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Narrowing Down Some Options

Hello all -- we're a family of four from Chicago (with two-teenage girls, both adventurous diners) returning to SF after a great vacation last year, highlighted by fabulous food. We hit Zuni, Delfina, Swan's Oyster Bar, Yang Sing, the Ferry Market (pork sandwiches, IIRC, which were incredible), and the Front Porch, among other places (we'll be going back to Dynamo Donuts for sure). We're returning in mid-July and I'm trying to find the best spots that we missed, and am having trouble narrowing down some others that get good mentions on this board. I made a reservation at Foreign Cinema as that sounds intriguing but am also considering:

Perbacco
Piperade
Rose Pistola
La Ciccia
La Folie
Range
L'osteria del forno

Or is there someplace else entirely we should try? I'd like to get out to Kingdom of Dumpling as we are big dumpling fans and didn't get there last time -- is that still worthwhile? We're in town for 8 nights and staying at Ghiradelli Square (we have a kitchen there so we can bring our leftovers home!). I tried to book at Flour + Water but couldn't. We're also going to be spending several days at a house we're renting in Point Reyes if anyone has suggestions there (though I suspect we'll mostly be cooking up there.)

Of course we have great food here in Chicago but your city is amazing. We're really looking forward to seeing it again, and eating as much as we can!

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Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

La Ciccia
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

La Folie
2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

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

Piperade
1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

The Front Porch
65 29th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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

Rose Pistola
532 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133-2802

Kingdom of Dumpling
1713 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA

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  1. It would be helpful if you could give us some more direction in terms of your family's likes and dislikes, as well as budget considerations (if any).

    That said, some other things that are great in SF:

    1) Burmese food (several options - my favorite among the places I've tried is Mandalay)

    2) Oaxacan/Mayan - Poc Chuc is a board favorite

    3) Peruvian - There are some high-end places (like La Mar), but Inkas Restaurant can be counted on for great Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, empanadas, etc.

    4) Canteen - either for dinner or for weekend brunch (my favorite in the city).

    5) Jai Yun - for a unique Chinese meal, but be aware that it's $$$ and the source of much contention on this board (just do a search).

    La Ciccia and Perbacco are both great for Italian - of the two, I enjoyed La Ciccia more (and I would suspect that Sardinian food may be harder to come by in Chicago).

    You should also consider shlepping over to Oakland one day/night, as that's where many of the newer, more exciting restaurants are these days - Plum is the obvious pick; Commis for a bigger splurge.

    -----
    La Ciccia
    291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

    Perbacco
    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

    Jai Yun
    680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

    Inkas Restaurant
    3299 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    Canteen
    817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    Mandalay Restaurant
    4344 California St, San Francisco, CA 94118

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

    Commis
    3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

    Plum
    2214 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

    3 Replies
    1. re: abstractpoet

      Agree with all of abstractpoet's reccs in SF, as a twice-yearly visitor to the Bay Area from Vancouver myself. Mandalay, Poc Chuc, Inkas, Canteen, Jai Yun and La Ciccia sounds like a delightful and varied three-day lunch and dinner eating itinerary to me :-).

      One thought if the OP would like to try out Jai Yun is to go for lunch. We've done that twice and had memorable meals both times, at a much lower cost.

      1. re: abstractpoet

        Good post abstractpoet. The only two I would add are Aziza for Cal-Moroccan and Slanted Door for Cal-Vietnamese, as both place are quite unique.

        -----
        Slanted Door
        Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Aziza
        5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

        1. re: Civil Bear

          I love Slanted Door, but I think it has turned more into a tourist experience. The prices on their best menu items are about 40% more than they were just a few years ago. As a local, there are just better ways to spend that type of money on dinner, imo. That said, it is unique and the best (Cal) Vietnamese food I've ever had so, tourists may want to consider it... and teenagers, especially might enjoy it because the menu is easy to navigate and the atmosphere is very cool... but just know it is nearing the price range of restaurants like Ame which absolutely blow it out of the water in terms of sophisticated flavors, dining, etc.

