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Food items that might "Wow" a pre-teen?

So I'm planning a visit for my aunt, uncle, and their 13 year old. She's a bit of a picky eater (bread and fried chicken wings, please!), but overall pretty easy going. She liked SF last time she visited, mostly because we let her eat all the naan she wanted and didn't make her eat the frogs and turtles we saw in Chinatown.

This time, I'm hoping to think of a few food items that will wow her a bit, especially dishes at good restaurants that have some presentation-related flair. Her parents eat out a lot and have exposed her to pretty cool restaurants in Taipei, Tokyo and Los Angeles, so she won't be asking for burgers and fries. But I do have to balance a desire not to bore her with a desire to show them what SF is all about.

Smitten Ice Cream - liquid nitrogen ice cream
TCHO- chocolate factory tour. Free daily at 10:30 and 2:00
Perbacco - mostly for her parents, but the stuffed quail I think she'd like
Kokkari - if only I could guarantee that they'd have the whole pig's head we were offered once.
Little Star - that cornmeal crust is pretty tasty. Too bad the restaurant doesn't have much of an interior.
Gitane - her mom is a cocktail lover and I want to take her to a place where the cocktails shine, but I can't exactly take a 13 year old to Bourbon and Branch. Is Gitane upstairs pre-teen-friendly? I do think my cousin will enjoy the flatbreads with dip and stuffed squid on a big cast iron.
Aziza - great interior, great cocktails, unfamiliar food.
Bananas foster - Bix?
somewhere she can see people toss pizza?
Off the Grid - they get in on a Friday. Depending on weather and timing I might not want to subject them to the hoards at Fort Mason.


230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

17 San Pier, Francisco, CA

Smitten Ice Cream
Octavia Blvd Linden St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Off the Grid
Stanyan Street at Waller Street, San Francisco, CA

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    1. re: wolfe

      The ice cream at fentons is not exactly modern, up to snuff, "wow". The flavors are muted, the richness is nothing special - compared to say ben and jerry's from the safeway.

      If she likes chicken wings, wouldn't you take her to Sam Tung?

      What about hand-pulled noodles? Are there any currently in SF?

      Mr and Ms Miscellaneous, for sure. They have such nice people there - if it's not busy, maybe you can ask to check out the kitchen, or talk about how they make flavors?

      When my sister was that age, there was no telling what she would be "wowed" by. I simply kept taking her to very good restaurants. Finally, what *got* her was a portabello mushroom over polenta at the old Moose's.

      1. re: bbulkow

        You don't think there is more wow in that sundae than in a cup or a cone?

        1. re: wolfe

          It's a nice visual, but knowing what the ice cream tastes like, I don't think it's right for the OP. Bi-rite does some kicking sundaes that taste better and are likely closer to wherever they are in the city.

          1. re: bbulkow

            Yes but was Bi-Rite featured in the award winning motion picture UP?

            1. re: wolfe

              13 year olds would not be impressed by that.

              1. re: wolfe

                Yeah, I gotta go against Fenton's too.

                I like it well enough but not as a tourist thing. She just might as well as go to Ghirardelli which has better sundaex and a nicer area in tourist central. Having tried both though, I wouldn't recommend either. She seems to have more sophisticated tastes than that.

                Thinking of Ghirardelli reminded me of the English tea shop (still there?). On that note, maybe tea at Nieman Marcus with the popovers and fab Rotunda restaurant. There's gotta be somewhat decent cocktails for mom. Then there is SHOPPING afterward ... if not at NM then all the other nearby places. Planning to take my own teen stepdaughters there but waiting until Christmas for that

                Tony's Pizza in North Beach ....sophiticted enough for a teen and lots of choices.

                1. re: rworange

                  Make sure you book early for Christmas time reservations at the Rotunda. They can be a nightmare to get if you leave it too long.

                  1. re: rworange

                    If afternoon tea appeals, then Tal y Tara tea and polo shoppe (sic) is a fine choice. Nothing like a motorloaf, and easy to combine with a trip to the Legion or GG Park.

