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Moving to SF - Critique my list of neighborhood must-trys?

After several years in NYC, I'm moving to SF next month and am trying to put together a list of neighborhood highlights to explore during my first few months.

Since I'll be living there for the foreseeable future, I'm in no rush to hit all the big splurges - I just want to get familiar with some of peoples' regular haunts (preferably around $20-30 without drinks) that still have something special to recommend them.

I've put together the following list after lots of Chowhound searching, and would love any additions/changes. I'm living on the border of Upper/Lower Haight, so it's weighted toward that area since I'll be eating there most often.

I particularly love Szechuan, Thai, Vietnamese, Greek, Indian and Mexican but am open to any recs! Some of my favorite regular places in NYC were Xixa/Traif, Kefi, Lan Sheng, Great NY Noodletown, Motorino and Salvation Taco, if that helps.

Apologies if some of these neighborhoods are off - haven't moved yet :)


Kate’s Kitchen (breakfast)
The Little Chihuahua (Mexican)
Uva Enoteca (happy hour)
Cu Co’s (burritos)
Rosamunde (sausage)
Nopalito (Mexican)
The Citrus Club (Fusion)
Axum Cafe (Ethiopian)
The Alembic (bar)

Nopa (splurge)
Barrel Head Brewhouse (pub)
The Mill (cafe)

PPQ Dungess Island (Vietnamese)
Sichuan Home (Szechuan)
Aziza (Morrocan)

Dumpling Kitchen (soup dumplings)
Koo (sushi, inner sunset)
Yum Yum Fish (sushi, outer sunset)
Old Mandarin Islamic (Xi’an)

Tenderloin/Western Addition
State Bird Provisions (splurge)
Saigon Sandwich (banh mi)
Burmese Kitchen (Malaysian)
Lers Ros Thai (Thai)

Nob Hill
Swan’s Depot (oysters)

Ino (sushi)

Z&Y (Szechuan)

Hayes Valley
Domo (sushi)
Zuni Cafe (splurge)
Rich Table (small plates)

La Taqueria (2889 Mission - Mexican)
La Torta Gorda (Mexican)
Sushi Zone (sushi)
Udupi Palace (dosas)
Foreign Cinema
Bar Tartine (splurge)
Namu Gaji (Korean)

Eiji (sushi)

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  1. I would consider Aziza and Zuni as splurges since their dinner entrees run in the upper $20s at minimum. Koo can also be a splurge as I always end up spending $40-70/pp there depending on whether it's happy hour or not.

    Dumpling Kitchen is good, but not as amazing for soup dumplings like some of the places you can find on Canal :( I go there when I'm not in NYC for work to tide me over, but I'm always kind of sad it's not as good as NYC.

    2 Replies
    1. re: bobabear

      Good to know - I'll have to make one last dumpling stop before I leave! Thanks.

      1. re: bobabear

        I second that opinion on dumplings, and agree you've got a few splurges listed unknowingly. I don't think Nopa has to be splurgey, if you order carefully. As for Nopalito, it's fine but you're going to find a lot of similar, if not better options.

      2. Here are some ideas for you (I live in the Mission and work in SoMa):

        Balompie Cafe (pupusas) or La Santaneca
        The Pizza Shop for NYC style slices
        Bar Tartine (splurge) (you already have that one)
        Izakaya Yuzuki
        Namu Gaji (you already have that one)
        Pizzeria Delfina
        Gajalee (Indian)
        Pauline's Pizza
        Heirloom Cafe (splurge)
        Delfina (splurge)

        Una Pizza Napoletana
        Merigan Subs
        1058 Hoagie
        Zero Zero
        Coco500 (splurge)
        Marlowe (splurge)
        The Fly Trap (splurge)

        2 Replies
        1. re: farmersdaughter

          Thanks so much! Balompie Cafe and Izakaya Yuzuki look particularly great.

          1. re: LaLaLisa

            I found the Balompie Cafe in Bernal Heights a little disappointing; haven't been to the one in the Mission. Another place along these lines is San Jalisco, where the food is better.

        2. I just mentioned a couple of these on another thread:

          Cole Valley: Zazie (breakfast, lunch, or dinner)

          Upper Haight: Haight: Cha Cha Cha (lunch)

          Inner Richmond: Chapeau! (splurge)

          Outer Richmond: Shanghai Dumpling King (lunch)

          Polk Gulch: La Folie (big splurge, totally worth it)

          Kate's Kitchen and Zuni are good picks.

          2 Replies
            1. re: LaLaLisa

              You're welcome! If I had to pick my top-top picks from the list for a piggie-lunch for two, they would be:

              Shanghai Dumpling King, for a dumpling-only lunch of the soup dumplings, Spicy Xiao Long Bao, crab and pork dumplings, and potstickers.

              Cha Cha Cha, for a tapas-only lunch. Get bread, lots of bread, for sopping up the sauces.

          1. You've done your research!

            Haight: add Magnolia's brewery weekend brunch, Anda Piroshki, Second Act Marketplace, Off the Grid food truck east edge of Golden Gate Park on (Thursday nights?). Citrus Club is the best East Asian food along Haight, and it's not saying much.

            Haight Street Market has some of the best value produce in the city and they do a good job with sandwiches.

