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Coming from Montreal... 11 Days in SF in Jan.

Hey fellow CHers,

I'll be visiting SF (solo as of now) for a week and a half in late January, and would love to get some tips on eating out around the bay area. I am looking for a few excellent high end meals (nothing French though, for obvious reasons!) as well as local flavors; ie. the sort of thing one would not find in Montreal - Mexican and TexMex, Best Asian/Chinese/Dim Sum, Freshest Seafood + Sushi, etc. and some of your more innovative New American "farm to table" type destinations and local-regional-sustainable products, etc. Also any tips on interesting market stalls, street food carts, etc.

Here's a list of (mostly) local restaurants that I seemed to have compiled from what must have surely been a few years back... I have not yet run through it to check, but wonder if anyone could offer some feedback on the selections, as well as my above questions. I would like to try to put together a tentative eating itinerary for the trip. I'm not yet sure which district I will be staying in, yet I've timed the visit with the Noir City film festival at the Castro Theatre, which is where I'll be spending at least a good portion of the evenings!

I would like to have a few moderately priced (under $50p/p dinner options for eating out with friends of your city) as well as some samplings of the best that SF has to offer. Lunches would mostly prefer a mix of cheaper ethnic street eats (a concept that doesn't exist in Montreal!) and some nice bistros, cafes, etc. Any vintage timewarp diners or drive-ins would be appreciated as well...

BREAKFAST:

- Dottie's True Blue Cafe
- Sears Fine Foods
- Mama's on Washington Square

LUNCH:

- St. Francis Fountain
- Eddie Rickenbacker's
- Val's Burgers
- Mo's Grill
- Ike's Place
- Chez Maman
- Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers
- Burger Joint/Burgermeister/Slider's Diner
- Taqueria San Jose
- El Farolito
- Taqueria La Cumbre
- Taqueria Cancun
- Nick's Crispy Taco's
- Cesare's Chicken
- Sneaky's BBQ
- Deli Board
- Lou's Cafe
- Little Star Pizza
- Delfina Pizzeria
- Serpentine
- House of Nanking
- Koi Palace
- The Slanted Door

INBETWEENS:

- Swan Oyster Depot
- Molinari Delicatessen
- Casper's Hot Dogs
- St. Francis Fountain
- Bi-Rite Creamery
- Frog Hollow Farm
- Golden Gate Bakery
- John Campbell's Irish Bakery
- Sweet Adeline
- Cafe Baonecci
- Vesuvio Cafe
- Cafe Trieste
- Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe
- Hopkins Street Bakery
- S & S Grocery (Corner Store)

DINNER:

- Balboa Cafe
- Memphis Minnie's
- Farmer Brown
- Bund Shanghai
- Great Eastern Restaurant
- Jai Yun
- Tadich Grill
- Sam's Grill
- Delfina Restaurant
- Commis
- Lazy Bear
- Frances
- The House
- Frascato (?)

COCKTAILS:

- Smuggler's Cove
- Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge (Alameda)
- The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
- 15 Romolo
- Bourbon & Branch
- Rye Bar
- The Vortex Room
- House of Shields
- Gitane

I would also love to get some suggestions for solo dining, as there may be a few of those nights. Good restaurants with bar seating or something by the harbor perhaps, oyster bars, etc. Any tips on advance reservations (how many weeks in adv for seating?) would also be very much appreciated. Thanks!!

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  1. PS - As mentioned, I haven't yet revisitied the above list, so I'm not entirely certain what's on there. I would appreciate if anyone could highlight the best of what I've already got down though, as well as any names from the list that would best be avoided (ranging from nothing special to overrated and terrible).

    Recommendations for the BEST Sushi in SF, Chinese, Dim Sum, Thai, Latin American, Mexican, etc. would go a long way too, along with anything else you feel is a MUST visit or best representative of your city... Thanks!!

    (Advice on good local wines/wineries and cocktail destinations too!)