          2. re: wolfe

            Fenton's food is the pits. Their ice cream is decent, might impress someone who's had only Baskin-Robbins. Their main claim to fame is sundaes with the sauce spilling out onto the plate, which might impress someone who can't see that's because the dish is too small.

            1. re: wolfe

              I haven't met a pre-teen that hasn't been wowed by Fenton's yet.

              1. re: Civil Bear

                But the OP is inaccurate; a 13 year old is not a preteen. I don't think giant ice cream sundaes are the fancy of most 13 year old girls... Actually I think most of the recommendations on this thread would be better for a younger child (who just want a lot of ice cream and sweets). I was already dieting/worrying about my figure by that age (like most teenage girls), and I would have had less interest in those kinds food then than I do now.
                Just take her along to good restaurants; she is old enough to appreciate them if she is well traveled.

            2. re: wolfe

              If they venture near Fentons, a better choice would be to walk down to Lush Gelato. The 13-year could taste all that day's flavors and decide what cone/cup to order. (The Fenton's Black and Tan sundae I had after the fire-to-hide-the-theft fiasco was rather dismal and didn't resemble your 2006 photo. . . quite a disappointment after the long wait.)

              If an old-fashioned type of sundae with great ice cream & fixin's in the East Bay is desired, Pei's family might consider Tucker's in Alameda plus there are a variety of cuisines within easy walking up/down Park Street vicinity and a public parking structure just off Park Street.

              Tucker's Ice Cream
              1349 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

              Lush Gelato
              4184 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

            3. Pretty sure Gitane would be fine for a teen. Very nice vibe to the place. Good choice.

              What about focusing on places where you can sit at a bar and observe the kitchen? Commonwealth comes to mind. Might be a challenge to fit a largish, 4+ person party at the counter in most places though.

              The Ferry Building is a sensory delight. Both the Saturday farmers' market and an evening meal at Slanted Door, or maybe Lafitte or La Mer, would offer stunning Bay views and a very urbane vibe.

              I'd include a Dim Sum meal in the mix. although that might not work for a picky eater who's traveled a lot in Asia.

              1. Ice cream is a good call, lots of choices. I'd say BiRite or Mitchell's but there's a few other good options. FYI: Michell's won a taste-off with the Chron and noted was 2% extra fat content then the others don't have because of their cream vendor. They also have a few tropical flavors.

                Scene-wise Off the Grid "might" be interesting to a teen...but that's still a difficult call since every teen is different. I imagine getting a reaction from "that was cool" to stunned silence to "it was okay". In that same way, Belden Lane might be interesting...or the kid might think it's like Disneyland and not in the good way.

                Might be helpful to know what the kid likes or what they're use to.

                1. I think the best place to watch pizza being made is the bar at the wood oven at Tony's, though those pizzas are hand-stretched rather than tossed.

                  1. I was just remembering the whole quails at Bodega Bistro which are delicious with their lime-pepper sauce. Come with feet for sure, and possibly head.

                    Bodega Bistro
                    607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    1. Maybe Foreign Cinema, lots of possibilities there, The Slanted Door isn't a bad idea, Hong Kong Lounge or Yank Sing, maybe a tour at Boudin.

                      Slanted Door
                      Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                      Yank Sing
                      49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

                      Hong Kong Lounge
                      5322 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94121

                      1. I'm not from San Francisco, but have been doing similar research for an upcoming trip with my kids. For sure various sweet shops in Japantown:

                        Murata's Cafe Hana (green tea floats and sundaes)

                        May's Coffee Shop (taiyaki chocolate fish)

                        Benkyodo (strawberry mochi)

                        Anderson Bakery (strawberry shortcake-ee. If she's into manga, she'll know what this is).

                        Acknowledgements to chowhounders who helped with these suggestions.

                        1747 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA

                        Murata's Cafe Hana
                        1737 Post St Ste 368, San Francisco, CA 94115

                        1. If you're taking her to Smitten, the Bacon Bacon Truck might be parked behind Smitten and Ritual. You'll have to check their Facebook page for details and updates. Miette Confiserie is also near there and would be a dream for any preteen - even if it's just to look around.

