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Please help us get excited about SF again! (a little long)

After considerable initial excitement, we've become a little disappointed by food in SF since having moved here 6 months ago, especially if compared to the variety and quantity of restaurants in NYC we love (or, for that matter, in Hong Kong, or Paris, or Barcelona). The key word here is probably "love"--there have been a lot of restaurants that were fine, pleasant, etc., but we want to fall in love, to have to stop talking mid-sentence because the flavors in our mouths are so surprising and right, to get so excited we remember why we can spend hours trawling Chowhound for recommendations.

Please help us! Given SF's sterling reputation, we're assuming we're doing something wrong here. To give you a sense of where we've eaten, I'll try listing all the places that have truly excited us, versus the (oft-praised) places that underwhelmed us. Any further suggestions would be much appreciated. We have a slight preference for places in the Mission//Bernal Heights or in the financial district/SOMA, though we're of course willing to go elsewhere. East Bay recommendations also welcome.

(At this point, and while acknowledging how lucky we've been, it's probably worth mentioning that we've lived in various foreign cities, which makes us perhaps unreasonably picky about--though also potentially very excited about--US versions of some cuisines. This includes Italian, French, Cantonese, Korean, Hungarian, Spanish (esp. Basque and Catalan), German, some Chinese, and Argentine food. (No, we're not in the 1%. Not even close. It's just that we've prioritized living and working abroad, especially in our student years.))

Restaurants we love:
- Aziza
- Benu
- Chez Panisse, sometimes
- the old Bar Tartine (very disappointed by its new incarnation, though the bread's still wonderful)
- Koi Palace (though currently searching for a version with less MSG--will soon try Tai Wu/Mr. Fong)
- Lers Ros (Tenderloin version; haven't tried the Hayes Valley branch)
- Nopa, sometimes
- Range (we find them inconsistent, but the 70% of the time they get it right, good god, they get it right)
- Slanted Door (maybe it helps that we've never been to Vietnam)
- Spicy Bite (for delivery in Noe, at least)
- La Taqueria
- Taqueria Cancun (well, one of us loves it; the other one doesn't, finds it too greasy)
- Tartine Bakery (for its lemon tart and croissants)
- further afield: Bouchon, China Village, Maru Ichi in Mountain View, and the late, much-lamented Kaygetsu

Places that disappointed us, particularly versus the hype:
- Beretta (what is the deal with Beretta? Can't begin to understand its appeal)
- the new Bar Tartine
- Burma Superstar
- Commonwealth (we wanted to love this place!)
- Flour + Water
- Incanto
- Plum (was it an off-night? People seem to adore this place)
- Quince (used to love this place back when we lived on the Peninsula and would drive into the city, but something changed)
- Zuni (to be fair, we didn't try the roasted chicken--maybe we'll try it another time)

Places we've found pleasant, though nothing to jump up and down about:
- A16
- Delfina
- Dosa
- El Farolito
- Foreign Cinema
- Gary Danko (we haven't tried it in years, though)
- Heirloom Cafe
- a couple of Korean places in outer Richmond, including Jang Soo and Han Il Kwan
- ICHI Sushi
- Inka's
- Knead Patisserie & Local: Mission Eatery
- La Ciccia (this one's on the border between pleasant and amazing--one of really liked it, the other one is often put off by strong sea flavors)
- Lahore Karahi
- Limon
- Manresa (haven't tried it in years)
- Mission Chinese
- Mr. Pollo
- R&G
- Sam's (for the onion rings)
- Truly Mediterranean
- Udupi Palace
- Yank Sing
- Sura
- Z&Y

Places we've been meaning to try (though, should we?):
Ame, Bowl'd, Chez Spencer, Eijii, Ippuku, Izakaya Yuzuki, Kappou Gomi, Pastores, Papalote, Piqueo, Pizzaiolo, Saison (only if we get past the sticker shock), Roli Roti, Sushi Aka Tombo, Tai Wu, Una Pizzeria Napoletana (we liked it in NY)

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  1. Yuzuki and Ippuku are great.

    Bowl'd is the best Korean I've had around here.

    Una Pizza Napoletana is a must-try if you like the non-crisp traditional Neapolitan style, personally I prefer the local Naples-NY hybrid with some crispness, Cotogna's my favorite for that.

    Why did you love China Village and not Z&Y?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I have to give a strike against Bowl'd, especially since they seem to have high standards for ethnic food (Full disclosure: I am also Korean, so my standards are probably not the same either). There's nothing wrong with it... so long as you only ever want bibimbap. It's a bit expensive for what it is, too.

      1. re: dunstable

        Where do you prefer for Korean in the Berkeley / Oakland area?

        I've never ordered the bibimbop at Bowl'd. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/768049

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Nowhere, although I have not eaten at every single Korean restaurant in the East Bay, so don't take that as a personal dismissal of every Korean restaurant (although my overall opinion is indeed sorta low). Sometimes I will be out with my Asian friends and we will end up somewhere like Playground or the Porno Bar, and there will be Korean bar food there; otherwise I almost never eat Korean food out.

          The vast majority of Korean food is super easy to make at home. With the banchan, you marinate it and perhaps blanch it or something, the end. With the meats, you marinate it and fire, the end. I can't bring myself to eat it out (and pay money for it) unless it's REALLY kickass.

          1. re: dunstable

            Kind of unfair to single out Bowl'd, then.

            I have eaten at literally every Korean restaurant in Oakland, and overall I like Bowl'd the best, though there are other places I like for certain dishes, and nobody puts out a spread of panchan as diverse as Sura's.