    PPS - I will likely be staying somewhere around the Union Sq./Financial District, Nob Hill, Wharf areas... I've only (in recent years) been to SF twice; one time staying at the old Fairmont property and the other staying at the Union St. Inn and Parsonage. They were both short stays and I remember nothing unfortunately of how anything was situated from a foodie's perspective. As this will be a fairly long visit, I probably won't be staying in these more expensive hotels (might go through priceline and stay a few nights with friends) but any advice on the best districts to stay within close proximity to good eats and local markets, restaurants and so forth would be fantastic. Want to avoid and stray from the touristy junk of course.

    Thanks again!!

    4 Replies
    1. re: OliverB

      I think your best bet is to monitor this board for a while -- questions like yours get asked on a regular basis, so there will be an ongoing discussion. Hopefully some of those people will even report back, so you can get a clear picture of what people liked (and didn't like), since sometimes a visitor's perspective is different than a local's.

      Are you going to have a car? You don't need one, but out of 11 days you might want to take some trips to Napa, Sonoma, etc.

      If you're going to be using Priceline, I'd suggest bidding the Embarcadero zone, which will put you near the Ferry Building (food hall, farmers markets, etc.) and a good transit nexus with SOMA as the second choice. In January you should be able to get good prices if you bid carefully.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Thanks Ruth,

        I'm not sure if I'll be renting a car yet... I've spent some time in CA before and have driven along the coast with side trips to the national parks and time in Yosemite, etc. I doubt I'll be spending much time outside of the city on this visit and so it's probably not worth bothering with a car, unless there's great incentive. I have done the Napa and Sonoma valleys before on separate wine trips. For some reason, I have never spent a great deal fo time in SF though, and it's always had a big allure for me. I have many friends int he city, but apart from a brief work trip in recent years, haven't visited since I was a child and am looking forward to finally spending a bit of time exploring the city.

        Well thanks for your suggestions, and hopefully more people will chime in as well..

      2. re: OliverB

        Hi OliverB, fellow Canuck CH here, albeit from the Wester Coast. That's a lot of list/questions so I'll just have a bash at some of them. My bonafides (such as they are): we hit up SF twice a year to eat and enjoy what is on offer. We find staying near Union Square puts us close to all the transit you need to get to the good eats quickly, most of which are not actually near Union Square.

        One exception is Canteen, whose virtues I extol at the slightest provocation. I find if we call 3ish weeks ahead we're fine, might be easier as a solo diner. Get a reservation at the counter and enjoy.

        Close by is Lers Ros, which is very good Thai. We've been particularly happy with the items categorized as appetizers. Take a cab here for a few bucks to avoid the well-chronicled "edginess" of the nabe. Better yet, take a cab to Olive across the street for happy hour, then go to your (needed) reservation at Lers Ros.

        We have had two excellent lunches at Jai Yun which is also quite close by and one of the few places that "rate" in Chinatown. It is a controversial choice, so do a bit of reading on it to refresh your memory of why you listed it! Reservations required.

        Another place I'd seek out in Chinatown is Dol Ho. This is old-school dimsum on the cheap in a true hole in the wall.

        For Mexican, perhaps consider Poc Chuc. It is Yucatecan food which is unavailable where I'm from. Lovely family owns it, clean, sitdown restaurant quite close to a Bart station. Otherwise, taquerias abound and the best is controversial :-).

        Seafood can be oddly tricky to get in SF, or at least to get inexpensively and truly locally. I had a gorgeous piece of petrale sole at Tadich which is on your list and might be a fun stop for you as a solo diner (shorter wait too if you're willing to sit at the bar). Also had outstanding sand dabs at Canteen but these are out of season, methinks, and besides the menu there changes all the time (I would call it farm to table).

        I dunno what Off the Grid would be like in January (I think it may scale back in the winter months) but do check out these food cart compendiums if you can.

        Noir Fest sounds like fun but be warned that the Castro area is not known for stellar chow with the odd exception.