                          For pizza making watching, Una Pizza or Tony's Pizzeria have kept me quietly entertained while waiting for our order of delicious pizzas to arrive.

                          Miette Confiserie
                          449 Octavia St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                          Tony's Pizza Napoletana
                          1570 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                          Una Pizza Napoletana
                          200 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                          1. Dynamo Donuts has a good wow factor
                            Una Pizza Napoletana for pizza making watching with Cocktails before or after at Bar Agricole, which also has some fun apps for the preteen.

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

                            Una Pizza Napoletana
                            200 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                            1. I'm quietly chuckling at this challenge.
                              First off, 13-year-olds are not impressed by anything. Treat her like a lady, take her to a fancy place or two and blow her mind with food and service. Then maybe expose her to some late-night music at a club of her choice.
                              just a thought...

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: steve h.

                                "First off, 13-year-olds are not impressed by anything"
                                Are they really that jaded or are the just pretending.
                                I want an opinion from an ephebiatrician.

                                1. re: wolfe

                                  ephebiatrician? as in Ephebos? As the dad of a 20 year old foodie and a 17 year old who was the pickiest eater on earth at 13 and is now coming into his own, I have some recollection of the early teen years...

                                  ...which is why I suggested finding a seat at a counter at an open kitchen where she can watch the teamwork and craft of a high end kitchen. Or take in the endless curiosities at a farmers' market.

                                  We're told she's well traveled, exposed to fine dining, but is a bit picky. In my experience you don't want to push on that. Instead appeal to adventure and creativity. Surround her with the sights and smells of great food. Curiosity will take its course. Maybe not not, but eventually. And when it does, the layers of experience you put down now will express themselves.

                                  1. re: BernalKC

                                    Correct BKC a specialist in adolescent medicine.
                                    Etymology: Gk, ephebos, puberty, iatros, physician
                                    a branch of medicine that specializes in the health of adolescents.

                                  2. re: wolfe

                                    I'd do ramen (sans cornflakes, that only works on TV).
                                    13 yr olds gotta be impressed with San Francisco -- it's bloody san francisco. Sixty year olds oughta be impressed wif da place.

                                    That said, expecting gushing is probably a bit much.

                                  3. re: steve h.

                                    Impress a thirteen year old with food and service at a fancy place (or two)? And late night clubbing afterwards? Sorry, but ... yuck.

                                    1. re: MarkC

                                      Treat her like an adult, ask her opinions. Can't hurt.

                                  4. I don't think a pre-teen is going to like most of your choices as they are for adults! If the main attraction is cocktails you are on the wrong road. I would go for visual stimulation, The food market and trucks at The ferry building on Sat., Chow, I would go easy on the interiors and spend more time eating on the fly

                                    1. What a thoughtful host you are. Might be fun for you to let her pick where she wants to go one night. St Francis Fountain would be cool for lunch. Does she watch food shows? If yes, Wayfare Tavern, Papalote, Dynamo Donut, Juhu Beach Club or Citizen Cake might interest her. Cocktails and great food at Zero Zero.

                                      Wayfare Tavern
                                      558 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                      Zero Zero
                                      826 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                      Juhu Beach Club
                                      , San Francisco, CA

                                      1. From your list, I love Perbacco, though I don't know how much a 13 year old may appreciate it. She might quite a bit though. The first restaurant that came to my mind is NOPA. It is an exceptional example of what American comfort food can be -- I cannot imagine a 13 year old not enjoying it.

                                        230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: whiner

                                          Perbacco is a little formal for a teenager, but she might really enjoy Barbacco.

                                          230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                          230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                        2. When I was 13, I was wowed by walking around Haight-Ashbury and typical places cafes and restaurants there, People's Cafe, Taqueria Balazo, Kan Zamen, Magnolia, Zazie.

                                          941 Cole St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: studio94109

                                            FYI: I heard on the radio today that People's Cafe was hit by a fire yesterday.

