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May 22, 2014 04:30 PM

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:

            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).