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Solo diner overwhelmed by her choices

j
JazzyK Jan 5, 2013 04:01 PM

I will be in SF in one week, arriving Sunday afternoon and leaving on a red-eye for Mexico Tuesday at midnight. I will be staying at California and Van Ness. I have 3 dinners and 2 lunches (or we could say 6 dinners and 4 lunches since I would love a mini gastro crawl). The issues: I am by myself and need to eat at the bar versus a table. I probably shouldn't spend a whole lot of money. Every place I stop at I would love to have a glass of wine and try 1-2 small plates off their menu and not spend more than $30 with tip. I love ALL food, I eat all meats (offal included), and am VERY adventurous (although could not bring myself to eat shark fin soup while in Hong Kong recently).

I am really struggling with my choices. I don't believe I have to spend a lot of money to eat great food (ie. recent horrible experience at Schwa in Chicago that I still haven't brought myself to post about) but I can't decide whether I should focus on "cheap eats" or on eating cheaply at more upscale places.

For example: I could go to Out the Door on Bush st for a snack, Saigon Sandwich for banh mi, Turtle Tower for pho, Hog Island on Monday for their happy hour oysters, Mission Chinese for some famous cheap eats, and maybe Alembic for a snack and cocktail.

Or I could go to Cotogna for lunch, AQ for dinner, Delfina Pizza for their broccoli raab pizza, Frances for a reasonable but possibly yummy dinner, and Bar Tartine sounds like a must. State Bird Provisions has been on my list for months (yes, I know I would have to get there early and wait for a bar seat) but after reading some reviews I am leaning against it. Same for Slanted Door.

I need help! What am I missing? Every time I read the boards there is another restaurant that I must try. Again I am dining solo so this could possibly help me narrow down my choices b/c I want to feel comfortable wherever I go. And I prefer to stick to one area each evening but visit more than one restaurant. I also don't mind eating early and beating the crowds since I am coming from the east coast. Thanks to those who choose to help!

  1. eatzalot Jan 5, 2013 04:51 PM

    Some reflections: I had a lot of experience with such situations during travel, especially before CH was well established. I would gather authoritative information and make some reasonable choices. (In some venues, a single source offered a lot of the available public info, such as an energetic restaurant critic -- Fitzmorris in New Orleans, for example).

    On CH, and this board in particular, queries of this kind are so frequent there's a vast body of existing and even reasonably recent suggestions and exchanges already, if you'll do some searching. Even while reading this posting, I saw some examples displayed by CH's sidebar to the right under "Discussions you might like," but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    1 Reply
    1. re: eatzalot
      j
      JazzyK Jan 5, 2013 05:04 PM

      And I have read most of them! I had hoped that was apparent. I have gone many places and haven't bothered with an "approve my itinerary" post, but with SF I guess I am curious about the best choices for a solo diner who is looking for great food that won't break the bank. I know I can't go wrong with what I am leaning towards, but I guess we all think we are a little special and can't help but ask for help/approval of our choices. It's human, I suppose.

    2. Ruth Lafler Jan 5, 2013 04:58 PM

      Do both? If you mix in some cheap eats you can budget more for your more expensive places.

      Here's an easy decision: skip Slanted Door.

      I think doing a Vietnamese crawl (Turtle Tower, Saigon Sandwich) for lunch sounds like fun (and definitely cheap).

      AQ has a bar (part of which is actually table height) -- a couple of small plates plus a glass of wine would put you over $30, but worth it IMHO.

      Barbacco is just what you're looking for: inexpensive, yummy, lots of counter seating, and wines by the glass or even half glass.

      At this point, I'm tempted to suggest Mission Chinese just for the "see what all the fuss is about" factor.

      Since you're going to be here Sunday-Tuesday, you might check whether any of the place you're considering are closed on one or more of those days, since they're common days for restaurant closure.

      19 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler
        j
        JazzyK Jan 5, 2013 05:10 PM

        Thanks Ruth! I was hoping to hear from you. I will most likely take your advice and do a combination. I think AQ is a must, and I am excited that you mentioned Barbacco. I did put it on my original list and I will reconsider it. Do you think Mission Chinese would work for a solo diner? That is what I am most nervous about. I was considering ordering a bunch of take out (I wouldn't be able to eat it all), and picking up a bottle of wine to take back to the hotel room. Is that sad?

        I am industry and aware of the possible Sun-Tues closures and have taken note. Thank you for the reminder.

        1. re: JazzyK
          Ruth Lafler Jan 5, 2013 05:25 PM

          Mission Chinese delivers, and it presumably would deliver to your hotel. I personally love putting my feet up and eating in my jammies when I'm traveling. Alternatively, you could probably recruit some people to eat with you.

          What are you planning on doing between meals? How are you getting around?