            Inner Richmond : I haven't heard good things about Sichuan Home in a long time and didn't like it the one time I was there. Instead try Chili House, a sister restaurant to Z&Y. Close near there is Mandalay, a better Burmese place than Burmese Kitchen IMHO.

            PPQ dungeness: local dungeness crab is seasonal, so you might want to hold off on that one till November.

            Aziza belongs is the "splurge" category. It's emphasis has moved away from Moroccan to high-end small plates with Moroccan influence.

            Sunset :

            Old Mandarin is Islamic Chinese, but not Xi'an. Hot pot and dumplings are worth the trip. For Xi'an, there's Xi'an Gourmet in the Inner Richmond. This thread might interest you: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/975114

            Hayes Valley: Rich Table is splurge. 20th Century Cafe for breakfast/lunch is something not to be missed.

            Castro : Eiji is known for their housemade tofu more than their sushi

            Bar Tartine's brunch is great and doesn't require a splurge.

            Everyone has their favorite taco place. Taqueria Vallarta is cheap, simple, and good. Skip the burritos at La Taqueria. Their crispy tacos are much better--- get the carne asada or carnitas and get it super-sized (sour cream and cheese) because the produce quality on the regular-sized isn't great.

            farmersdaughter has lots of good recommendations. I prefer La Santaneca to Balompie, but the latter has better hours and you won't feel rushed to leave b/c they take forever.

            3 Replies
            1. re: hyperbowler

              Mandalay is definitely worth trying for inner Richmond Burmese food. for the outer Richmond, Hakka restaurant for regional southern Chinese.

              1. re: hyperbowler

                For ice cream, I forgot Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley and Bi-Rite Creamery on Divisadero.

                1. re: hyperbowler

                  Thanks so much! Definitely adding Magnolia's, 20th century cafe (amy particular dishes to try?), Chili House and Mandalay. I've been to Bi-Rite for ice cream, but am looking foreword to trying sandwiches there too.

                2. I have a hard time thinking of Swan as a "neighborhood place" since every time I walk by, the long line outside seems to be made up mainly by tourists. You can get great oysters in many places in SF without having to stand in line in the street for an hour. Zuni, which is on your list, would be one of them.

                  Be aware that you could spend two hours of your life on public transportation going back and forth to a restaurant, so for restaurants outside your actual neighborhood, I would seriously consider "destination" worthiness.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: nocharge

                    destination restaurant? I like the "wander and stumble on" modus operandi with a vague idea beforehand. I would suggest it to anyone who intends to (in her words) 'be living there for the foreseeable future'. it's the only way to find the weirdest and good places.

                    you will find your burrito. nobody can tell you where it lives.

                    1. re: hill food

                      Call me spoiled, but I have enough good restaurants within easy walking distance (both "destination" and "neighborhood") that I rarely care to venture too far. Who would want to spend the time and money to go to a place far away unless it's a bit more special than your average neighborhood place where you live? That would be the "destination" element of the equation.

                      Years ago, I used to go to Limon maybe once every one or two weeks. I don't live in the Mission so it wasn't really a neighborhood restaurant from the perspective of where I live. But it wasn't too bad. Maybe a ten-minute cab ride each way. However, the transportation cost probably added $30 to the cost of my meal, but I felt it was worth it.

                      Then Limon had a fire and when they finally reopened after all the repair work, the food was a mere shadow of its past. Scratch that one as a destination.

                      Would I go to Limon if I lived next door? Quite possibly. But I'm not going to spend the time and money on going there from where I live. Not worth it.

                      1. re: nocharge

                        yeah, I'm spoiled by the NYC subway in terms of getting around, but I will have a bike and figure I'll have a lot of exploring to do when I first arrive anyway. Might as well know where to turn when I get hungry in a neighborhood I'm not familiar with!

                        1. re: LaLaLisa

                          Be aware, though, that SF is not overly biker friendly. There are activists who are aggressively trying to change that, but there are challenges including how to flatten all those hills.

                          I used to live in Palo Alto and even though I owned a car, my bike was how I typically got around. Very bicycle friendly environment. Flat terrain. Lots of bike lanes on sleepy suburban streets. Much faster to get around the Stanford campus by bike than by car. Etc.

                          When I moved to SF, my bike went into storage and has been there ever since. Just didn't find it an inviting environment for riding a bike. Plus, by living downtown, I could just walk to a lot of stuff. Or take a short cab ride. Or take Muni or Bart. And now Uber.

                          As for exploring SF neighborhoods, you will probably soon realize that a lot of them are not overly exciting.

                          1. re: nocharge

                            Some neighborhoods of SF are a lot more bike-friendly than others. I've met a lot of bikers who live in the Mission, work in SOMA, and either don't own cars or leave them in the garage most of the time.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              a co-worker pointed out once, she followed the bike messengers and studied their routes for the hill-friendliest ways.

                              1. re: hill food

                                The SF Bicycle Coalition sells an excellent map with the flattest biking / walking routes.

                                1. re: hill food

                                  The bike messengers, though, mainly work downtown in areas that are pretty flat. You rarely see them in neighborhoods that are mainly residential. And there aren't all that many left given that email and faxing have had a negative impact on the need for their services.

                                  As for following their routes, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Some time ago, I was walking up Battery St. on my way to an afternoon meal at Tadich. As I slightly moved sideways in order to pass on slow-moving old lady I was inches from getting hit from behind by a bike messenger who was riding on the sidewalk, against traffic, at 20+ MPH. He managed to swerve just enough to avoid hitting me. Please don't do something like that.