        Your three breakfast ideas are standbys but I wouldn't bother with Sears -- it qualifies as one of the touristy places I think you want to avoid and will have big lineups. Mama's and Dottie's will also have big line ups but I daresay the consensus here is the chow will be more worthwhile. I was not wowed by the food we had at Dottie's FWIW, and haven't made it to Mama's yet.

        You should probably pass on House of Nanking also, very touristy, big line ups, samey sauce on everything. We went once before we knew about CH :-).

        The pizza at Baonecci makes us very happy. We return pretty much every trip for a mid-afternoon pie and Italian beer.

        If you crave Shanghainese food, you may be better off heading out to Shanghai Dumpling King or Shanghai House than Bund. We were quite disappointed with our meal there, and either of these two would do better for you if you order well. You could make this one of your meals with friends and get the deep fried pork hock at Shanghai House, drool. One of the best pork dishes I've ever had, both times :-).

        Hope this is helpful and that you get more specific feedback from the locals of this very welcoming board. Wherever you pick, have a brilliant time and let us know how it goes. And don't forget to re-research closer to your departure date, as food-related things change with some speed in the Bay Area.

        -----
        Dol Ho
        808 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

        Jai Yun
        680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Shanghai House
        3641 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

        Shanghai Dumpling King
        3319 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

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

        1. re: grayelf

          Oh right. I meant to say that another reason to monitor the board is that the restaurant scene is always changing -- places open and close, chefs come and go, etc.

      3. Some recent and some old solo threads.
        http://www.chow.com/search?query=solo...

        1. Go to Ame as a splurge dinner. Nothing like it in Montreal and one of our very best... also has a bar you can eat at.

          Perbacco has a bar, is pretty reasonably priced, and is my favorite Italian restaurant outside of Italy.

          My favorite burritos in the city are at Papalote. 2 locations, one near USF, the other in the Mission.

          NOPA is excellent mid-range N. CA comfort food, I think they also have both a bar and communal tables.

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

          1 Reply
          1. re: whiner

            Perbacco's less formal and cheaper spinoff Barbacco is great for solo dining at the bar.

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

            Barbacco
            230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

          2. The only think that stands out on your list is Eddie Rickenbacker's. The food is not good and the service can be very bad at times, see Yelp. Its only attraction is the motorcycles.

            -----
            Eddie Rickenbacker's
            133 2nd St, San Francisco, CA 94105

            1. You got great tips from Grayelf. She knows her stuff. And as Ruth mentions, the Ferry Bldg. Farmers' Mkt on Saturdays is a not-to-miss.

              Eddie Rickenbacker - i like the food fine, if i live here (which i do) and i'm in the area and craving an inexpensive but nicely cooked new york or rib-eye steak, but it's not a destination. don't bother.

              You've got a good list of taquerias. I'd add only two others for consideration: La Taqueria (Mission and 26th) and Taqueria Vallarta (24th between Alabama and Folsom). i personally think Vallarta is the most "authentic" feel of the bunch. and i second Poc Chuc.

              for your lunches, you may want to try The Sentinel (New Montgomery between Mission and Market) and/or Golden West (8 Trinity Place) - these are both brainchilds of Dennis Leary - of Canteen fame, well-gushed over by Grayelf (i second and third the gushing!)

              I'd give La Ciccia a try for Italian. It's Sardinian and unlike other Italian we have. (30th between Dolores and Church.) I'd go for Delfina over Perbacco.

              You might want to add some Peruvian. Limon Rotisserie for higher end, but reasonable, Inkas for the best rotisserie chicken ever, and more down-homey/cheaper.

              Swan Oyster is good and good fun, with a very old school San Francisco feel to it. Get there early (by 11:00, weekdays only) or stand in a very long line.)

              But yeah, check again in maybe November - there will be openings and closures by then.