          1. re: Ruth Lafler
            j
            JazzyK Jan 5, 2013 07:28 PM

            Does Mission Chinese (Danny Bowien) do the take out/delivery, or is it the restaurant that he uses that does it? I am a little confused about that.

            I was going to walk around the different neighborhoods mostly. I plan on getting the 3 day Muni pass and taking also the Bart from SFO. I would like to hike the Land's End trail on Monday. I plan on walking a lot to burn off all the food I will be eating. At night I will try to use public transit as much as possible b/c I am assuming it will be safer.

            1. re: JazzyK
              Ruth Lafler Jan 5, 2013 08:19 PM

              Let's put it this way: you can have Mission Chinese food delivered. http://www.missionchinesefood.com/sf/

              No bar. No atmosphere. Seriously.

          2. re: JazzyK
            l
            Leely2 Jan 5, 2013 07:02 PM

            Why wouldn't Mission Chinese work for a solo diner? It is very, very casual. If they're open, you could go for lunch. I understand wanting to hang out in your pj's and enjoying delivery if that's what you want to do, but I wouldn't worry about eating there as a solo diner (or anywhere in town, really).

            1. re: Leely2
              j
              JazzyK Jan 5, 2013 07:18 PM

              Does Mission Chinese have a bar or just tables? I guess I am a little bit confused about the atmosphere there.

              1. re: JazzyK
                l
                Leely2 Jan 5, 2013 07:27 PM

                Just tables (unless I'm entirely misremembering). I've been there twice, but only in the daytime. It is very casual, like a regular hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. I can't see eating there solo being a problem at all.

                Maybe I'm crazy?

                1. re: JazzyK
                  smatbrat Jan 5, 2013 07:29 PM

                  Mission Chinese is just tables. If you are not doing a whole lot of planned things, I might suggest a Mission food crawl, ending with take out from Mission chinese. The ONLY reason I personally wouldnt do MC solo is because its a lot of food.

                  I would also recommend taking the 1 California to Fillmore and check out that street and area, including state bird.

                  1. re: smatbrat
                    j
                    JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 08:26 AM

                    Good point about it being a lot of food for a solo diner. I think I will only order take out if I do end up needing to try the food.

                  2. re: JazzyK
                    bbulkow Jan 5, 2013 08:12 PM

                    I'm really confused by your statement that you need a bar. In your post you even stated "I'm alone so I need to sit at the bar". That's certainly not how we roll here in SF, so is this a personal requirement, or do you think it's the only sensible way to deal with being alone?

                    Given your statement of adventure, I think you should throw in a little szechuan. Dong Bei Mama and Spices are board favorites, and mission chinese, and all of them you just sit at a table, no one will be looking at your funny.

                    On the high end, I'd give Crenn and AQ serious consideration.

                    1. re: bbulkow
                      Ruth Lafler Jan 5, 2013 08:36 PM

                      Some people -- especially women -- prefer to eat at a bar when dining solo for a couple of reasons. It allows for conversation with other people sitting at the bar, and with the bartender(s), and the other people provide a buffer from men who think that a woman sitting alone must be dying for their scintillating company. That said, I think San Francisco is much friendlier to single diners -- and single woman diners -- than many other places.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                        n
                        nocharge Jan 6, 2013 12:19 AM

                        I don't think it's an "especially women" thing. Most men I know would much prefer eating at the bar when dining solo (or even when dining with a buddy or two). I, for certain, would feel miserably bored and lonely sitting by myself at a table at a place with no bar like Crenn where a dinner would last for hours (and might not fit the OP's $30-with-wine-and-tip budget, anyway). Hotel restaurants that, by nature, cater to a lot of single diners often have TV's at the bar so that patrons can watch sports in addition to chatting with the bartenders and fellow diners. The TVs at the bar at the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton are likely more of a nod to solo diners than an attempt to turn it into a sports bar.

                        1. re: nocharge
                          j
                          JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 08:33 AM

                          I agree with both of you. This is exactly how I feel. Maybe I shouldn't have said that I "needed" to sit at a bar, but I certainly prefer it. I also love seeing the inner workings of a restaurant and you don't get to see that nearly as much from a table. And whether or not a restaurant has good bar seating also helps me narrow down my choices. Thank you!

                          1. re: JazzyK
                            bbulkow Jan 6, 2013 10:01 AM

                            I have a list of rules in life, and on the top 5 is "eat at the bar". It's up there with "show up on time". Eating at the bar gets your prompt service, a better view, and often a great meal when there are no tables to be had (like the "secret bar" at Le Bernardin in NYC).

                            That being said, I would never feel "miserably bored". Nor would I require a bar and a bar seat in order to visit a restaurant alone. I wouldn't reject a restaurant, especially at the $30 level, for not having a bar. Most asian places don't have bars. If you had said "I prefer bar seating" I wouldn't have disagreed.

