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Jun 19, 2013 12:06 PM

4 Days in SF-- "Best Of..."

Hi all,

I have four days to spend in San Francisco! I'll be staying in the Mission while I'm there, but of course I won't be spending ALL my time there. Can you give me your personal "best ofs" for the following? (Public transport/walking access only--no car!) I've been doing some research, but I felt like this way might be easier to get everything in one shot. Obviously, you don't have to answer EVERY category!

-dim sum
-seafood (oysters!)
-Mexican (tacos)
-cafe (coffee + atmosphere)
-ice cream
-anywhere else

I know I may not be able to hit every single category (at least this time around!), but at least this will help me plan my itinerary some. Thanks so much!!

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  1. dim sum: Yank Sing, especially on the weekend (turnip cake and stuffed mushrooms have gone downhill due to ill-considered deporkification) - tips:

    tacos: Taqueria San Jose, 2830 Mission: get al pastor or chorizo

    oysters: Zuni Cafe, 1658 Market

    sandwich: Saigon Sandwich, 560 Larkin


    5 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      >> oysters: Zuni Cafe, 1658 Market

      does it really make much of a difference what restaurant oysters are served in? aren't they for a large part all from the same producers, served in exactly the same way?

      1. re: Dustin_E

        There are a lot of oysters on the market from various suppliers and quality varies. Not everyplace that serves them shucks them perfectly every time.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I was somewhere recently where they didn't detach the foot from the shell.

          And, I wrote a short post about the difference between Hog and Rocks and Mission Oyster.

          How often you get deliveries, how much selection you have, whether you throw away tired looking oysters or serve them....

          Anyone who thinks that oysters are oysters should try both - they're about 100 yards away from each other.

          1. re: bbulkow

            were they both good, or was one way better?

            can't find your post.

            i'll try them both -- i've always been curious about this.

            1. re: bbulkow

              I understand that "undetached" is actually better. Fresher.

      2. ramen - katana-ya or chotto

        dim sum - yank sing

        breakfast/brunch - farina (sunday only)

        seafood - swan's or tadich

        mexican - tons of choices in the mission

        sushi - ino in japantown

        sandwich - roli roti porchetta, hayes grill salmon blt, or american eatery breakfast sandwich, all at the ferry building saturday mornings

        41 Replies
        1. re: Dustin_E

          Tadich Grill is surely in the top five for best old-school San Francisco time machine experience, but I don't think it could make the top 20 for seafood per se.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            really? what places do you think are better for seafood?

            tadich seafood is fresh, high-quality, served in large quantities for reasonable prices.

            the cooking certainly isn't fancy, but i don't think high-quality seafood needs much.

            1. re: Dustin_E

              Hayes Street Grill took its inspiration from Tadich but I think they do a better job of selecting and cooking fish, as do many Vietnamese and Chinese places with live tanks. Hog Island, Bar Crudo, La Mar, Pesce, Capannina. I keep meaning to try Sotto Mare.

              Most of the best seafood dishes I've had in the last decade were at places that don't specialize in it, e.g. Incanto, La Ciccia, Zuni, B44, Izakaya Yuzuki.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                i think the food at tadich is _much_ better than sotto mare. sotto mare is a bit less expensive, though. fun little space, too.

                i agree the places you mention have more carefully prepared / more thoughtful dishes than tadich -- but you'll pay twice as much for the same amount of seafood.

                agreed the best place to get seafood is at chinese places with tanks (or sushi places). yum's in fremont is my favorite, by a margin.

                1. re: Dustin_E

                  actually, come to think of it, i visited a place very similar to tadich in downtown DC a little over a decade ago. wish i could remember the name of that place.

                  1. re: Dustin_E

                    The vast majority of posters here, including myself, do view Tadich favorably. A small number do not.

                    However, I do think there are better options for oysters in SF, such as Swan's and Zuni.

                    1. re: DavidT

                      If you are a true oyster snob, you may want to skip the oysters entirely if you are coming in the summer...

                      True to form for me, months with no "R" in them (May, June, July and August), when the oysters are spawning, they are flabby, milky and have far less unctuous taste to them.

