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Help me WOW my English partner with amazing SF food...


I have done a good deal of searching through the boards and am now looking for a bit more advise to firm up an eating itinerary during an upcoming trip to SF. Here are the details:

WHO: Former SF resident (and foodie) bringing my London born and bred partner on California trip of a lifetime. Trip is based around wine and food. SF will be our third main stop (after Santa Barbara/Central Valley and Big Sur). We will be moving on to Sonoma (Forestville) after SF. I am extremely adventurous (will eat pretty much anything). My loving boyfriend has gotten better over the years, but I would say he's into more traditional combinations - nothing too 'out there' in terms of ingredients and 'weird' combinations. We both love italian, he doesn't like chinese, or vietnamese (bummer), neither of us are very interested in French, and a major coup has been turning him on to sushi - woohoo!

WHEN: 4 days/3 nights, arriving on Tuesday Oct 9 and heading for Sonoma County on Friday Oct 12. Planning far in advance as I know some places book up quickly.

WHERE: San Francisco (obviously) - Haven't booked hotel yet, but thinking either Hotel Vitale (by the Ferry Building) or somewhere in/around Union Square. Food recommendations can be anywhere in SF, Oakland/Berkeley, Sausalito, etc. as we will have a car or can cab it.

WHAT: Looking for variety and good food without going into the 'Really, those ingredients go together?' area. I know SF is well known for 'creative cuisine' and happy to push the envelope slightly
* We definitely want at least 1 sushi dinner (note: we are coming from London so pretty much ANY sushi in SF is better than what we currently get) Was thinking maybe doing Sushi Ran in Sausalito for lunch or dinner as I want to show the GG bridge;
* Definitely 1 Cal-Italian place (when I lived in SF, A16 had just come on the scene and I loved it, same for Delfina - happy to go back to either of those, or something similar that's newer, Perbacco or Barbacco look good but are they better than A16 - I like the pizza option)
* Must show him what a burrito should actually taste like
* Probably want to do 1 more 'special occassion' place (though we will be coming from Big Sur - staying at the Post Ranch Inn and eating one dinner at Sierra Mar; and we will be heading up to stay at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville and eating one dinner there so don't want it to be overkill)
* I love pastry so will likely hit Tartine or Arizmendi - are there any new places similar that I should know about?
* Will probably go to the Ferry Plaza Thursday Market - anything not to miss? (I know its not as big as Saturday's market)

Apologies for the long post, just thought I would give all the details as I know vague questions can be very annoying. Hopefully this provides some helpful guidelines.

Thanks in advance - promise to post reviews upon our return!

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  1. Cal-Italian: This is huge in SF right now - there are so many options it is very overwhelming. There's Cotogna, but they seem not to take reservations for dinner at many popular times (at least not on OpenTable you may want to call)
    Flour + Water
    Perbacco and Barbacco are great Cal-Italian options but one thing I'd say they lack is the SF neighborhood vibe.

    Special Occasion - You may want to try Commis in Oakland or Aziza in SF. I'm also going to throw two new restaruants in that may work but I don't know too much about (but could have a good vibe for a special occasion) Plaj (Scandinavian) and Dixie (southern food reimagined) out there. I haven't been yet, and haven't even read too much about them, but it looks like it'd have good atmosphere and the food is promising without being too adventurous.

    Pastry - Would add Knead and Craftsman + Wolves

    3 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      Fabulous - those are great ones to add as I think those are all new since I left SF in 2005. Both Dixie and Plaj would add a bit of variety - I don't want to overdose on 'California cuisine,' as much as I miss it terribly.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond!

      1. re: goldangl95

        +1 Cotogna. If these are just two of you and if you are willing to sit at the counter, you may be able to get away with some flexibility on reservations. On a friday night I made reservations for 2 at 9:30 or so (by calling) --the only available time, but arrived at 8 with hopes of getting seated sooner. We waited 15 mins and got a place at the counter at 8:15.

        Another Hound favorite if you are willing to push the envelope a bit on Italian is La Ciccia (Sardinian). They are small and friendly and have a really unique wine list.

        1. re: goldangl95

          Cotogna takes reservations; call one month to the day before you want to dine. My wife and I ate there last weekend for our anniversary and had a nice meal, although the food was very rich (and I don't usually complain about that). If you want a really nice meal, Quince, next door, is even better, and the service is much better. More expensive, of course.

        2. The Thursday Ferry Building Market is mostly a prepared foods market. Lines are long at peak lunch hour, so go early or late. Roli Roti porchetta is the big deal there. Don't miss the 4505 chicharrones (if you're just buying chicharrones you don't have to stand in line, just walk up to the counter and ask for them). When you're up in Forestville you can hit the Saturday farmers market in Healdsburg.

          I think Aziza is a great suggestion for a special occasion that won't be too "do these ingredients go together."

          18 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Awesome! So sounds like people are advocating Cotogna over A16 or Delfina? Perhaps we could do Pizzaria Delfina for a lunch to get our good thin crust pizza fix (pizza in London pretty much sucks all around - though we are closer the Naples). I think I might've gone to Quince before I left SF but it sounds like it has changed considerably since 2005 as I don't remember the meal and people seem to rave about it on these boards. I'll give it another look.

            Any sushi recommendations?