                            The good news is just about everywhere in SF has a bar. I really liked the bar at Zero Zero in a recent visit, and the small plates were arguably better than the pizza. All bars serve the full menu. Places that don't have bars are the handful of expensive tasting menu places, and asian places, and super-small counter places. The bar, in SF, is so popular that many restaurants have multiple bar seats, communal tables, etc.

                            I am struggling to think of even a single restaurant in the bay area which isn't in one of those three categories, and doesn't have a bar.

                            You said offal. That would be incanto. Great chalkboard and bar, but the tables are OK too, but you'll have trouble squeaking out for under $30. Check out the Spices! restaurants, although I don't see the "murder casserole" anymore, they've always specialized in offal. I haven't visited the SF branches, but it's probably a table place.

                          2. re: nocharge
                            Ruth Lafler Jan 6, 2013 01:16 PM

                            But men don't have to worry about the creepy men who think you're dying for their company factor!

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler
                              j
                              JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 01:46 PM

                              And I won't be dying for their company. I prefer to chat with my neighbors a little and people watch. Not interested in much more, except good food of course!

                    2. re: Leely2
                      h
                      hyperbowler Jan 5, 2013 11:52 PM

                      Barbacco isn't open on Sundays.

                      One of the advantages of bar seating is you can often immediately get seated, despite there being parties of two or more who might be waiting an hour. At Mission Chinese Food, there isn't a bar, so a solo diner will be competing with every other party.

                      I've been inside MCF once, and have had no interest in returning since I learned they do delivery. The ambiance is, and never intended to be, anything special and with the exception of the soup, the dishes I've had in-house and delivered have not differed in quality.

                      1. re: hyperbowler
                        j
                        JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 08:28 AM

                        Thank you! All good points. It seems there is no reason for me to dine in at MCF.

                  3. re: Ruth Lafler
                    r
                    rccola Jan 6, 2013 09:18 AM

                    I second skipping Slanted Door unless the OP is not versed in Vietnamese food. If so, it's still tasty.

                  4. psb Jan 5, 2013 08:47 PM

                    Particularly on Sunday - Tudesday, the issue with solo dining isnt one of comfort or atmosphere but the menu. e.g. at Barbacco, you could try 3-6 things and would be limited by $$$. While at say many indian restos, it would be difficult to sample 3 things without a lot of leftovers [excepting appetizers]. I dont remember what the small-sized items are on offer at Mission Chinese, but the menu seems geared for voluntary sharing ... while the tables are geared for involuntary sharing (of space).

                    MCF predecessor Mission Street Food, was an a good solo option as they had a lot of small items to try ... with two-three people you could order the whole menu, but even solo you could try a good number of items. (Am I the only one who preferred a world with one MSF to a world with MCF + Commonwealth?)

                    Since you are heading to MEX, this doesnt make sense but otherwise, for zero ambienace, but otherwise optimal for solo/cheap, try a taqueria ... could try at least 4 meats + agua fresca for under $10.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: psb
                      j
                      JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 08:41 AM

                      Yes, I really need places where the portions are not huge. I would rather be able to try multiple items and not have to leave a lot of food on my plate. This discussion is definitely helping me see the way I should probably go. Inexpensive lunches (Saigon Sandwich, Turtle Tower, Tuesday at the Ferry Building), and then spend a bit more on smaller dishes for dinner. Just need to narrow down dinner :)

                    2. b
                      benv Jan 5, 2013 11:15 PM

                      All I have to say is MAKE SURE you go to at least one of my 4 current favs right now:

                      1. State Bird Provisions
                      2. Bar Tartine
                      3. AQ
                      4. Rich Table

                      Agree that you should go to Mission Chinese just to see what all the talk is about. And, unlike most people here, I actually enjoy the food. Make sure to get either the Salt Cod Fried Rice, Thrice Cooked Bacon, or Kung Pao Pastrami. Open for lunch everyday as well except for Wednesday when they are closed all day.

                      I do most of my dining out solo and out of all the places I have been to in SF, high end and whole-in-the-wall, I have never once felt out of place. Most places have bar/counter seating which looks into an open kitchen. Some great places besides the ones I mentioned above that I can think of off the top of my head are:

                      1. Frances
                      2. Cotogna
                      3. Commonwealth
                      4. Nopa
                      5. Wayfare Tavern
                      6. Namu Gaji

                      And as for Slanted Door, skip it.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: benv
                        grayelf Jan 6, 2013 12:17 AM

                        I would dine solo at Cotogna in a heartbeat no matter where they seat you but I've only been at lunch. Don't miss it!

                        1. re: benv
                          j
                          JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 08:44 AM

                          I think I have narrowed dinner down to AQ, Barbacco, Frances, Cotogna, Bar Tartine, and State Bird. I just realized that I still need to fit in a pizza at Delfina! Time to get a map out to see if I can hit up 2 a night...

                          Thanks everyone!

