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4 Nights in San Fran - Help me narrow it down!

Hey everyone,

Heading to San Fran at the start of March and I'm trying to plan out what restaurants we are going to. I've narrowed down the list a bit but I'm open to other suggestions.

We're there for four nights and are planning to go to State Bird Provisions on one of them and Mission Chinese for another (or we may go for lunch?). For the remaining two nights we wanted to do one nice dinner and maybe something more budget-friendly or a seafood place for the other.

Night 1: Mission
Night 2: State Bird
Night 3: Gary Danko/Boulevard/Acquerello/Coi/Saison/Quince/Kokkari/SPQR/Atelier Crenn or something along those lines
Night 4: Open to anything as long as it's not too expensive... I've looked at Nopa/Nopalito, Bar Tartine, Yank Sing, Sotta Mare, etc.

Also where's the best place for seafood? Anchor Oyster Bar? Hog Island?

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  1. "Gary Danko/Boulevard/Acquerello/Coi/Saison/Quince/Kokkari/SPQR/Atelier Crenn"

    I don't see a common thread there. Acquerello, SPQR, and Quince are the three heavily French-influenced Italian places. SPQR's very casual and less expensive than the others. Coi, Crenn, and Saison are maybe the three most radically modern places in the area. Kokkari's very good, very traditional Greek.

    I'd do Mission Chinese for lunch. Good and worth a visit but the dishes are somewhat hit and miss.

    Yank Sing is lunch only.

    Chowder in a bread bowl is not something you'll find at a good restaurant. It was invented by Boudin to sell to tourists. I think you can get it at their outlet at SFO so as not to waste a meal or endure Wharfland.

    14 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks for the reply. I know there are several different cuisines and types of restaurants in the above grouping and I perhaps should have not grouped them together. They are all restaurants that I had heard good things about from friends and I think they all have Michelin Stars except for Kokkari?

      Thanks for the tip on Yank Sing and Mission.

      1. re: dyzfunctioned

        Michelin stars are not a good guide to finding the best of SF for anything other than French and Cal-French restaurants.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Is there a source you would recommend? I know Michelin Stars aren't the best source which is the reason why I'm here asking for input rather than just going with the highest rated Michelin restaurant.

          1. re: dyzfunctioned

            I think Chowhound's the best source, but you need to be more specific about your likes and dislikes to get solid recommendations.

            Jonathan Kauffman and Patricia Unterman are the most reliable local critics.


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Thanks for the links I will go check those out.

              In the future I will try to be more specific - I was simply looking for input on what food or dining experience is unique or the most worthwhile in SF. I've done some research which helped shape the above list. For example, I love sushi but have heard that SF isn't really the best place to have it. I don't come from somewhere with access to great seafood so I want to be sure to go to at least one seafood place (such as Sotto Mare) and an oyster bar (Anchor/Swans/Hog Island).

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Thank you for your help. I've been reading other topics on the board and will make my original post more specific.

      2. re: Robert Lauriston

        Not being an expert on Greek food, I've always wondered how "very traditional Greek" Kokkari really is. The opening chef was a Frenchman, Jean Alberti, from Strasbourg, which is in Alsace and pretty far from the Mediterranean. He had a very obvious French accent and used to hang with the major French chefs in town, the likes of Roland Passot and Hubert Keller. He had excellent credentials and got a three-star review from Bauer. So I asked him why he didn't cook French food and he said that he thought that it was a crowded field. I then asked him how long it took him to learn Greek cooking. His answer came in a slightly disdainful tone complete with a French accent: "A week."

        1. re: nocharge

          Unterman wrote the original Chronicle review and directly addressed that issue.


          Samos, an upscale Greek place that opened two years earlier, had some Frenchified dishes. Maybe that's why it didn't last.

          I was just contrasting Kokkari as traditional vs. the French-Italian fusion and modernism of some of the other places on that list.

          1. re: nocharge

            My heritage is Greek. I would say that Kokkari captures the essence of Greek cuisine more than any other place I have tried in the Bay Area. From the cinnamon scented roasted meats to the grilled octopus to the dips they get it right. It is very high quality traditional Greek food, albeit pricy. As to the chef being French, Greek cuisine is influenced by French cuisine, for example the Béchamel on top of Pastichio and Mousaka are French inspired, so its not that unusual.

