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San Francisco institutions...

Wife and I are traveling to SF in mid-July.
Wondering if SF has "must eat" establishments?!?

Type: patio dining, casual a must, and LOCAL, not a chain if possible.
Wine is required...

We are from Dallas/Ft. Worth and if someone called, I would have 2-3 places that locals consider MUST Do's…but I'm having trouble figuring that out for San Francisco.
Hard to even figure out the TYPE of food that you would eat without leaving, naturally some would say seafood, but that is too obvious likely.

Your thoughts welcomed…and sincerely appreciated.

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  1. Tadich Grill is an institution worth visiting, but no patio.

    1. Patio dining in SF during the summer can be a "be careful what you wish for" experience. There are low clouds or fog coming off the bay and cool breezes that can turn a visitor's skin to goose-flesh, with a blue tinge.

      My first thought was Zuni, which is something of a must eat, and has sidewalk tables. Food and wine list are good. If the weather's not cooperative, the inside is open and light-filled.

      The Ramp is a weekend breakfast/brunch spot that has standard weekend breakfast fare, but is almost entirely outdoor seating. It's along the Bay, but in the more industrial area, so your view is of ships in dry dock, moored sailboats, and the like. Not fancy, but a fun spot.

      Overall, if patio dining is important to you, you should look to Marin County, Walnut Creek, Oakland, or San Mateo County for warmer environs.

      4 Replies
        1. re: wolfe

          Good tip, the second tip being...bring a jacket. July in SF can get cold.

          1. re: wolfe

            Yeah! Moules Frites at Plouf!

            1. re: Rapini

              dined at plouf saturday night. very nice experience.

          1. Patio dining is not so common due to the weather, we hate chains so they don't do well here, and most of us don't like to dress up for dinner so the vast majority of places are casual.

            So your criteria don't really help narrow down the selection. There are scores or hundreds of great places to eat serving dozens of different cuisines.

            1. fish. and Le Garage in Sausalito

              350 Harbor Dr, Sausalito, CA 94965

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

              1. On Fillmore, there are a handful of restaurants with tables on the street (not really "patios" per se, but outdoor dining):

                SPQR (one of my favorites in the city and a "must eat" for many foodie travelers)
                La Boulange (low-key lunch place, GREAT Nicoise salad)
                Elite Cafe (haute Southern food with fabulous biscuits)
                The Grange (more of a breakfast joint)
                Harry's Bar (the Kobe burger is the only thing worth ordering here)

                1. Perhaps Sociale for the patio/outdoors?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Tom Simonson

                    And Sociale has heaters for those cold summer nights

                    1. re: srr

                      We had a very nice meal at Sociale in November during your "cold snap" and sat on the patio with the heaters. Still warmer than home where patio dining is confined to July, August and a bit of September :-). They have great service there and seem to know what they're doing with wine. This is what I would call a neighbourhood gem. Wish it was in mine.

                  2. People are recommending places with outdoor dining, but San Francisco in July the average is 68 degrees during the day and 55 at night, and it's often overcast or foggy and breezy or windy. You'd do better to save your outdoor dining plans for somewhere else.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Mr Lauriston, Mr. Steve Falk President & CEO,San Francisco Chamber of Commerce would like to have a word with you.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        People are replying the the OP's inquiry--and ol' drano21 specified patio dining. [As a Texan, he may assume that the whole world is like Texas, and it's warm wherever he goes].

                        More than one reply has warned of our own unique brand of summer-time weather. So, at this point, it probably will be helpful to get the OP's response, and see what he'd like to know next..

                        1. re: Rapini

                          I'll put is a different way: because of the weather, San Francisco does not have a strong tradition of patio dining. So if you're looking for "institutions" and for "patio dining" you're not going to find a lot of overlap. Belden Place is probably the best suggestion.

                          My advice about the weather in the summer: it may seem counterintuitive, but the weather is often more comfortable later in the evening. The wind is caused by the temperature differential between the warmer inland areas and the ocean, so they're strongest from late afternoon (when inland temperatures peak) through about 9 p.m. At that point, the temperatures have equalized enough that the wind dies down, and without the wind chill factor, it feels warmer.

