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Day Trip to San Fran - tell me your Must-Trys!

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Hello all! I will be traveling in mid-Feb. to San Jose to visit with family and it will be my first time to the area. I will have the pleasure of my grandmother's company on this trip - she (and her kitchen!) is the reason why I love good food!. We are planning a day trip to San Francisco and we need your recos for places we just can't miss for lunch & dinner! We love to try all cuisines but would like to keep away from fine dining since we're on a budget for the week. Thanks!

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  1. Did you do any research?

    Telling us what neighborhoods you will be in, what you do and do not like to eat, and any other particulars.

    Your request is too generic and is asked all the time and there might be a deluge of responses to eat some great sushi only to learn your grandmother won't eat raw fish. Help narrow down the guidelines and you will get a better response.

    1 Reply
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      As I said, we're only going to be in San Fran one whole day so we will pretty much be all over the place. Also said we like all cuisines (e.g. sushi, Korean, Italian, etc.) - only exclusion would be fine dining. So, what's your absolute favorite lunch place & place to get a delicious dinner?

    2. what's the budget? weekday or weekend? do you want one lunch and one dinner, or a number of small snacks / stops?

      a16
      lers ros
      z&y
      sotto mare

      are all good and a decent value. but there are many, many more places in sf that are just as good. again, this type of question is asked all the time, so you can find tons of responses in other threads.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Dustin_E

        You're right, there are tons of other responses out there... hence, I was overwhelmed! =) I live in Boston & when I have friends in town for just one day I know my favs that they must try so I was hoping to get the same advice here. We are staying in Cali over a long weekend so going to play it by ear on which day to visit San Fran (based on the weather). One lunch, one dinner, & a snack place should cover it... Thanks for your suggestions!

        1. re: citygrrll

          swan's for brunch / early lunch (arrive by 10am or you might wait in line for an hour)
          snacks of whatever from the ferry building or in the mission
          jai yun for dinner (expensive but good and very unique)

          would be where i'd take foodie guests.

      2. This might be a good place to start: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/804193

        1. Squeezing in San Francisco for one day is a challenge, but to make it stress-free, I would recommend picking one neighborhood with a variety of food options and shopping for the lunch hour and then another neighborhood for dinner. Also, a lot depends on the whether. I think some neighborhoods are more fun on a sunny day (like the Marina).

          Here are just some ideas based on neighborhoods (note: My eating recommendations aren't necessarily "cheap eats" so check the restaurant's websites for price points. But they're not exactly "fine dining.")

          Mission District: This is a big draw for food lovers because of the variety of restaurants and bars. It's a gritty neighborhood in some areas, and I personally feel not a lot to do during the day. So I would hit here for dinner. Some ideas would be Pizzeria Delfina for great pizza (crowded and no reservations, though), Locanda for Italian, Bar Tartine for German-ish, and Mission Chinese Food for small Chinese plates in funky divey decor. Then afterwards you could get ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery or Humphry Slocombe. You could also go the option of burritos or nice casual rotisserie dining at Regalito Rotisserie or peruvian favorite Limon.

          Pacific Heights: One of my favorite places to wander on a sunny day. It's a high-end neighborhood so you'd mostly be window shopping during the day, but you have lots of choices for lunch, mostly all along Fillmore Street. At very start off Geary there's Dosa for fancy Indian, SPQR for Italian, or another outlet of Pizzeria Delfina on California. You can also go the more casual and slightly cheaper route by getting fancy Vietnamese at Bun Mee or Out the Door on Bush. Then afterwards you can walk around and maybe get frozen yogurt at Fraiche or hang out the afternoon at Jane, a beautiful cafe with baked goods.

          Marina/Cow Hollow: I think of this area based on the popular streets. For Marina I think of Chestnut Street area and for Cow Hollow I think of Union Street. Both streets are about four blocks apart if you decide to hit both. On Chestnut, you can go casual at Blue Barn for fancy sandwiches or huge salads (although limited seating, mostly takeout) or Tacolicious if you really like fancy tacos. Also, Delarosa for pizza (lots of seating) or Tipsy Pig. In that area there's the original location for Kara's Cupcakes. Along Union Street, you could try Nettie's Crab Shack if you want to compare west coast seafood to what you get on the east coast, or you could try the new Umami burger outlet for specialty burgers.