                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                        Oysters in California don't spawn in summer, or ever. The water is too cold. That's why the "seedling" oyster must be imported, usually from Japan.

                      2. re: DavidT

                        Agree. I love any of their seafood grilled over mesquite, but would go elsewhere for oysters. Foreign Cinema does a nice job with them if the OP wants to stick to the Mission.

                    2. re: Dustin_E

                      "you'll pay twice as much for the same amount of seafood"

                      If that were true, I'd be a bigger fan, but they'd go out of business. Hayes Street Grill's sand dabs are $25, Rose Pistola's burrida (cioppino) is $32, Zuni's oysters $2.50-3.00 each, all are about the same price as Tadich for more careful shopping and cooking.

                      I like Tadich, I just think it's dangerous to order anything except a few simple dishes I know they do well. Tourists often fail to heed that warning and have meals that are old-school in the bad way.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        i was refering mostly to dishes with lobster / crab vs composed dishes at la mar and capannina.

                        i haven't tried any of the dishes you mention, but i will -- they sound good.

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          It's hard to compare Tadich's crab prices with other places since they generally they don't do the same dishes. A couple of points of reference: Tadich charges $14 for a Dungeness crab cake (not the best way to appreciate that crab), Woodhouse charges $12 for two / $15 for three. Tadich charges $27 for a large crab louie, Wayfare Tavern was charging $20 in January (now off the menu since it's out of season locally).

                          I don't know why a tourist visiting SF would order lobster, except maybe local rock lobster, or if they did why they'd want the broiled Australian lobster tail Tadich charges $50 for instead of going somewhere that has live Maine lobsters in a tank.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Agree on the not bothering with lobster on the west coast. We lost our minds and ordered a lobster salad at Bar Crudo in May and it was pointless...

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          >> Rose Pistola's burrida (cioppino) is $32

                          actually it is $58, and serves 2.

                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                Still about the same price as Tadich except for having to get two orders.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  >> Still about the same price as Tadich except for having to
                                  >> get two orders.

                                  that means nothing. cioppino at tadich is large enough to food 2 people easily. is the one at rose pistola really twice as big?

                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                    Tadich's seemed normal-sized to me. When I've gone with people who ordered it they haven't shared it or taken leftovers.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      >> Tadich's seemed normal-sized to me.

                                      what about compared to rose pistola's?

                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                        Some years ago when I had the single-customer portion it was about the same size. I think every cioppino I've had has been a healthy serving.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Must have been some years ago, because it's been a while since I've heard anyone give preference to anything Rosa Pistola.

                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        "Vietnamese and Chinese places with live tanks. Hog Island, Bar Crudo, La Mar, Pesce, Capannina."

                        These just aren't comparable menus to Tadich's.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          The original request was for the restaurants serving the best seafood in SF.

                          Tadich's overly long and broad menu is one of the reasons it's not among those. No good modern restaurant would try to do so many things since it's impossible to execute them all well.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Offering that list up as alternatives to Tadich's is misleading. Neither approach or specialties are similar.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              I said they do a better job of cooking fish.

                              Who cares if anyplace is similar to Tadich? For the most part it's old-school in a bad way.

                              If you want an experience like Tadich with a marginally lower chance of a bad meal if you order carelessly and perhaps a marginally better meal if you don't, go to Sam's Grill. But that's not what the original post asked about.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                You weren't replying to the OP, you were challenging someone's suggesting of Tadich.

                                Tadich does a great job with simple preps many San Franciscans appreciate.

                                Pesce and La Mar aren't even on the same planet. I don't have anything bad to say about Bar Crudo, or Hog Island but in a top 20, Tadich belongs alongside them, and not just because it's old.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  If a new place used the same quality of ingredients as Tadich and cooked them the same way, I don't think anyone would say it served some of the best seafood in SF.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    You're right, they'd need to drown it in oil, sit in a trendy neighborhood, or have a name chef attached.... Oh wait, those places with subpar food get championed here all the time.