                        2. To you all: Yes, we are from Texas...but we will monitor the weather accordingly and know what to expect. The key with Texas, October/November is the PRIME patio weather and you are definitely in the upper 50's/lower 60's at night.
                          We will plan that part accordingly, so far there have been many great suggestions, and thanks for listing the joints with patio heaters.
                          We LIVE for our NE trips and the "street tables" are definitely considered patios to us.
                          In general, those were just GUIDELINES...
                          If you were coming to Fort Worth...and had time for 1 meal, I would say to go to Joe T. Garcia's...it's not the BEST food, but it is the CITY INSTITUTION, so that's where you would want to go because if you went home and people asked you what you did, somewhere in the conversation they would ask if you went to Joe T's.
                          So patio is nice, but if it doesn't match the idea in your mind...it's okay.
                          The only NO WAY food is Asian, wife not into it at all...regretfully.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: drano21

                            Thanks for the follow-up, drano21. I think that you have a number of good suggestions on this thread already.

                            If you're foodies, you may be planning a visit to the Ferry Plaza complex. If so, have yourselves some fresh oysters at the Hog Island space. I think there are some tables outside where you can eat, and look out at the bay. If not, the space is open, with windows overlooking the water. [It's unfortunate that your spouse doesn't like asian food, because Slanted Door is at the Ferry Plaza as well, and would be recommended].

                          2. The food-centric institution in San Francisco is the Ferry Building. They have permanent vendors and restaurants in the building and on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays host an outdoor farmer's market that includes additional vendors. Some of the restaurants have outdoor tables that overlook the Bay. You can browse around here and pick up a bite here and there for a great brunch or lunch.

                            Tadich Grill and Sam's Grill, neither with outside options, are also institutions that offer an idea of what San Francisco was like 50+ years ago. Both of these places are great for seafood, but offer other menu options too.

                            Zuni Cafe is another long time SF favorite, best known for their simple dishes like roast chicken or a great burger.

                            A theme for many SF restaurants is taking really good ingredients and cooking them simply, seafood included. There are high-end places too, doing elaborate tasting menus, but you said you prefer casual.

                            Don't worry about finding good wine, we have a lot of that here.

                            Then there is the Mission District and SF's own take on Mexican food. It's different from Tex-Mex but can be equally good. There are many topics here about the Mission, taquerias, burritos, etc. (Although that is one area where beer works better than wine.)

                            If you read a some of the current threads from other visitors, you will probably find some places that sound interesting to you. Please post again if you have questions about a place you have read about that sounds interesting to you.

                            SF is not particularly known for great steakhouses or BBQ, and coming from Texas you would probably be disappointed in those places, even if we locals enjoy them for a change.

                            And, you have already been warned to bring some warm clothing. :)

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: pamf

                              We were just at The Ferry Building Marketplace on Wed. Beautiful weather! We dined at Chaya Brasserie, across from the Marketplace. There is a small patio there with views of the Bay Bridge. We dined inside with a table by the window which had nice views. The food is excellent at Chaya Brasserie and the Trio of Creme Brulee was amazing! Enjoy your time in this beautiful city. :)

                            2. There are a number of restaurants at the Ferry Building which have outside tables on the bayside. There are also public benches where you can eat looking out at the Bay and be eyed by the gulls and pigeons. For a real San Francisco treat there is a patio at Red's Java House where there is adjacent free parking and an inexpensive hamburger/beer combo although I last time I mentioned
                              Red's I was advised the corned beef hash was the way to go.

                              1. A dissenting opinion about "institutions." The best of SF's dining scene is innovative. It changes often; places that are great may not be in guidebooks or on TV, only on blogs.

                                I go to hardly any of SF's dining institutions and think of them largely as crusty and overpriced, even if Tadich and Zuni have inviting spaces. Occasionally a great restaurant survives for 10+ years. But many more interesting restaurants with great food have been open less than 3.

                                Also this area is not really known for its seafood. There is delicious fish to be found; but summer is not local crab season, and the best you'll find locally will be sand dabs, sardines, and squid.

                                I agree with everything that's been said about patios in the city. Best if you have fleece. We go to summer bbqs in hats and scarves. Outside the city as noted, it's warm in Sausalito or Oakland.