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Looking for a Few Dinners in/near the Castro [San Francisco]

The husband and I will be heading up to SF for my birthday this summer. It's been a few years since we've been to the City, so I'd appreciate some suggestions for chow-worthy joints in and around the Castro (where we will be staying).

Last time we went we found L'Ardoise and loved it, so that kind of tucked-away gem would be welcome.

Pretty much any and all cuisine is fine. Heart issues (mine) mean that I'm careful about certain menu items, but I've got that handled. Naturally we're both trying to lose weight, so we can't overload on the bacon-and-butter temples of cholesterol. Well, not any more. Dang it.

Oh wait-- one cuisine is kind of out: Mexican. We get that all the time at home, and honestly were a bit underwhelmed by what we sampled in the City. Unless there's some super-wonderful place....

We'd like to keep to a budget: mostly under $50 per person, including wine, but $100 per for one splurge is OK.

We are open to venturing out of the neighborhood (gayborhood?) for at least one dinner, so don't feel too limited geographically.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Poesia's very good.

    Do you have vegan Mexican food at home?

    13 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Poesia is pretty bland and average and overpriced.

      1. re: tjinsf

        Hmm. I don't see any of the unusual regional dishes on the menu any more. Maybe I'm out of date.

        1. re: tjinsf

          I absolutely disagre. Poesia makes some excellent house made pasta. I live in the area and it's entered my semi-regular neighborhood rotation.

          That said, if I were coming from out of town, I would not make it a destination.

          As others have said, nothing in the castro is a true destination, with the possible exception of L'Ardoise (keeping in mind that I despise Frances.)

          1. re: pauliface

            not quite a destination, but starbelly is certainly solid

            1. re: vulber

              I can also back Starbellly. Would have mentioned it myself, but it's been a few years since i've been there.

              There are a couple of cheap eats in the Castro that are decent, if you just want a quick meal:

              1. Super Duper burger
              2. Kasa Indian
              3. Thai House Express (not quite as fast as the other two)

              There is a sandwich place called Ike's that is immensely popular locally (I like it), but the Castro location moved around a bit and I don't remember what's up with it now.

            2. re: pauliface

              We ARE planning L'Ardoise for my birthday dinner-- my husband is still craving their coq au vin.

              Now just out of curiosity-- what makes you despise Frances...?

              1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                Okay perhaps despise is too harsh a word. But I don't like it and I won't go back. Here are my thoughts from when I went:

                Also, understand that I am in the vast minority on this one. So unless my article hits some of your personal hot-button issues, you may just want to ignore my opinion here. :-)

                1. re: pauliface

                  I was underwhelmed with my experience at Frances as well. Firefly in Noe Valley is a much better choice.

                  Bacco also in Noe Valley has pretty great Italian food at a reasonable price. I always joke with my boyfriend about just going for mash potatoes, green beans, and creme brûlée. All 3 the best I have ever had.

                  1. re: Ashley12

                    I am fond of both Firefly and Bacco -- though I have not been to either for a few years. Looks like we agree...

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            We do not have vegan Mexican near our house (Long Beach isn't a hotbed of veganism). I'm sure I can find it in the greater LA area, but I can't say it sounds that enticing.

            I do think we might give some Mission Mexican a try. There's always lunches to take care of, right? :-)

            1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

              gracias madre is the best vegan mexican food i've ever had....but it's still vegan mexican, which i never crave. like most vegan places, a lot of stuff eventually starts to all taste the same; i can only handle so much cashew cheese.

              for mission taquerias, i like cancun, for an authentic sit-down meal, there's sanjalisco. or tacolicious for delicious tacos with sustainably raised meat

              1. re: vulber

                I liked Gracias Madre more than I normally would have, but only because the only other vegan I have ever had was Herbivore. Somehow they managed to make a truly awful vegetable stir fry and my friend got mashed potatoes that not only tasted horrible, but were accompanied by a speech, via my friend, on how they were the "essence of the potato." I don't know how I didn't tip the table over and run out screaming.
                At least at GM you get rice and beans that are perfectly edible. But I also agree that I do not need to go back.

