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NY hound visiting San Francisco. Must Try Foods?

Hello SF hounders!

I am visiting San Francisco in April, and I am looking for 'must try' restaurants (preferably fine dining).

I will stay only a couple of days so the schedule should be very intensive.

Price is not an issue, and I eat any type of cuisine (be it American, French, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, etc...) I've already reserved a table at Benu.

Any other suggestions?

I would also appreciate any late night, wee hour snacks too!

Thanks! :)

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  1. Here are some suggestions to get your list started:

    1) State Bird Provisions -- newest opening that's getting a lot of buzz for its concept of small plates being carted around the dining room like dim sum

    2) Swan Oyster Depot -- a classic institution for no-nonsense seafood at a counter-only dining area. Must go for lunch during the weekday, and early, to avoid the line

    3) Mission Chinese Food -- written up by national media (including the NYT) and offering up a new twist to Chinese food in a dumpy, divey, old Chinese restaurant

    4) Ice Cream Bar -- this is more for dessert or afternoon ice cream sundae, just a fun experience for the nostalgia, nothing similar in New York that I can think of

    5) Sebu -- high-end sushi in Hayes Valley, which is an emerging food destination

    6) Bar Tartine -- California cuisine meets Eastern European/German. The bakery in the neighborhood, Tartine Bakery, is also a must stop to try any of the cakes or eclair.

    I'm wary to recommend any Chinese cuisine because you can find some really good places in Flushing. If you have a craving for dim sum and want to see what it's like on this side of the coast, I would recommend Koi Palace in Daly City, just because it's on the border of San Francisco and wouldn't require you going down the Peninsula for some other more popular places.

    20 Replies
    1. re: singleguychef

      I 2nd Ice Cream Bar-- nothing like it in NY or elsewhere. Focus on the drinks in the back--- the ice cream itself isn't exceptional. If you want innovative Ice Cream, Humphry Slocumbe.

      Aziza for Cal-Moroccan

      Mission Chinese Food will be opening up an outpost in Manhattan soon enough, so you might de-prioritize that

      Certainly compared to NY, Mexican is a strength. Nopalito has the best-mid range decent atmosphere place in SF.

      1. re: singleguychef

        Agree with everything here exept for Sebu. May just be me, but I find the Norcal sushi scene to be severely lacking when compared to NYC or even Socal.

        Having come from NYC, i'd recommend both Koi Palace and Yank Sing. Nothing like it in NYC, even in Flushing (Just my opinion!).

        Not as familiar with Mexican in SF proper, but I'd imagine there is much better stuff there than in NYC. Even down in the South Bay, I find the Mexican here to far surpass NY.

        1. re: FattyDumplin

          >> Koi Palace and Yank Sing. Nothing like it in NYC

          no decent dim sum in new york? really? wow, is new york chinese food really that bad?

          1. re: Dustin_E

            New York has a shortage of high end HK style dim sum for some reason. Even in Flushing the places are behind the trends and there is an emphasis on price and quantity over quality. My suspicion is that the Chinese population (and I count my NYC relatives) just won't pay for it.

            On the plus side, if you're missing your favorites from the seventies (black sesame rolls, tamarind spare ribs, snails in black bean sauce) NYC is a good place to find them.

            1. re: Dustin_E

              it's so bizarre. there's a lot of really old school big banquet hall dimsum that is ok, but lots of variety. then there are some newer ones, like dim sum go go, that are good, but pale in comparison to KP and YS. and finally there is chinatown brasserie which is high end dimsum and really good but very limited in menu.

              not all chinese food is bad here, we (sorry, still think as a NYer) have some great cheap eats, but Cali kills NYC chinese food pretty much across the board, in my view.

              1. re: FattyDumplin

                that is bizarre.

                any idea how london compares to san francisco for high end chinese food?

                i found hong kong to be miles ahead of san francisco, so i had kind of assumed sf would be about equal to new york.