          Noe Valley: This family-oriented neighborhood is rather small but it has some interesting restaurants, not necessarily clustered together. (Also, if you go for dinner, most of the shops in the area close early.) Incanto is the restaurant that has a few offal items on the menu, La Ciccia is on the far edge but has a reputation for good Sardinian food, closer to the heart of Noe Valley there's Contigo for Spanish tapas (but I have to say I tried recently and felt the prices got higher for the small plates) or longtime neighborhood restaurant Firefly.

          Here are a few special San Francisco restaurants that aren't necessarily surrounded by a lot of things to do, so you'd be going just to eat there.

          Swan's Depot on Polk Street is a counter-dining experience for lunch and you need to go early to get a seat for the fresh seafood, etc.

          Tadich Grill is in the Financial District and is an institution, serving up cioppino, etc. It gives you a flavor of old-time San Francisco that maybe your grandmother might like.

          Cotogna is one of the popular Italian restaurant, also in the Financial District near North Beach, but very difficult to get reservations, unless you want to eat a late lunch/early dinner at 3:30 p.m. But you could try calling and seeing what you can get.

          Una Pizzeria Napoletana is in South of Market and serves up simple Napoletana style pizzas. Another one of those no reservations, get there early places.

          I think this is a start. There are so many options, but maybe if you give more feedback on the suggestions, then can be more specific.

          5 Replies
          1. re: singleguychef

            This is fantastic - thanks! You are right on the weather being a concern... hopefully we'll get a good sunny day for wandering around. Wish we had more than one day... will just have to come back for another trip!

            1. re: citygrrll

              Just FYI, I left out a lot of Chinese options because wasn't sure if that's of interest to you and your grandmother. I also left off Japanese because I think you could get some good Japanese (especially ramen) in San Jose and along the Peninsula from San Jose (i.e., Mountain View, Burlingame, San Mateo). But if you want these recs, let us know specifically what kind of Asian food and why.

              1. re: citygrrll

                If by "wandering around" you mean doing tourist-type stuff, you should probably list some sights you want to see so you can get some recommendations that are nearby.

              2. re: singleguychef

                Hi singleguychef - just wanted to give a big THANKS for taking the time to write this! For a fellow chowhound perusing the boards for food options for our upcoming SF trip, your post was extremely helpful in understanding the food and the neighborhoods where they are located!

                1. re: princess00

                  You're welcome! I find recs by neighborhoods always helpful whenever I'm traveling too!

              3. Go to Cha Cha Cha's in haight ashbury. While they aren't fine dining, they are moderately priced, but I think it can work well in to any budget. You can check their website for prices on the items served: http://www.cha3.com/

                It is personally my favorite restaurant in all of San Francisco. They got the chatskis on the wall, nice staff, and most importantly, absolutely delicious food. And if you go, be sure to get a pitcher of their Sangria, its delicious!

                8 Replies
                1. re: porkchopexpress

                  Cha Cha Cha's more of a bar with food, to me. I wouldn't go there with a group unless everybody was up for getting drunk in a noisy place while waiting an hour for a table.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I disagree, I have gone here many times with my family to Cha Cha Cha's, some of whom do not even drink. We always manage to have a good time, and the food is quite delicious. Guess it all depends on the preferences of those going. As for waits, I find lunch is the best time to go, not much of a problem with waiting, dinner however is another story.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      +1 Cha Cha Cha's is an appropriate place for a large, boisterous dinner in college (at least the Mission location). It has mediocre food/mediocre drinks at decent prices. I'm sure there's plentiful examples in Boston, but I can't think of one at the moment.

                      1. re: goldangl95

                        >> appropriate place for a large, boisterous dinner in college

                        exactly.

                        i went last night to the one on haight and we thought the food was actually surprisingly pretty good. and the stuff on the wall was neat -- i'd say probably the best stuff-on-the-wall i remember seeing in sf. but i don't know spanish food well (is that what it is?) and i'm sure there are better. not destination-worthy for the food, but certainly not bad. and it was a fun place, so i can see how people would like it.