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

              Perbacco
              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

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

              La Taqueria
              2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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

              Golden West
              8 Trinity Pl, San Francisco, CA 94104

              1 Reply
              1. re: mariacarmen

                oops, Swan Oyster: i didn't mean weekdays only, i meant lunch only - they close at 5:30 p.m. i believe weekdays are better to avoid lines, i've only been on Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

              2. Thank you so much everyone, for all the advice and suggestions; especially grayelf and mariacarmen! It's been really helpful...

                I've added ALL of these restaurants to my SF foodie list and put together a tentative itinerary for the trip. It looks like I may end up traveling with a friend afteral, so this is all subject to change and I need to review restaurant locations and map everything to see if it all makes sense, but so far these are the places I'd most like to seek out in January...

                FRI, JAN 20

                • Dinner: Tadich Grill

                SAT, JAN 21

                • Breakfast: Cafe Trieste
                • Lunch: St. Francis Fountain
                • Dinner: Sakae Sushi / Ino Sushi

                SUN, JAN 22

                • Breakfast: Frog Hollow Farm Market
                • Lunch: Taqueria Vallarta / Taqueria San Jose
                • Dinner: Balboa Cafe

                MON, JAN 23

                • Breakfast: John Campbell's Irish Bakery
                • Lunch: Swan Oyster Depot
                • Dinner: Ame

                TUE, JAN 24

                • Breakfast: Sweet Adeline BakeShop
                • Lunch: House of Nanking / Koi Palace + Golden Gate Bakery
                • Dinner: Lers Ros Thai / Limon Rotisserie

                WED, JAN 25

                • Breakfast: Dottie's True Blue Cafe
                • Lunch: Deli Board / Farmerbrown's Little Skillet
                • Dinner: Delfina

                THU, JAN 26

                • Breakfast: Mo's Grill
                • Lunch: The Sentinel / The Golden West
                • Dinner: Jai Yun

                FRI, JAN 27

                • Breakfast: Hopkins Street Bakery
                • Lunch: Val's Burgers
                • Dinner: Caffé BaoNecci / Serpentine

                SAT, JAN 28

                • Breakfast: Lou's Cafe
                • Lunch: Taqueria Cancún / El Farolito
                • Dinner: Canteen

                SUN, JAN 29

                • Breakfast: Molinari Delicatessen
                • Lunch: Shanghai Dumpling King
                • Dinner: Sam's Grill / Zuni Cafe

                MON, JAN 30

                • Breakfast: Mama's on Washington Square
                • Lunch: Nick's Crispy Taco's / Taqueria Guadalajara
                • Dinner: Commis / Lazy Bear / NOPA

                Is there such thing as no res. walk-in for any of the above dinner places? I only ask because I'm sure some meals will be dependant on where I find myself that evening, what we're in the mood for, and what neighborhoods I'm in. Is this unheard of in SF?

                Would you say that the above list would give a pretty well rounded representation of the SF food scene?

                Thanks again for all the helpful posts and I'll be sure to report back after the trip with thoughts and reviews!

                7 Replies
                1. re: OliverB

                  I didn't see it above but I asume you know Tadich is no reservation, all walkin. Canteen is small and Jai Yun is all reservation or no meal and it's a tough solo and that it's a very long drive from Union Sq. to Berkeley to Hayward for bakery and burger that you can do better in the City.

                  -----
                  Jai Yun
                  680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1. re: wolfe

                    Yeah, if that's Val's in hayward --- DONT. It's just way too far for a fairly good roadhouse burger.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Thanks, I didn't realize where it was located... I actually don't plan on leaving the city this particular trip; I had no idea it was all the way out in Hayward. I must've found it on Roadfood or something.

                      I'm actually using this two week trip as a litmus test of sorts, as I've been thinking about relocating to your city for some time. As someone who's lifelong roots have been firmly planted in the East Coast, I'm not sure I can adapt so easily, yet in terms of climate, food, culture, etc. SF seems to me the most familiar city and one I feel I can instantly identify with. All that to say, I may eventually be spending more (or permanent) time in your region, and hope to explore all these outerlying food destinations at some point. For now, I'll be eating within the city solely.