                1. re: Dustin_E

                  Why would that be bizarre? Hong Kong is Cantonese food central. Of course, the food would be best in the mother land. (The flip side of this is that it is quite difficult to find good affordable non Cantonese food in Hong Kong. )

                  San Francisco is not in China but has an extremely large Cantonese population. New York is further away from Hong Kong, and has more immigrants from other parts of China rather than from Hong Kong so it doesn't really have a large selection of Hong Kong type places to eat. Great stuff from other regions, though.

                  Unless London has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, Chinese food was pretty crappy IIRC. $10 bucks for a teacup full of soggy noodles and wonton.

                  If you are looking for great Cantonese food outside of Hong Kong and Asia, Vancouver is the place. Lots of wealthy Cantonese immigrants plus great seafood.

                    1. re: sfbing

                      thanks. so you'd say vancouver is a notch above san francisco in terms of high-end cantonese?

                      do you know of any relatively high-end places in new york that specialize in a different region? (i'm thinking jai yun but from a different region than shanghai / huangzhou.)

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Vancouver is several notches above SF, NY, LA in terms of cantonese. My uncle says toronto is similar but I haven't been so can't compare directly.

                        Check the Manhattan board for high end chinese recs. There are a lot of people who are very familiar with the Chinese scene on that board. I thought about going to Chinatown Brasserie, but NY Chowhounders dissuaded me from doing so since I came from SF. I hear some fancy pants place called Hakkasan is opening up in Midtown.

                        Aside from the obligatory familial dim sum lunch, I mostly frequent places around the Flushing mall and Yunnan Flavour Snack Shop for cheap non Cantonese authentic eats.

                    2. re: Dustin_E

                      For some reason, I remember having some good high end cantonese food in London, but this was many years ago and my tastes may have changed then. I just recall hvaing some really good indian and cantonese food, but again, my memories may just be fooling me...

              2. re: singleguychef

                I'd also recommend the Ferry Terminal marketplace. Chelsea market is nice, but not as diverse or yummy and nothing beats buying some good eats and enjoying them out on the water on a nice SF day.

                1. re: singleguychef

                  Humphrey Slocum, yes! If you find you can't squeeze it in, at the very least grab yourself an It's It ice cream sandwich from any convenience store...yes, it is low brow but as an East Coast native I assure you, there's nothing like it back home. http://www.itsiticecream.com/

                  1. re: dulce lover

                    It's Its used to be good but today they're a gross industrial imitation of what was originally a fine handmade treat.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      considering it's industrial, it's still pretty good. better than chipwich, which is all you can get on the east coast.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        our favorite current version is the handmade Joe's It - http://www.joesicecream.com/
                        Joe's Ice Cream
                        5420 Geary Blvd.
                        San Francisco, CA 94121
                        Phone: 415-751-1950

                        go to http://richmondsfblog.com/2010/05/28/...
                        for the photo of the original menu board at the new location, the $2.95 'Joe's It' sign is posted under the 'Chocolate coated Banana' sign. It's better than the factory-made It's It made in Burlingame.

                        When Mother's cookies reorganized and was sold, the oatmeal cookie was pulled and the Murashige family stopped making their Joe's It. We were devastated. Other cookies were tested and did not meet the standards. Fortunately for us all, Mother's cookies are available again and All's right with the world. Joe's It is back on the Menu Board.

                      2. re: dulce lover

                        I second the It's It suggestion. It's a SF classic, and they taste as great as ever.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          It's It is not the same now as eating it at Playland at the Beach... not the same taste at all. :^(

                          1. re: Cynsa

                            I'm not saying I wouldn't take a fresh made hand dipped one in a heartbeat, but they're still really, really good.

                            It helps to defrost them, or find one that's not rock hard. They're top notch for a retail packaged ice cream sandwich.

                    2. In addition to Singleguychef's fabulous recs:
                      Flour + Water
                      Perbacco (or the less casual next door Barbacco)
                      Ozumo or Blowfish (for sushi)
                      Tony's Pizza Napoletana
                      House of Nanking (I say worth the hype - many others will disagree)

                      1. none of the suggestions thus far are what i'd consider "price is not an issue" "fine dining" that is on a level similar to benu.

