I've almost got our dinners figured out. . .
My husband, our 10 year old and I are coming to San Francisco over Christmas week. The adults are pretty adventurous eaters. Our son varies, so it's best if we know we can get him a burger or plain chicken or pasta, if he's not in the mood for something more interesting. Also, we've found there are only so many upscale-ish dinners he can handle in a week, so we have to mix those in with more casual places.
We're staying at Hotel Monaco, near Union Square for 8 nights.
So far, we've got
-E&O Trading - meeting friends there one night - works for everyone
-Barbacco on 12/24 - do you think this is a mistake on Christmas Eve - will they be off their game?
-A reservation at B Star Bar. I think we might prefer Burma Superstar, but they don't take reservations, so we'll see how things are going that day, make a decision and cancel B Star, if necessary.
I'd like to add somewhere for Dungeness crab and seafood generally, although my son doesn't eat it, so it's got to be someplace he can get a burger or whatever. Tadich Grill is an obvious choice, but I'm feeling a little spooked by some of the poor reviews here and on Yelp. I know people like the crab at Kim Thanh, but I'd also like a more traditional American preparation.
We're coming from the NYC area, so I'm trying to focus on things we don't get here. Great Mexican comes to mind. I looked at Nopalito's menu and didn't feel the love. Just in case it helps, and on the odd chance that anyone knows it, we madly love a tiny Mexican place in San Diego called Mama Testa's. http://www.mamatestataqueria.com Maybe something like that?
SF over Christmas, I'm jealous! I've always fancied skating in Union Square... and with a ten year old, perfect! We visit SF Bay Area twice a year to eat things we can't get at home, including Mexican which is lousy here. In November, we tried Tacobar on Fillmore. I think it could be a fine option for you and your family. They are trying to do Mission-style tacos etc but using sustainable fish, organic meat and so on, so the prices are higher but I still felt reasonable for what they're doing. It is very casual but there is attention to detail and the space is welcoming and bright without seeming fast foody, ie. you can comfortably sit at a table for more than the time it takes to eat your food. The shrimp taco was a wow moment. I plan to go back next trip to try their tortilla soup and some of the salads.
FWIW we didn't love Nopalito. I've heard complaints about the number of "proper" sitdown Mexican restos in SF that also deliver on Chowworthy food and so far I agree. Other sitdown places that are often recommended are El Delfin in the Mission (haven't been yet) and Poc Chuc (been three times, well priced Yucatecan food in a slightly sketchy but BART adjacent location, try the salpicon de res, the empanadas and the panuchos, the last two available a la carte if you ask).
If you're looking for Burmese and a reso, consider Mandalay. We've been twice now and both times the food was very good to excellent. They have my favourite tea leaf salad so far and the mohinga is worth the candle. Just stick with the Burmese dishes for sure. We had a very subpar experience at Burma Superstar and the room is quite run down if that is important to you at all. Haven't tried B Star.
We tried Z&Y on our last trip but one and overall I wasn't wowed but then again we have some fine options at home so maybe I'm spoiled. If you like huajiao be sure to stress that when ordering as I couldn't really detect Sichuan peppercorn in any of the dishes we ordered. The cold noodles were most worthy.
Had a very nice lunch at Barbacco in November and no idea if they would be off their game on a holiday eve but it doesn't strike me as a 10 yo friendly place either food- or ambiance-wise. Obviously I've never met your boy though :-).
I'd suggest Burmese Kitchen on Larkin St. for a more close-to-the-bone Burmese eating experience. The last time I was there, on a Sunday, the next table was occupied by two guys who had flown up from LA for the afternoon just to eat there.
Here's a recent article comparing the iconic Burmese tea leaf salad at several Bay Area Burmese venues:
Agreed. I personally don't love the tea leaf salad @ Burmese Kitchen, but I prefer almost everything else there to preparations at other places. That and it's cheap, never has a line (sadly for the owners), and on a great strip of restaurants and bars. Though Burma Superstar might be a better bet if you're looking for something more upscale. Mandalay is okay too but it's a bit of a drive to get out there (though you could trip-chain that with a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge or Ocean Beach if you'd like).
As for Z&Y, it's a tad on the light-tasting side, which is weird since it's Szechuan. As grayelf mentioned, make sure you ask for extra huajiao/fajeew (Szechuan peppercorns). Also, get there earlyish since it fills up quick. And get the Chicken with Explosive Chili (it's not really that spicy).
I used to love Burmese Kitchen but we had two subpar experiences there (food dumbed down, key ingredients missing) and there were leafy greens sneaking into the tea leaf salad last time so Mandalay moved up to the forefront for us at least!
Unless they've done something drastic to Burma Superstar I would not call it upscale at all, both BK and Mandalay having to me more pleasant interiors. It seemed to me to be dingy and rundown, not to mention super tightly packed for tables. YMMV.
Agree that tea leaf salad is unlikely to be a hit with the Chowpup as described above. That might be another reason to hit Mandalay, actually, as the OP could get something spring rolly for the young 'un there. Don't recall any "safe" options at either BSS or BK but I wasn't really looking for them either.
Mandalay is good for Burmese as well, and they take reservations. If you hit B star, you still have access to several of the popular items that are at Burma Superstar--- the samusa soup, the rainbow salad, and the pumpkin pork stew. The tea leaf salad is beloved by many, but I find it bitter and revolting, and would expect your son to as well. One advantage of B star is the fried lotus chips, which are great and a fun shape to boot.