                                  1. re: nocharge

                                    nocharge - her comments regarded the end of the day when the (non-Mission) messengers were all going home, living 10 to a flat in the Haight/Panhandle/Western Addition.

                                    yes, even then they were a disappearing breed. stinky but kind of romantic in a way.

                              2. re: nocharge

                                Compared to NYC, though, SF may as well be bike heaven.

                                1. re: dunstable

                                  NYC is very bike friendly these days. Citibike and new bike lanes, in addition to Brooklyn culture have won out. It's still congested and dangerous but people do it. You can get every kind of food delivered free, usually by bicycle delivery.

                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    I'm in NY at the moment, and I'm not sold. Brooklyn might be fine (although I still wouldn't want to ride it down Atlantic), but you wouldn't want to ride your bike through Midtown (although I did just watch a couple of guys do it). In any event, if SF is "not overly bike friendly," then NY is unfriendly.

                                    1. re: dunstable

                                      You don't think NY's Citibike is a success? They're riding a grid, and there are bike riders everywhere. It speeds up travel. I'm not doing it, but it's hard to ignore.

                                      SF has hills, plenty of dangerous blind intersections, and only half the neighborhoods easily connect. It slows down travel.

                                      Personally I'd rather get on public transit or even walk to get food, or transport food.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        I'm not saying it's not a good thing; I'm just saying it's easier to ride a bike in SF. Yes, SF has hills, but nowhere near the vehicle traffic that NYC does.

                                      2. re: dunstable

                                        Sounds like a description by someone who hasn't done it. I have ridden bicycles in midtown, brooklyn, downtown SF, palo alto, San jose (just this year).

                                        Midtown's and manhattan in general's HUGE bike lanes, and special purpose bicycle lights makes the outing reasonable, but there's still a lot of people wandering through crosswalks, taxis, etc. I consider midtown to be challenging but more than doable - actually fun. I did end up screaming like a cabbie a few times. This will get better as people are getting used to those big bike lanes actually having bikes in them. Citibike has more bikes in better locations.

                                        SF is pleasant - wider streets, less congestion, less weirdness - but the hills & cops cause problems (you saw the stake out they had on the wiggle a few weeks ago?). The bike lanes aren't as numerous, nor are the lights arranged as well. SF Bike Share only covers the greater financial district (+SOMA), so harder to get a taste of riding to the richmond or even the southern mission.

                                        Overall, I'd say SF is more friendly but manhattan is more to my taste.

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          Okay, we are getting off topic a bit. I was only trying to counter nocharge's comment that SF was not bike-friendly; the NYC example was used for comparison because that is where the OP is from. I think that point has now been made clear.

                                          No, I did not do much bike-riding in my NY life, but I did drive a fair bit, and I have seen enough instances of traffic lights being completely ignored by entire trains of cars that I would not dare ride a bike in certain parts of Manhattan. I will just take your and sugartoof's words for it that it is much better, but I still think it is very dangerous, from what I saw this past week.

                                          1. re: dunstable

                                            I think both cities are actively trying to make themselves more bike friendly, and it's a hot button issue.

                                            In relation to food and SF, I think we all agree the layout of the city does limit you, but certain neighborhood destinations lend themselves more to biking than others and an increasing amount of people are doing it.

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              Regarding bikes and food in SF, someone with their own bike has a lot more latitude. When I lived in SF I had a motorcycle, which greatly improved my ability to just pop somewhere for dinner. As a visitor, the CityBikeShare just doesn't have the coverage yet to be interesting (even though I've used it for dining).

                        2. I always thought The Little Chihuahua was in Noe Valley, but I see from their website they also have places on Haight and in the Mission.

                          1. Mission thoughts:

                            I prefer Foreign Cinema for brunch (mostly for dungeness and cocktails) and have found my 2 dinner meals there disappointing; especially in the service dept.

                            I'd add St. Francis Fountain for brunch/lunch as well.

                            Poc Chuc and Haltun Mayan Cuisine (both Yucatan style) for lunch.

                            Delfina, as others have mentioned (both the pizzeria and restaurant).

                            Tartine (on 18th-not Bar) for breakfast/brunch/lunch/snacks. I used to live on 18th and would often eat there or takeout from the fresh sandwich counter at Bi-Rite Market for lunch.

                            Mission Pie is also a great local lunch spot, both for sweet and savory.

                            El Gallo Giro taco truck is worth a hike... better than La Taqueria imo, and my favorite in the city proper.

                            Panchitos on 16th where all the crackheads hang out serves the best guac in the Mission. Very good pupusas and soups as well.

                            I haven't been to Limon in almost 2 years but I've enjoyed it in the past for an easy and casual neighborhood dinner option.

                            The original Rosamunde is in the Mission too, btw.

                            I'm not sure why Lucca Ravioli Company never gets mentioned on this board but it's as good as anything you'll find in North Beach. It's one of my favorite lunch stops for sandwiches, cured meats and fresh homemade pasta to go.

                            There's also Arizmendi Bakery (my wife's favorite) for interesting and tasty Cal-style pizza (not Italian!).

                            Mission Chinese - I'm sure you're familiar. It has it's place.