            Here's what I'm thinking...
            Dinners: Cotogna, Quince (or another higher end place), and a recommended Sushi place
            Lunches: Pizzaria Delfina (maybe breakfast at Tartine and then hang around the mission), La Taqueria, and Chez Panisse or Zuni
            Breakfast: Dotties...any other recos?

            Thanks again!

            By the way, any recommendations Forestville way are greatly appreciated too!

            1. re: jimicat

              Sushi Ran is a great choice for sushi, better than anyplace in San Francisco.

              Cotogna has amazing pasta. If you're already going to Delfina for pizza, another option to consider would be Incanto. I wouldn't go to both Cotogna and Quince - the restaurants are related. If you love Italian, another place to consider is Acquerello.

              Since you're coming up from Big Sur, another special occasion dinner to consider would be Manresa.

              1. re: calumin

                Thanks for this info. I actually had a look at the Quince menu last night and one thing I neglected to include in my initial brief is that my partner is pretty weary of tasting menus - he doesn't like not having a choice in what he eats, which I suppose I can understand for someone who has a few random foods that are off limits (prawns, for instance). So, unless I'm absolutely sure (I.e., I've already dined at the place with the tasting menu and know he will like it) I don't generally bother since it could be a waste of money and not a particularly enjoyable experience.

                So, long story short, the 'special occasion dinner' is still up for debate. Will have a look into Aziza...anyone know how far in advance you generally have to make reservations?

                Also, would you recommend Sushi Ran for lunch or dinner? I'm thinking maybe make a day out of Sausalito and the Marin Headlands or even Muir Woods...

                1. re: jimicat

                  Just a thought from a gastrotourist who visits SF twice yearly (so lucky!) to eat: we had a lovely and memorable lunch at Cotogna in April. No problem at all getting a reso though IIRC correctly we did book a couple weeks in advance. Could be an option for you...

                  1. re: jimicat

                    Quince is very Frenchified / Michelin-friendly Italian, which is probably closer to what you can get in England than the Cal-rustic style of Cotogna, Incanto, or Delfina.

                    1. re: jimicat

                      forgive me if i'm replying to a dead thread, and your trip has already occurred.

                      for something coming from london, i'd suggest chez panisse cafe over cotogna, and chez panisse downstairs over quince.

                      i think the way michael tusk has changed his menu / style from chez panisse is to make it more like a standard italian restaurant -- which you can easily find in london.

                      when i had their tasting menu at a few months back quince, they imported a lots of european / french ingredients (some white asparagus, some langoustine, etc.) great -- but but not if you are visiting from europe.

                      i also get really tired of tasting menus, but won't ever get tired of the set menus at chez panisse.

                      for japanese, you can do better than sushi ran -- again, i suspect sushi ran is similar to what you can get at places like nobu. i'd suggest you look into kappa, sushi sho, or sawa (if you want to drive).

                      i believe sf also has much better chinese food than london -- i'd suggest you look into jai yun (recent thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/864582)

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Many thanks for the recommendations - the trip has not yet occurred (two weeks and counting!)

                        Of the sushi you receommended, is only Kappa in San Francisco. I think I see that sushi sho in el cerrito and sawa is in sunnyvale? Unfortunately I think those last two might be too out of the way for our three days in San Francisco - I will look into Kappa though - its in Japantown?

                        To be honest, I expect ANY sushi will be better than what we can get in London. It makes me sad really. I used to really enjoy Ebisu - anyone know if Ebisu is still as good as it was then? I know it is quite a neighbourhood place, but how would this compare to your recommendation of Kappa?

                        I had thought about Chez Panisse, but my boyfriend doesn't really enjoy tasting menus and with CP Downstairs, I always get nervous that the menu of the day won't necessarily be to his liking.

                        I have reservations at the following places:

                        Monday: Slanted Door (I know its cliche) (but considering replacing with La Mar)
                        Tuesday: Sushi Ran (or another sushi place)
                        Wednesday: Flour & Water

                        What your opinion?

                        1. re: jimicat

                          Better do more reading on Kappa. If you are expecting a traditional sushi restaurant. that is probably not what you want.

                          1. re: jimicat

                            Regarding the sushi aspect...

                            Sushi Ran is a nice place. It's very 'marin'. A bit out of the way, well-kept clientele, quite busy. Excellent food. You can go straight on sushi there, but they tend to also have some imaginative sushi-style options. Definitely a california place.

                            Kappa is in SF. Very small. You sit at an 8-person counter and the chef gives you a variety of dishes, only some of which are sushi/sashimi. I went there once and was not impressed. Dustin and I have agreed to disagree about this restaurant in the past. My main issue was that a number of things seemed prepared ahead and room temp, where I would prefer them fresh and warm/hot.

                            In a similar vein to Kappa we have Kiss Seafood, which for me is a perfect little 5-6 course japanese meal. At kiss, one course will be perfect little bites of sashimi, and another is gorgeous sushi. The others vary and are always quite nice.

                            Still in the same vein, if you are willing to travel south to San Mateo, we have a glorious kaiseki restaurant called Wakuriya. Flawless and the best of its kind in the bay area if you ask me. The chef actually worked at Kitcho Arashiyama in Kyoto, which about as good as it gets anywhere in the world for kaiseki.

                            On to straight-on sushi in SF:
                            Ino Sushi is a quiet small sushi bar in Japantown. The way to do it there is to call ahead and reserve seats at the counter, and then order omakase from the chef. He is a quiet somewhat dour man, but his fish is the best in SF (in my opinion). It will be all sushi, and he plunks the pieces down on the counter 2 at a time as he prepares them. For pure sushi, this is my first choice.