            1. re: Ridge

              A friend of mine grew up in Greece and used to run a restaurant. She is not a particularly big fan of Kokkari. I personally have too little knowledge about Greek food to have any strong opinion about the authenticity of the restaurant. I really like the ambience of the place although I wish that the bar was a little larger since it tends to get completely packed.

              As to the French chef who opened the place, he left like a decade ago. He went on to open Shikumen Bistro in Shanghai, China together with George Chen who used to run Shanghai 1930 on Steuart St.
              Interestingly, the article refers to Kokkari as "Greek-inspired", not the most enthusiastic endorsement when it comes to authenticity in my books, but what do I know? I guess in terms of being authentic, "Greek-inspired" is better than nothing.

              Shikumen didn't last and George later opened Roosevelt Prime Steakhouse.
              Last time I ran into George a few years ago, I asked him what happened to Jean. He said that he worked as a restaurant consultant in Macao.

              1. re: nocharge

                Interesting about the chef. Greek food is pretty simple. It's not heavily seasoned so the quality of the ingredients is very important. It has similarities to Turkish, Italian and Spanish cuisine. But in a way Greek food is more Zen, more basic, more primal. Most people in California are not well aquatinted with Greek food and most of the Greek restaurants here are mediocre and feature things like Humus(not Greek at all, only found in certain Greek places like Cyprus). To me Greek food is a simple Greek salad with really good veggies and salty feta, grilled Octopus, Marides (fried smelt), grilled lamb chops seasoned with oregano and lemon, loukomades (Greek donuts). Many of these dishes have similar counterparts in other cuisines (grilled octopus is common in Spain, there is a Turkish version of Mousaka, etc.); it could be argued that Greek food is not as distinctive as some cuisines. The thing that defines Greek food for me is balance and having the basic flavors of the ingredients shine through. One would think this would be a perfect fit with California cuisine but for some reason people just don't get it right here. Kokarri is authentic Greek food but it's fancy elevated Greek food. Being fancy and elevated does not mean it's not authentic.

                1. re: Ridge

                  When Kokkari first opened, the joke among people who, like myself, are not into Greek cuisine was that the only reason that the food was edible was that the chef was French.

                  Anyway, I used to know the French opening chef. Here is another article:

              2. re: Ridge

                The current chef isn't French, though he cooked in France and at a lot of French places in the US.


          2. It looks like you are coming from Canada (and not the coastal part), so given that I would say:

            - Agree that you should do Mission Chinese for lunch, if at all. You might also enjoy other Chinese meals, whether in Chinatown, or Oakland's Chinatown, or out in the Richmond/Sunset (nice to combine the latter w/ time in Golden Gate Park)

            - State Bird is fun. Do you already have a reservation? Or are you planning to wait for a table?

            - I really like Bar Tartine and it's unlike any restaurant I've been to anywhere in the world. Definite California influence, which is nice, and nice space. Not cheap, but not super expensive.

            - La Ciccia is a Sardinian place in Noe Valley that has great seafood. I love the octopus stew.

            - Nopa also has good seafood and when I've taken visitors there, they've really liked it. Nopalito is even more casual.

            - Hog Island is fun for seafood, especially if it's a nice day. Although apparently the Sf branch is closing until Spring? http://hogislandoysters.com/bars/san-...

            9 Replies
            1. re: Dave MP

              This is great feedback, thank you.

              - I heard Mission Chinese was a really unique experience. Maybe it's just a tourist thing though, if it's not anything particularly noteworthy it's not a must hit.

              - I do already have a reservation for State Bird. It was on my must try list.

              - That sounds like the type of thing I'm looking for, I'll look into it more.

              - I saw La Ciccia but it looked pretty far away from where we'll be staying. Is it easy to get to?

              - Thanks for the note about Hog Island, I completely missed that.

                1. re: wally

                  Sounds like Zuni's is going to have to be part of the itinerary. Better for lunch or dinner?

                  1. re: dyzfunctioned

                    Zuni serves oysters, Caesar salad, and wood oven chicken all day. It's one of my favorite places for a blowout meal but it's good for just a burger (not on the menu at dinner) as well.