          -----
          Slanted Door
          Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

      2. I think Foreign Cinema is overrated and a bit touristy... others I know enjoy it. Forget Rose Pistola.

        While not romantic nor particularly fancy, Perbacco is my favorite Italian restaurant outside of Italy. The pastas (particularly thicker ones), wild mushroom preparations, and game and braised red meats are insanely good. L'Osteria del Forno is an incredible value -- one of my most visited restaurants in town.

        La Folie is my favorite restaurant in town -- it is very high end, but more laid back and "easy" than its similarly priced and situated counterparts; the food, is better too. The one 'knock' I would give La Folie is that it is fairly straightforward Provencal French food. Which I love... but you won't be wowed by originality, only by execution.

        Piperade is great, but I have had 2 consistent problems there. (1) The seared rare/raw Ahi sometimes comes out cooked to medium rare or even, on one case, to medium. (2) The service can be too fast.

        La Ciccia is very interesting and good. But I don't love it the way some do.

        With two teenage girls who like food, especially, you should really consider NOPA. -- www.nopasf.com -- It is the type of restaurant that could only exist in a few cities... very high quality, but very casual, open until 1am, not very expensive, but one of the best restaurants in the city, hands down. Whatever the flatbread of the day is, it is generally sublime. So is the pork chop.

        -----
        La Ciccia
        291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

        Perbacco
        230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        L'Osteria del Forno
        519 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

        La Folie
        2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

        Piperade
        1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

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

        Rose Pistola
        532 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133-2802

        28 Replies
        1. re: whiner

          Thanks for all the prompt and helpful responses. To reply: we really are open to anything and I while we tend toward ethnic restaurants here in Chicago we could afford a few splurges in SF. We do eat a lot of very good Mexican and also Colombian, Peruvian etc. here, so I probably wouldn't tend toward those choices unless they are really outstanding (and maybe they are.) We checked out Slanted Door last time around but didn't end up eating there. It did seem a bit touristy for us, though we are not above that sort of thing. (I think we ended up eating salami and gelato at the Market building instead.) NOPA looks like a strong candidate, and the kind of place we don't really have here (or we do, but the ingredients aren't as good.)

          -----
          Slanted Door
          Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

          1. re: thirdcoastgal

            I'm glad you are considering NOPA. I think it would be perfect for you.

            In terms of splurge, as you mention, if you are looking for what you don't have in Chicago, consider Ame. Japanese/Italian fusion with a little French. Incredibly unique and interesting, yet hearty and the last bite is as good as the first of any dish. http://www.amerestaurant.com/menus.html

            1. re: thirdcoastgal

              The Slanted Door is full of tourist and looks touristy, but the food is still really good. Visitors always seem to enjoy it, and we enjoy it as well.

              To add to you data points, I will note that in the last 4 or so months I've had great experiences at Foreign Cinema and La Ciccia, a slightly disappointing experience at Canteen, and a bad experience at Jai Yun (which is probably why abstractpoet said to read the boards). I also love Nopa and Aziza as recommended above (but haven't been recently). I also recently enjoyed Nopalito (Nopa's Mexican sister restaurant), which would be a great choice if you are looking for nice sit down Mexican.

            2. re: whiner

              Re: Perbacco vs. La Ciccia, I like them both and haven't had enough meals at either one to form any kind of authoritative opinion, but I will say that the recent dinner we had at Perbacco had as many misses as hits:

              The rock shrimp fritto misto (with olives!) was amazing. The two pasta dishes we ordered (the pork sugo tajarin + the veal and cabbage agnolotti) were quite good but not great - I thought the pasta itself was wonderful, but the sauces were a bit one-dimensional and over-salty. And for dessert, the much-lauded (on this board) burnt caramel gelato with sea salt was terrible - simultaneously icy and melty, and so salty as to be nearly inedible.

              Maybe it was an off night.

              Meanwhile, I'm still thinking about a spectacular dish of stewed tripe I had at La Ciccia two or three years ago, along with a very traditional and impeccably prepared pork sugo that I much preferred to Perbacco's version. The service was very warm, and toward the end of the meal the chef even came out and chatted with us a bit about what we had eaten.