                          1. re: JazzyK
                            bbulkow Jan 6, 2013 10:10 AM

                            Delfina's pizza set a new standard but has now been eclipsed or at least equaled. I am more interested in the coal-fired at Tony's.

                            1. re: JazzyK
                              c
                              Canthespam Jan 7, 2013 01:31 AM

                              Good luck with State Bird Provisions. They are usually booked two months in advance - check their site to see their booking procedure.

                              They save a few tables every night for 'walk ins' - but the line goes down the block and around the corner.

                          2. Robert Lauriston Jan 6, 2013 10:45 AM

                            My current favorites for solo dining at the bar are Barbacco, Perbacco, Cotogna, AQ, Bar Tartine, and Incanto. The latter's exceptionally comfortable as there's a wide step for your feet.

                            Mission Chinese, maybe get the salt cod fried rice to go and eat it on the plane.

                            Shark's fin soup is not very interesting.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              Civil Bear Jan 6, 2013 11:36 AM

                              Interesting that everyone seems to like the salt cod fried rice at MCF. The one time I tried it, it was seriously lacking in the salt cod department - especially for the price. Sounds like it must have been an isolated incident.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                j
                                JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 01:28 PM

                                Incanto will be added to my list. I had already been eyeing the menu and have been following Chris Cosentino for a while (how can you not between Top Chef and Iron Chef?). I think it will come down to locations and hours b/c everywhere sounds wonderful.

                                I just don't like what they do to the sharks. But I do eat Foie so go figure. My morals may be somewhat unclear.

                                1. re: JazzyK
                                  f
                                  foodeye Jan 8, 2013 01:42 PM

                                  You may not know that California will soon also prohibit shark fins; of course not without controversy. http://www.chow.com/food-news/132094/...

                              2. s
                                sugartoof Jan 6, 2013 12:04 PM

                                I wouldn't think of Bar Tartine as a must, by any means, but Tartine Bakery sure is. Locals might be a little burnt out on it because at times there are lines, and the selection doesn't change, but it is a treasure.

                                Spending time walking the Mission for small bites, and beverages, would be a good afternoon, or early evening.

                                Combining Saigon Sandwich and Turtle Tower sounds ambitious to me. The sandwiches are small, but hearty.

                                Mission Chinese took over a divey Chinese greasy spoon, and that's still the ambience. It's not crowded at lunch. Nights can get crowded but it's not like when they were just doing Thursday nights only.

                                Of all the places considered, I think AQ is the only one which might be awkward for dining alone, but I think a lunch, or early dinner would still work.

                                26 Replies
                                1. re: sugartoof
                                  bbulkow Jan 6, 2013 12:08 PM

                                  A mission ramble without too much planning is a great idea. I would recommend Southpaw and Sycamore and a bi-rite / HS comparison.

                                  1. re: bbulkow
                                    r
                                    rccola Jan 6, 2013 12:34 PM

                                    HS is Harvey Slocumbe Ice Cream. Bi-rite is for ice cream and other take-away goodies. Just in case the OP is from out of town and doesn't know.

                                    1. re: rccola
                                      b
                                      benv Jan 6, 2013 12:46 PM

                                      Not Harvey, but Humphry Slocombe.

                                      1. re: benv
                                        r
                                        rccola Jan 6, 2013 01:08 PM

                                        Right. I shall stop multitasking now. Not good at it. Especially considering I looked up the name to make sure I spelled it right.

                                      2. re: rccola
                                        j
                                        JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 01:40 PM

                                        Thanks, I was about to look it up.

                                      3. re: bbulkow
                                        s
                                        sugartoof Jan 6, 2013 03:20 PM

                                        What did you have at Sycamore that you liked? I liked the menu, but found their brunches at least to be amateurish, and the wrong kind of sticky, for a bar.

                                        Bi-Rite is a great suggestion. The market is fun to window shop , even if the OP doesn't want a sandwich or prepared foods, though one option is to go to Dolores Park with it. Salumeria has good lunches/sandwiches too.

                                        1. re: sugartoof
                                          bbulkow Jan 6, 2013 03:25 PM

                                          pork belly begnets
                                          I agree it's a little amateurish, but it's more of a local place than a perfect place.

                                          1. re: bbulkow
                                            grayelf Jan 6, 2013 03:32 PM

                                            We had a lovely brunch there in April, with quality ingredients. The one thing we didn't like was the pork belly beignets, which were super greasy, overcooked and dry (like bad sweet and sour pork). Go figure.

                                      4. re: sugartoof
                                        b
                                        benv Jan 6, 2013 12:49 PM

                                        Disagree that AQ would be bad for a solo diner. My past two experiences there have been as a solo diner and it might just be one of my favorites for that. Long, big open kitchen with a counter that matches. Best seats in the house and you do not even need a reservation on a Saturday night prime time to get a spot.

