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YALAHAFA (Yet Another L.A. Hound Asking for Advice) on Great Eats in SF Proper (Muni accessible, non-high end)

I’ll be in San Francisco the first week of June to attend Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) at Moscone Center. I’ll be staying near Union Square and will be getting a 7-day Muni pass to get around in SF proper. I’ve checked out various lists and this recent YALAHAFA thread by zack (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/974111) and have gotten some good information from it. I'm hoping this won't be too much of a rehashing.

Here is a list of places I’m considering: http://foursquare.com/theoffalo/list/.... Do not pay too much attention to the order. I tried to prioritize initially--the first few places on the list are my top picks--but I gave up on sorting them pretty quick. I know it’s all over the place, but I’m hoping you can help me both add to it (if I have any deficiencies) and pare it down (restaurants that overlap each other). As you can see, I’m not looking for any high end dining (Benu, Coi, Crenn, Saison, etc.) on this trip as I don’t really have the budget for it, but I might be interested in something that approximates that in the mid-to-high double-digits. AQ perhaps?

If you couldn't tell from my username, I’m into offal. I am very sad that Incanto is gone, but I’m hoping that Porcellino will have some nice offal-centric specials while I’m there. I also have Bar Tartine high on my 4sq list because I’ve heard great things about their tripe dish, but it’s not currently on their menu. I’ve checked this thread on offal (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/452852), but I will be glad to take other suggestions in SF proper.

I think it’s just statistics, due to the high number of well regarded ones in SF, that Italian restaurants comprise a fifth of my 4sq list. I am not an aficionado by any means; I’ve not tried Bestia or Factory Kitchen or Sotto in LA (I have been to Bucato but wasn’t blown away by it; to be fair, it was only a week or so after they opened). I’ve already mentioned Porcellino for their offal-potential, but I’m also curious about their porchetta. Likewise, I have Cotogna on my list for the porchetta, but it’s not currently on their menu, though I’ve read they still offer it on Thursdays and Fridays off-menu. If I had to narrow these down to one or two out of my list, which should I keep? SPQR seems to be the favorite of my LA chow-friends, most of whom agree SF outdoes LA in Italian.

Despite living in LA for a decade, I’ve only really begun to explore the various Asian enclaves (Thai Town, Little Saigon, SGV, etc.), so I am no expert on Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, but I am very interested. For Thai, Lers Ros seems to be the go-to recommendation, but I really want to try Kin Khao too. I’m getting into Issan dishes, and I’m excited that I found Chabaa, which serves Nam Kao Tod, only a few blocks from my hotel. I’m also looking forward to trying Zen Yai’s Boat Noodles and seeing how it compares to Sapp and Pa Ord. For Vietnamese, I’d like to try Ha Nam Ninh’s Bun Bo Hue, which I’ve never had before, and also Turtle Tower’s Pho Ga.

I’ve heard that sushi in SF/BA cannot compare to LA, but I’m willing to try. I’m a semi-regular at two of LA’s more well regarded sushi-ya (Shunji, Kiriko) but I’d like to see what SF can do. I hear good things about Maruya, and Kusakabe sounds very promising. However, this is somewhat lower priority than the above, since I can get amazing sushi in LA. Likewise, I wouldn’t mind getting a great bowl of ramen while in SF, if one could be had, but it’s no big deal if I can’t.

TL;DR:

* Looking for double-digit price range restaurant serving triple-digit price-range cuisine. (Aren’t we all?) Thinking of AQ. Other options?
* Looking for offal-centric restaurants. Thinking of Porcellino. Other options?
* Looking for to focus down to one or two great Italian restaurant (excluding Porcellino), since there are so damn many of them. Thinking of SPQR. Other options?
* Looking for great Thai and Vietnamese. Thinking of Lers Ros/Kin Khao, Ha Nam Ninh/Turtle Tower, respectively. Other options?
* Looking for great sushi in SF. Thinking of Maruya or Kusakabe. Other options? How about ramen?

(For reference, Shunji, Night+Market, Tsujita ANNEX, Kiriko, Tar & Roses, are some of my favorite restaurants in LA.)

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  1. Porcellino is #1 for offal. You've seen this topic, which is where I post updates on (mostly Euro-)offal sightings:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/452852

    Great modern food with moderate prices, I like AQ, St. Vincent, and Bar Tartine.

    The most ambitious of the traditional Italian restaurants in SF is Perbacco. A16, La Ciccia, and Farina are also solid. For Cal-Italian, since Incanto morphed to Porcellino I think Cotogna is in a class by itself.