              Perbacco's main advantage over La Ciccia is that it's BART accessible, but it's in the financial district so while the service is good, the vibe is a bit business-y, with many diners coming in straight from work.

              Anyway, I guess you can figure out for yourself which of the two I'm looking forward to returning to first!

              -----
              La Ciccia
              291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

              Perbacco
              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              1. re: abstractpoet

                Thanks for reminding me about the deep fried olives at Perbacco, abstractpoet, you just made my night. I've only been there once and while I enjoyed our meal very much, I didn't think overall it was amazing, despite some high points. Three meals at La Ciccia have left me regretting we didn't go back for a fourth on our last trip. But they are such different restaurants, as you point out. As for accessibility, the longer ride on Muni is something I personally look forward to. Always something entertaining happening on the J Church line :-). And no walking at all required on the other end.

                1. re: grayelf

                  How do you all feel about Foreign Cinema, both the food and the experience? I don't quite get how it works, and while it seems like sort of an interesting concept if the food isn't good enough I don't want to take up a meal there. Also -- in terms of Perbacco v. Ciccia -- we may try both (Perbacco is close enough to our hotel that we can use the gratis car service provided to get there, so we may go there the first night we get in, when we may prefer someplace easy to get to) But if Perbacco is less than stellar would we be better off somewhere else? Is l'osteria del forno a better choice?

                  On another food category altogether -- what about Kingdom of Dumpling? We went to Yang Sing for dim sum last year and were underwhelmed, even by the XLB, but maybe we ordered the wrong stuff or got a less-than-perfect batch of dumplings.

                  -----
                  Perbacco
                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                  Kingdom of Dumpling
                  1713 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA

                  1. re: thirdcoastgal

                    Perbacco vs La Ciccia is going to be very subjective. Some feel that P is much better than La C and vice versa. It depends what you're after. For me, La C has more of an intimate, "family" feel -- smaller, run by a couple, informal but attentive service, more casual room. The food/ambiance is maybe a litte more rustic for want of a better word, which I prefer. I can't tell how many days you're coming for. If it's a week, maybe do both, if less, maybe toss a coin?

                    I've only walked in to FC to look at it. It's a nifty space and it's on my list but my list is currently 34 pages long :-). Others can tell you more, but I do believe it gets a fair amount of props for brunch so maybe that's an option for you...

                    Re XLB, I've noticed in Vancouver that everyone and their dog is now serving XLB. As a rule of thumb, they're typically much better at Shanghainese restaurants. I haven't tried either YS or KofD but in my limited experience of XLB in SF, we had some very nice XLB at Shanghai Dumpling King last trip, and some more than serviceable ones at Shanghai House the trip before. I do recall some not-so-great ones at Bund Shanghai a few trips ago so the rule is not infallible :-). Plus I am spoiled by working next door to one of the best XLB purveyors in town at home.

                    1. re: thirdcoastgal

                      Well, as I've said, I prefer Perbacco to all the other Italians in the city. (Though Delfina comes close.) If you stick with pastas, wild mushrooms, braised and game red meats, imo, you are golden.

                      I also love L'Osteria del Forno, but that is completely different. No reservations, cash only, one oven only, hole-in-the-wall with excellent pizzas and pork roast.

                      -----
                      Perbacco
                      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                      L'Osteria del Forno
                      519 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

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

                      1. re: whiner

                        Well, we loved Delfina -- went there twice last time we were in town -- so our tastes may coincide. We are lucky enough that we have 8 nights in SF so I am just chalking up lots of recommendations, on the assumption that we will end up playing much by ear and where we'll want to eat dinner will depend on how much else we've grazed on during the day. We're making reservations at places that require them well in advance but may just go where we can get in on some nights, so we appreciate all the recommendations.

