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How do I do SF properly?

Hey all! I'll be visiting California and San Francisco for the first time in my life this November. I'm (of course) a foodie. How do I do SF right? I found several OLDER threads on can't-miss places but I was unable to find any newer ones.

Money will be somewhat of an issue, but not too bad. Although I saw some threads where posters had way less money than I'll have. I should be able to do at least $100 a day. I'll be there for 4 or 5 days. What should I see (food related) and what should I eat?

I would prefer splitting that $100 each day in as many ways possible. Definitely open to holes-in-the-wall. My friends knows the transit system and has lived in Berkeley for about 2 years now but I believe we'll only have a car rented for one day whilst we head up to Petaluma and Sonoma. So most of your suggestions will need to be somewhere within walking distance of some form of public transit. (I assume most of the SF area is, just wanted to post that.) My friend isn't as into food as I am.

I'm looking forward to finding Indian curry stands, cheap Korean and Vietnamese. Really any Asian cuisine. Little treats along the way. Of course some quality and kick-ass Mexican dishes. And last but not least...seafood, sushi and crab!

For example: Where can I get a good, fresh crab meal? Crabhouse39 has that $30 deal with a half crab, salad and dessert. But generally I'd like to avoid going to tourist traps. (Although I'm sure I'll inevitably be in tourist places!)

I'm from Missouri and our sushi is BLEH! What's good and cheap-ish?

Any ideas for a breakfast, snack, lunch then snack all in a certain area? Let me know! I'd like to commit a day to an area as opposed to hopping all over of course.

Any lunch steals?

I'm totally willing to fork over some cash for a nice $20-$50 meal on each day.

Where would YOU take a Midwestern friend who has a little money to spare and loves food if she has 4 days to eat in SF?

I want my dollars to go to the best local food, local ingredients, responsible employers, local tastes that my money can buy! I don't want to eat anywhere or anything that I can get here in MO.

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  1. Here in MO we've got great meats done any which American way. And great ethnic cuisine just in tiny little pockets. I'd betcha I can find you a banh mi to rival your banh mi. But we lack other things, like dumpling diversity! And I've never found a decent Chinese place here! And our Indian and North African is okay but I'm always looking for better. And tons of Mexican cuisine here, but it's hard to find decent and authentic dishes, let alone South or Central American cuisine. So suggest, suggest, suggest! Thanks so much!

    13 Replies
    1. re: iendandubegin

      Lots and lots of great options for you. Just to get you started:
      From the Civic Center BART there is plenty of excellent & cheap Thai (Lers Ros, Larkin Express), Vietnamese (Bodega Bistro, Mangosteen, Saigon Sandwich, Pagolac, Turtle Tower for Pho Ga), Burmese (Burmese Kitchen), and a fabulous Chinese soup noodle place at the SW corner of Larkin & Ellis (sorry but the name escapes me).

      Between the 16th & 24th Street BART stops you have lots of great taquarias for taco and Mission burritos(La Taquaria, San Jose Taquaria, El Farlito, and Cancun Taquaria to name a few), as well as Yucatan (Poc Chuc) El Salvadorian (Balompie Cafe), Mexican Seafood (El Delfin), and Middle Eastern (Truly Med). As for Chinese in the area, there is only the highly controversial (love it or hate it) is the quite spicy Mission Chinese. And there is the best $10 burger in town ($15 during non-happy hour) at the Mission Bowling Club.

      There are also a ton of higher end options that get much love on this board between those two stops, such as:
      Dosa (south Indian)
      Delfina (Cal Italian)
      Commonwealth (Californian)
      Foreign Cinema (Californian)
      Maverick (American)
      Bar Tartine (Californian)

      1. re: Civil Bear

        Well thanks you! That's a great start! I'll check some of these out ahead of time. I wouldn't die for Thai. Though I would for Indian and Vietnamese. And I've never cared for pasta. I am the antipasto!

        1. re: iendandubegin

          Indian is not really a SF strong suit. Better can be had over in Berkeley.
          SF does represent Vietnamese well. (not as well as San Jose though). Bodego Bistro mentioned above is more Cal/Viet, but for more authentic options my favorite pho is at PPQ in the Richmond district (take the N Judah and get off at 19th Ave.). Its sister restaurant PPQ Dungeness is also great for Vietnamese crab (love the black pepper option).

          1. re: Civil Bear

            >> Indian is not really a SF strong suit. Better can be had over in Berkeley.

            would you elaborate on this? what do you consider the top 3 or 4 in both sf and berkeley?

            thanks.

