Help on Dining options during short international stopover. (SF)
Excited to be coming to San Francisco for the first time late July, however it's just a short visit as a stopover between Australia and New York. Looking to get some great meals in, and a overview of the city in eating terms. I had a few ideas, but I started researching here and now have more choices then I can deal with, hoping for some guidance.
We get it late on Saturday morning, and leave early Tuesday morning, which gives us 2 and a half days in town. However, as the flight in is a doozy and I'm concerned about jet-lag, I'm hesitant to book something fancy or involved on Saturday night, as I'd rather not end up asleep halfway through the 3rd course.
This knocks out places like Coi or Benu unfortunately (as they won't be open again until Tuesday) The timing of arrival also means we'll miss the Ferry Plaza Market, which is rather annoying., though if the we get good run at SFO we'll be heading there to catch the end.
Currently thinking along these lines for a itinerary:
Saturday after arrival: Swan Oyster Depot, Mission St for Mexican/Good Bar food in the evening.
Sunday: Bar Tartine for Brunch, Somewhere in Chinatown if Lunch is required, Commonwealth SF for Dinner.
Monday: Probably a quick breakfast at somewhere like the Mill, before doing the Alcatraz touristy thing. Try for SBP for Dinner, happy to wait/drink at a nearby bar. If not, something else, not sure what. However, Rich Table did look interesting.
Other place I was considering was Mission Chinese, but seems to be not really worth it from the opinions here, and I can also go in NY where we've got more time. Anything else I should consider that shouldn't be missed on a first trip? Too many similar options? Am I needlessly crossing town? (Staying at the Phoenix on Eddy St)
Thanks in Advance.
I would strongly advise you to try for reservations at all those places, where available, because you've picked probably the most popular places in the city. Or plan to go really early or late or wait for 2 hours in line. Seriously, the only places that won't have long lines at all hours on your list are maybe Commonwealth (still popular though), Mexican dives on Mission, and bad places in Chinatown.
Most of Chinatown is in a pretty sad state when it comes to food (tourist muck and/or health code violations abound)—and I say that as someone who dreams of places in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. Earlier today, I suggested R&G lounge as one option for cantonese staples and the salt & pepper crab that draws tourists. Also, Lai Hong lounge for ok dim sum in Chinatown and Yank Sing, two locations downtown, for the best in town (and priciest).
If Benu really isn't an option on Saturday—and it's amazing enough to be worth the effort—maybe Commis over in Oakland? You're staying close enough to a BART station for a trip across the bay to be fairly quick and easy.
Sons & Daughters in San Francisco would be another option, but I'm not sure it's as good of a value as it once was (the price has doubled, but so has the menu length). Commis, Commonwealth and Sons & Daughters are all kind of similar modern-innovative-unprentious places at or about the 1-michelin star level, but right now I think Commis is playing at a higher level.
Also, Rich Table is just as good if not better than State Bird Provisions (and packed with just as much hype). I haven't been to Mission Chinese Food in NYC, but I've never found it so amazing here that I would go over any other top place in SF.
I would suggest looking at AQ for Saturday night. There has been a recent discussion about whether it's possible to get two at the bar with short notice (I am assuming you are two - you say "we" but don't mention kids). They're still doing very interesting food, and aren't quite the darlings that SBP and RT are, so your chances of a last minute choice are better. They have tasting menu and a la carte options, so you can decide to spend anywhere from an hour to 4 hours there.
For this kind of use, OpenTable is a good resource. I would suggest taking stock around 4pm, downloading the opentable app, looking through what's available (having done your research as you're doing now), then making a last minute call.
There are really a ton of restaurants doing interesting meals where you can have fun, and not fight a two hour wait. One of my personal favorites recently is Zare.
An interesting suggestion regarding Saturday was a recent report that the full menu at Foreign Cinema is available at Lazlo Bar (part of the same building). Although FC isn't in the same league as others mentioned, dining at the Lazlo bar would be pretty fun and "mission-ish" with a higher level of food than you'd get by hitting Pancho Villa. Another that springs to mind (again on the fun side) is Little Baobab.
I would skip chinatown. A quick list of some sunday optionsn just off the top of my head: Ame, Bar Agricole, Campton Place, Chapeau, Jai Yun, Prospect, Skool, SPQR, Zuni, Zero Zero.
Mission Chinese is pretty good, but I don't think it's worth wasting a meal on. The chef is in NY most of the time, but I wouldn't go out of my way there either, unless you want to takeout for a late night snack. My big complaint is entrees are filled with crudely chopped giant pieces of garnish to fill the plate.
I'd have a plan "B" for Swan Oyster Depot: lines are famously long and no reservations, so be prepared to kill a couple of hours waiting. Fortunately there are a number of good alternatives in that neighborhood (don't be put off by the grunginess). Bodega Bistro is a favorite vietnamese place, and Lers Ros for Thai gets a lot of high marks here.
I think Bar Tartine for brunch is a good choice. They open at 11, and you can make a reservation. Considering that this meal won't happen until after 11, you might not really need that much lunch. For what it's worth, my Australian food-loving friend who visits the USA loves Bar Tartine. Get the fried flatbread (I generally like the savory versions more than the sweet) and the smoked potatoes.
If you need a snack prior to that, you could check out the farmer's market at Civic Center, which is on Sundays. Not like the Ferry Building, but still interesting to walk through and there will be some good fruit samples at that time of year.
I would skip Mission Chinese....instead, check out some of the Sichuan or Xi'an options while you are in New York City.
I think breakfast at the Mill before Alcatraz is a good idea. It's not particularly on the way, though, but from where you're staying you could take a quick bus-ride there, or an even quicker cheap taxi ride.