                            Mission Bowling Club for burgers. Not my favorite in the city, but nothing to sneeze at.

                            Commonwealth also for a splurge, though I've been several times and have had mixed experiences touching both ends of the spectrum (from out-of-this-world to absolutely terrible). My wife and I have agreed to give it one more try before rubbing it off our list, so I'll give it a mention.

                            You could probably walk into most restaurants in the neighborhood and enjoy a pretty good meal, with the only exception/warning being some of the dirty latenight burrito joints, which I personally can't stomach. Otherwise, The Mission's a pretty safe bet no matter where you find yourself.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: OliverB

                              I shopped at Lucca all the time when I lived nearby as it's a good old-school Italian deli with great prices. They make sandwiches a la Molinari? There's no seating and I can't think of a nice park or anything nearby.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I give Molinari's the slight edge... what's better than the M. Special and a limonata followed by a lungo at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Shop looking out onto Washington Sq. Park?

                                Lucca does make great sandwiches though. They have a deli counter with imported cold cuts (mortadella, romsemary porchetta, procuitto, etc) and cheeses. I often get a sandwich with a side of homemade ravioli and salad or olives to go. Their focaccias are outstanding too; almost on par with Liguaria. I haven't been to Lucca in over a year (we've been living in Pac Heights for almost two now, so I'm rarely in the neighborhood for lunch anymore) but I recall a few sparse tables and chairs. Regardless, it's a short walk (5-6 blocks?) to Dolores Park.

                                One of the most underrated/underappreciated spots in The Mission, imo.

                                  1. re: Civil Bear

                                    Lucca's focaccia is exactly on a par with Liguria Bakery's. That's where they get it.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Ha, I had a hunch that was the case!

                                      Still, fresh baked out of Liguria's ovens in-house will always be best. Who else do they distribute to in city? I know they supply Mario's for their focaccia sandwiches, I think Molinari's as well...

                                  2. re: OliverB

                                    Just to clarify, there aren't any tables or chairs at Lucca Ravioli but you can take your sandwiches to Dolores Park (or Juri Commons, which is closer). But note that they don't have any vegetables to put on the sandwiches, just meat and cheese. If you want lettuce, onion, tomato, they can't accommodate you. They will give you packets of mayo and yellow mustard but no other sandwich spreads are available, although I guess if you asked them nicely they might put some of their housemade pesto on it for you - but I've never asked them to do that. Nevertheless, a great selection of Italian salumi and cold cuts. Their regular "Italian" style ham is under the radar screen delicious.

                                    1. re: farmersdaughter

                                      I've asked for their pesto and olive oils before and they were all too happy to oblige. They do have pickled vegetables and olives which they'll put on; I've had them garnish with peppers a number of times.

                                1. re: OliverB

                                  What is your favourite for burgers in the city? I love Mission Bowling Club's.

                                  1. re: mutton biryani

                                    My favorites in the Bay Area are actually outside the city: the charbroiled special cheeseburger at Marin Joe's + the fountain burger, which is more like a deluxe patty melt, at the Palo Alto Creamery.

                                    I like MBC but I'm not a fan of giant oversized burgers like that in general. They're too messy and difficult to eat, which defeats the utalitarian function of the classic hamburger. I prefer a more traditional sandwich. I'm also not a fan of the aoili sauce they generously slather on top.

                                    In SF proper, my vote would go to the classic charbroiled cheeseburger at Original Joe's. The fresh thick wedges of sourdough serve as a delicious sponge to soak up the rare juices. Their hamburger steak is even better (in fact the best I've ever had!) for something a bit more refined.

                                    1. re: OliverB

                                      I must of hit up the new Original Joe's on a bad day. Asked for medium rare and got a dried up hockey puck instead. I didn't think the sourdough bread worked ether as it was too much bread and rather chewy. Ended up taking off the top and going at it with a knife & fork. Nice fries though.

                                      1. re: Civil Bear

                                        You should have sent it back. I've ordered it at least a dozen times and it's always been consistently great. I suggest you try again!

                                        1. re: OliverB

                                          Unfortunately that wasn't doable over lunch. Can't say I'm compelled to try again, but you never know!

                                2. UPPER/LOWER HAIGHT:

                                  Lived here when I first moved to the city (other than proximity to GG Park, I hated it!) - not familiar with any of the restaurants aside from Uva Entoca (very good!) and Nopalito (same). Alembic too, obviously. As has been mentioned, Magnolia is good for brunch too. Otherwise, a bit of a wasteland.


                                  Swap S.House for Szechuan King. Good for lunch and dinner. Not the best dumplings in town but cheap and consistent and unlike other Szechuan restaurants (Chinatown) you can safely order anything off the menu. I love their lions head meatball soup.

                                  Would also add Burma Superstar.

                                  PPQ's a fave but as mentioned, would suggest you wait for dungeness season.

                                  Taishan Cafe = great hole in the wall. Dirt cheap. I love their snails in black bean sauce. I'm always the only white guy in the dining room.

                                  Hunan Cafe is good. Hong Kong Lounge does good dim sum.

                                  I'd also suggest that the majority of Asian in The Richmond is a safe bet. Might not be a formula for sampling the best of SF, but you'd be hard pressed to have a BAD meal, from my experience. Even disappointing restaurants prove better in this part of town due to the community they serve.

                                  Aziza for upscale.