            I've bought every English-language Korean cookbook, and make it at home, but to do the kind of meal I get when I go out would take me two days.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I'm not singling it out, exactly. It just happens that I have eaten at Bowl'd, and that is my assessment. It's just one opinion, just like yours; the OP can make of that what s/he will.

              It is true; if you made every bit of banchan that places typically offer, then you would be busy for a while, and in fact I used to spend Sunday evenings making it, so that I could eat it throughout the week. (Now I'll just eat out, heh.) But if it's just for me, I cheat a little bit with the banchan, and buy the stuff that's sitting in the little salad bar thing of the Korean supermarket.

    2. I love Farallon at 450 Post Street. It's a bit pricey but worth it.

      Also, if you are up to going to Half Moon Bay, you might want to try Navio at the Ritz Carlton. Again it is pricey but very worth it.

      1. Please clarify, you'd like to find more places to love, and then have a list of more than a dozen places that you've 'loved, loved.' Does that past tense mean you're not fond of them any more ?

        if you still love those places, you're doing pretty well. if they don't please you as much any more, it's quite possible that this area's reputation/hype surpasses what it actually puts on the plates and in your palates, in your hierarchy of qualities of course. you've compared this area with some of the preeminent dining cities of the world, and although some folks around here won't seriously consider the notion, it might not be a just comparison. just one factor, the development/population density here probably isn't as concentrated -- especially relative to NYC and Hong Kong. and of course the elite tier chefs in these parts are influenced by the best of French and Catalan/Spanish cooking, not the other way around.

        if you're open to trying another Burmese eatery, and have modest expectations, you might consider Mandalay. the pizza is very good at both Pizzaiolo and Tony's Pizzeria Napoletana, but the North Beach place has many styles of crust, the Temescal joint only does one. non-pizza menu items are more in the lighter, California cuisine style at Pizzaiolo (as you probably know, its owner is an alum of Chez Pan'.) if you like China Village, again with modest expectations you'll probably enjoy Shanghai Bund or Beijing Restaurant ; of course, they won't have the Szechuan style stuff, but in their own regional concentration some of their dishes equal or surpass the China Village interpretations. Roli Roti's signature chicken is a basic herbs + salt crusted bird, nothing extraordinary or markedly better than what you can do at home, and for my tastes there's a couple of other places that make better porchetta. enjoy your quest.

        4 Replies
        1. re: moto

          @moto: Good point, I'll change the tense to the present. Yeah, we still love the first set of restaurants, though we'd really like to branch out and try some new places. The ones you recommend sound very interesting, thanks. And what you say about population density is true; we are starting to wonder a little if this might not be a top-tier restaurant city, though we're hoping to be proven wrong, as we're probably here to stay for some time. And there's a lot to be said for the area's emphasis on local, fresh ingredients.

          @Saluti: Thanks for the recommendations!

          @Robert Lauriston: Thanks for the thoughts. And China Village's execution, ingredients, and use of Sichuan peppercorns all seemed a little better than Z&Y's. (That said, even China Village made us happy on a relative scale, not if we consider Sichuan in China, or, surprisingly, in NY. Starting to think we'd be happier if our palates' memories were worse.)

          1. re: carbonara

            if you truly like those two Mission tacquerias named, you shouldn't have any problems at all finding other Cali-mex places to enjoy, as the SF expat susan has noted. should you or susan be in the vicinity of the city of Sonoma, try El Molino near the junction of hwy.12 and Boyes Springs Rd.

            if you care to try non-tacqueria Cali-mex fare in the Mission, the huitlacoche quesadillas and the chiles en nogada at La Torta Gorda are both very tasty.

            1. re: moto

              I have had (the very good) coffee and a (good) quesadilla as take out from El Molino, and was sad that I was rushing from one family event to another and didn't have time to try more (I will say that service was slow and disorganized the day we were there. Will go back though: the dish I really want to try there is the enchiladas suizas. Saw some going out to a customer and they looked great. as did the chalupas).

              1. re: susancinsf

                La Torta Gorda somehow wasn't on our radar at all, and it's close to us, so we'll have to try that soon, thanks. And El Molino if we're near Sonoma--got it. We might be there next weekend, so that's exciting.

        2. It is quite possible to have an great meal at La Ciccia without indulging in items from the sea, so I am a little puzzled as to why you'd put Range in the love category despite inconsistency, and yet put LaCiccia in the 'pleasant' category because one of you doesn't like strong sea flavors. Why not try it again and stick to non-seafood items for the one put off by them? (full disclosure: I was a regular at La Ciccia when I lived in the neighborhood and have eaten there many, many times, while I have only been to Range perhaps three or four times: I found Range to be consistently good but certainly not amazing, other than the often amazing cocktails.)

          I haven't eaten at Manresa, but from all I've read here and elsewhere, you might want to try it again if it has been years.

          I have a similar comment to Moto's: San Francisco is much smaller than New York, Paris or Barcelona (I believe Barcelona is the smallest of those three, and it is still twice the population of the City of San Francisco). So, the real root of your problem, I suspect, is that with a few exceptions, you are comparing apples and oranges, particularly by (for the most part) limiting yourself to places just in SF proper. If you love Spicy Bite, for example, you will think you have died and gone to heaven if you ever get down to the South Bay to try some of the Indian restaurants there. Similarly, try Redwood City or Oakland for taquerias that beat the pants off of La Taqueria or Cancun (and I say that even though Mexican food in the bay area always seems to disappoint me) Or head up to the North Bay (Sonoma, Napa, Healdsburg), which is where I suspect the really good Mexican food is these days, although alas, I never have enough time to explore that scene on my brief trips up that way to visit family. (For that matter, actually, you really need to try Pastores if you want really good home-style Mexican food without leaving Mission/Bernal).