                                          2. Saigon Sandwich for a banh mi

                                            1. Reporting Back:

                                              Very successful trip! Weather cooperated, we had all good walkers in the group, and there was only one minor "bum" event. Bearing in mind that we avoided all Asian food because they were coming from Los Angeles and her parents hadn't been to SF in over 12 years, here's what we did:

                                              Perbacco for dinner. Wonderful as always. The adults really enjoyed an "orange" wine from Italy, as well as the various summer greens being highlighted. Heirloom tomatoes and burrata were especially popular. I was disappointed the the stuffed quail wasn't on the menu, but the homemade pappardelle made up for it. And the foie gras terrine was simply off the charts.
                                              Teen liked: the salami platter and the fig leaf panna cotta

                                              I took her parents to Bourbon and Branch after dinner, and they loved the gimlets as well as a glass of Booker's bourbon. A great introduction to cocktail-ology and American bourbon for those used to well drinks and single malt scotches.
                                              Teen liked: staying at home and eating Ben and Jerry's while watching kung fu movies and playing games on her iPad.

                                              Ferry Building farmers market. Everyone enjoyed wandering the stands. My aunt really liked Blue Bottle, bought some lavender salt, and became completely enamored of fresh summer peaches. We had breakfast pastries from Acme along with a mini wheel of cheese from Cowgirl.
                                              Teen liked: peaches, ham and cheese turnover, mini wheel of cheese, eating raw baby corn fresh from the stall.

                                              Then we took the ferry over to Sausalito.
                                              Poggio for lunch - The table was evenly split, adults and teen alike. Half liked the fig and caramelized onion pizza out of the wood-fired oven the best; the other half liked the squid ink pasta the best. Both were superb.

                                              TCHO Chocolate tour--I think I was more bored than the teen. This tour isn't nearly as fun as the one they used to do at Scharffenberger in Berkeley. She was okay with the wasted hour though.

                                              Waterbar for $1 oysters. Parents enjoyed Royal Miyagis, which are super creamy! Teen contented herself with a Sprite and staring at the indoor aquarium. Offers to let her try an oyster met with a wrinkled nose.

                                              Non-edible food-related sighting: there is a model of the Golden Gate Bridge inside the Anthropologie store on Market. It is about 20 feet long and constructed out of rice-a-roni boxes.

                                              Suppenkuche for dinner. Everyone hated the wait, loved the food, and felt stuffed and tired afterwards. Potato pancakes and schnitzel impressed the grownups, as did the mixed salad of pickled vegetables. It's not nearly as sour as I remember, which is a plus.
                                              Teen liked: black currant soda, grilled sausages with mashed potatoes. But she saved room for Smitten Ice Cream after dinner, which of course was a huge hit.

                                              We found ourselves at Terasse in the Presidio for lunch, the only completely unplanned meal of the weekend. However, it was a really fortuitous discovery. It's a beautiful restaurant, with stellar food and drinks. Everything we had was tasty and elegantly prepared. The pace, setting, and food style recalls Le Garage in Sausalito. I really liked the crab salad on a bed of baby spinach, with tiny pieces of mango and papaya. Good crab flavor, and savory despite the use of fruit. My aunt liked the mojitos (which I found better virgin; the bartender was slightly heavy handed for 11 a.m., but why am I complaining?)
                                              Teen said: she couldn't pick which one was her favorite, because everything was delicious. A little interrogation revealed that the quiche lorraine was her favorite.

                                              Let's Be Frank hot dogs on Chrissy field. Teen said: awesome!

                                              Kokkari for dinner. Wow! I haven't been there in two years, and it's as delicious as always. Squash blossoms, the house tzatziki, and spit-roasted Sonoma lamb were my favorites. My uncle said he's never had taramosalata so good, and the wine we had was really beautiful.
                                              Teen liked: sea bream in avoglemono sauce, deep fried squash blossoms, tzatziki and a gigantic ice cream sundae for dessert.