    To me, SPQR, Acquerello, and Quince are more French than Italian.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks Robert. Yes, I linked to that thread in my post. Glad to see you continuing to update it.

      I was thinking of La Ciccia to compare the pasta dish with tuna heart to Porcellino's (if they continue to offer it on special).

      1. re: TheOffalo

        I found the tuna heart dishes somewhat similar. That stuff has a tendency to dominate a dish.

    2. Nothing in L.A. like Mission Chinese Food or Jai Yun. As Mission Chinese Food does not purport to represent authentic Chinese food, it's easy to accept it for what it is, delicious Chinese themed/inspired food. Jai Yun is truly unique restaurant with its master chef and quirky ways, so if you can afford it and catch the restaurant when it's open, go for it. Otherwise there's nothing else chow worthy in S.F. Chinatown. San Tung is an interesting collision of neighborhood, Chinese and hipster diners but looking at the food I don't think it's worth spending one of your meal slots here.

      27 Replies
      1. re: Chandavkl

        Jai Yun is by reservation only. No walk-ins.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Robert, is there any real difference between the $55 set meal and the $100 set meal ?????

          1. re: kevin

            I think the lowest price point is $80 or $100 these days. I'm not sure there's any compelling reason to spend more.

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/974516

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Wow. That means the high end is now $150 or $175 per ????

              Thanks for the update. It's been a few years.

        2. re: Chandavkl

          Thanks Chandavkl. I got a few refs for San Tung's dry fried chicken. For some of the places, like San Tung, I plan on having just one or two dishes so I wouldn't be taking up a full meal slot.

          For some reason Mission Chinese doesn't really interest me. Jai Yun does sound interesting. I also have Good Mong Kok to fill in a little bit of cheap eats on my list.

          1. re: TheOffalo

            The dry fried wings are nice but not super earth shattering. My favorite item at San Tung despite its inconsistency the last few years, is the 5 spice beef noodle soup...the slices of beef shank they give you are excellent...and have higher tendon to meat ratio. Jelly in the belly! At $9 it's steep, but far far better than any ramen in the city.

            1. re: K K

              Have you compared with the beef noodle soups at King of Noodles down the block?

              1. re: bigwheel042

                No, but my understanding of King of Noodles is that they are similar to Kingdom of Dumpling in approach (unsure if they are same ownership). There isn't another place in town that offers specifically a 5 spice marination of braised/stewed beef whose flavor is also present in the broth. If I recall correctly the beef noodles at Kingdom of Dumpling, is brisket, not shank.

                1. re: K K

                  Not sure it's worth TheOffalo's time to spend a meal eating beef noodle soup in SF.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    True from that perspective, but if a visit to ST is happening for the wings, the 5 spice beef noodle soup is a good companion if a bowl of rice isn't ordered, and if there is stomach space.

                    1. re: K K

                      If I make it there for the wings, I may just try the noodles. Thanks.

                      1. re: TheOffalo

                        San Tung has a sister restaurant right next door called San Tung #2, supposedly same owners, mostly similar menu, and handles overflow or those who don't want to wait for #1 if it is way crowded. I haven't been, but don't bother there since they do not provide complimentary kimchi/pao tsai like #1, which I find very very strange....

                        1. re: K K

                          San Tung has a SOMA spin off location called SO for the wings. That's where they should go if at all. Otherwise as good as they are, I don't think they're worth going out of the way for, and the rest of their food is just ok.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            how far out of the way is the original San Tung ????

                            Is it like in the outer sunset or north judah ?????????????

                            thanks.

                            1. re: kevin

                              It's considered Inner Sunset, which isn't incredibly remote, but it does represent upwards of a 30 minute ride each way. It's reputation is mainly two dishes (the wings, and string beans), and you can get both in closer proximity to the convention center. I know San Tung gets write ups along the lines of it being the best dish in the whole city, but it's Korean fried chicken with a sweet gingery/garlic sauce.

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      Thanks for looking out for me, ipse. :-) As I said to hyperbowler below, it might actually be easier for me to try stuff in SF that I probably should be getting in LA instead. I think I can count the number or bowls of NRM that I've had in SGV on one hand. Still, priorities, priorities, so I probably wouldn't seek it out in SF.

            2. re: Chandavkl

              I love Jai Yun.

              Chafvl can you describe the Chinese fried chicken joint further ??????

              Thanks buddy.