            1. re: Dustin_E

              I don't get to enough Indian restaurants to have a top 3 or 4 in each city. I can say that I have been to Vic's in Berkeley and a random place in a strip mall on Scott at El Camino in Santa Clara in the last couple of months and both places were better than anything I have had in SF. I also had an Indian co-worker a few years ago that lived in SF but trekked over to Berkeley when he wanted something that reminded him of home. Sorry I do not remember where.

              1. re: Civil Bear

                Ajanta in Berkeley is probably the highest quality Indian I've ever eaten. Amber India also has top quality ingredients, but whether they were an Indian or a French place, their swanky decor is definitely too slick for my liking.

                In SF, Udupi Palace and the more upscale Dosa, and Vik's in Berkeley have lots of South Indian dishes. I'd encourage you to try one of these places (or ones on the Peninsula) as they offer traditional dishes that are difficult to find throughout the US.

                I'd focus on the specialties at any of the above places. I would get Chicken Tikka Masala, Saag Paneer, or Butter Chicken at cheaper and divier places like Shalimar in SF.

              2. re: Dustin_E

                The indian center of the universe is a little town called Sunnyvale, deep in the heart of silicon valley. There you can get down home dosas to your heart's content for almost no money. But, alas, you are in SF. This is generally because of the indian tech community that lives in that part of silicon valley.

                Back to SF. I've had a few great dishes at Pakwan in the Tandoorloin, always their darkest and richest curry, with a plain nan on the side. Better regarded Shalimar has lighter but greasier fare. There's a handful of other places scattered across the city, from Chaat Cafe downtown to Clay Oven, and everything's OK but nothing's great. On the upscale side is well regarded Dosa, but since I live near sunnyvale, I never eat indian in the city. Given your price restriction, I don't know if Dosa makes the cut. There's also Amber, now a mini-chain, started in Palo Alto. I like the PA original, but frankly I'm so turned on by South Indian that I rarely reach for north indian any more.

                On the east bay side, I am not a lover of ajanta, but it's a very interesting place. The flavors are muted, to my taste, although I love that they explore dishes far beyond the standard northern indian fare. When I lived there, I used to eat across the street at Kana Peena because their food was bright and kicky, and the tandoor and fresh nan is front and center. There's the other branch of Chaat Cafe, but the flavors are bolder at Vik's, how much you enjoy will depend on whether you know bhel puri from a hole in the ground.

                There seems to be a sprawl of himilayan places across the student-ish parts of berkeley. There's Viceroy, which I haven't been in for over a decade. It looks like the campus branch of Kana Peena turned into Punjabi by Nature. Pasand, the first place I ever had curry in my entire life (July 1984, followed by the first time I had gelato, at that place that used to be in trumpetvine court), but the place is closed up. There's a cheap Naan'n'Curry in the middle of telegraph, and it's good but basically Shalimar cheap-student-eats style - and a Shalimar, too. Outside of those, there's these sprinkling of other places, good local places, Breads of India was loved for a while but now considered more ho than hum, but compared to a Mua or Encuentro, not worth the trip.

                Which sums up SF and east bay indian. Good enough for locals, great for a fast lunch, not worth going out of one's way.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  great suggestions -- thanks. i'm in sunnyvale on occasion. any suggestions of best places and dishes to try down there (that you can't get in sf / berkeley)?

                  1. re: Dustin_E

                    Sneha won my 15-restaurant Chicken 65 fiesta
                    Tamil in general is what you want to look for, Dosas at Madura (make mine Onion Ravi Masala).
                    Chettinad has a couple of good places
                    If you hit only one place and want meat,
                    Aachi Aappakadai
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/758267
                    One thread to get you started...
                    Lots of people like Taste Buds, too
                    There are a million chat places but I haven't figured out what is best yet.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        random side question: you seem to know your indian food. do you know if indian food in london is significantly better than that in the sf bay? i visited a few months ago and tried a few places and didn't really come to a conclusion.

                  2. re: Dustin_E

                    In West Berkeley right off of Highway 80 are IIndus, Kabana and Priya within two blocks of each other.

                    1. re: sydthekyd

                      I like Indus and Kabana but I've had Pakistani food that's just as good in SF.

          2. Our crab isn't in season right now so any you eat now will be shipped from elsewhere. Instead have oysters that are farmed year round north of SF and all along the pacific coast. Swan is of course famous although I prefer hog island or Woodhouse as they are open for dinner and there is far less of wait at either.