                    Nopa's kind of like Zuni so maybe don't do both.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I think you guys have sold me on Zuni so maybe I'll leave out Nopa's.

                2. re: dyzfunctioned

                  Mission Chinese is indeed a unique experience. I personally am not particularly amazed by it (although I did really like certain dishes). There's plenty of debate on Chowhound about its merits. This discussion will be helpful if you go: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/756691

                  La Ciccia isn't super close, but you could take the subway there, and then take a cab back. The entire city of SF is only 7 miles by 7 miles, so no place is really out of reach. I think it's worth the trip, and you get to see a less touristy neighborhood.

                  1. re: dyzfunctioned

                    La Ciccia is right on the J subway / streetcar line. Probably my favorite place for seafood.


                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Based on feedback here that might be where we end up going. It was lower down on my list but it's great to hear opinions on it.

                3. Follow-up to above (more specific - sorry for using San Fran instead of San Francisco)...

                  Heading to San Francisco at the start of March and I’m trying to plan out which restaurants I should visit while there. We are there for four nights and I’ve already made plans to go to State Bird Provisions, Yank Sing and one of Nopa/Nopalito (if timing works out with us being in the right area).

                  We are staying in the Union Square area and are willing to make a trip for the right restaurant but for dinners it would be most convenient if they were in the Union Square/Financial/Mission area.

                  Looking for:

                  Seafood Restaurant: seafood is not great where I’m from. I’ve looked at Sotto Mare and Tadich’s Grill but would love extra feedback.

                  Oysters: See above - I’ve heard about Swan/Anchor/Hog Island but are these just touristy? Where’s the best?

                  Best/unique dining experience: hoping to go out for a nicer dinner (~$200 or less per couple with or without drinks, though cheaper is fine). I’ve looked at a variety of restaurants - Boulevard, Acquerello, Saison, Coi, Atelier Crenn, Gary Danko, La Folie, etc. The cuisine doesn’t particularly matter, I’m just looking for the most enjoyable overall experience and food. Romantic is a bonus but not necessary.

                  Breakfast: All I hear about is Mama’s and Hollywood Cafe - are these the clear standouts?

                  On that note I'd also love to hear about places with great craft beer selection. There's so many breweries in California that I don't have access to in Canada.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: dyzfunctioned

                    "Boulevard, Acquerello, Saison, Coi, Atelier Crenn, Gary Danko, La Folie, Quince, etc." To help you narrow this list...

                    I second crossing off GD- food was okay, rest. was LOUD, tables close together. Not a "fine dining" experience for us.

                    Quince - elegant, plush, tasting menu starts at $115pp
                    SAISON- $248pp before drinks

                    1. re: ceekskat

                      Thanks for offering your thoughts. Coi is definitely out of budget then.

                      1. re: dyzfunctioned

                        Sorry, I had edited at same time. Saison is $248, though Coi is also expensive @ $195pp...wow, I didn't realize it has gone up so much in the last couple of years.

                        1. re: ceekskat

                          At that price I'd rather make a trip to TFL :)

                    2. re: dyzfunctioned

                      For oysters, I'd take Waterbar over tourist traps like Swan and Hog Island. Good selection of oysters and a considerably more comfortable ambience. Zuni is good, too.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I have been to Hard Water but haven't had their oysters. Great location but feels a little cramped and spartan compared to Waterbar. Great whiskey selection, though.

                    3. Dump Gary Danko from that list. SPQR is a nice place, but not exactly in the same range as the other restaurants in that list. Ditto Boulevard, which is excellent but not so posh.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: dunstable

                        Thanks for the feedback. What would be your favourite?

                      2. I was planning on taking a day trip to go to the Russian River brewpub - is there somewhere in San Fran that serves a wide variety? Save myself a trip.

                        24 Replies
                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Toronado is a great place to go in the afternoon. The happy hour seems to last all day. It is my favourite beer joint (so far) in the city. So far we haven't been hugely blown away by the local craft beer we've tried but the Russian River stuff is worthy. They have nice barrel aged sours too (Beatification, Consecration, Supplication).