                        for dinners look into:

                        jai yun (but they won't accommodate a single diner)

                        the azizza tasting menu might be good, but i've only tried a few a la carte dishes.

                        for lunches look into:

                        one market
                        swan's oyster depot

                        nice places open pretty late.:

                        ice cream bar
                        flour + water (if you wanted a great pasta dish really late at night -- but there might be a long wait.)

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          +1 on Quince, Tadich & Nopalito. All are outstanding and offer a quintessential SF experience.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              these posts are from a couple years ago. they don't anymore, or at least haven't the last couple times i tried.

                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                That's what some people said two years ago. Worth a try.

                          1. Must go!

                            1.Plow- Protrero Hill
                            If they have the friend chicken, don't think twice about ordering anything else. Their potatoes are to die for.

                            1. Gary Danko- Fisherman's Wharf $$$$
                            2. La Mar- Embarcadero $$$
                            The octopus is hands down, one of my favorite things in this world
                            3.$$ Mr. Pollo
                            Get there as soon as they open! Go with the tasting menu. Be prepared to be there all night and leave smelling like food but well worth it.

                            Ice Cream-
                            1. Salted Caramel Ice cream.
                            2. Marco Polo

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: freaknut101

                              is there anything about these places that make them particularly suitable for a visitor from new york, or are these just places you've been to that you liked? i like several of these places a lot, but i really don't know if you can't get something very similar in nyc. and apart from gary danko, they aren't particularly fine dining-ey.

                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                I think Marco Polo is a very SF thing, I never was able to find durian ice cream in NYC.

                                There also isn't a lot Peruvian in NYC and La Mar is great for upscale Peruvian.

                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                  Marco Polo's soursop, jackfruit, and black sesame flavors are at the top of my list.
                                  1447 Taraval St
                                  (between 24th Ave & 25th Ave)
                                  San Francisco, CA 94116
                                  Cash only.
                                  Mon-Sun 12 pm - 10 pm

                              2. Atelier Crenn
                                3127 Fillmore Street
                                (415) 440-0460

                                Keiko à Nob Hill
                                1250 Jones Street
                                (415) 829-7141

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Cynsa

                                  I would definitely try to hit one of these places for a blow your mind experience.

                                  For ice cream, I would head to Mitchell's before anything else. Its texture and flavor intensity is what takes it for me.

                                  1. re: weshoke

                                    Indeed, that's the special extra 2% of butter fat in MItchell's ice cream.

                                    1. re: weshoke

                                      I've always found Mitchell's to have a waxy, ice chippy consistency. Agree about their flavors though. Smitten Ice Cream wins the texture and flavor intensity battle by a longshot, in my opinion. You can't beat made to order ice cream.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        I've never had any Mitchell's with ice chippy texture. I would describe it more as a taffy-ice cream thing. Smitten has a different texture altogether, which is consistently smooth and creamy. It's a different beast. Smitten's flavors tend to not be as intense. I do like Smitten though.

                                      2. re: weshoke

                                        Some of Mitchell's unusual flavors, such as buko (young coconut) and macapuno (coconut sport) are really good, but I find the texture waxy and unpleasant, with a greasy finish.

                                      3. re: Cynsa

                                        Cynsa, I did some research about Atelier Crenn and it looks really exciting! I reserved a table... Thanks for your great suggestion! :)

                                      4. Nopa is open very late by SF standards, like 1am or something, so that's a good idea for a late night snack. But otherwise I don't know if anything here is truly a "must try" in that sense. We have plenty of superb restos, obviously, but very few places that are dramatically different from what you might find in NYC. You can definitely skip Mission Chinese, since Mr. Bowien is making his move to the LES. I'd probably also skip any Napoletana pizza place recommended here -- if you got to taste Mangieri's pizzas while he still lived in NY, you get the idea. Don't get me wrong, in my opinion all the places suggested above are kickass -- just not particularly unique.

