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Does SF have good midrange neighborhood restaurants that are not loud/overcrowded?

This may seem like a dumb question but bear with me.

I am new to SF from Seattle, but have lived all over, in larger and smaller cities. One thing I'm noticing in SF is that it's very hard to find restaurants I can go to, on the spur of the moment, and get a table. Even a Tuesday night requires a reso. And once I do get a table, the restaurants themselves are so busy and noisy that I don't feel like I can necessarily relax, wind down, stay awhile. It's often too loud to just sit and chat.

Have I just not found the right neighborhood spots yet? Or is SF too big and foodie-oriented, so that these places don't exist? In Seattle, even in NYC there are great Midrange restaurants that are not packed to the gills, feel more relaxed, and where you can easily get a weeknight table, maybe even become a regular.

Recent meals in SF, for reference: Locanda, Coco500, Foreign Cinema, Serpentine, ZeroZero, Chez Mama, Piccino.

598 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94107

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

557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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  1. Lers Ros, Bodega Bistro, Maykadeh, Troya, Angkor Borei, Helmand Palace, Mandalay, Mochica, Osha Thai, Palio d'Asti ...

    Bodega Bistro
    607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

    937 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

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

    349 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

    Osha Thai
    819 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    Lers Ros
    307 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

    1. I'm sure there are. But if you're going by a list of restaurants made by someone else and put on the web or in a guidebook, then you're going to be heading for the same restaurants as everyone else. If you want a neighborhood restaurant where you can potentially become a regular, I suggest you start in your own neighborhood. Walk around, read the menus, peek inside, maybe go in for a quick drink to check out the atmosphere. If you don't want to try them without any further info, you can then look them up online and see if you want to actually eat there.

      1. Welcome to San Francisco!

        My thoughts on your question-if you are looking to eat at 7 pm most places will be crowded and loud. There are exceptions, when lived in the neighborhood Bacco in Noe Valey never seemed loud to me nor did Incanto. I don't go often enough now to know. But if you go earlier or later and frequently the pace will be slower and you'll establish relationships.

        In what neighborhood are you living and/or planning to dine frequently.? Are you solo dining and are you comfortable sitting at the bar? or are you mostly interested in a table?

        6 Replies
        1. re: artychokeasana

          Thank you! I think my neighborhood is part of the problem. I live in corporate housign on Berry and 5th. Not much nearby. 18th on Potrero seems like the best bet but it's not right out the door (I don't have a car). So I walk or can to different neighborhoods and try places that look interesting or have been mentioned here or elsewhere.

          1. re: caraely

            I work nearby and I agree, there isn't a lot that is appealing close by. Consider Town's End ;it doesn't get a lot of mention but it is a solid, neighborhood spot in a neighborhood without many such. Over on the Castro/Mission border I really like Eureka! The owners have serious SF restaurant credibility but have chosen to run a neighborhood spot andthey do relish their regulars. For an ice cream fix go Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (across the street from Serpentine) had great ice cream and tremendously friendly owners.

            Let us know what you find. Will you be in corporate housing for the entirety of your stay or is it a jumping off spot?

            Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous
            699 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

            1. re: caraely

              South Park is pretty close but it's more lunch based although South Park Cafe. Nears 3rd/Brannan like Brickhouse, Koh Samui & the Monkey. At 4th/Brannan there's Zuppa.

              564 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

              South Park Cafe
              108 South Park, San Francisco, CA 94107

              Brickhouse Cafe & Bar
              426 Brannan St, San Francisco, CA 94107

              1. re: ML8000

                2nd the recommendations for both south park cafe (can always just walk in) and Zuppa (same). actually all the recs above are great. If you venture a little further, there's Turtle Tower on bryant and 6th and Citizen's Band and Radius on Folsom & 7th.

                564 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

                Turtle Tower
                501 6th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                1. re: margieco

                  I agree that South Park Cafe and Zuppa fit the requirements, and would also add Fringale in the same neighborhood.

              2. re: caraely

                your options multiply exponentially if you can get to the MUNI metro.

            2. when we've eaten at Pesce ((Polk St, on the Russian Hill end) we could converse easily, and its overall ambience is that of a neighborhood trattoria/oyster bar,

              2227 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              1. In the vicinity of your location is Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant. It's a neighborhood restaurant and wine bar on Rincon Hill. The menu is rustic Italian. It's always easy to hold a conversation. They take reservations but it's also possible to walk in and find seating.

                1. Your list is overly trendy; let's call it Foreign Cinema syndrome. I almost never make reservations in the city.

                  Suggest you get out to the neighborhoods and away from SOMA. You'll save enough for a cab ride home, and support many of the great midrange restaurants struggling to stay afloat.

                  A few ideas: the 3 North African restaurants on Polk (Tagine, Cafe Zitouna, Aicha), all modest and excellent, Mochica (Peruvian), Poc Chuc (Yucatecan), Locavore, Tuba (Turkish)

                  Still trendy & on the loud side: Skool, Commonwealth

                  Do let us know what you find.