                            J car to La Ciccia from Union Square very doable for a visitor (I'm from Vancouver) and recommended. Get the octopus stew and bring a straw for the broth. Like Vancouver, SF doesn't have as much "obvious" seafood as you might think. We had lovely petrale sole at Sotto Mare but the sand dabs were (sob) overdone. Tadich is fun but pricey, with a perpetual long line at dinner, and you have to be really careful what you order. Lunch at either would be my preference over dinner.

                            Congrats on bagging a reso at State Bird. Total fail for me so far :-).

                            1. re: grayelf

                              Fantastic - frees up a day to explore SF if I don't need to make a trip to Santa Rosa.

                              1. re: grayelf

                                Just a note that when I ate at State Bird, there were quite a few seafood items on the carts. We ordered almost exclusively from the carts/trays, and I think only had two things from the printed menu. One of those was the quail, though, and it was excellent.

                                1. re: Dave MP

                                  What's the odds/wait time on getting in at State Bird? We had reso's for 4 as we were meeting another couple but they just told me they may have to cancel.

                                  1. re: dyzfunctioned

                                    No reservation, minimum 90-minute wait, three hours is not rare. If your friends cancel, phone the restaurant and change the reservation to two.

                            2. re: dyzfunctioned

                              Minibar always has a decent selection of them. I was there this weekend and they had Pliny the Elder, Supplication, Damnation, and Blind Pig.

                              1. re: dunstable

                                Not too far from Toronado - might have to go to both!

                                1. re: dyzfunctioned

                                  +1 on Minibar

                                  Minibar has the advantage of being less crowded and noisy than Toronado. Their Russian River selections are (certainly used to be) in bottles rather than on tap. That's not necessarily a bad thing ...

                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                    can you expand on that thought?
                                    bottles rather than tap, not a bad thing?



                                    1. re: macsak

                                      The advantage of the atmosphere at Minibar offsets any reduction in enjoyment I'd get from not getting a draft pour at Toronado. YMMV.

                                        1. re: macsak

                                          Minibar on the list for next visit but Toronado makes me happy because of its (lack of) atmosphere. I like how seriously they take beer there too. I haven't seen that in some of the other places we've tried, paired with the quality and variety at Toronado.

                                          1. re: grayelf

                                            It might be worth opening a thread to find out which places in San Francisco have the widest Friday of Russian River beers, both in terms of bottles and/or drafts. Minibar is not a destination stop in and of itself, but has the advantage of being on the divisiadero Corridor and just fairly empty during earlier hours.


                                            1. re: hyperbowler

                                              widest variety or widest friday?

                                              1. re: hyperbowler

                                                Additionally, on the same block is Corkage, which does not get nearly enough credit for being an excellent sake bar.

                                                1. re: hyperbowler

                                                  Nice link, hyperbowler. I've been on the Russian River website at least a half dozen times and never thought to see if they had a list of outlets, duh. V. handy.

                                  2. re: dyzfunctioned

                                    A couple of other great places for local beers are City Beer and Monk's Kettle.

                                    Toronado can get crowded on weekends or holidays, go on a weekday afternoon if you can.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Is the food worth staying for at Monk's Kettle or is it best to just go for drinks?

                                      1. re: dyzfunctioned

                                        I had a good meal there last month. If I were making plans to eat in the neighborhood, I'd reserve at Bar Tartine, Izakaya Yuzuki, Namu Gaji, or Gajalee, but if I were at Monk's Kettle drinking and got hungry, I'd eat there.


                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I like the idea of Gajalee. Also a nice choice if you're interested in seafood.

                                          1. re: Dave MP

                                            Thanks, you guys have been a huge help.

                                            Between State Bird, La Ciccia, Bar Tartine, Nopa, Gajalee, Zuni for dinner and Sotto Mare, Mission, Yank Sing, etc. for lunch I think I've got a pretty good grasp. Definitely going to check out Toronado and Monk's Kettle too.

                                            1. re: dyzfunctioned

                                              That sounds like a good representation of the SF restaurant scene. As people on this board will always tell you, what's special about the restaurant culture here is that there are a lot of really good -- and unique -- restaurants that are not of the expensive, tasting-menu, Michelin-star genre.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Be sure to try the pretzel at Monk's Kettle. It gets super crowded at the bar so going at a non-peak time would be good.