                                        1. re: benv
                                          Robert Lauriston Jan 6, 2013 12:52 PM

                                          AQ is great for a solo diner at the bar, but at peak hours you might not get a seat without a reservation. That's happened to me twice.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                            j
                                            JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 01:49 PM

                                            Will it be a problem to get a bar seat with minimal wait even on a Sun or Tues at peak times? I can always go a bit early, like 6ish. I know they are Monday.

                                            1. re: JazzyK
                                              Robert Lauriston Jan 6, 2013 03:16 PM

                                              The two times they were too full were weeknights. I'd make a reservation.

                                          2. re: benv
                                            s
                                            sugartoof Jan 6, 2013 03:27 PM

                                            "Disagree that AQ would be bad for a solo diner."

                                            Good to know! I figured it would be uncomfortable because it's lively in a different way (less casual, more special occasion, sometimes datey crowds). Not that this should discourage anyone entirely anyway, so I'm glad to be wrong about that.

                                            1. re: sugartoof
                                              Robert Lauriston Jan 6, 2013 04:02 PM

                                              AQ seems very casual to me.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                Ruth Lafler Jan 6, 2013 04:19 PM

                                                I rarely agree with Robert, but I don't find AQ to be particularly datey or special occasion.

                                              2. re: sugartoof
                                                l
                                                Leely2 Jan 6, 2013 04:51 PM

                                                Well, I am in the minority in terms of solo dining: I prefer a table, just find it more relaxing and easier to daydream, which I rarely get to do in real life. Eating out at a good restaurant by myself feels like a luxurious indulgence rather anything lonely or awkward. However, even if I were a diehard barsitter worried about "datey" places, I'd say AQ is no problem--table, bar, linen closet, wherever. Go and enjoy.

                                                1. re: Leely2
                                                  b
                                                  Bay Gelldawg Jan 7, 2013 11:01 AM

                                                  Just ate at A.Q. last night. It is far beyond the original poster's budget. You have to order at least two small plates and one large (which wasn't all that large) to make a meal. That's about $60, before you add on beverages, dessert, tax, tip, and the SF Health Insurance charge.

                                                  It is good food, but not worth busting your budget.

                                                  1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                    Robert Lauriston Jan 7, 2013 11:25 AM

                                                    The request was specifically "a glass of wine and try 1-2 small plates off their menu and not spend more than $30 with tip." A $10 small plate and $9 glass of (one of the nice things about AQ is that even the cheapest wines are good) plus tax, tip, and Healthy SF is under $30.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                      j
                                                      JazzyK Jan 7, 2013 05:01 PM

                                                      Robert is right, I am not looking to eat a huge meal in one spot (unless I suddenly feel like it). I will probably hit up a couple different places, and if still hungry with get some cheap Mission Chinese or Vietnamese food on my way back to my hotel. AQ seems like it will work.

                                                      1. re: JazzyK
                                                        b
                                                        Bay Gelldawg Jan 7, 2013 06:13 PM

                                                        OK, but you are not going to get a small plate at AQ for $10. More like $14.

                                                        1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                          Ruth Lafler Jan 7, 2013 06:15 PM

                                                          What are the four $10 items on the current AQ menu if not small plates?

                                                          1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                            Robert Lauriston Jan 7, 2013 06:16 PM

                                                            AQ's small plates are $10 and $14.

                                                            http://aq-sf.com/Menu.pdf

                                                      2. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                        t
                                                        tjinsf Jan 8, 2013 02:25 PM

                                                        I eat at AQ pretty regularly and I have never had to order three dishes to get a full meal. Often two smaller ones or one larger is more than enough although usually I do one small and one large.

                                                2. re: sugartoof
                                                  j
                                                  JazzyK Jan 6, 2013 01:43 PM

                                                  I will definitely spend an afternoon and evening walking around the Mission. And I will try not to plan everything out :)

                                                  In your opinion is the Ferry Building worth going to on Tuesday? That was my plan to spend some time there.

                                                  1. re: JazzyK
                                                    Robert Lauriston Jan 6, 2013 03:18 PM

                                                    The Ferry Building is good any time. The Tuesday market is small but there are some good food stands.

                                                    http://www.cuesa.org/markets/tuesday

                                                    1. re: JazzyK
                                                      s
                                                      sugartoof Jan 6, 2013 03:54 PM

                                                      It's funny you address that particular question to me, as I've been known to ruffle feathers with my opinion of the place, and I think it's a sort of lazy catch all suggestion for tourists ... but in this case, I'd say, why not? It's not going to consume your entire day. Just expect that it's essentially a gourmet food mall. You can whip through it pretty quickly, and get a cup of coffee at Blue Bottle or Verve Coffee and a pastry from the Frog Hollow shop, and if you need a gift, there are shops you can browse quickly.