          Bottom line: I think your expectations that San Francisco will match New York may be unrealistic, and you should get out (to the rest of the bay area) more. Have fun!

          4 Replies
          1. re: susancinsf

            Well, one of us really enjoyed her seafood-heavy La Ciccia, but still wasn't head-over-heels in love, and the other just didn't like his (non-seafoody) dishes, so really like + dislike seems to average out to pleasant. Range, meanwhile, has given us a number of oh-my-god moments, even if it's only happened on two-thirds of our visits. That said, our La Ciccia reaction was based on one visit, and we live nearby, so we'll have to try it again. And yes, Pastores has been on the to-try list--we'll have to go there soon.

            Thanks for the other recommendations. Do you have a favorite taqueria in Oakland, or a favorite Indian place in the South Bay?

            1. re: carbonara

              When you are looking for a not-inexpensive place, try All Spice in San Mateo for Indian fusion. It's California/ Indian. And we love it. It's relatively new.

              1. re: carbonara

                If you go back to La Ciccia and you like salumi or sopressata, don't miss whatever they have on special....usually house made and (to me) irresistible.

                I haven't been in the South Bay in so long that I am not the best source of the latest info on Indian there, but here is a thread that caught my eye and might interest you:


                1. re: carbonara

                  Tastebuds in the South Bay has excellent Indian food. Complete, complete hole-in-the wall, and very spicy renditions. Their tamarind fish curry (Fish Pulusu) is excellent.

              2. I've been similarly disappointed or puzzled by the restaurants you name in your 2nd list - Beretta especially, tho I've had a few good appetizers there, but there pizza is flat-out bad, to me.
                I too wanted to love Commonwealth - we really did not like anything but one dish. Flour & Water - eh. Burma Superstar - Mandalay is better, even Burmese Kitchen on Larkin is better. Plum - i went 3 or 4 months ago for the first time - it just didn't live up to the hype (much like F+W). Zuni to me is good for a lunch - a burger, oysters, some champagne, fries - they're good at the simple pleasures. I love Range, have been lucky enough to only have been pleased there.

                I love Pizzaiolo - adore it, even. Is it going to surprise you? Probably not. Just really, really well done Cal-Italian food.

                Have you tried German? Suppenkuche in Hayes Valley has to me improved greatly and I've loved my meals there. Walzwerk is another people like, tho not my fave. Haven't been to Schmidt's yet.

                Ohgane, in Oakland, is our favorite for Korean, tho I've not yet tried Bowl'd.

                I had some outstanding sashimi at Sushi 29 in Albany (east bay), though some of their rolls were just ok.

                Places I've been to that wowed: Have you been to Coi? Or Commis, in Oakland? I still dream about the meals I've had at both restaurants.

                I think as you continue to explore neighborhoods you'll find the spots that excite you, that make you feel good about being here. Like everyone else has said, San Francisco is never going to be New York, Paris or Barcelona...different animal. Maybe keep your ears open for pop-ups. Good luck!

                6 Replies
                1. re: mariacarmen

                  I think Schmidt's and Leopold's have taken things up a notch from Suppenküche, and Gaumenkitzel in Berkeley is another step up from there.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I do like Gaumenkitzel. Need to try the other two.

                  2. re: mariacarmen

                    Thanks for all the recommendations. (It's nice to hear we're not the only ones underwhelmed by Flour + Water, etc...helps to mitigate the am-I-crazies.) No, we haven't tried Commis or Coi yet--for some reason, we'd been under the impression that Commis belongs on the list of extremely expensive restaurants, a category we've been slower to try. Looking at the menu, though, that $68 tasting menu looks irresistibly tempting. And we'll have to try to the German places, thanks. I get something like weekly cravings for NYC's Austrian food (Blaue Gans!), so maybe one of these German places will help fill the craving.

                    1. re: carbonara

                      Blaue Gans used to be one of my top fave restos in NY.
                      Lemme know if you find something similar in the Bay Area.
                      Skip Gaumenkitzel if you're looking for something even a pale shadow of BG. I haven't tried the others.

                      1. re: escargot3

                        Well, if you mean by 'pale shadow' Gaumenkitzel isn't Austrian or part of a high-power restaurant chain. Just a single chef using organic ingredients and preparing recipes handed down by her family.

                        However, given the OP's favor of celeb chefs, probably not.

                        Crixa Bakery in Berkeley might be of interest in terms of Eastern European desserts.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Celeb chefs? A little confused as to who on earth on that initial list is a celebrity chef, other than Thomas Keller and Alice Waters. I remember Nick Balla's name, but only because we used to love Bar Tartine so much. Other than that, I don't care if the person making my food is a feted chef or a monkey (or, you know, a hair-pulling rat), as long as the food's good.

                  3. Go to Garçon instead of Chez Spencer. The latter is so not worth it. Garçon does a fantastic baguette and mussels. Cheeseboard in Berkeley has great thin crust pizza and worthy of a stop. Kiji in the Mission is also reliably great sushi- ask for the fresh/real wasabi. It's wonderful. 5A5 in the Financial District is good as well, in terms of steakhouses... And Oola in SOMA has great seared scallops.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Joycesu

                      Thanks--particularly appreciate the sushi recommendation, since that's something we love but for which we haven't yet found a standby. And we've gotten cheeses at Cheeseboard (including some delicious Stilton), but haven't tried their pizzas yet, so we'll have to do that.

