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Mar 8, 2013 05:16 PM

Fisherman's Wharf [San Francisco]

Is there anything good at the Wharf besides Scoma's?

Despite the crowds of undiscerning tourists and abundance of generic chain food, both of which seem to detract focus in the area from the likes of food conscious locals leaving a vast and seemingly destitute strip along The Embarcadero with little destination dining of merit (at least West of the Ferry Bldg, Fog City Diner, Waterbar, etc) - there also seems to be many "old San Francisco" red sauce (checkered tablecloth) joints and cheap fish shacks along the docks, that have seemingly been around since the mid century and have plenty of atmosphere to spare!

I've never really explored the restaurants as everyone always warns to stay away (and until now, I've heeded this advice) but in a city of local and sustainable chef-driven kitchens, I'm apparently of the minority when it comes to enjoying old timewarps of the '40s-'50s-'60s as much for their charm as the old fashioned dining experience.

So I'm curious... What's good and what's decent around the Wharf?

I've always wanted to try Forbes Island for the ambiance; it looks like a ton of fun! Can anyone comment on the quality of dining? I don't remember the many other red sauce Italian joints that I passed by and took notice of this week as I was taking my younger out-of-town sister 'round the area on a city-wide walking tour of the Bay, but I am curious to know what restaurants (value-aside comparatively!) actually serve good quality meals in the immediate waterfront area.

Are any of the smelly crabshacks or fish stands at the piers good; what about Salty's Fishwich? Is the Grotto totally gross? It's got pretty stinko reviews on Yelp... And what about Alioto's? Would any of these be worth trying simply for the sake of doing so, are are you guaranteed a bad meal and experience?

I must be in the minority because I actually find the Wharf to be pretty fun and exciting, and I really enjoy the lost cultural experiences from dining at old (pre-1970s) restaurants- for which San Francisco has no shortage! The majority of food conscious critics have deemed the Wharf a culinary wasteland however, and there's been little value attributed to anything in the immediate area. Is there anything worthwhile on the waterfront at all??

And what about Forbes Island?!

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  1. HI!

    I too am in the minority. I LOVE the wharf! I love the Muse de Mechanique(tho much more when it was at the Cliff House)

    I too have always wanted to eat at Forbes. I have heard good things, but have never been.

    IN N OUT is the main food for me when I am there. I do like Scoma's and Alioito's. I have had decent brunches along Pier 39 even.

    Im interested to see where this thread goes, as I would like to explore the food down there as well.

    1 Reply
    1. re: smatbrat

      Looking at their menu, Alioto's seems reasonably priced for a tourist area. Any other cheap eats up there worth noting? It would be nice to have something other than In-N-Out. Last time I was there, I got this-- an animal style cheeseburger with extra-everything, chopped chilies, and an extra toasted bun. A knife and fork was needed. Nothing like getting full for $2.88...

    2. The best Fisherman's Wharf restaurant in my opinion is Gary Danko, but like much of the Wharf, it's not particularly interesting.

      Scoma's is a pretty good seafood restaurant, but a little pricey and they don't take reservations.

      When I eat at the Wharf, I usually go for simply prepared stuff that is hard to screw up. I've found the garlic roasted crab at the Franciscan worth going back for. The Franciscan is part of the tourist trap restaurant group that includes the Stinking Rose, but I've found it to be a pleasant experience both in terms of the food and the service. The restaurant is way over 50 years old, but it was remodeled a few years ago and still feels fresh and there are very nice views from pretty much every table. While the restaurant is not inexpensive, the wine list has entries that seem reasonably priced. For example, you can get a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne with your crab for $59. The same bottle would probably cost you around $45 at a discount wine store, so the markup seems to be within reason.

      Other than that, In-N-Out is fine for what it is, which is a fast food chain. But I'd much rather have a burger from Mo's in North Beach.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nocharge

        As a tourist who gleans most of her recommendations from the generous SF Bay Area Hounds, I have been well and truly warned off most all things FW foodwise. The one place there that I'd revisit is Tanguito, which may not be the sort of thing the OP is after. But the empanadas are tasty and the chimichurri worthy. Just go early to avoid disappointment if they run out.

        1. re: grayelf

          Second Tanguito if in the area. Butterfly at Pier 33 is actually quite sufficient for a sit-down meal, though certainly not a destination worthy restaurant.

      2. If you're looking for throw-back food, Fior di Italia may work. Old-school Italian American.
        >>Is there anything worthwhile on the waterfront at all??<< I think this depends on what you consider worthwhile... for those that you describe as "food conscious", there's very little there. For someone like yourself who wants pre-70s restaurants, I think there could be a lot of interest there. Alioto's should work for you. And in North Beach, North Beach Restaurant should give you what you want.

        1. I dread Fisherman’s Warf! I just want to run away as quickly as possible when I am dragged there by out of town visitors. It's just painfully boring to me.

          A good restaurant fairly close to Fisherman’s Warf is Albona. It’s a couple of blocks away and easy walking distance. I have not been in a while but the last time we went a couple of years ago it was very good. Have been meaning to go back. Anyone know if it’s still good?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ridge

            Same owner and chef; I don't see why not, although I've not been back in almost a year myself. It's certainly where I would take foodies, if I were forced to be in the Wharf. I second Albona.

          2. "there also seems to be many "old San Francisco" red sauce (checkered tablecloth) joints and cheap fish shacks along the docks"

            Since those places are patronized almost exclusively by tourists, the owners have less incentive to keep quality high the way places that depend on locals do. I'm not sure those places are really old-school, they may just be decorated to conform to the expectations of people who think there's some reason to go to FW without a time machine.

            Reports on Forbes Island have not been encouraging.