                                  Gaspare's for timewarp pizza and red sauce with great atmosphere.

                                  Tommy's a must - vintage "Old SF" tequila bar!

                                  John Campbell's Irish Bakery as well - love this place; great lunch/take-out choice.

                                  Kappou Gomi is great.

                                  Lou's has decent sandwiches.

                                  Cafe Europa's servicable... nothing on NYC though.

                                  They might not rate highly on CH but I enjoy some of the Vietnamese-Cajun crossover places that serve up garlic noodles alongside boiled shellfish and corn on the cob. Kind of a guilty pleasure for me (when I lived nearby) but not destination worthy.

                                  There's a Turtle Tower in Richmond too but I've never been.

                                  I like Toy Boat Cafe, not sure that it's a "foodie destination" though. It's a fun place.

                                  Tal-Y-Tara Tea & Polo Shoppe in Outer Richmond is fun for weekend brunch/tea service. Best scones in the city, nice atmosphere.


                                  Add Izakaya Sozai.

                                  Have heard good things about Nabe; never been.

                                  Ebisu's good.

                                  Thanh Long.

                                  San Thung Chinese.

                                  Marnee Thai is pretty solid.

                                  There's another Arizmendi here.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: OliverB

                                    What/where is Szechuan King in the Richmond to which you refer?

                                    1. re: davidg1

                                      Oops, I meant Shanghai Dumpling King!

                                      Thanks for pointing that out.

                                      1. re: OliverB

                                        I agree with you about Sichuan Home, btw. It has excellent reviews on Yelp and from Patricia Unterman, but I have given it 4 tries and found it totally disappointing and uninteresting.

                                        For assorted Chinese styles in the Richmond and Sunset, my recommendations are:

                                        House of Pancakes
                                        China North Dumpling
                                        Mandarin Islamic
                                        Xian Gourmet
                                        Terracotta Warrior
                                        Spices II
                                        Grand Hot Pot Lounge
                                        Chili House
                                        Dongbei Mama
                                        China First

                                        I have yet to try Shandong Deluxe and Five Happiness, both of which are top of my list.

                                        1. re: davidg1

                                          Is Pancake House different from House of Pancakes on Taraval in Parkside?

                                            1. re: OliverB

                                              There's a Shandong place in Cupertino called Michelle's Pancake House.


                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                No connection as far as I can see from pics and menu in the link you posted.

                                                1. re: davidg1

                                                  I must've been tired last night... I thought YOU had written Pancake House for some reason. I could've sworn that's what it said... strange.

                                                  Anyway, House of Pancakes has been on my list for months now. The two times I've tried to pass by mid-week when I was in the area, it was closed.

                                    2. NOB HILL:

                                      Add the Big 4 at The Huntington Hotel (recently reopened!) and Tonga Room of course, more for atmosphere than booze but Martin Cate's addition to the menu (rum bowl) is a welcomed one. Also, don't let anyone convince you that Swan isn't worth the wait!


                                      If you're in the area and want something other than Lers Ros/Saigon Sandwich/Turtle Tower... I enjoy Mong Thu Cafe and Hai Ky Mi Gai as well. Sing Sing does very good banh mi too, if you don't have patience to wait in line for S.S. (I always do!). Hoang Dat Coffee Shop is a good lunch option too. Olivo's for El Salvadorean. Comida Yucatan Pizza & Restaurant is on a dodgy block that's best to be avoided, but I enjoy takeout from time to time. Brenda's French Soul Food for brunch. Yemeni's Restaurant is a favorite and a weekly fix for me. Cafe Zitouna across the street is equally great. Ate at Sweet Woodruff for the first time on the way home from Financial District last weekend and loved it; will be back regularly! Guilty pleasure pick: Little Henry's. Bourbon & Branch = best bar in the city and possibly the whole of U.S. Also great: Wilson&Wilson, Library Bar, Tradition. Ryoko's for latenight sushi.

                                      1. Add to Hayes: Izakaya Roku + Smuggler's Cove!!!! Best tiki bar (cocktails) in the country; possibly the world.

                                        Add to Nopa: Bar Crudo.

                                        Add to Castro: Frances.

                                        If you're catching a movie and need a quick fix between screenings, I enjoy the Italian deli across the street. Sausage Factory is a decent old red sauce spot too.

                                        Any reason for the absence of significant neighborhoods like North Beach, Financial District/Union Sq, Embarcadero/Wharf, Pac Heights? There's plenty of "destination-worthy" eateries outside of the obvious neighborhoods. North Beach is second to the Mission in my books for great food.


                                        Empress of China - YES it's a destination!! Worth visiting for the ambiance alone. I actually enjoy the food. Lots of old East Coast style Cantonese staples. Not adventurous; go for mai tais, egg rolls, fried rice, chow mein, foo young, won ton soup, spare ribs, etc. Enjoy the view. Similarly, worth sticking your head into Far East Cafe just for the ambiance. Food is no good though. There's a great tea shop next door (forget the name).

                                        Jai Yun for splurge (search forum and read beforehand).

                                        I like R & G Lounge - you have to order discerningly (is that a word?) Same for Dol Ho.

                                        15 Replies
                                        1. re: OliverB

                                          Just a note that this post is likely referring to Rossi's Deli across from the Castro Theatre. AG Ferrari's closes at 8 so would only be good for a quick bite after matinees.