            There are plethora of thai, burmese, korean, difference chinese styles in SF. Try some of the places in theRrichmond, Sunset & the Tenderloin instead of Chinatown and Japantown. None of them should put you out much unless you are going for a fusion place like Slanted Door or the upscale so-called izakayas.

            There are dozens of recent threads on all these things so use that search feature.

            9 Replies
            1. re: tjinsf

              The OP is coming in November, so depending on what part of the month she is coming she could be in luck - weather permitting. I believe the commercial crab season begins on November 15 this year

              1. re: Civil Bear

                Yeah I wasn't sure if I'd get there in time. I'll be leaving SF the 17th or 18th. I do love me some oysters though! Is anyone aware of a decent oyster bar or shucking farm? I just familiarized myself with the concept of the shucking farm last night. A picnic table, citrus juice, hot sauce and a knife! Sounds amaze-balls.

                1. re: iendandubegin

                  For oyster shucking like you are looking for you will need to travel north of San Francisco to Tamalas Bay. Hog Island Oyster Company is the consensus top pick but charges to use their picnic tables. They also have a restaurant in SF at the Ferry Plaza (Embarcadero stop on BART).

                  Swan Oyster Depot is a good hole-in-the-wall type place for raw oysters and fresh crab when in season.

                2. re: Civil Bear

                  While it is true that crab season "officially" begins around the 15th, traditionally there is a lag time between opening day and first day of fishing, depending on how long it takes crabbers and wholesalers to come to an agreement on price. Last year, locals who didn't have an in with sport crabbers were condemned to a crabless Thanksgiving. The upside is that first of the season crab are usually larger and sweeter than those from later in the season. I would avoid "walk away" crab from the wharf stands, since they are often frozen, sub-par specimens from far north. Best bet is live or cooked from Alioto-Lazio fish company (NOT Alioto's restaurant) at the far west end of the wharf. Good luck, I'm looking forward to it myself!

                  1. re: little big al

                    Thanks! I've noticed Alioto's restaurant. I'll look into the fish company!

                3. re: tjinsf

                  "Our crab isn't in season right now so any you eat now will be shipped from elsewhere."

                  Are you suggesting that the crab will of lower quality because of this?

                  My wife loves Dungeness crab and she would love to have some, assuming it's of good quality, on our visit next week. I did call one of the well know seafood/Vietnamese rest. yesterday & they said they had whole crab. I wonder where it is shipped in from? Alaska?
                  S. America?

                  So, best rest. for WHOLE Dungeness crab next week? Thanks a lot.

                  1. re: philbert

                    It would probably be from Alaska, where the season started June 15 (I don't think they have Dungeness in South America -- King crab is the big deal there). Since Dungeness don't feed after they've been caught, how long they've been in the tanks is probably more important than where they came from in determining quality, so you want to pick a place that has a lot of turnover.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Thanks Ruth. Can you recommend 2 or 3 places that serve whole Dungeness?

                      1. re: philbert

                        Most recent Dungeness in a restaurant thread (most of those places will have it all year):

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/824804

                4. Okay, no one's mentioned the Ferry Plaza farmers' market, which is a must for a foodie who wants to "do" San Francisco. The big market is Saturday morning. There's a smaller market midday on Tuesday and a market that's mostly prepared food stands midday Thursday.

                  Let's see ... four dinners... I'd do:

                  Bodega Bistro or Lers Ros (depending on the heat tolerance of the diners)
                  Mexican or Burmese (many options)
                  AQ -- modern Cal-Cuisine
                  Something Chinese, either Cantonese seafood (crab!) or regional (Sichuan, Shanghai, etc.)

                  For lunches on the days you're doing Mexican/Asian: Tadich/Sam's (get the sanddabs, if available, or ask the waiter what's fresh and local, and have it prepared simply) and Chez Panisse or Zuni. (cheaper dinner, splurge on lunch)

                  For dinner one night you might like Off the Grid, which will give you the chance to sample a variety of street food offerings.

                  Since you mentioned Petaluma, you can route through Tomales Bay and shuck oysters at one of the places there (Hog Island, etc.).

                  1. $100 per day will go pretty far in sf imho.

                    for chinese:

                    yank sing
                    jai yun
                    yum's bistro (in fremont)
                    koi palace (in daly city)
                    kingdom of dumpling

                    for japanese:

                    kappa
                    ino
                    kiss
                    koo
                    sushi sho (5 mins north of berkeley)

                    for indian / pakistani / etc:

                    pakwan
                    amber india
                    shalimar (though very divey)

                    for other asian:

                    lers ros thai
                    burmese kitchen

                    for american:

                    tadich (i'd suggest crab cakes and sand dabs)

                    these are all at different price points, but any could be fit into a $100 a day itinerary. look some of them up with google or yelp to see which ones appeal to you.

                    chez panisse restaurant (downstairs) is world-class dining in a casual setting.