                      1. re: carbonara

                        Have you tried The Cheese Merchant at Oxbow Public Market in Napa?
                        http://www.oxbowpublicmarket.com/merc... Cheese Merchant

                        it is not as extensive, but it carries cheese i haven't seen elsewhere. Often they are supplying some of the top Wine Country restaurants and carry some of the cheese retail.

                    2. I agree with some of your dislikes-Burmese at Mandalay is less heavy than burma superstars (per burmese friends- it's a diff style?) I found manresa underwhelming (especially with the $800 sticker shock for 2!) but I do love commis- who's owner was the previous executive chef at Manresa with a better price point. Chinese food wise, I like Tai wu BBQ and especially like their won ton mein. I like HK flower lounge or Zen peninsula in Millbrae but I do prefer Koi palace- you have to order the seafood but can get very pricey. For out of the city fine dining, I love Cyrus and thought Meadowood was pretty interesting as well. I liked Saison- but went when the prix fixe menu was $120/pp, not sure if I would pay $500/pp there. His brassicas was amazing... favorite pizza, def delfina pizzeria although I like pizzaiolo as well. Oh and try Izakaya sozai- great tonkotsu ramen, although I like his other small plates as well. If you get a chance I like Barbacco for Italian, very reasonably priced. These are some of my favorites... Oh and try some of the char siu baos listed on a previous thread dated today- great suggestions. Maybe you'll fall in love with SF food again.... just went to park tavern and I liked it a lot, and am looking forward to trying zare at flytrap under zack freitas. I just went several weeks ago and thought the food was pretty good; I'm wondering how it'll be under freitas (he's a former chef de cuisine at commis and most recently of station 1.

                      8 Replies
                        1. re: jujubear

                          Little Yangon and Burmese Kitchen set the standard for Burmese. Burma Superstar and Mandalay, meh.

                          James Syhabout was chef de cuisine at Manresa. He was executive chef at PlumpJack.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I thought Little yangon is ok, haven't tried Burmese Kitchen yet. And you're right Robert James was the chef de cuisine at Manresa, David kinch was always the exec...

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              burmese kitchen has slipped a bit, in my opinion. Mandalay's tea leaf salad is my current favorite. Never been to Little Yangon.

                            2. re: jujubear

                              Thanks! I'm glad you like Tai Wu, too--the board reports I spotted seemed pro-Tai Wu, but I didn't see very many such reports. Did you like them for dim sum, or for non-dim sum food?

                              We don't have an Italian standby yet, either, and I've heard other good things about Barbacco, so we'll have to try that. We've heard much good about Saison, but the price has definitely been deterring us. For those prices, we could start seriously saving toward a trip to Paris.

                              1. re: carbonara

                                Don't forget PERbacco, too! i like it even better than Barbacco.

                                Oh, and i LOVE La Ciccia, so yes, please do give it another shot.

                                1. re: carbonara

                                  I think the actual restaurant is just ok- their BBQ joint across the street makes good soy sauce chicken and won ton- esp the braised beef one. Never had their dim sum- for that, I'd fork out the dough and go to Koi palace, zen peninsula, or HK flower lounge. I actually liked Barbacco much more than Perbacco and have been to both multiple times. Barbacco is much more casual and much cheaper. I got out of their for 2 people with wine for about $80. I thought Saison was amazing at the original price point $120. But not sure if I'd be willing to pay much more than that however. Please try commis- it's fine dining as a bargain. It includes multiple amuse bouches in between courses. Oh and try deli board for sandwiches- I think it's my new sandwich spot! Been wanting to try cotogna- I didn't really enjoy quince, except for their pasta.

                                  1. re: carbonara

                                    Tai Wu was good for both, but they were exceptional for the friendly and helpful service. the menu is pretty extensive -- familiar dishes and some not so familiar. (The service at dim sum wasn't exceptional, but only because the ladies don't speak much English)
                                    Oh, and if you think you would like less authentic updated California-Chinese, try Oceanic in San Mateo on El Camino at about 25th. Everything is delicious. And they are friendly. Cilantro Chicken is our favorite.

                                2. SF is over...hahaha.

                                  According to the NY Times, Oakland is the place: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/tra...

                                  Scroll down to #5, between London and Tokyo.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    Ha. I saw that when it came out. There are good restaurants in Oakland, but I think "once-gritty" is overstating it.

                                    1. re: Glencora

                                      gritty? but that's what we LIKE about Oakland. (OK, maybe shabby around the edges is a better descriptor)

                                      1. re: Glencora

                                        Well, for those of us long-time residents, it may be overstating it, but to be fair the city still has something of a reputation to live down. Piedmont Ave. and Temescal are one thing, but I think it's still reasonable to describe the Uptown, etc. area of Fox Theater, Plum, Luka's and Flora as "amid the grit." Not to mention that parts of the Viet/Thai/Lao/Central American International Blvd are still high crime areas by any reasonable judgments. One Lao place I've gone to buzzes you in in the evenings. I compare things mentally to how it was when I moved here 20 years ago, but as recently as last summer I was hearing area residents (San Leandro/Hayward, etc) say things like "the only thing bad about Alameda is that you have to go through Oakland to get there" with subsequent conversation clearly indicating that they were only joking a little bit.

                                        The original poster makes an interesting point that maybe SF/Bay Area is not "world class" in the same way as NYC, Barcelona, Paris. But I think the discussion plausibly argues that it's not reasonable to compare them on an apples-to-apples basis. I'd also add that it's probably not desirable to compare them on that kind of basis, either.