              And I forgot Bombay Ice Creamery for their sauve and blissfully not to sweet cardamom and fig laced pistachio. Saffron shakes.

              Oh man. I want want right now. This was a very early CH fave and very very very good.

              Taritne Bajerys chocolate crossiant very near by on either Vlarncia or Guerrero.

              You might as well hit up La Taqueria for one of those mission sf style burritos and tacos just for tourists sake.

              1. re: kevin

                It's the sweet sticky sauce that distinguishes the dish. They also make dry fried fish the same way. It's fine but I was expecting something more special.

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Fried fish too ?????

                  How's the batter almost Southern fried but with The Chinese sauce ????

                  I'll have to hit it up next time in SF. I can't believe I haven't already heard about it.

                  Is there any joint like it in the SGV ?????

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    And who tipped you off to the place ????

                    Btw offal, koi palace also.

                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      That's terrible news.

                      I'm tearing up.

                      Now.

                  2. re: Chandavkl

                    I like Golden Gate in Chinatown.

                    But admittedly that's a personal weakness of mine that many do not share.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Personally I find GG bakery's egg tarts far superior to most egg tarts in Hong Kong. Whether the crust is good or not, that yolk center filling is golden.

                        1. re: K K

                          Nah. Tai Cheong in HK trumps Golden Gate.

                          1. re: Chandavkl

                            The crust styles of the two are apples vs oranges. TC does cookie dough/cookie crust, and GG is puff pastry/soh pei. Two completely different schools.

                            But I will say that Honolulu cafe's so called greatest puff pastry egg tart, is nowhere near as good as GG. This is the flagship Wanchai location which I had 2 years ago.

                    2. just checked your LA thread, sorry, but Stinking Rose - I can't recommend it, Olive Garden with a weak garlic fixation. better to go across and a few blocks down Columbus to Caffe Macaroni (yeah it's a dumb name) but cheaper, homier and they occasionally have sweetbreads on the pasta menu. are there better places? of course. but they've always been so friendly and turned this eater on to offal beyond liver.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: hill food

                        Stinking Rose, no. It's part of a small chain of mediocre tourist restaurants.

                        1. re: hill food

                          Don't worry, Stinking Rose is an inside joke on the L.A. board (we have one down here). Those recs are not serious.

                          FYI for others, here's the thread hill food is talking about: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/976797/. I was hoping to get some inter-board cross-pollination with LA 'hounds posting here but I'll take recs and way I can get them. (Looks like they're starting to post up here now.)

                        2. I think your list is very good, and I will comment on the places on your list that I have been to:

                          State Bird is great if you can get in!

                          Bar Tartine is also great. I really like it best for brunch, where it is more affordable, and you can still have the langos (fried bread) which is basically the best thing.

                          I liked Kin Khao okay when I went, but I would not recommend it to someone visiting from LA. My full report is here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9166...

                          La Ciccia is one of my favorite restaurants, especially for the octopus stew.

                          Zen Yai Thai has good boat noodles, but there are a lot of places in LA that have better ones (or at least just as good). I'd skip this.

                          Mandalay is great for the Mandalay Special noodles. You could also consider B-Star in that same neighborhood for Burmese-fusion.

                          I think Mission Chinese food is okay if you're in the mood for that kind of thing. But I think if you are only here for a limited time, you could do better.

                          Ha Nam Ninh - I really like this place, but I still have never had their bun bo hue because they always run out. They only have it Fridays, and by dinner time, it's always gone, so you really need to go on Friday for lunch if you want it. This could be great for you in terms of getting offal in the soup (make sure they give it to you). But what I usually get there is the hu tieu nam vang, dry w/ soup on the side. It's awesome.

                          Hai Ky Mi Gia - I also like this place for the duck noodles.

                          Lers Ros Thai - I haven't been here in a long time. I'm not sure I would really recommend Thai food to anyone visiting SF from LA, since every time I eat Thai food in LA, it's way better than what I get here. But if you insist on eating Thai food, this could be a good option.

                          Bi-Rite is good for ice cream. Also consider Humphrey Slocombe.

                          B Patisserie is great and worth a visit for delicious pastries. I've had luck buying whatever has most recently come out of the oven.

                          I now think that San Tung is really only good for the chicken. My strategy now is to order it take-out and eat it in the park or at home. It could make for a good snack after a visit to GG park. Put the phone number in your phone so you can call in your order. I wouldn't bother having a sit-down meal here, though.

                          Smitten Ice Cream - I am personally not a fan. It tastes like frozen whipped cream, which for some people is awesome, but not for me.