                1. re: vulber

                  I'm not sure i agree that it's a problem particular to being a vegan restaurant, but much as I enjoy Gracias Madre, i find it hard to eat there often. The menu is too same same from the appetizers to the entrees. I don't know if it's a lack of creativity from the kitchen or maybe an effort to keep costs down by limiting the ingredients, but it makes it hard to put together a truly satisfying meal. Also, food is heavy. most taquerias put a wee bit of greenery on when you order a platillo

            2. Yes, L'Ardoise is lovely. I really think the destination place is NOPA on Divis. And I'm a big fan of Ragazza, also on Divis. I'm generally not a fan of cuisine in the Castro. It's gotten better, but doesn't hold a candle to the better places around.

              1 Reply
              1. re: blackpippi

                NOPA's in the Western Addition, the part realtors like to call NOPA (north of the Panhandle).

                If that's not too far, all the places around 18th and Valencia are even closer: Delfina, Bar Tartine, Gajalee ...

              2. Frances will go over $50 per person with alcohol but is one of my favorites.

                1. I highly recommend the freshly made Oboro tofu at Eiji (317 Sanchez St). Their sushi is just ok.

                  1. Do yourself a favor and don't confine yourself to the Castro. As Blackpippi said, there is *much* better eats in the city and San Francisco is only seven miles across, so you don't have to travel that far to get much better food, with the exception of Frances (hard to get reservations, but well worth it).

                    Barracuda sushi is respectable and somewhat memorable, but I don't know if it is birthday-worthy for out-of-towners.

                    Other thoughts would be Bar Tartine, Delfina, and Incanto, which aren't too far from the Castro 'hood.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                      Don't worry-- we're not confining ourselves to the Castro, I'm just making sure that reasonably good dining options exist for at least a couple of nights when we don't feel like venturing too far away, or don't feel like hailing a cab (does anyone still hail a cab?!).

                      Everyone's suggestions are appreciated. Thank you so much! I'm making a list...!!

                      1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                        Depending on where in the Castro you're staying, Delfina and Bar Tartine might be within walking distance. And Incanto might be within walking distance if you don't mind climbing a large hill. I second the recommendation for all three of these, and I think they are all better than options you'd find right in the Castro.

                        And yes, people still do hail cabs, and fortunately the Castro is generally a pretty easy place to hail one! :)

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          How did you do like Fable or Canala Dave? What was your experience eating at those places?

                          1. re: tjinsf

                            I haven't been to Fable or Canela. What I know about them comes mainly from Chowhound, and nobody has talked about either very much yet. But they both look interesting, so thanks for posting about them!

                            1. re: Dave MP

                              I've been to Canela twice - it's great. tjinsf - I agree with your summary about the place. It has a great neighborhood feel and an extensive menu.

                        2. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                          We had a fantastic dinner at Incanto recently. I would definitely recommend it for a celebration.

                        3. re: CarrieWas218

                          Sometimes a person has to eat in a particular neighborhood and would just like to find someplace good there. Recommending that they travel to another neighborhood where the food might be better is only self serving if the person needs/wants to stay in the Castro.

                          1. re: chocolatetartguy

                            " We are open to venturing out of the neighborhood (gayborhood?) for at least one dinner, so don't feel too limited geographically."

                        4. Castro choices
                          Fable-new place open about a month I think, new american. all the dishes are under 20 and it's quite good. It's small and new so I would get a reservation. Things we've liked pork cheeks with apple and greens slaw, grilled articoke, good desserts. Nice sit down linen place without being expensive or stuffy.

                          Kitchen Story for breakfast and lunch, huge menu, interesting pan asian takes on breakfast dishes

                          Canela-good tapas place with lots of selections, nice atmosphere, good wine selection, the gambas and the Setas a la Plancha have been highlights.

                          All easily under 50 a person.

                          1. For tapas, hike over the hill or take a quick bus ride to Contigo. Best in the area.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Have you ever eaten at Canela? Also wasn't aware Contigo was now in Castro.

                              1. re: tjinsf

                                it's not, that's why he said quick bus ride or hike. it's in noe

                                1. re: vulber

                                  yes I am quite aware of where things are in the city.

                            2. I read in the SF Chron that Barney Frank and his husband (here for a Commonwealth Club talk) just ate at Harvey's.

                              I've never been.

                              Barney's laser-sharp mind is legendary--and I know he likes to eat--but no clue about his critical judgement re the food world--or whether the bite at Harvey's was all about politics/sentiment.

                              To those more in the know: would Harvey's be an option for the OP?

                              3 Replies
                                  1. re: sundeck sue

                                    Harvey's is a place for a drink and to hang out and people watch but not a food destination place.