                    1. If you are looking for good authentic Asian cuisine, here is a list I've compiled that might help. I recommend any of these places.

                      Sushi:

                      Aka Tombo
                      1737 Buchanan St
                      (415) 674-1984
                      Neighborhood: Japantown

                      Okina
                      776 Arguello Blvd
                      (415) 387-8882
                      neighborhood: Inner Richmond

                      Koryori / Kaiseki:

                      Kappa
                      1700 Post St
                      (415) 673-6004
                      neighborhood: Japantown

                      Kiss Seafood
                      1700 Laguna St
                      (415) 474-2866
                      neighborhood: Japantown

                      Kappo:

                      Kappou Gomi
                      5524 Geary Blvd
                      (415) 221-5353
                      neighborhood: Outer Richmond

                      Ramen:

                      Kirimachi Ramen
                      450 Broadway St
                      (415) 335-5865
                      Style: tonkotsu ramen
                      Neighborhood: North Beach

                      Korean BBQ:

                      Wooden Charcoal
                      4611 Geary Blvd
                      (415) 751-6336
                      neighborhood: Inner Richmond

                      Seoul Garden
                      22 Peace Plz
                      (415) 563-7664
                      neighborhood: Japantown
                      Note: their jumuluk kalbi is amazing, everything else is average

                      Korean (other than BBQ):

                      My Tofu House
                      4627 Geary Blvd
                      (415) 750-1818
                      Style: Korean
                      Neighborhood: Inner Richmond
                      Note: soondoobu

                      New Korea House
                      1620 Post St
                      (415) 563-1388
                      Style: Korean
                      Neighborhood: Japantown
                      Note: come here for soups, not BBQ. Good hae jang gook.

                      Vietnamese:

                      Anh Hong
                      808 Geary St
                      (415) 885-5180
                      Style: Vietnamese
                      Neighborhood: Tenderloin
                      Note: 7 courses of beef

                      Kim Son
                      3614 Balboa St
                      (415) 221-3811
                      Style: Vietnamese
                      Neighborhood: Outer Richmond
                      Note: good Bun Rieu

                      Saigon Sandwich
                      560 Larkin St
                      (415) 474-5698
                      Style: Vietnamese banh mi
                      Neighborhood: Tenderloin

                      Little Vietnam Cafe
                      309 6th Ave
                      (415) 876-0283
                      Style: Vietnamese banh mi
                      Neighborhood: Inner Richmond

                      Turle Tower
                      5716 Geary Blvd
                      (415) 221-9890
                      Style: Vietnamese
                      Neighborhood: Outer Richmond
                      Note: great northern style pho ga

                      Golden Star
                      11 Walter U Lum Pl
                      (415) 398-1215
                      Style: Vietnamese
                      Neighborhood: Chinatown
                      Note: great bun thit nuong

                      Ngoc Mai
                      547 Hyde St
                      (415) 931-4899
                      Style: Vietnamese
                      Neighborhood: Tenderloin
                      Note: best bun bo hue + other Hue specialties

                      Cordon Bleu
                      1574 California St
                      (415) 673-5637
                      Style: billed as Vietnamese, this is really Southern Chinese comfort food
                      Neighborhood: Nob Hill

                      Dim sum:

                      Hong Kong Lounge
                      5322 Geary Blvd
                      (415) 668-8836
                      Style: dim sum
                      Neighborhood: Outer Richmond

                      Chinese:

                      Yuet Lee
                      1300 Stockton St
                      (415) 982-6020
                      Style: Chinese
                      Neighborhood: Chinatown

                      Z & Y Restaurant
                      655 Jackson St
                      (415) 981-8988
                      Style: Szechuan
                      Neighborhood: Chinatown

                      San Tung
                      1031 Irving St
                      (415) 242-0828
                      Style: Chinese
                      Neighborhood: Inner Sunset
                      Note: dry fried chicken wings, liang zhang pei

                      Thai:

                      Lers Ros
                      730 Larkin St
                      (415) 931-6917
                      Style: Thai
                      Neighborhood: Tenderloin

                      Zen Yai
                      771 Ellis St
                      (415) 885-0725
                      Style: Thai
                      Neighborhood: Tenderloin
                      Note: great Guay Tiew Ruew (boat noodles)