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San Francisco Recommendations for Spring Break

Family and I (college age kids) are heading to San Francisco for 2 1/2 days in March for part of our Spring Break. Looking for must not miss restaurants. Not really looking for fancy, high end. We get that in Dallas. Just great local food. Eats we definitely want are dungeness crab/fresh local seafood and dim sum in Chinatown. Staying in Union Square so looking for good breakfast joints too. Never been to San Francisco so any help would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. Hi, we get this kind of request a lot.

    I was going to recommend this long and thoughtful thread to you:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/885995
    but I read more carefully and you're older, and your daughters aren't 20-something texans looking for a good time. It's still a good thread, but "somewhat off the mark".

    I read with interest the thread you instigated about your 13 year old daughter saving up her summer money for a big splurge meal in Dallas. It's a 2010 thread so I guess she's 16 or so now - I didn't catch in the thread where you ended up and whether she was happy with the meal.
    Worth a read:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/728218

    Which causes me to write a resonable response to your request, even though it's overly generic and you don't seem to have done any homework.

    There are obvious places to send people in your category:

    1) there are a number of great italian places. I know "italian" == boring, but with places like Cotongna and Quince and Barbacco and Zero zero and even Incanto (cal/ital), we have our own twist and it's worth trying.

    2) pizza is very good right now. Tony's is in the tourist quarter, but it might actually be worth a visit. Hyper thin crust neopolitan style burnt on the bottom is the rage.

    3) Asian. I actually expect you've got a strong immigrant community in Dallas, especially Viet, and for us the good immigrant eats are outside of town (peninsula and south bay), but there's a few standouts like Lers Ros, and a lot of people like Slanted Door (one of the few view restaurants that delivers on food, but you pay through the nose). The standard recommendation is Yank Sing for dim sum in the city - quite a few of the actual chinatown places have closed - you'll do well just walking chinatown and getting a bun or two wherever smells good.

    4) Fish. SF has a reputation for fresh/local that it doesn't deliver on, it's a nature of the fisheries we have and the deep water. There are very few fishes that are local, and crab season is ending (but still active) right now, and we finally had a good salmon catch last year first time in 3-4 years and that won't happen by the time you get here.

    A glorious day trip is to drive down the coast to Half Moon Bay, go to the docks there, buy a fish off the dock, and take it to one of the resturants right on the pier that will cook your fish for you. This is the kind of experience people hope for at SF fisherman's wharf, but very little fish flows through there anymore (there's still one or two wholesalers back there, I think/hope) - but it's the real deal at HMB, and you get a great drive out of it (rent a car at one of the Union Square car rental places - all the major agencies have outlets down there). There are some threads - and the phone number of the harbormaster where they have a recording so you can find out in advance if anyone is doing "boat sales" before heading down. Dress warm.

    The other fish places are the two old places in SF, Tadich and Sam's, which are a hoot and worth a meal, do your research because there are only a few things worth ordering. There are threads about the best chinese/viet/asian whole-crab places. But even better, most mid-upper range SF places will have one fish dish on the menu, and these can be come of the best fish you'll ever have. Quiz the waitstaff, if they say "local line caught" and if you know the ins and outs of the species and seasons, you can get an excellent fish --- better than at "fish only" restaurants.

    Except for oysters. If your family likes oysters, we have those and they are fresh, cheap, and tasty. Do separate research on that.

    I wrote an article about ordering fish at chinese restaurants from the tanks - that could be a fun SF thing (although I'm sure you have places in Dallas that will do similar

    )

    5) When you get a hankering for meat, don't even think about a steakhouse or BBQ. Even though BBQ is now on the rise here, it's rising from a low bar. Instead, go Burgers - there is a lot of inventiveness in Hamburgers right now.

    6) When you do your research, you will often come up with restaurants that were good 20~10 years ago (if ever) like Gary Danko, Boulevard, Masa's. The exciting part of SF dining is similar to what you mentioned in your thread with your daughter - more cutting edge places that have only been around a few years - the AQ / State Bird / Mission Chinese / Saison types of places.

    7) Reservations are a little tricky in SF. Just about all of the restaurants of note are on OpenTable, and the early side is good for people touristing during the day, so you should be able to reserve a couple of gems and play a few by ear. As locals we all have our own strategies - eat early, eat late, eat at the bar, eat in Oakland on saturday but wednesday is better for The City... options not as available to you. Go with OpenTable reservations on the early side. Also, don't get hung up on the part of town. The part of SF with all the eats (Mission/Castro/SOMA/Fidi) are all a $7 taxi ride of union square. Split four ways, that's a BARGAIN, cheaper than muni, even if you go out into the richmond or avenues (some good chinese dumpling places still out there, living is cheaper), you'll end up paying maybe $15 for a cab ride or enjoying the sweet, sweet smells of our public transit system.

    Do a little research and post a proposed list and people will help you tune it up

    1 Reply
    1. re: bbulkow

      My husband travels to China/Japan/Korea alot so very familiar with dim sum and fish tank restaurants. He always eats what the natives eat. My now 16 year old ended up spending her money at a high end steakhouse here in Dallas. Chamberlain's Steak and Chop House. Very good. She loved it.

      Okay. I've done a little research and here's what I've come up with. Help me finalize my choices.

      Dim sum: Lai Hong Lounge, Yank Sing or Hong Kon Lounge

      Seafood/crab: Pier 23 or Woodhouse Fish Company

      Random Choices: Barbacco, Tadich Grill, Colibri or Cotogna. (I know they are all different cuisines. Just want the best food, atmosphere. Not stuffy or overyly expensive.

      We don't really want to have to make reservations just want to be able to go when we are hungry. Not really sure what our tourist plans are yet. Still researching that. So I don't know what part of town we will be at during lunch/dinner.

      Also off the subject. We are thinking of doing either Napa or Sonoma (just hubby and I) for a day trip. From what I read, kids shouldn't come along. We are complete novices when it comes to wine, so would really like a recommendation for a good reputable wine tour company. One that plans everything for you.

      Thanks for all your help.

    2. One tip is that the best dim sum is NOT in Chinatown. Try Yank Sing if you aren't familiar with dim sum. They are downtown and much cleaner than Chinatown places.

      1. I would definitely recommend going to Boudin Bakery for their Clam Chowder!! It's an SF staple and super delicious. There's one right by you in Union Square at the Macy's, but for the full effect I would go to the one by Pier 39, and eat on the water. Fun for everyone!

        3 Replies
        1. re: ChowDownSF

          As a counterpoint, I'll mention that Boudin's clam chowder is as thick as oatmeal and kinda gross. Here's my tasting report,
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6905...

          But your mileage may vary.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I'm with Melanie on Boudin's clam chowder... Better used for wallpaper paste.

            If you want great clam chowder, head to Bar Crudo or Hog Island.

          2. re: ChowDownSF

            Pier 39 is a horrible tourist trap, clam chowder has nothing to do with San Francisco, and if you insist on wasting time going to Boudin to eat their phony local specialty, one of their many branches is at the airport.

          3. The best dungeness crab I've had in San Francisco has been in Vietnamese and Chinese places. My sister and I had an excellent salt & pepper crab at Bodega Bistro last week. When the crab quality is good the salt & pepper prep really brings out all its flavor without distraction. Depending on when you arrive you may still be able to get local crab. BB's crab has never disappointed me. Their banh xeo is also great.

            1. Curious if you made it out to San Francisco yet? How did your findings as far as meeting your expectations pan out?