                                          1. re: bigwheel042

                                            I actually was referring to A.G.Ferrari; are you sure they close at 8pm? Perhaps my memories off in that case, and we've only grabbed pre-screening bites. I've actually never been to Rossi's. There's also Fable, which I've never been to, but has been on my radar for some time. I think we'll give it a shot before/after dinner the next time we're at the Castro for a film.

                                          2. re: OliverB

                                            Wow, thanks for these amazing lists! Lots to add here. I mainly gravitated toward these neighborhoods because a) That's what kept popping up and b) between work, home and friends, I imagine I'll be spending more time there. But I'm definitely open to things further afield.

                                            I've been to Commonwealth and liked it a lot, although I lean toward hit-you-over-the-head-with-flavor kind of places for regular meals rather than the nuanced dishes they do well. And I've been to Mission Chinese a few times (both in SF and NYC), which is always a solid option but looking forward to trying your other recs!

                                            1. re: LaLaLisa

                                              San Francisco is such a concentrated city in terms of it's layout and urban design, so if you have Nob Hill and Chinatown on your list, you're never more than a 10 minute walk from North Beach or Financial District/Union Square, and that being said, the same would apply for Embaracadero/Wharf of the latter. Pac Heights is also 5 minutes from The Tenderloin and Hayes Valley; sandwiched in with Russian Hill. Cow Hollow is just a few stops West. It really is a very walkable city and easy to get around. I've crossed from the bay to ocean side and back half-way within approx. 2 hours on foot; through just about every neighborhood on your list. That said, it'd be a shame if you didn't take some time to explore North Beach, as it's one of the prettiest historic neighborhoods in the city with some of the best restaurants, artisanal food shops, and bars! If you are going between The Mission, Nob Hill, The Richmond and Sunset, you surely won't be far out of the way of these other places. Welcome and best of luck with your move and transition!

                                              1. re: OliverB

                                                Most of the places that made North Beach great for food shopping have been turned into restaurants. What's left? Molinari's, Italian French Bakery, Liguria Bakery (often sells out and closes by 10:30), Graffeo, Little City butcher, Victoria Pastry.

                                                If you hit all the lights and there was no traffic, you might be able to drive from Pacific Heights to Hayes Valley in a little over five minutes (and then maybe spend ten looking for parking), but on public transportation or walking it's more like half an hour.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I guess I'm a fast walker because I can easily hike up from Van Ness and Sacramento (where I live) to the War Memorial Opera House/City Hall area within 15 min. give or take. I walk to J-town and Smuggler's Cove weekly in about the same time. Almost as quick as public transit, without all the crazies and smells. Unless I'm on a tight schedule, I rarely take busses to get to Hayes Valley, Financial Dist, Union Sq, Chinatown, North Beach, etc. I enjoy walking though. I've walked from my apt. to Izakaya Roku on a number of ocassions in approx. 30 mins. Add an extra 15 to the Castro Theater.

                                                  That reminds me: Plaj Scandinavian is another solid choice for Hayes. Have eaten there a number of times before the symphony/ballet and it's always great. Really interesting cocktails too. Suppenküche for German also! We had lunch there last weekend; walk-in only and it gets crowded! Food is outstanding.

                                                  1. re: OliverB

                                                    Van Ness and Sacramento is Polk Gulch. Pacific Heights is up the hill.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Stella pastry and XOX are two of my favorite shops in North Beach.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Add Stella, Golden Boy (incredibly under-appreciated), A. Cavalli, and sometimes Roma, though I admit I'm not following your criteria.

                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                        ahh but Golden Boy is best on a weekday in the early afternoon when a few older neighborhood hold-outs are starting their drink a few hours before 5.

                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                          So true. That's also a good time to catch a full window of fresh pizzas. I have a few favorite times to visit. Weekend afternoons, with Ragtime Jazz from Savoy in the distance is one.

                                                        2. re: sugartoof

                                                          I was talking only about food shopping. The grocery and produce store, most of the bakeries, and all but one deli have been converted to other uses, mostly restaurants. There are more restaurants, cafes, and bars than ever.

                                                          Golden Boy's a pizza slice place, though what they sell is closer to focaccia.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Golden Boy is indeed a very thick crust (crust?) I used to work over the hill by the water and it was a good place to get away from co-workers and read the Weekly or the Guardian over a slice or two unpestered.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Oh god, don't even joke. They neighborhood groups have settled down over there and seem relatively happy for once. Let's not encourage them or they'll ban new restaurants. The neighborhood has plenty of grocery shopping. They've got a Farmer's Market one day a week, there's an Off the Grid one night, they've got old corner stores doing steady business, they have a Trader Joe's not far away, and Chinatown is right there with great deals on produce. You have places like Little Vine, Mama's is opening a pantry with their new location, Don Pistos owner opening a specialty foods grocery store, Geppeto's deli is new, and that's much more than many neighborhoods have.

                                                  3. In the Haight, be sure to hit up Pastrami Wednesdays at Memphis Minnie's and Cheeseburger Tuesdays at Rosamunde.


                                                    1. And one more glaring omission for the Mission, especially for a transplanted New Yorker... Wise Sons Deli on 24th!!

                                                      1. I've lived in the Upper Haight for years so I can probably be of assistance here.

                                                        First off, nice job doing research and compiling your own list.