                            In Alameda (east bay) there is Yume. Same approach as Ino but they do not take reservations. Sit at the counter and order omakase. This place is cheaper than Ino, and a happier place. But the fish is not quite as good as Ino. Although he's got a giant scallop thing he does that is amazeballs.

                            I'll mention two other sushi joints:
                            Zushi Puzzle -- here you want to sit at the counter again and order omakase. This guy is really fun, a real character, and the food is very good.

                            Last off there is Sushi Time in the Castro. Just a neighborhood place, but the sushi is good, and their traditional appetizers (oshitashi, hiya yakko, sunomono, etc) are all very well done.

                            Oh oops and I should mention my current favorite local Japanese, Izakaya Yuzuki. The have little (or sometimes no) sushi on the menu, but all their food is fantastic and unique.

                            1. re: pauliface

                              Great post, pauliface, bookmarked. Haven't really tried a lot of sushi in SF as we have so much at home but your post makes me want to correct that.

                              1. re: pauliface

                                Yuzuki is great, some of the best non-sushi Japanese I've had.

                                In Oakland, Uzen in Oakland is old-school classic Japanese and very good. It's just a couple of blocks from Rockridge BART. I sit at the counter so no idea how table service might be.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I have friends who won't go back to Uzen because the table service was dreadful. But it's busy enough ....

                                2. re: pauliface

                                  Thanks very much for the detailed response. We are definitely looking for sushi only Japanese and unfortunately, one with a menu. It has been an achievement in and of itself, getting the BF to eat sushi, but he is still not so experimental that he allows it to be left to the chef to decide what he will eat!

                                  Based on that, what would your list look like?

                                  1. re: jimicat

                                    Hi jimicat.

                                    Given what you've said, I do think Sushi Ran could be a great choice. (They are not sushi only, but they are sushi mostly, and you can do your whole meal as sushi if you like quite nicely). Their menu is interesting and fun, and they always have cool specials.
                                    Most importantly, it will really make for a nice day when you do the bridge.
                                    Tips for that trip by the way: There are viewing areas on both sides of the bridge. If that's what your day is about, I'd research the locations (the one on the SF side is a little tricky to find) and stop at both. If only one, do the one on the marin side. You get to that one by crossing the bridge in the right lane and exiting to the right immediatly at the end of the bridge.
                                    I'd also recommend a visit to Muir woods. Go there in the morning and hit sushi ran for lunch/late lunch, it'll make a great day. Or spend more time there and hit sushi ran dinner...

                                    I'd stay away from Ino because I'd do that omakase only.
                                    You could have a great time at Yume without omakase. But I'm not sure they have a menu, you might have to point.

                                    Sushi Time is not really the same class as those others, but if you are in the Castro for any reason and want a 2nd sushi meal, I'd recommend them.

                                    1. re: pauliface

                                      Awesome. That's exactly the day I had envisioned...grab some pastries for late breakfast at either Tartine or Knead...then head over the bridge...stop at the Marin headlands for a viewing and the on to Muir Woods for a hike...maybe stop at the Tourist Club for a beer...and then back thru Sausalito for an early dinner at sushi Ran. Yes! I can't wait!

                                      Thanks for confirming my plan :-)

                                      1. re: pauliface

                                        +1 on Sushi Ran given what you've described regarding Boyfriend.

                                        Don't forget beer at the Pelican Inn off of Muir Beach, I don't know what was stated about beer but that's a great cozy place out of the wind, unless it's too much like home. Sometimes one spot like home will relax someone during a trip.

                                      2. re: jimicat

                                        If you sit at a sushi bar, you don't have to leave the choice to the chef. You can just look at what's there, ask what things are, and order what you want.

                                        Menus are problematic. The fish available at a great sushi bar changes from day to day or even hour to hour if a shipment happens to come in while you're sitting there.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I also recommend sitting at the bar.
                                          It tends to be more fun and you might strike up a conversation with your neighbors, which is especially nice when traveling.

                                          But I'm pretty sure Sushi Ran prints their specials on the menu, and also that you can get the menu while sitting at the sushi bar if you like.

                                          Either way it's a good idea to chat up the sushi chef and ask what's good...

                        2. I know you said no French (not sure what you mean by that - ?classic) but I think La Folie is amazing for special occasion.
                          Even tho the chef is very french it isn't anything like classic French, or even much like what I get in France. Maybe I'd call it Cal-French (IMHO). Their website has a lot of pics which might give you a better idea of what the food is like.
                          When I last ate there a few weeks ago they had two courses that were sushi like (or rather sashimi) and up there with the best Japanese, but with a slightly different style and presentation.
                          I don't know Post Ranch or Farmhouse so don't know how this rec would fit with those experiences

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: estnet


                            I just wanted to say that you should know that you are a great boyfriend! There are so many "help me plan" posts on Chowhound, and so many of them focus on the name/ rep of restaurant or the cost (both valid considerations by the way) but you're obviously trying to make sure HE is happy and that the restaurant suits him, not the other way around. Basically, you are a planning the way it should be- about the other person, and it is so nice to read! Hope you have a wonderful time. Post back would love to hear it!