                        we tried the cajun shrimp, seafood paella, and carmel flan. all were good. i'd go back.

                        their sangria will f*** you up.

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          Cha3's menu is a mashup of Mexican, Cuban, other Caribbean, Spanish, Cal / American comfort food, and various other things.

                          http://web.mac.com/hoconnor/Haight/di...

                          1. re: Dustin_E

                            Word. Also, to the OP, if you are going to be in the South Bay /Peninsula - Cha Cha Cha's is comparable to Cascal in Mountain View and La Bodegita in Palo Alto. (Cascal and La Bodegita, however, are attempting a more "chic" or "upscale" vibe). Same concept. Average latin-ish food, average but fun drinks, good place to have fun in a group.

                      2. re: porkchopexpress

                        >> It is personally my favorite restaurant in all of San Francisco.

                        I'd love to hear your top 10 list.

                        1. re: porkchopexpress

                          Sorry, i just have to chime in with an opposing opinion ..... i think Cha Cha Cha has very mediocre food. i wouldn't even send a big group there.

                        2. +1 on Cha Cha Cha...do not waste a meal there especially if you're spending one day in SF. Cha3 was mediocre back in the 90s.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ML8000

                            Probably piling on, but don't waste your time on Cha Cha Cha. I'd tend to do a Ferry Building, Hayes Valley and Mission focus, but a lot depends upon what your must see tourist destinations are.

                            1. re: absc

                              Cha Cha Cha ...no no no!Not "can't miss" as you requested.

                          2. A couple of people have mentioned Swan's, and said to get there early. However, Swan's is no longer opening up the counter until 11. So it's going to depend what day of the week you're talking. If you only have one day, I would not include Swan's on a Friday itinerary. It's going to blow too much time. But I think a Tuesday or Wednesday would work.

                            I don't know what's the best time or how to work the line -- all I know is last time I went on a Friday at 12:30 and the line was too long so we bailed. We had lunch down the street and 75 minutes later when we were done, my spot in line was just reaching the door.

                            Does anyone know the best method given the new setup whereby the counter opens at 11, not 8:30?

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: pauliface

                              hmm... i didn't know they opened any earlier ever..... i usually go at 10:30 to stand in line and get right in, very short wait, even on a Saturday.

                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                Great to know!
                                They used to open at 8:30, and I'd only ever been there in the early morning until my recent Friday debacle!

                                1. re: pauliface

                                  oh, wait, i guess i did know they opened earlier, but i think i thought that was just for sale of fish, not for eating there....

                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                    They still sell fish earlier. It's just the counter that's changed to 11.

                                    1. re: pauliface

                                      oh, good to know! thx. pauliface.

                              2. re: pauliface

                                I consider going right at 11 "going early." Dropping by around 12:30 is way past the window for grabbing an easy seat.

                                1. re: singleguychef

                                  Hey singleguychef, its your AZ CH friend. Coming to town this week and I have one night out on Thursday, maybe solo, maybe with a buddy or two...still waiting on confirmation. If you had one night out, where to go? I don't want a Gary Danko/M. Mina experience for that night, been there done that...looking more for great cocktails and good fun food. Barbacco or perbacco look interesting. Staying near Union Square but can cab it anywhere in City. Oh, and just for good measure...needs to be a spot that serves food somewhat late.

                                  1. re: danieli10

                                    How somewhat late? After 10 it gets easy to narrow down the choices.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Definitely after 10 pm.

                                      1. re: danieli10

                                        Nopa is a good bet, albeit out in the panhandle.

                                    2. re: danieli10

                                      Cotogna, Comstock, 15 Romolo, Bar Agricole, Heaven's Dog

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        That's a good list.
                                        Range, Beretta, Gitane, Salt House

                                      2. re: danieli10

                                        Sorry Danieli, didn't notice this post until now! If you're still waffling on where to go, I second the recs from Robert on Cotogna and Comstock. Both are waklable from Union Square, albeit a bit of a hike. Cotogna has great food and options of sitting at the bar or in front of the pizza oven. I'd choose the bar because the oven can get hot, although the weather's been a bit cool lately. Comstock has a nice classy saloon vibe.

                                        Let us know where you ended up eating while here!