                                                        First off, the hood.
                                                        I do like Kate's for a homestyle breakfast. I don't know much about Cu Co's but it never really gets talked about so I don't think it's anything too special. The Citrus Club can be good but much of their food is bland. I do like some of their soups. I'd add Zazie in Cole Valley to your list. One of the best breakfast/brunch spots in the city. It gets ridiculously crowded on weekends so either go on a weekday. Upper Haight is mostly a food wasteland. Personally I despise Magnolia, I think the beer is awful and the food is decent but overpriced. I haven't tried brunch there so maybe that's good. It gets really crowded and loud there too.

                                                        Ok, moving on to The Sunset. Dumpling Kitchen.. hell yes. Shanghai Dumpling King, Shangai House, Kingdom of Dumpling (and it's sister King of Noodle) are all in the same genre and they're all good. Dumpling Kitchen might be my favorite of the four, it just depends on what I'm after specifically. Yum Yum Fish is a somewhat dingy fish market type place that also serves Sushi. It's not Japanese run but it can be decent for a sushi fix on the cheaper side. If you like Pho, add Yummy Yummy (12th & Irving) or PPQ (19th & Irving) to your list. People also like Kevin's Noodle House but I prefer PPQ which is run by the same people who own PPQ Dungeness Island.

                                                        The MIssion:
                                                        La Taqueria isn't my favorite but for some it's the tops. I'd recommend a trip to Pancho Villa (16th btwn MIssion & Valencia) for your MIssion Burrito fix. It's an old standby and SF classic. I think it's a good representation of Mission Taqueria's. I also like El Farolito (burritos) and Taqueria Cancun (tacos). If you like Mediterranean Shawarma and the like I'd check out Truly Mediterranean (16th btwn Valencia and Guerrero) or Old Jerusalem (MIssion and 25th). Tartine (18th & Guerrero) has some of the best bread you'll ever find anywhere (and some of the hardest to procure).

                                                        That's what I got. I'm happy to share more if you have questions. Happy eating.

                                                        11 Replies
                                                        1. re: virtualguthrie

                                                          All good recommendations but I personally don't think that Truly Med or Old Jerusalem are anything to write home about. Coming from NYC, they're bound to dissapoint. So far, Yemeni's is the only Middle Eastern restaurant in the city proper that I've found to be worthwhile. I don't think there's such a thing as good shawarma in San Francisco.

                                                          1. re: OliverB

                                                            That's a very good point. Forgot OP was coming from NYC.

                                                          2. re: virtualguthrie

                                                            Magnolia is very loud and crowded at night and I agree their dinner food isn't stellar. There's a smaller crowd at weekend brunch, so the noise is manageable. And their weekend brunch has more interesting stuff on the menu than the nearby places serving scrambled eggs and pancakes, and with hour waits for no reason.

                                                            Cu Co's : http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/912377

                                                            The table outside the entrance at Zazie is first come first served, and most people waiting on line aren't aware of this so it's often empty next to the line of people waiting an hour.

                                                            1. re: hyperbowler

                                                              Didn't really know that about Magnolia. I'll have to try it for brunch sometime. My last visit for dinner was so miserable I swore I'd never go back. I can't believe a brewery would serve such awful beer.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Last time I went they were bad to the point of undrinkable. I had the Weather Report Wheat and Red Ale. Both had an off taste as if the lines hadn't been cleaned or something else like that had gone wrong. My chef friend agreed. It was bad. And why is there no variety? The have like 12 beers, all are dark and/or bitter. They don't even have anything approaching a pilsner. 4 bitter beers? Tons of IPA's, the requisite stout and porter but not one crisp, drinkable lager/pilsner. I get that heavy, hoppy IPA's made with used coffee grounds are currently waxing the curls in every hipsters' mustache but why do we have to go so overboard with this?

                                                                  1. re: virtualguthrie

                                                                    In my tasting of all the magnolia beers a year ago, I found them watery and unbalanced.

                                                                    Regarding the OP's question, DO NOT FORGET ABOUT THE EAST BAY. You should CLEARLY add the Oakland Uptown neighborhood (a quick BART ride), and perhaps the downtown berkeley area, and perhaps the greater Jack london square area, and Fruitvale, and Temescal.

                                                                    I could easily argue there's better eats in this category in the east bay than SF. At the very least it's worth a trip.

                                                                    Regarding walking and eating, there's no place better than the mission. My favorite walk is from Castro Muni-ish, through to dolores park, through to 24th and mission. Whenever I do that, I find a few bites I've missed before. On a trip a bit ago, I wandered into Sycamore, and had some killer pork belly doughnuts. I've wandered in a few times since and wasn't impressed. Another day, I wandered into Southpaw, and they had a pulled goat special with their house-brew that was perfect for that time and day. I do also recommend Pancho Villa, not because they're the best, but because they're representative.

                                                                    An initial very positive visit was Smokehouse, in Dogpatch. There's enough in Dogpatch that's worth a wander and multiple visits, like the burger at Serpentine, and the mix of BBQ styles at Smokestack (and general easy going atmosphere) were extraordinarily pleasant. They have about 10 non-magnolia taps, too. If you're just touring, there's a great museum in the same building, and ice cream, and an interesting wine maker (try the madierized desert wines, he's aging them with sunlight, a bold experiment).

