the country--a craving this person from Wales doesn't have--and it's barely even satisfactory for that purpose.

            By all means, go to Toronado, but just eat before or after at a decent place.

            Mission Chinese Food
            Taqueria Cancun
            4505 Meats at the Ferry Building on Thursdays and Saturdays
            while you're there, buy a bunch of great produce and cook it that night
            Pizzeria Delfina
            Nopa
            Pork Store Cafe

            -----
            Taqueria Cancun
            2288 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Nopa
            560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

            Pork Store Cafe
            1451 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

            Pizzeria Delfina
            2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115

            Mission Chinese Food
            2234 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

            4505 Meats
            1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111, CA

            1. re: barzelay

              Memphis Minnie's makes good spareribs and brisket. It may not be the best in the country, but it's the best in SF, and a good introduction to a classic American tradition.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                the last time I had good barbeque at Minnie's was when it was on Polk St. i've been a half a dozen times to the Haight St spot and have never gotten anything moist.

                one of my friend's loves it, though he concedes the meals we've had there together have been sub-par ("It's not usually like this")

                my current SF favorites are Smokin' Warehouse Barbecue & Sneaky's BBQ

                -----
                Sneaky's BBQ
                1760 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

                1. re: drewskiSF

                  I'm not fond of Minnie's, nowhere close to the BBQ I had in the south. Maybe it's great for those who have never had real Southern BBQ. But, once you have, there's no comparison, imo. BBQ in the SF Bay Area, is like someone said about steak here, it's not a BBQ area. We're better at other things. These days I'm not eating much meat anyway, so my heart thanks me. xD

                  1. re: drewskiSF

                    same experience here. Dry meats. Not fond of the sides or any of the bbq sauces. Have been going to MM's for 20 years to see if I could ever again hit the sometimes moist sandwiches of yore.

                    Is the smell of musk down at Helmand Palace?

                2. re: barzelay

                  thank you. memphis minnie's is bbq for people who haven't been to any states with real barbecue. da pit/brother-in-laws/whatever it's mostly recently been called is the only authentic place i've found so far in SF

                  1. re: vulber

                    Bingo! I haven't been to Bro-in-law for a few years, good to hear they're still good.

                    1. re: vulber

                      The spare ribs I've had from Da Pit / Lilly's etc. were on a par with the best I've had from Minnie's and not different in kind from any of the other decent barbecue I've had around here. More often than not when I've gone there they were out of ribs and told me to come back in a couple or few hours, which probably helps their consistency.

                      The one time I tried their brisket it was bad.

                      1. re: vulber

                        Please explain what is unauthentic about MM's brisket. IMHO, its simply the best, most consistent brisket I had outside of Texas. They smoke low & slow over real wood (oak), which is better than the majority of gas pits found throughout NC and Tennessee.

                        1. re: Civil Bear

                          MM is in the wrong state and the bathroom is clean.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            LOL. True story though, but if you ever find yourself in Tennessee, every bathroom is spotless - bus stations, parking garages, restaurants, flee markets - it is pretty amazing!

                          2. re: Civil Bear

                            Civil Bear, have you tried the brisket at Double D's, in Oakland?

                            They do mostly catering now, and are hardly ever open during a time when I can go - so it's been a few months. But I think I prefer their brisket to Memphis Minnie's (which, granted, I only tried once). Smokier and more moist.

                            -----
                            Double D BBQ
                            1240 1st Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

                          3. re: scottca075

                            Well stated. It is easy to knock someone else's taste instead of just saying it is not your taste. I don't care for MM but I like Carolina vinegar based "Q" which i have yet to find out here.

                            1. re: budnball

                              the closest I've found is the previously mentioned Looney's. they say the pulled pork is North Carolina style and the sauce is vinegar based, though it was only mildly vinegary to me.

                              They also have a S. Carolina spicy mustard sauce which I like better.

                              http://www.looneysbbq.com/

                              1. re: drewskiSF

                                I don't have much faith in Looney's as most NC joints chop their pork shoulders rather than pull them. I stopped going a few years ago, despite its excellent proximity to Cal, when he attempted to serve "brisket" from bottom round!
                                Looney's and Uncle Willies will be competing this weekend at the Oakland Coliseum against some of the top BBQ teams in the State. It should be interesting...

                                Link to teams participating:

                                http://www.bayareabbq.org/TeamBios.html

                                1. re: Civil Bear

                                  B Restaurant in Oakland occasionally does North Carolina-style vinegary chopped barbecued pork.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    B in Oakland will have "Eastern North Carolina" BBQ whole hog (chopped, in vinegar-based sauce) this Sunday. Reservations essential.

                                  2. re: Civil Bear

                                    Well, of the three Oakland restaurant teams (Looney's, Q Master's (AKA Chef Edwards), and Uncle Willie's, Uncle Willie's came out on top finishing 24th out of 32 total teams.

                                    There is no way to tell who finished better between Loonie's and Q Masters, as you must place in the top 16 in a least one category in order to earn points. To be fair to Q Masters, they only entered two of the four categories (chicken and ribs).

                                    Link to results:

                                    http://www.cbbqa.org/wiki/index.php?t...