                                                      I think you have better lunch options already (Cotogna is nearby). I'd say Black Jet Baking Co. is really the only current standout for me. That said, there's an Out the Door, which you mentioned, so maybe picking up a Summer roll for a snack later in your day would work. Several people mentioned Incanto for Offal, so one alternative is the cured meats at Boccalone. I personally find most of it to just be a greasy salt blast, but he has devotees, and it's there, even if you just look at the charcuterie in a paper cone, and don't taste.

                                                      I've visited the Ferry Building before heading over to the Mission for an afternoon. The two pair up well.

                                                  2. t
                                                    tjinsf Jan 6, 2013 04:14 PM

                                                    Lolinda also has a huge bar and lots of smaller size plates, The Abbot's Cellar has a huge wine list, a nice bar and farm to table food. Monk's Kettle is their low price point place sister with lots of beer choices and more casual food.

                                                    I would do a mix of cheap and upscale with eating cheap during the day and splurge on dinners.

                                                    1. b
                                                      Bay Gelldawg Jan 6, 2013 04:48 PM

                                                      I am surprised no one has mentioned Yank Sing in the Rincon Building. They have a separate take out area, it is very good food, and it fits your budget. This would be for lunch only. There is cheaper dim sum to be had in Chinatown and elsewhere, but this is the most accessible, in my opinion.

                                                      You didn't mention breakfast, but if you can get to North Beach by 8am, try Mama's on Washington Square Park (at the corner of Stockton and Filbert) for on Tuesday morning. It may be the easiest place to experience Dungeness crab. Just try to get there when they open. It is a small place and there can be a very long line.

                                                      On the opposite corner is Liguria Bakery, which makes one thing in the brick oven they have been using for generations: foccacia. There are several varieties, but in my opinion plain is the best. If you ask for it "cut up" they slice it into strips for you. But I prefer to just have it cut in half. Heavenly, and definitely within your budget! Just get there by 11:00 a.m, because when they run out, that is it for the day.

                                                      On that same block - Victoria Pastry. Definitely worth a visit, although I get the impression that you might not have a sweet tooth.

                                                      On the other side of the park is Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store. No cigars, but excellent sandwiches (meatball, eggplant, etc) come out of their tiny Baker's Pride oven (kind of like a toaster oven). A walk from here up to Coit Tower is great. The murals inside the tower are worth a look, as is the view from the top. A walk down the Filbert or Greenwich steps at the back of the tower is an "only in San Francisco" experience, with great views and cool little houses on the hillside on the way down. And chances are you will see the wild parrots.

                                                      A big yes to the Ferry Building. A big no to Slanted Door. And be aware that Frances is expensive, ear splitting loud, and packed. The bar area is tiny. I would recommend skipping it.

                                                      A better option in the Castro is the Anchor Oyster Bar. It is small, but they have a counter and as a single diner you are very likely to be able to jump the line and sit right down. Another place to get very easy to eat Dungeness crab - their crab burger is all crabmeat, no filler. I order it without the lettuce and tomato, so it really is all crab.

                                                      You will love the Land's End walk. Be sure to visit the ruins of the Sutro Baths, next to the Cliff House. They are interesting on their own, but right now they have the bonus of a river otter who has taken up residence there! I saw him these weekend and it was so cool.

                                                      Just be aware that going out there by bus may take 40 minutes or more from downtown, and without a car, you will have few if any dining options.

                                                      Easiest way to start the Land's End walk is to take the bus to the Legion of Honor and go behind the museum to the end of the parking lot, where the trail begins. It's amazing that what feels like such a wild place (though not nearly as wild as it was when I moved here [clears throat]) is right here in a big city.

                                                      Please report back here after your visit about what you liked (and whether you saw the otter!).

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                        Robert Lauriston Jan 6, 2013 04:53 PM

                                                        I've never found Yank Sing's takeout to be anywhere near the quality of what you get in the restaurant.

                                                        1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                          m
                                                          Malcolm Ruthven Jan 6, 2013 10:00 PM

                                                          Your recommendations for Mama's in North Beach for breakfast and Liguria Bakery for foccacia across the street are spot on for classic SF places. Mama's has been serving breakfast to people lined up outside for many a moon, as has Liguria been making that SF Italian classic for longer.

                                                          1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                            s
                                                            sugartoof Jan 6, 2013 11:40 PM

                                                            Outerlands is one option not far from the Sutro Baths/Ocean Beach. They have bar stool seating with a few seats along the wall.

                                                            I think 8am for Mama's is safe advice, but extreme.
                                                            Likewise, with Liguria, they are typically open later than 11am, and if they've run out of one type, just try one of the others.

                                                            1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                              j
                                                              JazzyK Jan 7, 2013 08:27 AM

                                                              Wow, thank you so much for the detailed information. I will definitely check out the Coit Tower and the steps. You are correct in assuming that I don't really have a sweet tooth, and I also don't get excited about breakfast (coffee and toast will suffice) but Mama's certainly sounds interesting b/c of the crab. I just may be up early since I am coming from the east coast (not normally a morning person).