                  2. re: OliverB

                    If you don't want to leave the City, you need to take out Sweet Adeline, Hopkins Street Bakery, and Commis too. Though I would suggest lifting your SF only rule for Commis, and extending that to Plum as well.

                    You don't have the Ferry Building Farmers market in there for a breakfast or a lunch on a Saturday, and I would highly suggest changing around your schedule so you can add that in.

                    -----
                    Sweet Adeline
                    3350 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA

                    Hopkins Street Bakery
                    1584 Hopkins St, Berkeley, CA

                    Commis
                    3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                    1. re: JasmineG

                      Thanks... how far and where is Commis located?

                      Will it be tough to get around without a car outside of the city or is public transit covered for all these areas? We'll likely be in a rental somewhere between the Castro and waterfront; possibly the Nob Hill area.

                      I will definitely add the Ferry Building Farmers Market as well; thanks!

                      1. re: OliverB

                        Plum is about 1/2 mile from a BART station and Commis about 1.5 miles.
                        http://www.chow.com/restaurants/91644...

                        -----
                        Commis
                        3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                        1. re: wolfe

                          Thanks so much... it looks like we'll be staying around Alamo Square on McAllister St.

                  3. Oops... how'd I forget the food trucks!

                    Are these still considered tops:

                    - Chairman Bao Bun
                    - 4505 Meats
                    - 3-SUM EATS
                    - The Taco Guys
                    - Liba Falafel
                    - Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie
                    - Curry Up Now
                    - JapaCurry Truck
                    - TomKat
                    - Tru Gourmet
                    - OMiNinjaSJ
                    - Sanguchon Peruvian Food Truck
                    - The Southern Sandwich Co.
                    - Fivetenburger
                    - Brass Knuckle
                    - Da Beef
                    - Gorilla Pete's Hot Dogs
                    - Sexy Soup Cart
                    - Peter's Kettle Corn
                    - Pie Tisserie

                    It's kind of a novelty in these parts as street food is outlawed in Montreal. Would it be worth a few lunches to make the rounds from the above list or with only 11 days, would these meals be wasted? Are they truly great or just decent midday filler on the go and would better be served by proper sit down menus at local lunch spots?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: OliverB

                      Current topic on which trucks are actually worth it and which are just cashing in on the fad:

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/803758

                      You could split the difference and go to a real taco truck that predates the fad, such as one of El Toyanense's.

                      Sears Fine Food has been coasting on its reputation for a long time.

                    2. Do consider rotating Yucatan-Mayan into your taco tour. I recommend the walk-up taco window at Haltun Mayan Cuisine or Chaac Mool.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/791822

                      -----
                      Haltun Mayan Cuisine
                      2948 21st Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      Chaac Mool
                      Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks, I wish I booked a longer trip for the food alone!

                        I might call and see if I can extend the trip an extra 3 days to fit in more eating...

                      2. I just extended the trip from JAN 20 to FEB 03... 2 whole weeks!!

                        Too many good meals I just couldn't miss! : )

                        1. What GREAT taco/burrito joints are open late (after 11pm) in the Mission or elsewhere?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: OliverB

                            Taqueria San Jose is my favorite for tacos, they're open until midnight, 4am on weekends.

                            -----
                            Taqueria San Jose
                            2830 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              El Zocalo is open late also, it's on Mission near 29th St. In addition the the tacos and burritos they also have Salvadoran dishes, notably pupusas. If you want try something a little different.

                              1. re: pamf

                                Thanks for both suggestions!

                                Does open late mean after-midnight eats? If we do stop by either, it'll likely be a post-dinner fix because we ate early and will probably only be around 11:30-ish or closer to midnight.

                                1. re: OliverB

                                  Yes, these places start to fill up after the bars close at 2am (especially Friday and Sat), can be an interesting scene. :)