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

                      2. re: thirdcoastgal

                        I am a Foreign Cinema fan. For me it is as representative of San Francisco as is Zuni. Their brunch was once a hidden gem but is now wildly popular. The house made pop tarts are a treat. At dinner time if they have the masala spiced fried chicken my husband can't see past it to order antyhing else which is somewhat of a relief for me because then I get to have some of his and pick anoher dish from the always inetersting to me menu. Not every dish I have eaten at FC is a 10 but I have eaten there many times over the 12 years it has been open and I always go back.

                        -----
                        Zuni Cafe
                        1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

                        1. re: thirdcoastgal

                          I've been to Foriegn Cinema a few times, and I've never had a disappointing meal... The first few times there was always a dish or so that was just good and not great. This was not the case on my last visit in March; every dish was great (and our well traveled foodie friend was impressed as well). IMO, the food at Foreign Cinema is as good as most of the other places suggested on this thread that I have been to, and I think your girls will enjoy the atmosphere.

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

                          1. re: thirdcoastgal

                            I don't know if I would go so far to say that Perbacco is "less than stellar". People on this board who have good taste seem to love it, so my mixed (but still good, overall) experience may not be representative.

                            The style of cuisine reminded me of Babbo (Batali's flagship restaurant in NYC), and I think if they were hitting on all cylinders maybe the food could approach that level, at a lower price point. On the night we went, it didn't do it for me - again, I had such high hopes for the pastas (and ordered two of their signature pasta dishes), but the only thing that blew me away was the fritto misto. But I wouldn't write the place off based on that.

                            As grayelf put it, La Ciccia's rustic quality is a big part of its appeal. And to me, it's the more unique of the two restaurants.

                            But if you like authentic Italian food and have eight nights in SF, I would do as others suggested and put both La Ciccia and Perbacco on your itinerary.

                            -----
                            La Ciccia
                            291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                            Perbacco
                            230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                            1. re: thirdcoastgal

                              Put me down as a non-fan of FC. I have only been there once, and there wasn't anything particularly wrong with the food or service -- it just didn't live up to the hype. At least not enough to justify the price. There are too many other options to try, so I won't be back.

                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                Just curious were you there for brunch or dinner?
                                I have a theory based on a previous thread that most who are disappointed in Foreign Cinema went for brunch... and also I am trying to decide where do go for brunch this weekend (I have only been to Foreign Cinema for dinner).

                                1. re: lrealml

                                  Nope, I loved my brunch at Foreign Cinema, but I was so so on my dinner. I would go back for brunch any time, but for dinner only if someone else was paying, or I didn't really have much choice.

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

                                  1. re: lrealml

                                    Sorry for the delay. We were there for dinner.

                                  2. re: Civil Bear

                                    I wasn't aware that there was a hype surrounding FC. But I am old and terribly unhip these days.

                                  3. re: thirdcoastgal

                                    FYI, I think from how you phrase this you may be a little confused about Foreign Cinema -- it's not like a movie house, it's just a restaurant that happens to have a big wall in the patio that they play a movie on. But the movie isn't anything more than background if you sit on the patio (there's no audio), and if you sit inside, it's not an issue. I'd judge it only on the basis of if the food appeals to you. Perbacco seems like a perfect choice for you the night you arrive, I've had great meals there, and it's good to have something close by the night you get in.

                                    -----
                                    Perbacco
                                    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                                    1. re: thirdcoastgal

                                      Foreign Cinema is one of my favorite places to take visitors, because it is unique to the City. Yes, it's not the most inventive food but i think it's always very well done (I love their lavender pork) and the space is great, so overall it is a worthwhile experience. Make sure you sit outside, and if it's cold, they have heatlamps.

                                      I much prefer La Ciccia over Perbacco. Too many misses at Perbacco, and the food at La Ciccia is just different than other Italian I've had (as someone else said, Sardinian.)
                                      I love Range for a higher end experience. Their roast chicken surpasses Zuni's' famous bird, in my opinion. I can't comment on Ame but i know a lot of people here (and including my sister) love it.
                                      I think Slanted Door is way overrated. For better Vietnamese, go to Bodega Bistro. It is NOT, however, in a nice neighborhood.
                                      Canteen is ALWAYS a favorite. Inventive, delicious, thoughtful preparations. In a very cute space.