                                        The main advantage of living in SF is that the ingredient quality is extremely high. On that note, my only real recommendation is that you go to Trueburger in Oakland, if only to disabuse any notion that Shake Shack is the best fast food burger out there (like, it's not even close; Trueburger is incontrovertibly superior). The line won't be nearly as long, either.

                                        Also, I agree with whoever suggested the Ferry Building. You should not leave SF without at least strolling around the Ferry Building for a few minutes.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: dunstable

                                          late night -

                                          My late night go-to is still Grubsteak for an order of the Caldo Verde soup to satisfy my hunger. Open to 4 am. http://sfgrubstake.com/portugesecorne...
                                          more comfort than 'must-try'


                                          1. re: dunstable

                                            "You should not leave SF without at least strolling around the Ferry Building for a few minutes."

                                            Even better during a farmers market....specifically, Sat.

                                          2. I'm a New Yorker (ok, Bay Area native, but have lived in NYC for almost 14 years) and am back in the Bay for a couple months.

                                            I also stand behind Swan, any of the ice cream places mentioned, Ferry Building, Nopalito and Plow (go really really early though, the line for brunch is insane).

                                            Since you only have two days I would also suggest eating what you CANNOT find in NYC:

                                            Burritos: there are so many threads on that topic. Everyone has their favorites - I still love going to Taqueria Cancun for the smothered burrito. They're open pretty late, too. I once had a late night burrito at Farolito and it seemed to have been made of pure salt...so if I were you I'd try for Cancun or La Cumbre instead

                                            Papusa: Balompie

                                            Vietnamese food: the Viet food scene in NYC is really depressing. In SF my mom really likes Bodega. Both my parents (they're Vietnamese, btw) and I really enjoyed the pho at Sau Vien. I've heard only great things about Turtle Tower - but no one in my family has tried it.

                                            Un-Chicago-like deep dish pizza: Little Star. I was skeptical until I finally ate there. Excecllent ingredients, cornmeal crust....Seriously - very unique and delicious take on the deep dish pizza.

                                            Unique fried chicken: Foreign Cinema...it's like no other fried chicken I've had...I've eaten at the best fried chicken shops in NYC - very unique flavor and approach. Also, the restaurant has an beautiful setup - another great place for a nice meal out. Try to get a table in the courtyard.

                                            Modernist cuisine using insanely fresh ingredients: Commonwealth. Yes, they make foam and use liquid nitrogen, etc - but as a way to intensify and complement the character of their ultra-fresh ingredients. Plus, the prices are insanely affordable considering the amount of effort that goes into their dishes. I feel the places in NYC that employ similar techniques have created a bit of disconnect between the source ingredient and the end-product (or "by-product", honestly) or are so stuffy and unenjoyable.

                                            I'm inclined to recommend against taking the time to eat Italian food since there is already so much in NYC. Flour + Water does make very unique pasta though...and they're open kinda late(ish)

                                            French: NYC also has great French, but eating in one of the cute pedestrian alleyways off Bush Street is pretty unique. I used to go to Cafe Claude before I moved to NYC...it's still around, though have no idea how it is nowadays. I've also heard amazing things about Gitane, which I have yet to try.

                                            About fine dining: since you're already hitting up Benu I definitely feel it'd be worth focusing on the mid-priced options in SF. The quantity and quality of them in SF is amazing and so different than what you can find in NYC. Really, I've had great entrees for $15 that I've seen restaurants in NYC charge for $25 - and the produce is just so insanely fresh here!

                                            Anyway, enjoy!

                                            14 Replies
                                            1. re: waxyjax

                                              Little Star's deep-dish pies are quite possibly the best in the world, in any case better than the original Uno's were before they went downhill.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                ya know, i would also say it's the best in the world...i've had deep dish in chicago and many other places. i never really thought much of that style of pizza-making until i ate at little star.

                                                1. re: waxyjax

                                                  Really? For deep-dish, Little Star is even better than Loui's and Buddy's in Detroit?