                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  i stopped into sam's once. they were out of several things i wanted (e.g. sand dabs) and nothing they had sounded good (mock turtle soup with ground turkey? no thanks), so i tried some oysters there. they were awful.

                                  has anyone else (besides robert) tried both tadich and sam's and have an opinion on sam's?

                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                    I've been to both, Sam's is where you take the grandparents, Tadich's where you take the parents. Neither are to my personal 30 something's taste in terms of atmosphere.

                                    They both do simple preparations of seafood both of which to my tastes from France and Malaysia are unseasoned. I found Tadich to be more consistent in terms of service, quality of product and seasoning.

                                    I don't care for Tadich because of the wait and I do feel it's overhyped but yes if I have tourists in, they go there for cioppino.

                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                      thanks for the insight.

                                      i'm probably biased for tadich because it is a nice place to walk into and eat solo at the bar on random weeknights (which is my preferred dining style). it is also efficient, and i'm impatient.

                                    2. re: Dustin_E

                                      I have also eaten at both and, unlike Tjinsf, prefer Sam's for the atmosphere, ability to sit more readily, and overall offerings on the menu.

                                      I have been to Tadich four to six times and easily have chosen Sam's more than twice that amount of time. I am also a solo diner so waiting has never been the issue; I just prefer Sam's for how the waitservers are a bit more attentive, the atmosphere is a bit more quiet, and the offerings just seem fresher to me at Sam's.

                                3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  >> No good modern restaurant would try to do so many things since it's impossible to execute them all well.

                                  tadich is able to offer a long and broad menu because they prepare their food in a simple and straightforward way.

                                  modern restaurants usually want to make their dishes more complicated than those served at tadich.

                                  i've tried a fairly broad selection of the offerings at tadich (have you?). i think they are for the most part pretty decent.

                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                    A lot of Tadich's dishes are less simple and straightforward than more modern restaurants typically serve: lobster thermidor, oysters Rockerfeller, crab and prawns a la Monza.

                                    Here's a report from a tourist who went expecting the best of San Francisco and wandered into the minefield section of the menu:


                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      i'm not sure tadich is less consistent over the menu than most places. but i also don't care for their oysters rockefeller or "good value" meat dishes.

                                      i'm also not sure the dishes you mention are really that complicated for the kitchen to prepare, given they don't do pretty arrangements or fancy garnishes.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        That's true, but why is that a derogatory thing?

                                        We're in SF where a modern fish heavy restaurant is out of step if they didn't stay simple and allow the ingredients to drive the menu. What's modern? Ceviche? BBQ Hamachi?

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          >> i'm also not sure the dishes you mention are really that
                                          >> complicated for the kitchen to prepare, given they don't do
                                          >> pretty arrangements or fancy garnishes.

                                          i meant this to be the opposite of derogatory. i all too often find "modern" restaurants offering style over substance.

                                          1. re: Dustin_E

                                            I was responding to Robert who seems to suggest Tadich doesn't rank as worthwhile in the modern world beyond a museum piece....then names a seafood chain as a better "modern" option.

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              What chain? Woodhouse because they have two branches?

                                              Tadich is great for what it is, I just don't see it in the running for best seafood in SF.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                La Mar has locations in Bogotá, Lima, New York, Panamá, and Sao Paulo.

                        2. ramen - Tampopo, Buchanan Street in JTown
                          -dim sum - Koi Palance, Daly City
                          -breakfast/brunch -
                          -seafood (oysters!) - Swan
                          -sushi - Sushi Aka Tombo, Buchanan Street in JTown
                          -cafe (coffee + atmosphere) -
                          -sandwich - Naked Lunch.
                          -bakery/dessert - Craftsman & Wolves and/or Tartine
                          -ice cream - Humphrey Slocombe
                          -anywhere else - Atelier Crenn: first 2-star Michelin female chef in the country and outstanding molecular cuisine.

                          1. Ramen: Waraku in Jtown or Kirimachi in North Beach. I do NOT recommend Tanpopo in J-town, their ramen is horrible. (Although the place is fine for some $2 drafts, takoyaki, and torikawa-age at happy hour).