                            1. re: arugala

                              Aw thanks. That's very sweet. I just want to make sure he loves it as much as I did when I lived in SF. It's going to be an amazing trip. I absolutely cannot wait.

                              Promise to write reviews when I return. Any favourites you recommend?

                          2. California is about produce. Go to a good farmers' market and cruise the fruit. Taste what's offered. Buy peaches, berries, and whatever else appeals, Take it back to your hotel and gorge.
                            Some people say that California cuisine is more about shopping than about cooking. And the problem with that is what?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: AnnKnepper

                              Agreed. Go to the Allemany farmers market on a Saturday, and you'll find really good food stalls in addition to the produce.

                              1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                Yeah, as we will be in Forestville on Saturday, was thinking of hitting up the Santa Rose Farmers Market which sounds supreme. As we are sparing no expense for our hotel stays and a few blowout meals, I would love to save a bit of money and do some cheap-er eats and even grab rations for picnics from local farmers markets to save a few bucks here and there.

                              2. re: AnnKnepper

                                2nd on farmers markets...or head to Berkeley Bowl. The produce part is the size of a normal store. Not as good as the best stuff at a FM but overall the variety/prices are hard to beat. As a regular supermarket it overwhelms a lot of people. If that doesn't wow them, not sure what will.

                                I'd also get a burrito or taco in the Mission or Fruitvale in Oakland. Plenty to choose from, cheap. Basically it's CA's version of the slice in NYC (as noted by Wolfe).

                              3. I won't comment on restaurants, but my English friends coming over here around this time of year have been most blown away by the produce (especially the wide range of delicious tomatos) and the local king salmon. As high priced as high quality wild salmon can be here, it now way approaches to extraordinary prices that wild Scottish salmon commands in London.

                                I would say try to do at least one place where the quality of the produce is half the draw.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Joan Kureczka

                                  Which is the one reason to have a blow-out at Saison, regardless of the dislike of tasting menus.

                                  Re: lack of distaste of British food. I haven't been in London for a few years, but I've been more extensively in continental europe (Germany, Italy, Nordic, etc) and I feel a little smug, because I see "modern cuisine" being what we used to call california cuisine in the late 80's through early 90's. There's a satisfaction that your personal revolution has taken hold, now worldwide. Of course it's not that simple - multiple influences - and maybe norcal was just cat's paw to the tuscans - and it wasn't _my_ revolution, but it's "mine" more than the giants baseball team is "mine", and one still feels pride.

                                  What's great about _living_ in SF (and environs) is you can _afford_ to eat well constantly. Whether it's by having your favorite burrito joint that you've picked out of the hundreds, or a great farmer's market, or raising your own eggs, or getting some 4501 prosciutto every few months, or the simple delight of the bread, or really astonishingly good coffee, it's just always good for not that much money. These days, GF and I will get 4 appetizers, or maybe 3 and a main if I'm hungry, and share it all. Restaurants have caught on and raised appetizer prices, but you can still have some great tastes even if you're on a budget at expensive places - another joy of eating a couple of apps or a signature dish at the bar, and getting out.

                                  In order to wow this guy (or yourself), I'd focus on that. "We could eat like this every day if we lived here" - hard to sink in over a few days. My personal love is I can eat at a new restaurant any day I want, new ones open more than a few a week (short list now is the Burmese places in downtown Palo Alto, we're down to about 40 in Restaurant Roulette Redwood City). I can also go to some of my favorite restaurants and try a new dish, and every year or two I find an entirely new style of cuisine. It is 100% impossible to get bored around here with even a small modicum of curiosity.

                                  If I _really_ wanted to wow someone, I would make a list of 5 places in a single night, and engage a driver. I'd call ahead and have a particular dish pre-ordered, two seats at the bar waiting, pre-pay the bill and whisk away to the next one.

                                  Good luck; report back.

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    If you read English literature, it's clear that English cuisine was in fact traditionally pretty good -- there's nothing "modern" about eating fresh food -- it's what most people did before 1940. What we think of as British cuisine was an unhappy by product of the rise of industrialized agriculture and mass-produced food generally in the '50s and years of hardship and rationing -- some foods didn't go off ration in Britain until 1954. The same is true throughout northern and central Europe. Maybe we should be smug about how easily the US got off in WWII.

                                    I have family in England and have made trips periodically for 50 years, shopping, cooking and eating like locals (although fairly foodie locals). The food overall has gotten much, much better over the years, and as noted, they're much more savvy about food politics (slow food, food miles) than Americans on average. When I was there in 2005, and we were all at my cousins' vacation cottage in north Wales, I was planning on making something that required cilantro. They were dubious if I could find it in their nearest town, so I bought some at an herb shop, then walked into the Co-op to find they also had it. Fancy that! Cilantro in the co-op in Dolgellau!

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      I think where bbulkow is completely right is the value issue. I don't think there's anywhere in the world where you get the same quality/variety/cost ratio. In places like New York or London where you can get anything, it's going to be maybe twice the price it might be here. In places where food is cheap, there isn't usually the variety and/or quality. It's not just that things can be produced locally, but that they can be produced locally on a commercial scale that makes them more than just novelties.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        When in London I enjoy Borough Market. The cheese stalls alone are worth the cheek-to-jowl crowds that storm the place.

                                        In San Francisco, I can kick back just a bit and cherry pick a few items Saturday morning before heading over to Yank Sing for an early lunch. I know where to go at the market and what to buy.