                                                  Chicago places may get a lot more press, but Detroit places have the better deep-dish pizza. And you can't judge that style by the imitation that Tony's does in San Francisco (though it's great to see someone in California at least attempt it).


                                                  1. re: mdg

                                                    That response gave me pause, as I'd never known Detroit to have good Chicago style pizza, even though I went to UM. After some Googling, it looks like this Detroit deep dish pizza, at least the ones at Loui's and Buddy's, and Chicago deep dish are two very different things.

                                                    I like Little Star just fine, but where Chicago pizza goes, I prefer stuffed pizza. So long as the folks at Little Star don't do stuffed pizza, I will always stop by a Giordano's when I'm in Chicago. In any event, it certainly is not a "must visit" for a New Yorker, in my view.

                                                    1. re: mdg

                                                      Totally different things. Chicago-style deep dish pizza as invented by Ike Sewell is a thin, pastry-like crust filled with stuff, more like quiche than traditional pizza.

                                                      The Destroit-style pizza that Buddy's, which invented it, calls "square pizza" is a thick bread crust, similar to what pizzerias around here call Sicilian-style but cooked in such a way as to make the crust crunchy.

                                                      Zachary's makes a terrible version of Chicago-style "stuffed" pizza. Patxi's makes both deep-dish and stuffed.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        To add to Robert's reply, the point was that Little Star is deep dish, but very different from any other kind out there....Chicago's quiche-like style isn't my favorite (in fact, i'd rather just have a quiche), Detroit style is very similar to a Sicilian (or sometimes in NY we call it a grandma slice)

                                                        I find myself craving Little Star's pizza all the time...which, was surprising to me since I live in NYC and never liked any other deep dish pizzas I had tried. Can't speak for agaaga, but most NYers I know also don't like deep dish - so actually enjoying the ones at Little Star, was certainly enlightening.

                                                        1. re: waxyjax

                                                          Yeah I just don't agree that it's that different. An excellent version of one, yes, but not fundamentally different from a chain Uno's, and anyway if he's gonna have deep dish, he should try it in Chicago. Just my two cents...

                                                          1. re: dunstable

                                                            yeah - some things are just relative...i'm not at all a fan of chicago deep-dish -- so to me, the difference is striking. however, those who love it may, and are likely to, have a different opinion (as we've seen here!).

                                                          2. re: waxyjax

                                                            Little Star's deep-dish is a much improved version of the Uno's style. If you're a fan of that kind of pizza, it's a must-try, just like Pi if you're in St. Louis.

                                                            1. re: waxyjax

                                                              Interesting analysis of the different styles - thanks. Detroit style may look like Sicilian, but in terms of taste it seems Chicago is a closer match. But reasonable people may disagree. I do want to try Little Star sometime, or their Blue Line knock-off in Campbell if that's similarly good...


                                                              1. re: mdg

                                                                Well now that I've been to Blue Line, I want to revisit this. First, thanks for the recommendation of Little Star. I've never been so I'm going to operate under the assumption that Little Star and Blue Line are pretty similar in quality given the common parentage in the partnerships. Blue Line's deep dish is indeed better than anything we had in Chicago in that style.

                                                                But I think the characterization of the crust in comparison with Detroit style is inaccurate. It had been a couple years since I had Chicago-style pizza, so I wanted to double check first, but the crust thickness is very similar to Detroit style. Chicago has a deeper dish than Detroit, so the fillings may indeed be thicker than in Detroit. But the overall flavor and texture sensation of Detroit pizza is far closer to Chicago deep-dish pizza than any "Sicilian" slice I've had in SF or New York (never been to Sicily, alas). Detroit style square pizza is nowhere near as bready as that.

                                                                Anyone want to subsidize Robert and me to do a definitive compare and contrast analysis of Chicago and Detroit deep dish pizza styles, plus their Bay Area counterparts? Robert can guide to Chicago favorites and I can do the same for Detroit. I'd do it just for the travel expenses.