                                2. re: budnball

                                  Didn't mean to sound arrogant...but I've been consistently disappointed in BBQ in the Bay Area, I've had plenty of BBQ in many parts of the US and when I try a "fantastic" place here, it doesn't hold up, with a couple exceptions. Bros-in-law is one that I had a couple years ago, Leon's on Fillmore and long, long time ago was my fav for many years and another was a place that used to be around years and years ago in San Mateo along 101, even forgot it's name. But, aside from that, everything else hasn't held up. My personal favorite style, although I love all BBQ, is pulled pork and there is absolutely no decent pulled pork here. Low Country pulled pork is served with a lighter vinegar based sauce. I OD'd on that in Savannah on vacation in May!

                                  1. re: isewinsf

                                    Out of curiosity, have you tried KC's Barbeque in Berkeley? My favorite in the Bay Area in terms of the quality of the meat and the technique. Some hate on their sauce, some on their ambiance, but I think they do Q really well. (And for the record, I really like MM, but prefer KC. MM is a tad too smoky for me.)

                                    1. re: BernalKC

                                      for what it's worth, if you toss away all prior conceptions of waht barbecue is supposed to taste like, wexler's is entirely inauthentic and completely deliciosu

                                      1. re: BernalKC

                                        Right on. I have been eating at KC since starting my 1st real job at a nearby office in 1976. I like KC better than any others that I have tried: Doug's, Everett and Jones, Chef Edwards, Mama's, Flints. KC often does the short end of the rack just right.

                                        The only ribs to equal KC for me were done by a co-worker who I later found out was related to the KC folk. I do have to give E & J props for giving out jars of hot sauce on the 4th.

                                        1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                          I should check out KC again.

                                          I got a beef & ribs combo there last year and had the short end of the rack. It was bad. 6 ribs, but the two smallest ribs were throw-aways with meat dry and harder than jerky. The others were somewhat better though the tips on all of them had similar hard dry meat as the small ribs.

                                          The beef, on the other hand, was really good. Tender, juicy, lightly smokey.

                                          -----
                                          KC's Bar-B-Que
                                          2613 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                          1. re: drewskiSF

                                            I'd give em at least a 2nd chance. They Q nice and slow (unlike, say, E&J), which does risk some unevenness and overdone bits. When their ribs are good (like almost every time I've been) they are delectable.

                                      2. re: isewinsf

                                        Closest I've found was in Buttonwillow but that is another board

                                        1. re: budnball

                                          budnball: Are you saying that Willow Creek place off I-5 at the Buttonwillow exit is real 'Q, as in smoked meat?

                                            1. re: Steve Green

                                              yeah but i'll say more on that board

                                          1. re: isewinsf

                                            That place in San Mateo along 101 -- was it Ma Pinky's? It was still there pretty recently.

                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Second Burmese Kitchen/Larkin Express.

                                    I've fed groups of three for $40 TOTAL there and gone home with leftovers.

                                    I'll also recommend Takara for lunch in J-Town. Their bento box is the best meal in town; for $10 (including tip), you get tea, salad, miso soup, three slices of California roll, tempura, and your choice of teriyaki chicken, pork katsu, sashimi, or fried fish. Great Japanese food on a budget!

                                    Lastly, the Dim Sum on Clement Street around 5th is another great bargain. I have gotten stuffed there for $5 a person and it is a fun street to walk.

                                    The last recommendation involves a Friday night - at the DeYoung Museum, there are always fabulous Friday night art programs but better than that, the DeYoung Cafe has a kick-ass 3-course prix fixe for $18. The food is amazing for the price and changes all the time.

                                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                                      very mldly flavored Burmese food. Ask for heat and shrimp paste. Dennis the owner loves hot food but doesn't cook spicy for the guests.

                                      1. re: stanbee

                                        Sadly I have to agree agree. On my last couple of visits even the tea leaf salad lacked punch compared to other Burmese places around town.

                                    2. The original comment has been removed
                                      1. For an unusual experience, try the Basque Center. Menu is on their web site.
                                        http://www.basqueculturalcenter.com/
                                        The daily specials are enjoyable, filling and very reasonable.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Bruce in SLO

                                          The Basque Center menu doesn't describe the dishes. Are they, being Basque, different than they sound?

                                        2. Take them to a taqueria or taco truck. There's a couple of hundred in SF and everyone has an opinion on the best/favorite. La Taqueria, Taqueria Cancun and El Farolito are a few.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: ML8000

                                            Taqueria Vallarta is open late, doesn't move around like trucks can, has lots of seating, and there's a guy by the front door grilling up 11 kinds of meat for tacos, using what's basically a street cart. but he's indoors. $1.75 each for tacos, delicious. I won't talk about "best," but the variety of meat and price is hard to beat.

                                            -----
                                            Taqueria Vallarta
                                            3033 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                            1. re: Pei

                                              If memory serves me correctly, Taqueria Vallarta is also the one with the eccentric murals describing, in colorful broken English, the origins of the names of all the SF sports teams. It's pretty much the Sistine Chapel of taquerias. The tacos may or may not be the best (I like them a lot!), but the atmosphere is definitely one-of-a-kind.

                                              -----
                                              Taqueria Vallarta
                                              3033 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                              1. re: Pei

                                                was there a recent price increase? i remember them being $1.50...