                                        In Rome, I shop at the Campo de' Fiori and its environs on a daily basis.

                                        My point is that when in London I don't miss San Francisco and when in Rome I don't miss London. They all have great product/produce (Romans insist) but they are all quite different with respect to local emphasis on seasonality (ah, the fresh game stalls in London). I just cherry-pick the best whenever I'm in town.

                                        1. re: steve h.

                                          Words to live by! And how I envy your yearly sojourn in Rome (at the top of the very short list of places where I wouldn't want to live, but would love to have a yearly sojourn!).

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Rome in March/April is pretty special. Hard to imagine a better place on the planet after a cold New England winter. Rent a small apartment, live on the economy. You would look good there. Summertime is downright oppressive but you know that.
                                            Northern California, in my opinion, has the best weather on the planet. Food is consistently good over all 12 months. Wines/beers? Oh yeah. Sports teams are pretty good, too. I respect your reluctance to live elsewhere.
                                            Having said that, it's good to be on the road.
                                            Monterey on Wednesday (car week). It will be good to see old friends and escape the heat and humidity back East. Sardines, squid and sand dabs are in my future.

                                  2. Thanks again for all your contributions. I've made some initial decisions and would love your opinions.

                                    I've decided since we will be having quite a bit of 'California Cuisine' as we travel up the coast from LA and then also after we leave to go to Sonoma County, that whilst in San Francisco, we will focus on more 'ethnic' and casual places. Therefore, my initial list looks like this:

                                    Tuesday (dinner): Slanted Door
                                    Wednesday (dinner): Sushi Ran - plan to make a day and go for a hike in Muir Woods and then earlyish dinner in Sausalito on the way back
                                    Thursday (dinner): Flour + Water

                                    So, here are some alternatives that I'd love opinions on.
                                    For Tuesday dinner, I had considered Nopalito, but it does appear that you can make reservations and I hate waiting to eat for any real length of time. Anyone know about wait times and would this be a better alternative to Slanted Door?
                                    Alternately, we could do our Cali-Italian on Tuesday and do either Perbacco, A16, Barbacco, or Zero-Zero. If we do that, then I would swap Flour + Water out on Thursday and maybe do something a bit more fun and festive and make a night out of it. I've had my eye on Bix for a fun night out. Would this be worth losing F+W?
                                    I'm not hugely excited about the Slanted Door reservation, though maybe I an underestimating it. Does it still get good reviews after all this time? My boyfriend isn't massively into Vietnamese, but I am and I feel this could be a good, easy introduction to the flavours without being very intimidating. Any other recommendations for a place that would be good to go to after a bunch of nights eating similar foods (we will be eating at Bouchon in Santa Barbara, Root 246 in Solvang, and Sierra Mar in Big Sur in the nights before we arrive in San Francisco)
                                    One other option is to move Sushi Ran to lunch which opens up another dinner in San Francisco.
                                    If we keep Flour + Water on Thursday, I'd love some recommendations on where to go for some nice cocktails and atmosphere afterwards - this will be our last night in San Francisco so would love it to be a big, fun one.

                                    Other things I definitely want to fit in during our time in San Francisco:
                                    1. A Burrito for lunch (probably on Thursday, but then again, the Ferry Building is right across from our hotel so we could do lunch there on Thursday ) - where to for the best burrito?
                                    2. Tartine - perhaps for breakfast before hike in Muir Woods. Or would Arizmendi be better? Or Knead?
                                    3. Very intrigued by Dynamo Donuts - is it worth it?
                                    4. Breakfast on Friday morning before we leave for Forestville - Should it be Dotties, Mamas, Brenda's or Plow?

                                    One other thing, on our drive from Big Sur to San Francisco on Tuesday, any recommendations on a good place to stop and take a break? Carmel (too close, I think)? Santa Cruz (anywhere interesting to grab a bite)? I assume we will have a nice breakfast before we leave the Post Ranch Inn so probably won't be hungry for a while - might even be able to make it all the way up to SF and get a quick snack (slice at Tony's) once we get to the city to hold us until dinner.

                                    Thanks again for all you help - nearly ther and cannot wait!!

                                    20 Replies
                                    1. re: jimicat

                                      I don't think Slanted Door has changed.

                                      Santa Cruz is discussed on the California board:


                                      1. re: jimicat

                                        Best burrito will create a fire storm of comments...everyone has a favorite place and every taco joint has a best item, carnitas, grilled chicken, etc. There's several burrito rating sites, like burritoeater.com that can make your head spin. There's probably 200 taquerias in SF. Near downtown, I'd try Taqueria Cancun at 6th/Market and I'd get the al pastor.

                                        1. re: jimicat

                                          I tried both Tartine and Knead while in SF and I think a pomme d'amour from Knead would make a great breakfast for you. If you or your partner likes pastries at all, this one is top notch! It was one of the best things I ate while in SF.

                                          Also, I'm surprised you're not going for Burmese food - I tried it in SF for the first time and fell in love.

                                          1. re: jimicat

                                            The pasta at Flour + Water is wonderful and if you want a fun last evening I think the space/atmosphere fits the bill too. I'd keep it on your list.

                                            Pavel's Bakery in Pacific Grove is great for a snack. Depends on timing for your planned break.

                                            1. re: BAnders

                                              Awesome. Ok, that helps elimate one alternative. I'll keep Flour + Water for the final night.