                                                              I figured that it might take a while to get to Land's End by bus. I was going to take either bus 18 or 38 all the way to 48th street, and then take a bus down California street (I think there is a stop at 38th) on the way back. Does this make sense? Sorry, I know this isn't very Chow.

                                                              Thanks again! I will be looking into all your dining suggestions!

                                                              1. re: JazzyK
                                                                Robert Lauriston Jan 7, 2013 08:35 AM

                                                                That works for Land's End except get one of the express variations of the 38.

                                                                Liguria closes when they run out so the later you go the worse your chances.

                                                                1. re: JazzyK
                                                                  s
                                                                  sugartoof Jan 7, 2013 10:47 AM

                                                                  The 38 and N Judah (if you cross the park) will be the quickest options.

                                                              2. b
                                                                Bay Gelldawg Jan 7, 2013 11:06 AM

                                                                I can't believe I forgot to add Tadich Grill to my suggestions. One of our best and oldest restaurants. Huge selection of seafood.

                                                                As a solo diner, you should be able to elbow past the crowd in the doorway and sit at the long counter. And they are open on Mondays for both lunch and dinner, unlike many restaurants.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                                  l
                                                                  lakemerritter Jan 7, 2013 04:34 PM

                                                                  I was just at Tadich Grill for a late-afternoon snack last week and it was so good. Had tasty calamari appetizer ($15 for what turned out to be a large portion) and a couple of beers at the bar so got out of there relatively inexpensively. For cheapskates it's also awesome that you walk in and a delicious quarter-loaf of sourdough and butter is just sitting there waiting for you. That alone gets the filling-up process going, it's delicious, and the atmosphere is always great.

                                                                  During my visit, a gentleman took seat at the bar and proceeded to drape his coat on the adjacent chair. Within seconds, the bartender pointedly asked "are you expecting another?" and glanced at the coathooks on the back wall.

                                                                  "Oh, should I move my coat?"

                                                                  "Yes," said the bartender "it sends a bad message--strangers sit next to one another here."

                                                                  I hate it when people "need" a seat for their coat or bag, but so great that this instance of bad manners was countered immediately (and politely!) by staff so that some poor patron didn't have to ask the guy to move his coat later on in the evening.

                                                                  That's what kind of place it is, though. Polite, old-school, delicious. The Cioppino smelled fantastic and looked even better. Next time.

                                                                2. r
                                                                  rccola Jan 7, 2013 12:13 PM

                                                                  Ultimately, I think, don't be overwhelmed. With the list you have you can't go wrong and even those who live here go AWWWWW! when he/she missed a place that closes and everyone says it was great. You'll be back for another round.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: rccola
                                                                    j
                                                                    JazzyK Jan 7, 2013 05:03 PM

                                                                    I will be back, and probably soon! Most likely with my husband and/or friends, so then I will get to try lots more dishes.

                                                                  2. b
                                                                    Bay Gelldawg Jan 7, 2013 06:17 PM

                                                                    One more suggestion. Cordon Bleu on California between Larkin and Polk was one of the first places in SF to serve Vietnamese food. Limited menu, but very affordable and you can sit at the counter. Closed on Mondays.

                                                                    If you are going to ride a cable car, it is on the California line, which is much less crowded than the other cable car lines.

                                                                    1. t
                                                                      Thomas Nash Jan 8, 2013 03:46 PM

                                                                      Missed this thread earlier and now there are so many responses, I probably will repeat. Lots of choices. We eat at the counter a lot as a couple. I have eaten solo at many of these. Here is my list (all bar/counter seating):

                                                                      Delfina (I used to eat solo here at the bar when we were building our house) !!

                                                                      Pizzeria Delfina !!

                                                                      Bar Tartine(!!)

                                                                      Boxing Room

                                                                      Sebo (get there at 545 to get a sushi bar seat when it opens at 6)

                                                                      Tadich

                                                                      Namu Gaji (!!)

                                                                      Farina Pizza

                                                                      La Taqueria (lunch)

                                                                      Lers Ros (in Hayes Valley)

                                                                      Little Star Pizza on Valencia

                                                                      Nopalito !

                                                                      Nopa

                                                                      A16

                                                                      Skip MCF and State Bird, both trendy hype, not great. not worth the wait.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Thomas Nash
                                                                        j
                                                                        JazzyK Jan 8, 2013 06:10 PM

                                                                        Thank you. I am looking into some of these!

                                                                      2. j
                                                                        JazzyK Apr 10, 2013 06:02 PM

                                                                        Hello fellow Chowhounders. Thank you so much for your feedback and sorry that I did not report back sooner!