                                    2. The two best SF meals I had in the last year were at Cotogna and Atelier Crenn, but the thing that makes me fall in love with the Bay Area every time I get it is the Mariquita Mystery Box. They only recently started delivery to the East Bay, so I don't even know what it's like during peak season, but even in the dead of winter the produce is stunningly beautiful and delicious.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: daveena

                                        I think my two or three (or four or five) best meals last year were at Atelier Crenn, Cotogna and Commis.

                                        I haven't enjoyed Plum on the couple of occasions I've been there, but part of that was the uneven service. Food was mostly good--I just wouldn't make a special trip across the bridge for it. To further reassure you that you're not totally crazy, I used to live around the corner from La Ciccia and dined there fairly often. I liked but did not love it--maybe it was too close, too convenient to seem exciting?

                                        Are we supposed to be dazzled and excited by everything? I am happy to like places that have specific dishes that are excellent or enjoy certain evenings when everything comes together perfectly. Then I'm excited.

                                        1. re: daveena

                                          My two best meals were also at Cotogna and Atelier Crenn!

                                        2. Whoa! Take a break. At 6 months you are running thru them pretty fast.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: budnball

                                            Heh, I should have noted that, even though we only moved to SF 6 months ago, we've lived on the Peninsula previously, and we have a lot of family in the area, so we've come back to the bay even when we haven't lived here. That said, as is probably clear from the original post, eating out is one of our major sources of entertainment/recreation/happiness, and we do a lot of it.

                                          2. I would try:

                                            - Sushi Ran
                                            - Acquerello

                                            1. My two favorite places of the past year were:

                                              Citizen's Band

                                              and one of my all-time faves is Canteen.
                                              Maybe add them to your list?

                                              817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                              Citizen’s Band
                                              1198 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                              1085 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                              3 Replies
                                                1. re: margieco

                                                  Oh yes! You must try Canteen!! And Chef Dennis Leary's bfast/lunch take-out places, The Sentinel and Golden West, for more casual fare.

                                                  817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                                    I have to offer a word of dissent on Canteen, especially for breakfasts when it's probably one of the more overhyped places in SF. The open kitchen exposes just how low a quality the ingredients are, and the food itself doesn't rise above something you would get at Chloe's or one of those brunch places. Brenda's turns out about the same quality. Mama's and Dottie's are superior.

                                                2. Frances, Zuni roast chicken (I was skeptical it could be as good as I've heard but now a giant fan), Bar Jules, years ago Oola - can't say if it has continued to be as good lately, Starbelly for a middle of the road kind of place, Ragazza

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: njtaylor2001

                                                    Isn't Starbelly similar to Beretta and Delarosa? Same owners.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Not been to Delarosa, but Beretta and Starbelly are different enough that some will like one and not the other. Starbelly doesn't have as much of an Italian slant, if at all. It's more of a traditional California place.

                                                  2. I don't know if that has anything to do with your experience, but I've noticed that you really have to pay attention to seasonality around here. Chez Panisse, for example, is a place I found fantastic in Spring, but have not been impressed by in the two meals I've had there in the Fall. I've found the same thing in one of their cookbooks--- there's not much I'm inclined to make of theirs in the Fall, but tons of stuff in the Spring. You might consider revisiting some of the places you weren't keen on in a different season to see when they shine, or at least match what you like to eat.

                                                    1. sawa (in sunnyvale)
                                                      (i strongly prefer either of these to sushi aka tombo. but tombo is certainly not bad.)

                                                      north beach restaurant (for "classic" pastas like bolognese only. also, lunch is a better value.)

                                                      al hamra

                                                      taqueria san francisco
                                                      el farolito

                                                      boulette's larder
                                                      one market

                                                      (i list these two because you liked kaygetsu)

                                                      1. If you are looking for a place with less MSG than Koi Palace, try Asian Pearl. Tai Wu has a fair amount of MSG from what I've had (both dinner and dim sum, but especially for dinner).

                                                        1. A thought - you may want to slow down until spring/summer/early fall comes 'round again. What SF proper does best is "nouvelle cuisine" - a focus on of the produce of the season prepared in ways to highlight local produce. Frankly, even in California, from mid-November to mid-March the diversity isn't that exciting. This results in restaurants blurring together as everyone is serving the same thing in similar ways.

                                                          I actually find this extreme focus in SF on local produce, "highlighted in its best light" - off-putting. There's only so many ways to do a heirloom tomato, or a beet, or kale with white beans, and it gets disconcerting when every restaurant in the city is serving them with "minimal interference." It results in the tastebuds getting worn out - esp. in winter.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                                            Not that I ever get bored with kale, beets, or tomatoes, but lots of places are as interesting in the winter as any other time. There are all kinds of interesting greens, chicories, mushrooms, squashes, and citrus around. AQ for one is doing interesting things with winter vegetables, including cardoons, celeriac, and parsnips.


                                                          2. You might want to explore some more Latin American/Mexican places. Nopalito (same owners as Nopa), La Santaneca for Pupusas, or one of the regional Mexican places that get a lot of mentions around here (e.g., La Torta Gorda for Puebla or Poc Chuc for Yucantan food). I'd skip Papalote unless you just want to try their salsa. See also: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/827474

                                                            Something I really enjoy about the Bay Area is the diversity of Pizza, and I haven't seen that represented on your list. Finding the style to match your palate takes a bit of work, but consider that we have good representations of Neapolitan (Tony's or Una Pizzeria Napoletana), Roman (Cafe Baonecci), Cal-Chicago Style (Little Star, Patxis), NY (Gioia), sourdough California (Cheeseboard, check menu since sometimes they have questionable toppings) , Cal-Italian (Delfina), & Indian (Zante, not sure I'd recommend it beyond the novelty factor).