                                  2. Your suggestions so far are wonderful, and I do appreciate them very much.

                                    Now: We plan to do something as tackily touristy as possible. Therefore we are thinking about going to see Beach Blanket Babylon.

                                    I hear you groaning. Well, it's my party and I'll see a silly revue if I want to! Nyaah.


                                    What are our best Chow-worthy bets around Club Fugazi? Should we dine before or after the show? It's North Beach, so we have a multitude of possibilities; what are the best ones?

                                    You people are the best!

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                      I am not the biggest fan of the multitude of tourist geared restaurants in North Beach. I'm sure there are hidden gems that others can cite to.

                                      The House of Prime Rib is pretty close if you want to do a really touristy day all around. It's not a short/easy walk but walkable to Club Fugazi. It's an institution and the food is solid. Make reservations.

                                      The House does upscale asian food competently and is walkable.

                                      La Trappe has a great selection of beers - food is mediocre though and is walkable.

                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                        disagree with mediocre food at la trappe unless it's plunged recently. the fries are cooked exactly how they're supposed to be, great mussels (not as good as plouf, but still delicious), and excellent belgian waffles.

                                      2. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                        I'm not sure exactly what you've cut from your diet. You might consider Park Tavern if you don't want Italian, or if you do want Italian, Sotto Mare has good SF seafood specialities. The dishes I like best at the Italian places in the neighborhood aren't ideal for losing weight...

                                        Before or after BBB, head to the Vallejo garage next to the police station. Take the elevator to the 5th floor--- has the best view of the area.

                                        1. re: hyperbowler

                                          We're generally giving ourselves a bit of a license to splurge on this trip, but we're going to be limiting red meat, processed carbs, animal fats-- you know, the usual. Lean meats and seafood are all great.

                                          I am on Coumadin for my heart condition, so I have to cut back sharply on foods high in vitamin K. The worst are my favorites: Spinach, Swiss chard, kale, etc. But for a truly special meal, I'll just pop an extra pill and hope for the best. (Grapefruit also interacts very badly with other drugs I'm on-- but small loss, I hate grapefruit.)

                                          However, for good Italian (and Asian), the rules sort of go out the window. Years ago I enjoyed a great dinner with my old boss at an Italian joint her husband stumbled upon, just one of those storefront places on the main drag. Just simple, satisfying northern Italian food.

                                          Suggest away, people! And again-- thanks so much for your wisdom and guidance.

                                          1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                            L'Osteria Del Forno is pretty affordable, and specializes in the food of Emilia Romagna. I think the best things here aren't particularly compatible with a diet :-)

                                            Caffe Baonecci has great pizza (roman style, if I recall correctly)

                                            Cotogna, which is very popular on this board and difficult to secure a spot at, is .4 miles from BBB. Their vegetable sides are excellent. About as far in the opposite direction is Albona, an Istrian restaurant (kind of hybrid of cuisines of Croatia & and Italy).

                                            1. re: hyperbowler

                                              L'Osteria Del Forno is cash only.

                                              1. re: hyperbowler

                                                I bet the OP could get an early or late reservation at Cotogna on a weekday without too much pain. Love the pizza at Bao Necci too but I think that would have to be prior to the show as they don't stay open very late.

                                          2. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                            In North Beach, I like L'Osteria del Forno, Ristorante Ideale, and BaoNecci.

                                            House of Prime Rib's a mile away on the other side of Russian Hill.

                                            1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                              I recently went to Original Joe's (refurbished and not in its original spot) - before going to BBB! (it was a work function.)

                                              i was very pleased with Original Joe's food, albeit we had a fixed menu because of our office party. the pesto was out of this world - we ordered extra, and a steak some people had was fantastic. maybe not chow-worthy exactly, but we all enjoyed it.

                                            2. Anchor Oyster Bar
                                              579 Castro
                                              between 18th and 19th Streets

                                              1. Your suggestions so far look and sound wonderful. I have a funny feeling we won't starve on our little trip up to the City...!!

                                                It looks like we will be in town for the tail end of SF Chefs! We will definitely be checking that out.

                                                Since Belden Place will be a short-ish jaunt from Union Square, now my husband is clamoring to have one evening's meal there (long story short: Business trip several years ago, one AWESOME meal at a Belden Place eatery that is long-gone). This will probably take the place of our tradition of having an un-ironic, joyous dinner at Scoma's (yeah, that's how we roll in Long Beach!), so it's gotta be special. Plouf?