                                              Parting gifts from the trip: they went home with peaches from Frog Hollow, a box of Christopher Elbow chocolates, and a box of Macaroons from Chantal (formerly Paulette). I think everyone was happily stuffed to the gills, and there really weren't any dull moments the entire weekend. I'll have to send some younger spies to see what the teen says on facebook, but there were already some "ha ha, I'm eating ice cream and you are not" posts, so I'm tentatively pleased that the trip was a success.

                                              My thoughts: I haven't dined out at the $50-100pp price range in awhile, but dining in SF in the summer really is spectacular. The variety of vegetables that come as side dishes to every meal and the freshness of these vegetables is really hard to describe in a report like this. The really make the difference between an okay dish and an exceptional one. During our trip we had fresh figs, heirloom tomatoes, cherries, purslane, baby arugula, squash blossoms, baby corn, and saw dozens more vegetables that were unfamiliar to everyone. It really sets our dining scene apart, and it isn't mentioned often enough.

                                              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                              525 Laguna St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

                                              Christopher Elbow
                                              401 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA

                                              17 San Pier, Francisco, CA

                                              777 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965

                                              Le Garage
                                              85 Liberty Ship Way Ste 109, Sausalito, CA

                                              Let's Be Frank
                                              3318 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA

                                              Smitten Ice Cream
                                              Octavia Blvd Linden St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: Pei

                                                Great, mouthwatering report. And yes, we take our produce for granted. It isn't until you leave the sphere of the Bay Area that you realize that for most restaurants produce is an afterthought (if thought of at all). I always joke that I worry I'll get scurvy when I'm traveling outside the Bay Area.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  You and me both, Ruth. I usually pack some fruit on short trips, and dried fruit on longer ones.

                                                2. re: Pei

                                                  Thanks for the report. Especially the hot dog.

                                                  I'm going to have to check out the GG Bridge made of Rice A Roni. Glad to hear La Terrasse has improved. Too bad about TCHO.; the chocolates are good but the color wheel is bizarre (Best chocolate tour I've been on recently was Theo in Seattle.)

                                                  And heartily agree about the caliber of produce we take for granted. Even in LA last week, we noticed how much less flavor watermelon, onions, etc had in restaurants unless you bought them at the farmers market.

                                                  What flavors of macarons at Chantal Guillon have you liked so far?

                                                  La Terrasse
                                                  Lincoln Blvd and Graham St, San Francisco, CA 94129

                                                  17 San Pier, Francisco, CA

                                                  1. re: Windy

                                                    I liked the salted caramel and the rose, which was more lightly flavored than other rose macaroons I've had. I didn't like the hazelnut, but I almost never like hazelnut. The peach tasted too artificial to me. I also liked that they are sticking to muted pastels and not going crazy with the food coloring like Paulette did.

                                                    The chocolates at TCHO were very good, and they're branching out into milk chocolates too. I shouldn't have simply panned them. Good product, but their tour needs a little pizzaz.

                                                    17 San Pier, Francisco, CA

                                                    1. re: Pei

                                                      Well, some of the flavors at TCHO are very good. So far I like the nutty but thought the "chocolate" was too waxy. Which is why a tour or tasting could be useful.

                                                      Will report back on more of the Chantal Guillon flavors. I had a very good apricot/apricot almond.

                                                      17 San Pier, Francisco, CA

                                                  2. re: Pei

                                                    I really enjoyed this thread, thanks, and glad it all turned out. She must be a young lady of impeccable taste if she loved the ham and cheese turnovers from Acme -- I think they are fantastic :-). I'm glad to hear they are back as the last two times I inquired I was told they weren't making them anymore!

                                                    1. re: grayelf

                                                      Those things are evil and should be banned!

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        Or they are evil and should be shared :-). I once made the mistake of eating a whole one myself for breakfast and ruined my lunch.

                                                        1. re: grayelf

                                                          Good solution to the fact that my arteries clog at the mere suggestion of those saturated fat bombs!

                                                  3. Dynamo Doughnuts on 24th!