                                                            Also, I noticed that there weren't a lot of cocktail bars w/ good food (e.g., Bar Agricole), gastropubs (e.g., Magnolia), or ice cream places on your list. Not sure if those are things you enjoy, but they're things even my NY visitors always seem to enjoy.

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: hyperbowler

                                                              Gioia doesn't do it for me, for NY-style I prefer Nizza or Lanesplitter (16" whole pie only, slices are just OK). Haven't tried the coal-oven pie from Tony's yet to compare.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                Gioia's whole cheese pies, accompanied with crushed fresh oregano, are as close to the pizzas I grew up with near and around NYC as I've had in the Bay Area. Plus, they taste good (Arinell's is authentic but bad). Gioia's slices overcrisp when reheated, so I avoid the slices and go for the pies. I'll check out Nizza sometime. Emilio's was very tasty, but I remember something about it not matching my nostalgia.

                                                                The two times I've had slices at Berkeley Lanesplitter, they were burnt and godawful, but I've had better luck at the one on Telegraph in Temescal. The slice vs. pie factor probably plays a big difference, but I've found even the Telegraph location to be very inconsistent-- one time the slice was so good, I suspected they ordered it from somewhere else, and I've never gotten anywhere near as good a slice since.

                                                                1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                  My problem with Gioia is the flavorless crust, the toppings and texture are great.

                                                                  Lanesplitter's slices are erratic, the whole 16" pies are consistently good. The larger pies tend to be undercooked.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    Which Lanesplitter do you like? I tried the 15" pie last night in Temescal. The bottom of the crust had a nice even amount of charring and it was properly cooked through like you said. But everything from the cheese to the crust was so flavorless that I actually put salt on it.

                                                                    I'd love to know what was going on that night ~2 years ago when I had that amazing slice in Temescal, but nothing's ever approached it...

                                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                      Which pie did you get?

                                                                      I prefer to the original Berkeley location on San Pablo, since they have the hand pump, but the pizza seems the same to me at Temescal.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        I got a plain cheese 15". Their outer crust is never as folded over and puffy as a place like Gioia, but relative to usual, it seemed even flatter yesterday both on my pizza and on the cold slices behing the counter. I can try the Berkeley location next time I'm jonesing for a late-night slice.

                                                                      2. re: hyperbowler

                                                                        I also prefer the original place on San Pablo. Something about the Temescal location isn't as good. The garbage pie combo is good.

                                                                2. re: hyperbowler

                                                                  I enjoy Nopalito too.

                                                                  And I have a real soft spot for Pauline's Pizza. Have been going there for years and will continue to do so, rolling the dice on their specials.

                                                                3. It's funny you say six months.

                                                                  I've been living in the bay area for a long time - 22.5 years now - and I moved to Menlo Park about 5 years ago.

                                                                  I was terribly sad about the state of mid-peninsula food right about 6 months in.

                                                                  That's when I was complaining to long-suffering GF that I had eaten at every restaurant in downtown palo alto. "What about this one? what about that one?" she said, and we set off to eat every restaurant in downtown palo alto. We ate at a new restaurant every week, sometimes two, and it took us several years. There was a period with a lot of openings and closings. Lots of restaurants. Lots of dishes.

                                                                  Along that journey, I realized much of my reaction was nostalgia. The number of restaurants that are very pleasant is a very good thing for pure novelty. Sampling a lot more dishes a lot more frequently, and trying a lot more restaurants, were the solution. For example, it took 3 trips to Village Pub to finally hit the sweetbread app, which is the only reason to eat there. Flea Street is good about once a year, has very underrated cocktails, and fresh local smelts. I don't like Station 1 because it's a prix fixe. My burger at Alice's is the jalopy.

                                                                  I don't yet know anything about Chettinad food. I just found out - 4 days ago - that Chettinad even _exists_, and there are a cluster of 5 or 6 within 15 minutes of my house. According to posts here, none of them are really great - but that assumes you've had a lot of Chettinad food. And the difference between standard Biryani and Dum Biryani.

                                                                  I've found - slowly - enough replacements for the foods I crave. The bagels at Izzy's are pretty good. The freshness of the Lagunitas at Cafe Barrone is not quite Lanesplitter but it's still very good.

                                                                  If you say "I will only be excited about one pizza in the world and if I'm not there I'm in OK territory", san francisco loses. As stated, it's simply not that big. I've started liking the south bay because in 15 minutes I can hit everything from San Mateo, Fremont, Sunnyvale. That's a _LOT_ of restaurants. And a lot of dishes. We may have the best pastrami. We don't have the best pizza. We have some very good tacos, and tortas. Coffee is a little iffy but there are some bright spots (Cafe Zoe near my house switched to Verve and makes a very, very decent cup).

                                                                  Many people will say, and I'll agree, that SF is great at the mid-range.

                                                                  It's all good.

                                                                  15 Replies
                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                    that's an interesting post.

                                                                    i have to say, though, that if you compare SF to NYC, it is tough to measure up. The OP also mentioned Hong Kong, Paris, and Barcelona. I haven't been to Hong Kong, but I do think SF compares well to the other two cities. Paris is wonderful if you like French versions of every cuisine in the world, but it's more one-dimensional. The very high-end in Barcelona may be more creative than anywhere else in the world, but beyond the very top, the cuisine is also more one-dimensional than it is here.

                                                                    NY is just so much bigger and especially at the high-end (say 1 star Michelin or just below) I don't think SF can compete. There are a few incredible places but not the variety. There are some cuisines like Korean where we just don't have any presence at all (I know we have places in Oakland and South Bay but it's nothing like LA or NY).