                                              Any recommendations on good places to go out afterwards for cocktails and fun? Doesn't necessarily have to be in the mission as we are staying on the Embarcadero at Hotel Vitale.

                                              Thanks again for the vote of confidence!

                                              1. re: jimicat

                                                If you can get a reservation for Flour + Water that's great, but otherwise I suggest going somewhere else rather than dealing with the hour-plus wait.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Thanks. We do have a reservation for Flour + Water for 7:15 on Thursday. A little early but I guess I should be pleased I got the reservation at all.

                                                  Just made a after dinner res at Wilson & Wilson, so that should be fun.

                                                  Robert, I think you made a comment about how Slanted Door hasn't changed. Is that a good thing? I think I remember it fondly but it has been a long time.

                                            2. re: jimicat

                                              Slanted Door hasn't changed, but if you aren't excited, I wouldn't do it. If you/your boyfriend will tolerate a sketchy neighborhood, I'd suggest Bodega Bisto as an alternative. The restaurant itself is nice and not intimidating (they even have a modest wine list), the food is reliably good and more traditionally Vietnamese, and it's less expensive.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                I have only done Slanted Door once, and maybe it was a bad night, but was also not impressed at any level, beyond the view, and the interesting people passing by outside.


                                              2. re: jimicat

                                                Staying at Vitale is a great location for the Ferry Bldg. I think you may know there are no burritos at the Ferry Bldg., though Thursdays at lunch Tacolicious has a stand, or if you can stand standing in line, the porchetta sandwich at Roli Roti is great, especially to share. Then you can see what else looks good from another vendor, like 4505 or Namu. It's all good, but I'd skip the pizza and the ramen, as they are far from best in class. http://cuesa.org/page/thursday-market...
                                                Any day of the week you can find some great snacks or meals in the Ferry Bldg. You can try it for breakfast, too, with a great coffee and a Belgian waffle at the Blue Bottle shop, or a pastry and Verve coffee at Frog Hollow, or a sit-down $$$ breakfast (or lunch) at Boulette's Larder.

                                                Dim Sum at Yank Sing is also convenient to Hotel Vitale, but the opinion of some is that it is too pricey for what it is, and that complaint is also made about Slanted Door, which I think can be great, but it might not be for everyone. Maybe try Slanted Door for cocktails (very well made, and the selection of wines and beer and teas are also great) and snacks (ask what is seasonal, or have the imperial rolls or the ribs) in the bar are a fool-proof way to try it out. Then you could walk over to LaMar for a night cap and/or dessert.

                                                1. re: foodeye

                                                  By "pizza," do you mean their Okonomiyaki? I'm not sure there's a better version in SF, but it is kind of a heavy item for 2 people to share amongst the other FB treats.

                                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                                    No, I meant Pizza Politano. Their farmer's market driven ingredients are good, but the crust is really blah. If you wanted food truck pizza, I'd track down Del Popolo somewhere close by. like Sidney Walton Park; though their crust is on the chewy side, it is worth trying.

                                                  2. re: foodeye

                                                    Thanks that is really helpful re: trying Slanted Door for cocktails and snacks and then perhaps move on from there. When I was debating the hotel, proximity to the Ferry Building clinched it for me. Will definitely do a quick breakfast there at some point, though I have such fond memories of Dottie's and have heard great things about Plow and Brenda's, I think it is going to be a tough decision! Also, I need to fit in Tartine and apparently the pomme d'amour at Knead...oh yeah, and some of those Dynamite Donuts.

                                                    Wowee I am going to be a tub-tub after this trip! Thanks again for the recs and I'll be sure to give a recap when we get back...

                                                    1. re: jimicat

                                                      Heh, if you want to cut calories, Dynamo's cake doughnuts are better than their yeast doughnuts, and neither are as successful as you'll find in cities with more competitive doughnut cultures (or even Oakland). Also, they are popular because of their interesting flavors (e.g., maple bacon), so your boyfriend might not appreciate them (I don't...). In SF, I've not found a better yeasted takeout doughnut than the filled "beignets" at Arlequin.

                                                      The pomme d'amour is definitely worth waking up early for.

                                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                                        hyperbowler, I am arrested by your mention of fried dough at Arlequin but can't find the item of which you speak on their menu, only "seasonal brioche donuts." Same beast or different than your recco?

                                                        1. re: grayelf

                                                          Yes, that's it! I first heard about them here:


                                                          Had I realized they were seasonal, I would have stopped back more often. I'd gone there a few times in early 2012, and found the chocolate espresso brioche beignet to be very good, and the pear butter one to be heavenly.

                                                          1. re: hyperbowler

                                                            Pear butter??!! So on the list. Is Arlequin a place you can go and just get the donuts for a snack? It appears so from their website....

                                                            1. re: grayelf

                                                              Arlequin does a lot of takeout. It's a semi-cafeteria-style place.

                                                  3. re: jimicat

                                                    Since no one seems to have commented it, I thought I'd add my two cents worth.
                                                    As a Sydneysider I went to SF last October, caught the ferry over to Sausalito for a day trip with lunch at Sushi Ran and had a lovely day. Lunch was excellent - very good sushi and much better than I have ever seen ANYWHERE In Europe (and most places in Sydney). Sausalito lovely but touristy and a great way to see the GG bridge.

