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Jan 9, 2012 05:39 PM

Need best recs for must-try ethnic eats in SF for mom & adventurous 10 y.o. eater

My son and I are headed to SF this weekend (I'm giving two readings, at Omnivore Books and Book Passage at the Ferry Building; my book is the food memoir A Spoonful of Promises). We mean to do some serious hounding and could use your expertise, friends.

We're looking for the inexpensive ethnic eats you can't do without, the food trucks, the holes-in-walls, the portable snacks, the can't-miss bakeries. (Also helpful but optional would be an excellent-value sushi place.)

We will mostly be in the vicinity of the Embarcadero, 16th St Mission, and 24th St Mission BART stops. Hoping to spend an hour or two in Chinatown. Our aim is for them to have to roll us onto the plane heading back to western Massachusetts.

Many, many, many thanks.

T. Susan Chang (cookbook reviewer for NPR & the Boston Globe)

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    1. You are going to be at Ferry Plaza on Saturday. There are lots of great food stands at the market.

      1. that's a great list RL gave you. also check here for food trucks:

        In the Mission i think one of the more popular taco trucks is the one on Harrison between 18th & 19th.

        The Saturday Farmers Market at Ferry Plaza rworange mentions is fantastic, and you shouldn't miss it, but i wouldn't call it cheap. But again, don't leave here without hitting it.

        16 Replies
        1. re: mariacarmen

          Thanks everybody. I'll definitely be at Ferry Plaza on Saturday.

          First thing Saturday, though, I'll be on the hunt for dim sum. I understand that Yank Sing seems to be consistently the best, but what if I'm looking for something more reasonable? With Y Ben & Gold Mountain closed, what's the current best dim sum value?

          Gold Mountain Restaurant
          644 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

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

          1. re: T. Susan Chang

            How about City View, in the area where you are going to be ? There are probably cheaper choices out in the Avenues but they are not as convenient.

            1. re: wolfe

              OK, City View it is. Thank you! Friday PM I'm planning an excursion to Clement St. On my list are Little Vietnam/Bunn Mi, Burma Superstar maybe, and PPQ Dungeness Island if I can get there. What else should I add?

              1. re: T. Susan Chang

                Don't miss the fortune cookie factory on Ross Alley in Chinatown. I think your son would be tickled to see how they're made. The ladies are handfolding them still.

                Spices! on Clement is very interesting to try if you like spicy Szechuan food. Cinderella Bakery & Cafe serves Russian delights. I love the pelmeni and fermented drink.

            2. re: T. Susan Chang

              Graze at to the Ferry Plaza on Saturday and get dim sum on Sunday. Seriously, you want to go to the market hungry.

              Yank Sing is consistently the best, they take reservations, and the prices aren't that much higher than anywhere else (particularly City View) if you know the drill:


              Saigon Sandwich and Burmese Kitchen are close to each other. The latter is better and cheaper than Burma Superstar. I can't compare the banh mi but Saigon Sandwich's would be hard to equal let alone beat.

              1. re: T. Susan Chang

                I like to graze as I'm shopping the farmer's market, so here's a list of fave <$5 bites at Ferry Plaza (not sure what constitutes "ethnic" for you; these are just excellent local eats):
                blue bottle coffee/hot chocolate
                golden gate meats spicy sausage on a stick w excellent housemade mustard
                delica roast beef sushi or salmon rice ball
                village market bombolini or peebles vegan donut
                shucked hog island oyster (at the stand, not the restaurant)
                4505 chicharrones
                acme bread

              2. re: mariacarmen

                I am SO sad that Off the Grid doesn't open until the day I leave! I would have changed my flight schedule if I'd known.

                1. re: T. Susan Chang

                  oh sorry, i didn't realize that either. however, there are still lone trucks wandering the city.

                  although it looks like the last post was in the summer....

                  here's one truck that's active:

                  another, always parked in the FiDi:

                  and this one is in the FiDi one day a week:

                  1. re: T. Susan Chang

                    The trendy Off the Grid trucks are an annoying fad, high prices to line up for expensive food and eat it in a parking lot. The real taco trucks are open all the time and charge a third the price. Real taquerias with a roof, chairs, and tables cost half the price.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Seriously. You aren't missing anything with Off the Grid unless you want to sometimes pay more to stand outside and eat something that you could get for a better price sitting in a nice restaurant ... and that even includes the tip.

                      "Restaurants" Database To Be Eliminated

                      1. re: rworange

                        I completely agree with RL & RWO.
                        Most of the new food trucks are way too "precious" for me.

                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I would have to agree, although it's fine for pretheater at Ft. Mason or if you're meeting friends who just want an easy bite and you don't want to have to agree on a place. And I wouldn't put it in any category of ethnic eats since most of the food is a mashup (bao, tacos, etc.) and better versions are found elsewhere. I like onigilly a lot however, not sure I've found a better version elsewhere.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          well, i disagree - very much enjoyed off the grid at Ft. Mason and thought it was worth the money (which wasn't outrageous - you just share dishes) in a very pleasant atmosphere. get there early so as not have to wait in long lines. it's just about managing it right. i love it because you have many options in one place. i don't think it's an either/or situation. love real taco trucks too.

                        2. re: T. Susan Chang

                          Too late for the OP but here are the opening dates for Off the Grid 2012:

                          OtG: Larkspur @ Marin Country Mart: Sunday, January 15th from 11am to 3pm

                          OtG: St. Mary's Square: Monday, January 16th from 11am to 2pm

                          OtG: UN Plaza: Tuesday, January 17th from 11am to 2pm

                          OtG: 5M (5th & Minna): Wednesday, January 18th from 11am to 2pm

                          OtG: North Berkeley: Wedneusday, January 18th from 5pm to 8pm

                          OtG: UN Plaza: Thursday, January 19th from 11am to 2pm

                          OtG: Upper Haight: Thursday, January 19th from 5pm to 8pm

                          OtG: 5M (5th & Minna): Friday, January 20th from 11am to 2pm

                          OtG: McCoppin Hub: Saturday, January 21st from 11am to 3:30pm

                          1. re: grayelf

                            Hey, thanks grayelf! help from our neighbor to the north....

                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              Signed up for several email updates from SF Bay Area which torment me in between trips, and OTG is one of them ;-). Kidding aside, I find them very helpful for planning.