                                    2. Adding to your list, I might suggest "Gather" in Berkeley. I often suggest this place because I find it really quite unique to the bay area and quite reflective of its food "ethos." Almost everything I've had there has been excellent and thoroughly original. Also, while the tab can add up if you let it, it is quite reasonably priced. Finally, it is easy to get to by BART, and an opportunity to visit the east bay. They also have an excellent brunch.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: MagicMarkR

                                        My friends who have been to gather - veg friends - have been quite unimpressed. There are quite a few reasons to visit the east bay, but by all accounts you'd need a special interest in their style of food to go out of your way to Gather. Although, I wish I had first hand experience to offer. Sorry.

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          Have to concur with your friends, FWIW. I had a decent brunch there once but my few dinners have involved dishes with muddy flavors and left me wishing I'd gone elsewhere. And I think the pizza is better at Pizzaiolo, Dopo, and any number of other restaurants in the East Bay.

                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                            I think Gather has hit its stride as far as the food. I've been really impressed with the creativity and flavors the last few dinners I've had there. Not necessarily worth the trip from SF but one of the best choices in Berkeley / Oakland.


                                        2. So for anyone who is interested, I ended up settling on the following (when accounting for where I could get reservations and such).

                                          Day 1
                                          Dinner: Nopa

                                          Day 2
                                          Breakfast: Brenda's French Soul Food
                                          Late Lunch: Zuni
                                          Late Dinner: Somewhere in the mission - Namu Gaji, Delfina or Gajalee, whatever we can get in to

                                          Day 3
                                          Breakfast: Hollywood Cafe
                                          Lunch: Sotto Mare
                                          Dinner: Kokkari

                                          Day 4
                                          Breakfast: Mama's
                                          Dinner: La Ciccia

                                          Thanks for everyone's help. Unfortunately there were a few places I wanted to try I was unable to get into. I'd like to give a big shoutout to Emmanuel at Nopa who was kind enough to secure me a reservation despite OpenTable being fully booked. Fantastic customer service.

                                          I'll also be spending a few days in the Napa Valley but am a bit more limited in that regard as we need to structure things around wine tastings. Managed to get a dinner reservation at Redd and a lunch reservation at Sol Bar though so we're looking forward to that.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: dyzfunctioned

                                            Restaurants often have openings that don't show up on OpenTable, never hurts to call.

                                            1. re: dyzfunctioned

                                              you'll have no problem getting into gajalee. you'll have plenty of trouble getting into delfinawithout a reservation. unsure about namu gaji, but i actually prefer their lunch menu to their dinner menu; cheaper and more ineresting.

                                              be prepared for enormous lines at mama's and brenda's. for that long of a line, i prefer dottie's (or mision beach cafe, though it's a step above greasy spoon). kate's kitchen is also great for brunch with not as big o faline.

                                              1. re: vulber

                                                Yea, we're going to a show downtown that ends around 8:30ish so we won't be in the Mission until 9:00 or so. We're basically just going to see where we can get in that's decent and maybe go to Monk's Kettle or somewhere similar afterwards.

                                                I figured most the popular breakfast places would involve long lines though I didn't know of too many alternatives. I was in San Francisco last year and managed to get into Mama's without too much trouble.

                                              2. re: dyzfunctioned

                                                As someone who rarely gets reservation more than a day or two in advance, and still manages to dine fairly well, let me make a case for barbacco instead of kokkari. Same side of town, much more interesting food (especially if you like wine), and fills up around 7pm. I just checked OT right now, there's a table at 6:30 for today. Also easy if your party is only 2 - I don't think they reserve the bar. I would also take AQ over Kokkari, my previous visits have been without reservation on the early side. If you don't like wine, and have a yen for simply and gorgeously prepared fish flown in from across the globe, Kokkari is a good fit.

                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                  Kokkari isn't at the top of my list but it was the one place my girlfriend really wanted to go.

                                                2. re: dyzfunctioned

                                                  Mama's and Hollywood Cafe seem like wasted meals to me unless you live in Asia or somewhere where you can't get good American breakfast.


                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Thanks for the links. I didn't concentrate too much on breakfast spots so it's good to have some other options.