                                                                For the Bay Area we can just cut to the chase with Little Star and Tony's. Little Star would trounce Tony's because they do a far better rendition of Chicago pizza than Tony's does of Detroit pizza.

                                                                But if I was visiting from New York I still don't think I'd go to any of our pizza places, with the possible exception of Gialina.


                                                                1. re: mdg

                                                                  I suspect that the only Uno's-style pizza that might be better than Little Star's is at Pi in St. Louis.

                                                                  According to Wes Pikula, vice president of operation for Buddy’s Pizza, their dough is 2-3 inches thick and spread evenly in the pan. The dough has no fat in it, the crispness comes from heavily greasing the special blue-steel pan and putting tons of high-fat Wisconsin brick cheese on top.


                                                    2. re: waxyjax

                                                      I was just hanging with friends last night who raved about Spice!Trenz...the chef of Mission Chinese has openly stated he was inspired by many of the dishes there. From what I heard, the ma-po stew and cumin lamb are even better there than at Mission Chinese. Their spicy hot pot is also supposed to be great. Might be nice interesting to check out.

                                                      1. re: waxyjax

                                                        Spices is good though it's sort of Taiwanese Sichuan. There are two in SF with slightly different menus.


                                                    3. For something uniquely SF, I second Aziza. Lahlou is a genius, and pastry chef Melissa Chou is right up there with him (she was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award this year). Portions are small, and you are expected to order multiple starters. This is Moroccan food like nowhere else in the world: unique, elegant, refined. You should order the flatbread; most dishes have no starch.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: tre2012

                                                        Yes, the flatbread and spreads are so delicious, as is the basteeya. I'm so disappointed with myself that I didn't get a cookbook. If the chef is there he will sign it for you.

                                                      2. Oysters and an anchor steam at Swan's Oyster Depot. Hangtown Fry at Tadich Grill -- it gets no more Old School San Francisco than that.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: gph2os

                                                          I just had brunch at Blue Bottle's Mint Plaza location for the first time. WOW - that waffle really is good! Definitely another great brunch/breakfast (yes, they serve on the weekdays) option. It's different than Waffles and Dinges in NYC - more fluffy...and with the freshly whipped cream and strawberries it's amazing. I also had the poached eggs catalan - also really great (but looks like that's only available on weekends.

                                                          it's also nice that the whole situation is counter service - makes the experience go faster so you can still make time to hit everything else on your itinerary.


                                                          1. re: waxyjax

                                                            Yes! I also really enjoyed their thick toast with poached egg, taylor ham and gruyere. So simple, but so good.

                                                        2. The two places that come to mind are Bar Agricole for drinks and food, and Canteen for either brunch or dinner. Bar Agricole is open late.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Missmoo

                                                            Canteen is so yummy! I really enjoyed our breakfast here. Make reservations now though... it fills up fast.

                                                          2. For Late night, Lers Ros (excellent thai) on Polk street is open 'til midnight

                                                              1. Chowhounders, words can not describe how thankful I am! Thank you all for the great suggestions! Looking forward to my trip to SF! :)

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: agaaga

                                                                  a lot of great advice, so this is how I would summarize. I spent some time eating in NYC and the average level is very high, thus can be a little harder to impress here.
                                                                  I'd avoid sushi altogether since NYC is better.
                                                                  Definitely get Vietnamese, though most of my favorites are in San Jose, a nicer ambiance one is Vung Tau
                                                                  Definitely get some Mexican in the mission
                                                                  late night, Lers Ros is awesome
                                                                  NOPA is the only SF place that will give you NYC vibe very late at night, otherwise everything closes relatively early
                                                                  if one other fine dining besides Benu, then I'd recommend Atelier Crenn (over Saison)
                                                                  Commonwealth if looking to spend less
                                                                  Aziza is pretty unique
                                                                  Ferry Building a must (better than Chelsea Market)
                                                                  you should check out a swan oyster depot or equivalent, also get Sotto Mare
                                                                  for ice cream, can't go wrong with BiRite, Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous, Mitchell's, etc