                                                                    If you like beer, getting out to the speakeasy brewery is the best in SF right now. There's no food even remotely in the area, but you'll see part of SF you wouldn't see otherwise.

                                                                    I believe that Oysters and a Cosmo at the bar at Zuni is a perfect SF experience. All of dinner would be a splurge, but just oysters is perfect.

                                                                    For cheap neighborhood places, I really like Pakwan (mission, 'loin). The place is dirty and run down, but those curries are pretty bold, like they've been aging in the same curry pot for years.

                                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                                      ya had me at Zuni until the cosmo; just oysters and vodka rocks with a lemon twist will have Herb Caen whispering in your ear, convincing you that a Jaguar V-12 is necessary.

                                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                                        I say cosmo because zuni is on the edge of the castro, and always has a certain ... flair ... with the cosmo. On the other hand, I think they no longer train all their bar staff well, so it's been hit or miss at the bar in my last few visits.

                                                                      2. re: bbulkow

                                                                        If I'm eating oysters at Zuni, it's going to be with either a glass of white wine or a Bloody Mary, if it's brunch/lunch. Zuni = Bloody Mary, as far as I'm concerned.

                                                              1. re: virtualguthrie

                                                                I have CuCos on my (long) list because of the plantain burritos. Last time I checked they were closed weekends (!).

                                                                The order-in-advance deep fried salt and pepper pork knuckle with df seaweed around it at Shanghai House is a dish I dream about. I've never found it anywhere else (and I live in a place where there are topnotch Shanghainese restos). The rest of the menu is just okay there, compared to what I can get at home, but I've spent hours on buses to get that pork knuckle!

                                                                Having tried a bunch of the usual suspects, Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous tops my list for ice cream.

                                                              2. Tartine and Bi Rite are important names missing from your list.

                                                                I will give a word of caution, that some of the places people are suggesting, or that you've read about will underwhelm you considerably. Some of them aren't neighborhood destinations, or the best examples of that cuisine city wide. Obviously a lot of it's a matter of personal taste, and trial and error you'll have to experience once you're in SF. Few people here eat like a tourist and strictly hit up top lists. Much like NY, there will always be a new hot place to try, or somewhere that escaped your radar for far too long.

                                                                1. Pizzaria Delfina (pizza), Papalote (modern / upscale burritos), and FOR SURE Delfina (Tuscan, splurge) would be in my Mission list.

                                                                  Troya (Turkish) would easily make the Richmond list.

                                                                  La Folie (Provencal, birthday / anniversary splurge), and Helmand Palace (Afghan), in Polk Gulch / Van Ness / Russian Hill are both truly exceptional within their categories.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: whiner

                                                                    I wouldn't call Delfina "Tuscan." More like Cal-Italian.

                                                                    1. re: davidg1

                                                                      I agree, Delfina is named after a Tuscan restaurant, but the menu has no strong regional focus. The entrees are more American than Italian.

                                                                    2. re: whiner

                                                                      papalote's carne asada burrito and their salsa are very good. The high quality ingredients go a long way. Don't get their chicken mole or their tacos though.

                                                                    3. Forgot to add...

                                                                      If you happen to be walking through North Beach, LOsteria dal Forno is quite special for what it is. (One oven hole-in-the-wall with great pizzas and roasts.)

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: whiner

                                                                        L'Osteria del Forno is great. Emilian regional dishes. Be sure to try a slice of the porcini pizza. Don't go there expecting a choice of pastas, they usually have only one casserole.

                                                                      2. I'd definintely add Palmyra to your Haight list. The food is not quite as good as Old Jerusalem in the Mission, but it's still very good, and it's a great atmosphere with really friendly employees.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: tripit

                                                                          Again, she's coming from NYC. I'm a native East Coaster and find everything at Palmyra to be awful. Considering Old Jerusalem is pretty bleh, Palmyra is almost certainly not worth bothering with.

                                                                          1. re: OliverB

                                                                            I'm a native East Coaster as well, and I find the food at Palmyra to be great. Were the OP visiting San Francisco for one week from NYC, I wouldn't advise her to bother with it, but she's making a permanent move to the Haight, and I find it to be a solid neighborhood option for this cuisine.

                                                                        2. The sushi is nothing special at Eiji (I have not tried the fresh tofu). What is nice is the atmosphere. It feels like a small place in Japan. I haven't found any midrange in the Castro worth recommending. Contigo in Noe Valley has not been mentioned on this thread; nice tapas.

                                                                          The El Gallo Giro taco truck has been mentioned but I want to second it. And, since you will be living in SF, nearby is La Palma Mexicatessen, with amazing carnitas, pretty good mole verde, good black beans, and very good fresh tortillas (quite a variety also). Nopalito (which I really like) is in your nabe, and there's a second one in the Inner Sunset which is good to know about if, for example, you're in Golden Gate Park and get hungry.

                                                                          If you like beer, Toronado is the place to sip something nice while you eat your Rosamunde takeaway (I'm told Toronado leases the space to Rosamunde, and the Tuesday burger is a lease clause), and Healthy Spirits has quite a nice bottle selection (store, not bar). If you like Motorino, in addition to the previously named Pizzeria Delfina, you might try Ragazza on Divisadero, which is not quite as good but more convenient to you and easier to get into. Also in this area is Bar Crudo, with a decent happy hour menu.