                            Sushi: Koo in the sunset, Aka Tombo in Jtown, Ichi in Bernal, Okina in the Richmond, in that order. I don't recommend Ino in J-town, his sushi is fine but you probably won't enjoy the meal. Look up the definition of Omotenashi and you will receive exactly the opposite at Ino.

                            16 Replies
                            1. re: od_sf

                              fwiw, i think aka tombo sucks -- inexpensive, but some of their pieces are just gross. koo is decent though. okina is also good.

                              ino-san is old and kinda grumpy. depends on what the OP expects when it comes to sushi. if you go in, sit down, shut up, order and eat (and don't mind wasabi), it can be great. if you expect to be able to make small talk with a waiter/chef, or order a dragon roll or something, you'll have a bad time.

                              where is the OP visiting from? do you have a budget? more info would help us give better suggestions.

                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                Hi, per your suggestion, adding more info:

                                -We're visiting from the DC area.
                                -We do have a budget (it's just me and my mom), so we'd like to keep most of our meals $$ and below (think yelp price range), though we're willing to splurge on one or two meals.

                                We're not the types to chat up the waiters or anything... food is the most important. We usually just go in, order a ton of food, and eat relatively quickly, hahaha. Especially when it comes to sushi, we're not looking for ambiance or anything... just really delicious sushi. We'd probably eat mostly sashimi and nigiri, with maybe a roll to share.

                                As for seafood, I think what we want to eat most is really delicious raw oysters. Other deliciousness is obviously a plus.

                                1. re: ejk8789

                                  for sushi, ino is the best imo, but you sometimes need to have thick skin to enjoy it. it is a tiny place with an old, sometimes grumpy / sometimes friendly japanese man and his wife. he uses lots of wasabi, and he isn't cheap. meals there are usually 40-80 all in, depending on what you order (w/o booze.) but for the quality i think it is decent value. i find the ambiance charming -- the room is kinda like a little old house in japan.

                                  i also like farina for bunch -- it is a much better value than for dinner. but it is more authentic italian brunch dishes than traditional american brunch fare. (less greasy)

                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                    I have been to Ino three times, and all three times the food was good but the overall experience miserable. I personally have never had a bad interaction with the chef or his wife, but the atmosphere in the place is borderline unbearable. Between him yelling in Japanese at his wife, and both of them yelling at customers, it's pretty bad. Seems like he either has bad days or really bad days. Last couple of times, I was actually happy to be done eating so that I could leave. Not sure why anyone would want to patronize this business when you can get similar or better quality + friendly atmosphere from Kiyoshi-san at Koo. But I guess your mileage can vary.

                                    Surprised you found some of the nigiri to be "gross" at Aka Tombo. What neta? What do you think of Ryoji-san's rice?

                                    1. re: od_sf

                                      i think at the very least the style of the sushi at koo is pretty different -- much more modern. some of their "bites" have truffle oil on them -- something you'd never see at ino in a million years.

                                      >> he either has bad days or really bad days.

                                      probably a fair description of the guy, though for some reason it doesn't really phase me. the various idiots, mostly from the marina, talking very loudly (the place is tiny) about how much they know about sushi (or whatever else they think the entire restaurant needs to know) gets on my nerves more than ino yelling at everybody. overall i've found i have the best experience at ino if i have a couple glasses of champagne at home before i go there, haha. anyway, though, he's still my favorite sushi in sf.

                                      re aka tombo. yeah, it was weird. my gf felt the same way. i've been 3 times, she's been once, and each time i left feeling "1. wow, that was a great value, and 2. there's something gross i feel about some of the pieces." i think it was the ones that had skin on them -- maybe he wasn't as careful with removing small parts of the fin? don't remember the rice one way or another. they definitely had some really great tofu, though.

                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                        The handful of times that I've had omakase at Koo, I asked for 1 course of sashimi to start the meal, then all traditional nigiri, and he was more than happy to oblige. No truffle oil to be seen anywhere.

                                    2. re: ejk8789

                                      Pesce [} in the Russian Hill neighborhood does well with raw oysters, other dishes are good without getting fancy and the ambience is pretty much a low key trattoria. at present they have two BC oysters and miyagis from Marin county (local).