                                                I know, I'm larding on questions moving far from the original. But so far your ideas have been golden, and I do really, really, REALLY appreciate the insight. Thanks in advance.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                                  Plouf's good if you want moules-frites, but my favorite place on Belden is B44.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    i agree with both these things. love Plouf's for the mussels, but B44 overall is wonderful. more on the apps then entrees, for me. easy to make a great meal of their apps.

                                                2. Just a last post to say "THANK YOU!!!" to all you wonderful SF Chowhounds. I now have a hearty list of 29 eateries from which we shall be picking and choosing our diet-breaking meals. This will be my last birthday in my 40s-- we're gonna make it count.

                                                  Flying Spaghetti Monster help me-- now my husband wants to go see Alcatraz while we're in the City!!! Did I say we were going to be cliché tourists...?!? On the bright side, this facilitates a completely non-ironic, joyous lunch at Scoma's. Some may scoff a little, but several years ago our first non-business-related dinner in SF (just after we started going out) was here, on a very rainy March evening, and it was actually quite wonderful. Now we're older and greyer and raise our glasses to more departed loved ones, but Scoma's will always be near and dear to our hearts. And stomachs.

                                                  Thanks for helping a rapidly-aging Chowhound from the southern half of the state. You guys rock!!! ;-)

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                                    We loved the Alcatraz tour when we went several years ago and I understand they've improved it even more. I want to go back and do the evening version but it interferes with my dinner plans :-). Speaking of food, it would be very cool to take a picnic lunch foraged from a stop at the FPFM to the Rock.

                                                  2. I know it's bad form to keep topping this thread, but another question has arisen, and it's reasonably on-topic:

                                                    Are there unusually good wine bars with tapas/small plates/notable nibbles in that vicinity? Or anywhere else in the City? I'm sure there are some wonderful ones. Given that we probably won't carve out any time to take a day trip up to Sonoma or Napa (we went to Sonoma in April, had a stupendous time, drove back home with 2 cases of various wineries' fab wines), and we LOVE wine (we will be STARTING our vacation by hanging out at the wine bar at Long Beach Airport for an hour or so-- just for fun!),....

                                                    Also: We stumbled upon Zadin on 18th St. the last time we were in the City and liked it-- first-night meal, we were on our (delayed) honeymoon, solid Vietnamese/Pan-Asian food. Has anyone been recently? If it's remarkably sucky, what else is a reasonable option in the immediate area...?

                                                    Again, my profound thanks for the help. My husband has looked at the list I made and is overwhelmed by the choices. We will be thinking hard about where we go.... And now we're meeting up with friends and will be going to l'Ardoise on Saturday night (yes, we'll try to make reservations). My birthday dinner is now the Big Decision. Where should it be...?

                                                    1. Reporting back....

                                                      Poesia was our first-night dinner. No reservations, we ate at the bar. It was excellent.

                                                      We hit Mama Ji's on our innkeeper's recommendation. Very yummy. The Szechuan items were blast-furnace spicy but absolutely addictive.

                                                      L'Ardoise was fantastic (as usual).

                                                      We had lunch at Harvey's. Our expectations weren't high-- bar food is bar food-- and our stuff was fine.

                                                      One breakfast was at Little Orphan Andy's. Diner food, loud and proud, served by a pierced leather-daddy in a khaki kilt who threw shade when he wasn't slinging the hash.

                                                      Our Alcatraz tour was followed by lunch at Fog Harbor Fish House. It did the job but was pretty much forgettable.

                                                      Dinner that night was at Catch. Which was actually much, much better than Fog Harbor, and exceeded our expectations.

                                                      Then my birthday dinner ended up being at Canela. We loved it. Big hit. They comped us their mussels and chorizo appetizer, which we gobbled up (and I ordinarily HATE mussels). And I got birthday churros y chocolate-- with a candle in the churros mountain! Lovely.

                                                      Thanks, guys. I got good recommendations for our next trip (since we ended up NOT going a lot of places we swore we would). You're wonderful!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                                        Thanks for reporting back. Sounds like it was a great visit!

                                                        1. re: Dave MP

                                                          It was fantastic, actually. We fell in love with the City all over again. I would have liked to go on a bar crawl at least one night, but we have had an exhausting year and simply wanted to get away from home and rest. Which we kind of did.

                                                          And we ate very well. And walked most of the extra weight off!