                                                                        After checking into my hotel on Sunday, I walked to Saigon Sandwich and had a delicious bahn mi of roast pork and pate. I was starving and devoured the whole thing, even though I could feel myself becoming stuffed. I then wandered to Mission street and saw a great many homeless people in large groups. I finally found the picturesque area around 18th and saw many of the restaurants I had read about. I passed through Bi-Rite and thought about buying a bottle of wine for later, but didn't want to carry it or wait in the long, long line to pay. I then walked down Delores and watched the going ons at Mission Delores Park and gawked at all the awesome San Fransisco houses, wishing I could afford to live in one. I climbed many a hill and eventually crossed over to Church and arrived at Incanto wishing I was hungrier, but resolving to eat as much as I could anyways. I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of rose, which received a nod of approval from the bartender. First, I had a delicious pasta with enoki mushrooms, followed by a special of sea bass collar. I struggled to finish, but was quite content with my food choices. After walking the 3 plus miles to Incanto from my hotel, I decided to take the bus back. Unfortunately the one I was on broke down and I ended up having to walk quite a ways before catching another. I eventually made it back, and fell into bed exhausted.

                                                                        On Monday I walked across the street from my hotel to Whole Foods to pick up a sandwich for my lunch. I took the bus to the Land's End Trail where I checked out Sutro Baths and then walked the trail. It was beautiful with an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I met very few people, but did cross paths with a coyote. We stared each other down for a bit, and then continued on our ways. Eventually I got to the end of the trail and bussed back to my hotel to freshen up a bit. Later I walked all over Nob Hill, up the hill to Coit Tower, and then though Little Italy to the Financial District. I wandered through the Ferry Building and tried to get some oysters at Hog Island, but they were too crowded. For dinner I decided on Cotogna and it was marvelous. Again I sat at the bar and I ordered a whiskey cocktail to warm me up (it was freezing out). After I finished I enjoyed an octopus starter followed by a rabbit pasta, along with a glass of Lagrein. All was wonderful and I was warm because I was sitting right in front of the open kitchen fire.

                                                                        Tuesday ended up being a bit of a bust food wise. I was craving some more ethnic food, and also wanted to visit the Haight neighborhood. I tried to eat Pho at Turtle Tower only to find that they are closed on Tuesday (I know, I should have checked). So I took the bus down Market and stopped at Kasa Indian for a quick, cheap kati roll and some dal. I then walked around that area a little bit, and on up Divisadero to the Haight. I bought a couple scarves because I was still cold, and then boarded the bus to take the long way back to my hotel on Van Ness. I wanted to cut through Golden Gate Park so I could see it, but honestly what I saw wasn't that exciting. I checked out of my hotel and left my bag (I was flying out at midnight), and went to get a pedicure since I was going to warm weather Mexico and also had some time to kill. By then I was hungry again and so decided to walk to China Town. I went to Z & Y but it was closed with a sign on the door saying they had no gas (I felt as if I was already in Mexico). I shopped for a minute in one of the stores and then consulted my list/map. I saw I wasn't far from the Fairmont and I was curious to see the Tonga Room. I figured maybe I would shell out $20 for one of those awesomely gaudy drinks. I arrived and weaved through throngs of wealthy people dressed much better than I, and took the elevator to the basement only to find it was closed for a private party. By now I was a bit frustrated and hungry, so decided to try Burmese Kitchen. The atmosphere wasn't that great, and neither was the neighborhood. I ordered the tea leaf salad which I loved, but my coconut noodle entree was very disappointing. I really didn't know what to order so that was a problem. When I was finished I kept checking my phone for the bus schedule so that I would only have to wait a minute or two before boarding, but I ended up waiting at the bus stop for 10 minutes with a crazy man who was practically foaming at the mouth and a young kid who nobly kept placing himself between me and the scary guy every time the man tried to approach me. I eventually gave up on the bus and thanked the kid and walked very quickly to another stop a couple blocks away on Van Ness. I collected my bag from the hotel and took public transportation back to SFO.

                                                                        All in all, my solo San Francisco trip was a success! I had so much fun being on my own, although I do appreciate traveling and eating with friends I will be back for one night in a couple weeks, along with my husband and another couple. We will be doing just one dinner before heading up to Sonoma County for 3 days. We'll eat at Incanto, Cotogna, AQ, or St. Vincent's most likely. Thanks again!!

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: JazzyK
                                                                          Ruth Lafler Apr 10, 2013 06:36 PM

                                                                          Thanks for the report! Sounds like you had fun, even if it was cold and things were closed.

                                                                          1. re: JazzyK
                                                                            r
                                                                            rccola Apr 11, 2013 01:31 PM

                                                                            So glad you had a good visit. Shame it's not this week when it's unseasonably warm. If you want a good view walk inside the City, try China Beach. Golden Gate galore. Take a picnic if it's nice, especially during week.

                                                                            http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit...

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