                                      1. re: moto

                                        Pesce's moving to 2223 Market at some point in the next few months and will be closed for a week or two to make the move.

                                  2. re: od_sf

                                    All points made about Ino are equally valid.

                                    Ino is simply not for everyone and I do not recommend anyone who has little traditional nigiri sushi eating knowledge to go there (even if they think they know a lot). I average maybe once a year visit to Ino, and I know very well his limitations and lack of personality or banter. There are also inconsistency issues, but that could also be attributed to the fact that I also had really stellar quality Japanese fish during my travels in Hong Kong and just found certain fish preparations of his not my style whatsoever at random. With that said, Ino does several things very well...a stellar traditional style sushi rice receipe (quite possibly one of the best in town), monkfish liver (even surpassing ones I've had abroad), and marinated tuna, squid, shellfish/clams, which has a very strong flavor because they are marinated for quite some time.

                                    Aka Tombo has a really good price point. I very much enjoyed my first ever visit almost 2 years ago, but I did make a visit earlier this year and found the experience a lot more lackluster than before. The silvery skinned fish are good, as are any local/American seafood he can source (Mendocino abalone and sea urchin in the fall, or East Coast aoyagi/clam), and the New Caledonia blue shrimp is ok but he doesn't cure it in kelp that would take it to the next level.

                                    Koo's strength based on a visit several years ago (I need to go back and recalibrate), they are better with cooked dishes, which can be fantastic in the omakase. Smoked ankimo (like a hard cheese), spoons of happiness... yes the fusion stuff is there (and great in their own right), but if it came down to traditional items like braised daikon (daikon ni) in dashi, or grilled king crab leg....also can be a wonderful experience.

                                    If fish quality is important, then perhaps something like Zushi Puzzle or Akiko's would fit the bill. From what I understand Roger at ZP is a Hong Konger, but he does get some interesting Japanese wild fish specimens rarely seen elsewhere. For a bit over $100 per person (no alcohol), one can have a killer crazy meal at Akiko' least the ingredients are vastly superior than Ino and Aka Tombo and Koo combined.....Russian Tokyujo uni, A5 Miyazaki Japanese beef, rarely seen imported Japanese snapper family white fish (ones even I have not heard of or read about)....although the décor and approach doesn't really match the pricing and the fish quality, but surely will satisfy out of towners looking to splurge (in which case, I'd pick Akiko's over Ino).

                                    1. re: K K

                                      Zushi puzzle if good/fun, though overall i prefer the more traditional approach of the others. supposedly he (roger) also hosts whole snow-crab feasts for $400 for 4-6 people.

                                      Akiko's is excellent. Probably the best pick for the OP. i've only been once, however.

                                      K K, do you know if you need to pre-order the omakase at Akiko's? When i went, i ordered omakase, but it ended up being at a lower price point, and 'just' a selection of nigiri off the menu at the time.

                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                        Akiko's does sound like a good fit!

                                        1. re: Dustin_E

                                          Don't know about pre-ordering omakase, but I am due for a visit!

                                          1. re: K K

                                            so when i went, i ordered "omakase" and got 10-12 pieces of nigiri. i think the bill was ~$50. It was excellent.

                                            On the menu it says omakase takes 2 hours and is ~$100, so i'm not sure...

                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              Good to know, did you walk in or did you have a reservation?

                                              I'm guessing at $50, you didn't get the Russian uni or A5 beef (which would have easily driven up the bill).

                                              1. re: K K

                                                i made a reservation by phone 30 minutes beforehand some random weeknight and sat at the bar solo.

                                                i don't remember the exact pieces, just that everything was very very good. and the small amount of saucing enhanced the pieces.

                                                i'd love to hear more reports of this place, and how to get "the good stuff" there.

                                    2. Since you are staying in the mission, hit up Roger's for coffee. Best in the city. Philz, the one with all the hype, started out with Roger's beans.

                                      Sumatra Dark, Mission Blend, or the Fog one are my favs.