                                                                    Anthony Bourdain said that while NY is better at the high end, SF is better at the mid-range of restaurants. I think that's right. When you look at all the threads on the SF board there are very many not-very-well known places that are really good. You have to find them, and there are a lot of people with specialized knowledge of different cuisines. These aren't Michelin star restaurants.

                                                                    1. re: calumin

                                                                      that's what I love about SF, there are just so many great places that may not blow your mind, but they also don't blow the bank and one leaves perfectly happy. there is a difference between a Wednesday meal and a big deal Saturday one.

                                                                      calumin and bbulkow say in a much nicer way than a bit of snark (rightfully cut) I posted the other day.

                                                                      1. re: calumin

                                                                        Bourdain isn't the only one. Calvin Trillin, who spends time in SF because his daughter lives here, has noted that NYC is very good for high-end restaurants, and low- end ethnic eats, but SF is best in the mid-range.

                                                                        1. re: Rapini

                                                                          The big thing to ponder is are the high end good or do they just have Michelan stars. NY has always been about the show. I've always found New Yorkers usually need to be told where to eat ... which in one sense makes them comparable to LA.

                                                                          You know, i was thinking along the lines of bbulkow.

                                                                          It took me longer than six months, but when I first moved here I really missed East Coast food. Then i went home a few years later and realized i liked San Francisco food much better

                                                                          I'm no longer 17. Manhattan is a nice place to visit but I no longer have any desire to live there ... or play the dining game there.

                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                            My partner lived in Manhattan for ten years, though it was a while ago. She says she thinks high end food is comparable here and NY, but different, but the thing with the low end ethnic is they are very different: we have much more diversity in Asian, but not much European, whereas NY has much more European.

                                                                            1. re: Kim Cooper

                                                                              apples and oranges, both have significant merits. I doubt there's much to be gained in the comparison. both are great food cities, but yes, for very different things. and at all levels.

                                                                              1. re: Kim Cooper

                                                                                I'm not so sure we have more diversity than New York in Asian food, or perhaps only slightly. For instance, I would say that the Vietnamese food scene is bigger here, but there did exist Vietnamese restaurants in New York. Vice versa for Korean food. And New York also had dedicated yakitori places (that were open late, mind), dedicated yakiniku places, robata, and so on, but here, anything Japanese food that is not sushi or udon gets lumped into this vague, faux-izakaya category.

                                                                                I'd call it a toss-up.

                                                                          2. re: calumin


                                                                            And - if you look at the Michelin guide, the only thing that puts SF on the map is Napa. Otherwise, we'd be behind NY by about 3 to 1, instead of slightly ahead.

                                                                            1. re: calumin

                                                                              Bourdain missed half the point, or maybe it would be better to say he made the other half of it in his Paris show, when he was giving Eric Ripert a hard time for having so many of those tawdry old Michelin stars.

                                                                              SF has been better than NY since the 70s. The Michelin-style high end has run its course and is on its way out, as shown by Ron Siegel turning the Dining Room into Parallel 37.

                                                                              If there's anyplace where NY beats SF, it's probably at the low end of restaurants run by recent immigrants, though how many people can knowledgeably compare, say, Astoria and Santa Clara County?

                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                >>> The Michelin-style high end has run its course and is on its way out


                                                                                On the low end of the scale, there are good things in both areas that the other doesn't have.

                                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                                  So the highest rated Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco, like Saison, are on their way out?

                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  Assuming that Michelin stars means that a place is old-fashioned and stuffy may be somewhat unfair to the Michelin Guide, even though it was probably the norm in the past. But take Momofuku Ko. It has had 2 stars since 2009 and it's waaay more casual and novel compared to the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton than Parallel 37 is ever going to be. And the Dining Room never had more than 1 star.

                                                                                  Or take Coi, for a while the only SF restaurant with 2 stars. It's way more daring and innovative than restaurants that fit the old-school Michelin mold, like Fleur-de-Lys or Danko that were only awarded a single star. And the latest 2 stars, Benu and Saison, aren't exactly stuffy, old-fashioned, French places either.

                                                                                  1. re: nocharge

                                                                                    No one said anything about stuffy, old-fashioned French.

                                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                                      I believe the Dining Room vs Parallel 37 comparison in RL's post implicitly involved stuffy, old-fashioned French.

                                                                                    2. re: nocharge

                                                                                      Of course lots of Michelin-starred restaurants are up to date in certain ways, e.g. Atelier Crenn. The very rare exceptions to the narrow range of what Michelin finds star-worthy, such as Ko, Tim Ho Wan, and maybe Range in SF, might be a sign that there are some malcontents on the inside, but they don't change the overall reactionary spirit of the star system.

                                                                              2. Can't believe I only saw this one mentioned once briefly in this thread- Frances! My fav in the city, with a casual neighborhood atmosphere, and an immaculate attention to detail, I've loved every dish I've had.

                                                                                Second the nod for Izakaya sozai in the inner sunset, the only ramen in the bay better than theirs is down in San Jose at Santouka Ramen (outpost of a Japanese chain also found in LA, second best american ramen after Ippudo NY imo)

                                                                                Plow in Potrero Hill for breakfast/brunch, no dish disappoints and the crispy breakfast potatoes are out of this world (also a neighborhood spot!)