                  937 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

                  Cafe Zitouna
                  1201 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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

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

                  1303 Polk St, San Francisco, CA

                  1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  3215 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  1. I love all the suggestions here and agree about getting out of SoMa. Take a bus to Noe Valley, Castro, the Mission, the Richmond, Russian Hill or Cole Valley and then cab it home, they are rife with good options. Zazie reserves half their tables for walk-ins and is cozy, with solid French bistro food...the garden in back of Contigo is lovely (under a heat lamp)...Luella on Hyde is another solid neighborhood choice (at least it was when I was going there regularly, through last year)....Bistro Central Park (next to the panhandle) usually has a table or two...

                    941 Cole St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                    1320 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                    Cole Valley Cafe
                    701 Cole St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                    1. What neighborhood are you looking in? There are tons and tons of places to go. Have you considered Mexican?

                      1. I think it depends very much on how far you are willing to travel. The beauty of a neighborhood restaurant is usually that it is in your neighborhood. Some of the places that have been suggested here, like Contigo, Locavore, Luella, Zazie etc., are 30-45 minutes away from 5th & Berry if you take Muni. Or 10-15 minutes and $20 each way if you take a cab. For me, that might work for a destination restaurant, but would be excessive if I'm just looking for a neighborhood place where I can go, ever so often, to hang out and relax after a long day. So you might want to explore what is around locally before getting into lengthy dinner commutes to other neighborhoods.

                        In this regard, I think Ruth Lafler's advice is spot on: Walk around and check out the places in the neighborhood. There are quite a few in SOMA these days, although many of them will probably not fit your criteria and 5th & Berry is hardly the ideal starting point for exploring restaurants. But there are plenty of possibilities so let me throw in South Beach Cafe as an unpretentious, moderately priced neighborhood place where people actually hang out. It's on Townsend and Embacadero across the street from the restaurant called Townsend that someone else suggested. Generally speaking, walk by the restaurant clusters on King near AT&T Park, check out Townsend St. between the Embarcadero and 4th, Brannan between 2nd and 4th, the area around South Park, etc. If you are lucky, you might find a place to your liking; if not, at least you will know more about what's around where you live.

                        If you want to get out of the area using public transportation, 511.org will give you routes with time estimates and fares. For cab rides, taxifarefinder.com will give you time and cost estimates. If cabs turn out to be hard to come by and you are willing to pay the extra cost for a town car, uber.com is usually pretty convenient if you have a smart phone.

                        1. You just haven't found the right neighborhood spots yet. You're going to the places covered in the blogs & CH, instead of finding the unusual places closer to home. A place like FC just isn't that spot. Some great rec's here like Town's End, Tres Agaves (stick to the pork), maybe Skool on the early side, Basil Thai (go for the indonesian), Fringale isn't popular any more, Moshi Moshi, Poquito, Sunflower Potrero Hill, burger at the Connecticut Yankee, Sycamore, Universal Cafe (maybe no longer popular), Turtle Tower gets good reviews. I even keep liking Heaven's Dog because few go there.

                          Another trick is EAT LATE. I love eating late at the bar at serpentine. Slide in around 9:30.

                          Not having a car is a real double edged sword. I had a car when I lived down there, and I'd cruise parts of town looking for tables. My partner in crime would jump out at a few restaurant until we hit a table. After a few scouting trips like that, you get a feel for what's going to hit on any given night.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: bbulkow

                            One extra thought about neighborhood places. San Francisco is "too foodie" in that a _great_ local place gets found out and exposed. The good news is lots of _good_ local places no one cares about. CH is a great example, I keep thinking about all the places I eat at and drive past uneaten that would never get mentioned even here, and CH is supposed to be about yummy wherever you find it (the reason I hang out here) instead of the shows of Dennis Leary, Jeremy Fox, Domnique Crenn, etc etc. As much as I enjoy the celebrity chef movement.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              Thank you. I couldn't agree more. Sometimes I feel like I've stumbled onto TastingMenus.com

                            2. re: bbulkow

                              Poquito's good. I have yet to see it full.

                              2368 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                I'd like to second the CT Yankee-it'smostly a sports bar but it's full of locals and their Meatball Sub is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

                                Tres Agaves is also good for a bowl of soup and some warm salty tortilla chips when you are in that sort of a mood.

                              2. Walzwerk and Schmidt's are favorites in this category. Also, for more casual times - I really like Source a lot.

                                381 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                2400 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                11 Division St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: scarmoza

                                  Schmidt's is pretty noisy when it's full, which it often is.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Thanks everyone! Great ideas. Apologies for my earlier typos, I was on my phone. :) I am making a list based on these suggestions.

                                  2. re: scarmoza

                                    +1 on walzwerk, but it's so small that it crowds up on weekends. Not so sure about weekdays.