                                                    1. re: jimicat

                                                      this is such a fabulous post and the responses are even better than the post! What a thoughtful planner you are!

                                                      I would add the following for serious consideration -

                                                      AQ - totally unique seasonal menu and atmosphere - they change the decor every season. Excellent knowledgeable staff and very sophisticated food w/o pretension.

                                                      Yang Sing - great dim sum. Cool and different experience. I like the Stevenson Street location better than the Rincon Center location

                                                      Burritos - you go! Love that! Lots of choices in the Mission. My fav is El Toro on 17th and Valencia. Second would be Canun a block up the street on Valencia

                                                      Food Trucks - I am not sure if they have caused as much of a stir overseas but wow they have really changed the food scene dynamics. Lots of up and coming chefs trying out new things and well known chefs too testing new ideas. See of you can find a Food Truck fest - they usually have them on the summer and fall wknds around the city - a gathering of sorts of food trucks. that's not the right name but you get what I mean.

                                                      Kokkari - an oldie but a goodie. Wonderful Greek/Med food. Delish. Warm. Friendly. Stick to your bones good. And great local bar scene

                                                      Wayfare Tavern - my new fav. Holy moly these guys continue to impress me. Great bar scene too.

                                                      Tony's Pizza in Northbrath - WOW. one order of meatballs and you'll be in heaven. Also an active bar scene. Extremely casual. Worth every minute of wait time.

                                                      Please post again where you wound up and what you thought of each. Would love to hear about your most excellent adventures and best of luck to you!

                                                    2. My "short list," and in the SOMA and Union Square area are:

                                                      AME - SOMA and very interesting culinary and wine scene.
                                                      Farallon - Union Sq with seafood the focus, though wines are not far behind.
                                                      Campton Place - Union Sq with some very innovative cuisine, though not from "another dimension." Wines are a major focus.
                                                      Luce - SOMA great food, with a hint of Italian influence, and interesting wines to pair.
                                                      RN74 - OK SOMA, but not quite. Great FR cuisine, in a more casual atmosphere. Chef Berthold is doing some very interesting takes on FR "bistro" cuisine, and do look at the boards, as there are some major wine deals up there, especially the last bottles.
                                                      Boulevard - SOMA at the end. Great food and service, with a very good wine list.

                                                      Just out of the area, near City Hall, at 300 Grove St, is Jardinere, with classic FR cuisine and a very good wine list.

                                                      Most of all, enjoy,


                                                      19 Replies
                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                        Among wine-focused restaurants, St. Vincent might be in a class by itself.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                          I am not familiar with St. Vincent. Will put that on my list for the Oct. SF trip.

                                                          Thank you,


                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                            Hi Bill,
                                                            David Lynch is the man behind St. Vincent. I think you know him from his stint as wine guy for Mario Batali's New York restaurants.
                                                            Long/short: Lynch left the Batali empire and migrated to San Francisco where he worked with the Tusks on the re-launch of Quince and the opening of Cotogna at their new digs up by Jackson Square. I think it's safe to say that the re-launch, from both a food and wine perspective, was an unqualified success.
                                                            Lynch is now on his own. Robert was an early adopter of St. Vincent. I haven't been (not enough time recently) but it's on my stack. Give it a shot and report back if good wines and small plates appeal to you.

                                                            1. re: steve h.


                                                              I went to the restaurant's site, and it did look good. It's a bit far from our normal digs, but hey, we can easily cab it. Sounds like our kind of place, and I am surprised that it has not appeared on our radar screen yet. That is what's wrong with being a tourist - you cannot know every restaurant.

                                                              I now have them on my "must try" list.

                                                              I did not know Lynch from Batali, but from before, and his import business. Good name to have associated with a wine-centric endeavor.

                                                              It has gotten to the point that I have the wine lists memorized at, or near our hotels, so some variation would be greatly welcomed. That was something that attracted me to my recs. - they had fairly deep wine lists, well beyond "the usual suspects." John, the sommelier at Luce works very hard to keep that smallish list exciting, and I respect that. I have personally consumed most of the 2005 white Burgs at Farallon, so need to "branch out" a bit. Many of the 2007's seem to be drinking well, if one cannot find the '05s. As a side note, Blackberry Farm is starting to squirrel away the '05s, for our next trip there.

                                                              We had Quince on the list, but on that trip, they were down.

                                                              Thank you,


                                                        2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          That list is very "tourist" oriented and probably out-of-date. When was the last time you ate at Luce or Jardiniere? Ame is the only restaurant on that list I'd agree might be good for someone wanting to make the most of a short visit.

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            Well, as I am not a resident, but a tourist myself, you may be correct. We are only in SF about 20 times per year, and Luce was 3 mos. ago. The others within that time.

                                                            As we only have 2 - 3 nights per trip, so that is only about 50 - 60 meals out in a year, and because of that, I am probably not the best person to ask. We also tend toward fine-dining, and an active wine program, so it's probably something that tourists might do.

                                                            Sorry that I responded to the OP,


                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              we took some friends to Jardiniere last year on a special occasion, the first time we'd returned there for years, and the food and service was every bit as good as we remembered. the food is somewhat in the predictable, high end, conventional vein and our usual dining out budget combined with that factor has limited our visits. for that type of dining, for our tastes their cooking might have a bit more finesse than the similar Boulevard.