                                      Edit: Oh too bad about la Ciccia!!

                                      -----
                                      Slanted Door
                                      Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                      Zuni Cafe
                                      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                      La Ciccia
                                      291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                                      Perbacco
                                      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                      Bodega Bistro
                                      607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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

                                    2. re: grayelf

                                      Most Muni routes between Ghirardelli Square and La Ciccia suggested by 511.org are about 50 minutes each way, so you'd probably get your money's worth if Muni is your idea of a good time.

                                      1. re: nocharge

                                        To be fair, it's a 24-minute ride on the J-Church from right outside the Embarcadero BART station, or a 10-minute bus ride from 24th and Mission.

                                        If you're going to be out and about anyway, getting to La Ciccia really isn't a big deal. Just call a cab to get back to your hotel afterward.

                                        -----
                                        La Ciccia
                                        291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                                        1. re: abstractpoet

                                          We cabbed it to and from The Front Porch last year, which seems to be in about the same place as La Ciccia (we're staying in the same hotel.) We walked over to Mitchell's for ice cream afterwards (and in one of our pleasant memories from the last vacation, met someone in line there who went to the same Queens, NY high school my husband did). While we are comfortable public transit users we'll take cabs (on our vacation) when we're tired at the end of the day. In fact, that's often what will determine were we end up for dinner -- how much effort we're able to make at 7 or 8 p.m. after a day of heavy-duty touristing (we walk a lot). Sometimes going across town, in whatever form of transit, seems daunting.

                                          I much appreciate all the help. My husband and I are going out to dinner shortly (Thai) and we'll discuss all these options!

                                          1. re: thirdcoastgal

                                            You can probably cab it in about 20 minutes at a cost of around $25 each way.

                                            1. re: nocharge

                                              Turns out all this discussion of La Ciccia is moot anyhow -- I tried to make a reservation via Open Table and got a message indicating they'll be on vacation during the time we're around (they reopen July 29 -- one day too late for us!) That's too bad but I guess it does make one decision easier.

                                              -----
                                              La Ciccia
                                              291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                                            2. re: thirdcoastgal

                                              Too bad about LaC but it does assist your decision making :-). Since you mentioned Thai upthread, we've had some really great appetizers and soup at Lers Ros. Might be a good fit for your family if you like Thai/ethnic and don't mind a grittier neighbourhood.

                                              1. re: grayelf

                                                Actually, Thai is the one food one of my kids won't eat, probably because as a little kid she got sick after eating at a Thai place (I don't even think it was due to the food, but when those things get in your head they are hard to get rid of). Hence we only get to go for Thai without her, like this evening.

                                                BTW greyelf -- we spent two great vacations a few years back in Vancouver (and Tofino) with good advice from Chowhound about all the tremendous dining up your way. Hopping between SF and Vancouver is a pretty nice life, seems like.

                                                1. re: thirdcoastgal

                                                  Ah, too bad about La Ciccia.

                                                  Some of the San Francisco pizza places might be good to mix in - totally different than Chicago-style pizza. A16 does great with Naples-style pizza and other southern Italian cuisine. Gialina has a very individual style of pizza out in the Glen Park neighborhood, but it on entirely the other side of town from your hotel. Amber India is also a good choice for Indian food. I've not been to the San Francisco branch, but Chowhound reports indicate it's as good as the original Mountain View location which is one of our favorites.

                                                  I agree that avoiding Mexican (and also Greek) makes a lot of sense for you coming from Chicago! We sure enjoyed our brief stay in your wonderful city on our vacation last year.

                                                  Michael

                                                  -----
                                                  Gialina
                                                  2842 Diamond St, San Francisco, CA 94131

                                                  A16
                                                  2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                                                  Amber India
                                                  Mission and Fourth, San Francisco, CA

                                    3. re: whiner

                                      Have you been to Rose Pistola since the refresh & chef change?

                                      -----
                                      Rose Pistola
                                      532 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133-2802