                                                                                Pizetta 211 in the richmond for one of the trailblazers of "california-style" pizza in a tiny, 14-ish seat closet of a restaurant

                                                                                Sandbox Bakery in Bernal Heights, I prefer over Tartine with croissants that are better AND more reasonably-sized, no block-long line of hungover hipsters, and more options (asian-influenced pastries too)

                                                                                The thing that frustrates me the most about SF is the lack of late-night options- you have Nopa till one (thank goodness!), and other than that you are pretty much left with taquerias and a couple bad greasy-spoons after 10pm

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: jenmichelle

                                                                                  "The thing that frustrates me the most about SF is the lack of late-night options"

                                                                                  ditto and it has always confused me about the place. as folks do work their asses off (and sometimes late as hell), it is a harder working town than perceived. you just can't let that be apparent. in the way it works the minute a bead of sweat appears, you've already lost the game. so yes it is sort of 'reserved' in some ways.

                                                                                2. hi carbonara,
                                                                                  not worth comparing SF to NYC to LA or HK, Paris, etc. like apples and oranges. so when i compare, i just compare relative to what i can get in the area.
                                                                                  you have eaten at a lot of the famous names, but there is still a lot left.
                                                                                  in terms of the "newer" restaurants
                                                                                  i too really enjoyed last year: benu, saison, atelier crenn, commis, plum, morimoto, marlowe, plow, etc (also still like redd, canteen, ino, kiss, jardiniere)
                                                                                  and found these to be pleasant: commonwealth, sons and daughters, frances, prospect, cotogna, remade bar tartine, etc
                                                                                  anyways, a few places i still go all the time
                                                                                  Lers Ros: smoked pork shoulder, pork belly basil, boat noodle soup, chicken garlic rice, spicy fish, etc
                                                                                  Nopa: only place of this level food to go late night
                                                                                  So or San Tung: chicken wings
                                                                                  sotto mare: cioppino, sand dabs
                                                                                  tartine bakery, mr and mrs miscellaneous ice cream
                                                                                  torta los picudos
                                                                                  roli roti porchetta and 4505 meats
                                                                                  los gemelos tacos: handmade
                                                                                  vung tau: all around vietnamese
                                                                                  shanghai flavor shop: sheng jian bao
                                                                                  sumika: yakitori and oyakodon
                                                                                  back a yard grill: jerk chicken
                                                                                  honeyberry butter roti bun
                                                                                  anyways, come down the peninsula to try Mexican in Redwood City, Indian in Sunnyvale, Korean in Santa Clara, Vietnamese in San Jose, Chinese in Milpitas, etc.
                                                                                  NYC has some holes like Mexican and Vietnamese

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: ankimo

                                                                                    Vung Tau! We love that place--forgot to mention it on the original list. Going there, I realized for the first time how vibrant and delicious Vietnamese food could be.

                                                                                  2. My new favorite dumpling place (has more than dumplings) is Dumpling Kitchen in the Sunset, 1925 Taraval (between 29th Ave/30th. Closed Wed. Otherwise, opens for lunch and stays open til 9:30 pm (but they are closing the kitchen at 9 so don't get there too late).

                                                                                    Best: # 1 .. soup dumplings (broth INSIDE), # 8 .. steamed wontons in a bit of chile oil.

                                                                                    The food here is delicious, generous, very reasonably priced. Everything I've tried is great. Last time, I tried the egg puffs, warm, light.

                                                                                    1. Oh, my goodness--after a busy couple of weeks at work, I come back to Chowhound and see how much this thread has grown. Thanks so much for all the suggestions--we went to Locanda this week, had a thoroughly delicious meal, and got a little more excited about SF food all over again. (Those fried olives!) And we're going to Sonoma this weekend, and are looking forward to trying El Molino, per moto's and susancinsf's recommendations. Looking forward to continuing to try new places. Thank you!

                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: carbonara

                                                                                        El Molino Central is terrific. Make sure to try it while you're up there.

                                                                                        1. re: maigre

                                                                                          El Molino was fantastic. Some of the best Mexican we've ever had outside of Mexico. Thanks, CH!

                                                                                          1. re: carbonara

                                                                                            what were your favorites at El Molino ? ours was a deep green (from leafy 'weeds' rather than tomatillos) pork stew. their fresh tortillas can't be surpassed around here, either.

                                                                                            1. re: moto

                                                                                              Our favorites were the swiss chard enchilada and the mole poblano enchilada; we also liked the mole poblano chicken tamale. There was a stew that also looked enticing, but we were too full by then. Next time.

                                                                                      2. I would check out AQ which has always been good every time I've eaten there and State Bird Provisions which so far has been good and has lots of good bites.

                                                                                        1. I definitely share your frustrations with many of the same hyped up places... but I can assure you there's enough turn over with new places popping up to inspire you again, often in six month waves too. i find a bigger problem to be consistency, or favorite items getting dropped from menus. I also miss the old Bar Tartine.

                                                                                          That said... have you tried?:
                                                                                          Outerlands brunch/lunch
                                                                                          Blue Plate
                                                                                          Spruce's bar
                                                                                          Saigon Sandwiches, or any of the Vietnamese in the Tenderloin
                                                                                          Gialina pizza
                                                                                          Golden Gate Bakery
                                                                                          Sunset Bakery

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                            Which incarnation of the old Bar Tartine? Chris Kronner, one of the several former chefs, reportedly consulted on the menu at St. Vincent, and the chef, Bill Niles, worked for Kronner at Bar Tartine.

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              Pretty sure my favorite version was the Chris Kronner incarnation (though I wouldn't know if some of the Jason Fox holdovers were what I liked)..... but it doesn't sound like he did much at St. Vincent, did he?

                                                                                              I know they're using Tartine's bread.

                                                                                              I keep hoping the current Bar Tartine was just a bad dream.