                                                              1. re: moto

                                                                >> predictable, high end, conventional

                                                                I think all of bill hunt's recommendations fall into this category, and there is nothing wrong with that.

                                                                i find that 75% of recommendations on chowhound fall into the category of "good-value, interesting, somewhat inconvenient."

                                                                nothing wrong with that, either, but i think CH overall dismisses a large fraction of very good SF restaurants because they don't fall into this latter category.

                                                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                  That's true, for the most part. However, most visitors who post requests here are looking for something that's "where the locals eat" and "unique to San Francisco" which -- to me at least -- means not places that are predictable, high end and conventional. If you come to town as often as Bill Hunt, that's another matter, but he's not typical of visitors who post requests here.

                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                    I think Bill Hunt's list reflects his interest in "deep" wine lists.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                                      That IS a large part of our meals, and the wines, and wine service do figure into our enjoyment.

                                                                      Thank you for the St. Vincent rec. We hope to make it there, before year's end.



                                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler


                                                                      I see much the same, on the New Orleans, and Hawai`i board, and some of our favorites do not quite fit that bill. When one wants, say "cheap, local," I seldom have anything to offer, on either of those boards.

                                                                      Now, you mentioned "unique to San Francisco," and I see similar on the New Orleans board. One of my favorites there is Stella!, which is not one of the "grand dames" of NOLA cuisine, but does a "Deep South take" on some fairly common NOLA dishes. Still, it is not historic, but is unique to NOLA, and very, very good. Some decry that it is not any better, than what one could get at Restaurant Daniel in NYC, but I contend that it WILL be different, and that Stella! IS unique to NOLA, but maybe their recipes are not what a food historian would consider "true NOLA cuisine." Still, unless a poster has specifically specified that they want "true NOLA cuisine," I do not hesitate to make that rec. Sometimes, it might not be the ultimate rec., though there are zero problems with it - just not NOLA cuisine, per se. Yes, other cities have comparable restaurants, though THEY might not reflect the culinary character of their city - they are still good. For me, a great restaurant does not need to reflect a particular cuisine to be viable.

                                                                      Even though he has major ties to San Francisco, we finally did Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak. Other than maybe the beets, and the asparagus, nothing was even closely associated to the San Francisco Area. It is also what I would call a "mini-chain," in that there are several iterations of that restaurant. I must add that we liked the old Michael Mina (before he reopened the Aqua location) in that location, and felt that there was a much better, and stronger tie to the City. We were less than impressed with Bourbon Steak, though we have followed Chef Mina's career for many years, and just spent a lovely week with him at Blackberry Farm. Notice that Bourbon Steak did not make my "short list," and probably would not make my "long list" either, though we have enjoyed his food elsewhere, and for a very long time. I am less inclined to make recommendations, without copious qualifications, for restaurants that exist in many locations, even if those are limited.

                                                                      OK, off to do my research here, as we have 4 more SF trips, before 2013.


                                                                    3. re: Dustin_E

                                                                      In my case, there is so very much, that we DO miss. Someday, we hope to have a few non-business days, and just dine across the San Francisco Metro-Area.

                                                                      I have the same problem, when going back to New Orleans. When we lived there, we dined all over town. Now, we are there but for a few days per trip, and usually do only a light breakfast, then splurge on dinner. Those tend to be "fine-dining" higher-end restaurants, as there are just so few days. It's really no different on our London, or our Hawai`i trips - very light during the day, and then head to our "upper-end" favorites for the few evening meals that we have.

                                                                      The plight of a traveler.


                                                                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                  Yeah someone else made that comment to me regarding Jardiniere. I went back this summer and had a great meal, as did the other people in my party. I'm not sure where all the Jardiniere hate is coming from, but it is certainly no worse than the myriad of other Cal cuisine places that get recommended endlessly in these sorts of threads, especially considering how often Gary Danko gets a mention. I can easily recommend Jardiniere.

                                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                                    You mean, how often people mention Gary Danko and people suggest they go somewhere else!

                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler


                                                                      Can you help me here? I might just be mis-reading things. We have had two (IIRC) meals at Restaurant Gary Danko, and one of our boards still raves about one of those. However, it has become almost impossible to get a reservation, so we do not even try, unless I have the time to sit by the phone, to call at the appointed hour, X mos. out. For that reason, I do not recommend them - just too hard to get into for most folk.

                                                                      Have they gone terribly downhill? Thank you for the clarification.


                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                        Not downhill -- it just falls into the same predictable, high-end conventional category. Ten years ago it was the mostly highly praised restaurant on this board. But everyone else moved on and GD stayed the same.

                                                                        We often try to ascertain where someone is from when they ask for recommendations. If the visitor is from a small town where they might not have any restaurants in the GD class, then it might be a good choice. But for someone who has access to similar restaurants at home, or other places they travel, why not suggest some place that reflects the SF dining scene today -- not ten years ago?

                                                                        Next time you're in town try AQ.

                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler


                                                                          Thank you for that clarification. I was not sure exactly what was meant, but you made it clear.



                                                                    2. re: dunstable

                                                                      Over the last year, we have had very good to almost excellent meals there. As we "discovered" them, not too long, after they opened, and have enjoyed them over the years, we have been pleased.

                                                                      I did not realize that they were not thought of highly on the board.


                                                                3. I just recently started to eat the xa xiu, duck, and pork belly from Cheung Hing and that stuff is like crack eaten plain right out of the container.