                          Turtle Tower - Good for simple chicken soup. Nice fresh rice noodles. But I think you might enjoy the other Vietnamese options in the TL better.

                          NOPA - I haven't been in a long time, but I like it. Fun atmosphere, good food.

                          A16 - Only ate here once, but I really liked the pizza. Also nice atmosphere.

                          Aziza - Ate here so long ago that my opinion probably doesn't count anymore, but could be an interesting option.

                          Hope this helps!
                          Dave MP

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Dave MP

                            Thanks for the individual assessments. Regarding Thai, like I said, I'm just getting into it even down here in L.A., so I don't mind trying it at other places just to increase my sample size, even *if* as a whole LA Thai might be better than SF Thai.

                            Depending of course on the conference schedule, I plan on hitting Ha Nam Ninh up as close to opening as possible so I don't miss out on the BBH.

                            Thanks again, really appreciate your (and everyone else's) feedback.

                            1. re: TheOffalo

                              Let me personally say that SF thai is so weak that I would really, really not bother eating a single thai meal here. Every thai meal I had in LA was light years ahead of SF. If you are dead-set, don't blame me/us.

                              Have you been to Night Market in Hollywood? That's an honest, full bore thai, in an upscale environment. There's nothing approaching that in SF.

                              I think you're better off eating at one of our best sushi restaurants and comparing that.

                              1. re: TheOffalo

                                If you end up at Lers Ros I recommend getting the basil chicken offal dish. It's like basil chicken but instead of chicken thigh they use chicken gizzards, hearts, etc.

                                I am a big fan of offal but generally prefer the Asian preparations. Like the dry fried intestines at Spices!

                                1. re: felice

                                  Thanks felice, sounds right up my alley. If I do go, I'll give it a try. And don't worry, bbulkow, I won't blame you for any bad Thai experiences in SF. (N+M is one of my favorite restaurants in LA so I'll set my expectations accordingly.)

                                  1. re: TheOffalo

                                    The "appetizers" are what I gravitate toward at Lers Ros (be sure to go to the original one in the Tenderloin) after half a dozen visits including a couple of chowdowns. Works better with a small group or as a solo diner too.

                                    1. re: TheOffalo

                                      I had missed your N+M reference in the header, but I did notice J Gold mentioning it in a chat today:

                                      Q: What's your favorite restaurant to take friends to when they come to town?

                                      A: It depends on the friends, really. But when food-world friends have come to towan lately, I've been dragging them to Night + Market, Guerrilla Taco, Mariscos Jalisco, Chengdu Taste, and Guelaguetza. They are all specific experiences that you just can't find outside L.A.

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        Guerrilla Tacos is fast becoming one of my favorites here in LA. Check http://instagram.com/theoffalo for recent pics of their dishes.

                                  2. re: TheOffalo

                                    Just got back from 24 hours in SF.

                                    Kin Khao is good, is it better than some of the better Thai places in LA? Probably not.

                                    But if you're just starting to explore Thai food, you could do much much worse.

                                    Plus it is close to where you are staying so it might be worth visiting if you are short on time for a lunch.

                                    I will say the ribs are incredible with a funky glaze of fermented fish sauce and nice heat. Just be warned, you'll be smelling of that fish sauce for a good 24 hours after eating them.

                                    But they are surely a dish I will now crave... Have fun!

                                    1. re: zmirzlina

                                      Thanks! I've been back from my trip for a few weeks now. I did go to Kin Khao. My report here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/977596/

                                      I really like what they're doing, going for a more refined approach without compromising on flavors or spice.

                                2. Stella bakery cannolis and brownies
                                  Firenze by nite rabbit w truffles
                                  Golden boy pizza
                                  The saloon
                                  Mr bings (autospell correctly wants this to be mr binges)
                                  Vesuvio
                                  Zeitgeist

                                  15 Replies
                                  1. re: jessejames

                                    Stella's cannoli tasted like Polly-O ricotta to me. Gross.

                                    I've read that Ristobar makes the real thing.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Disagree. That spot kicks ass for all sorts of Italian pastries biscotti cannoli cookies

                                      1. re: jessejames

                                        I like cannoli the way they make them in Sicily, with the shell made to order and served warm with a filling made with fresh sheep or goat ricotta.

                                        Some of their other stuff is good, though I think Dianda (which closed its North Beach location) is the best of the remaining old-school Italian bakeries.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          nothing like fresh sheep with a warm creamy filling....

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Dianda is no longer in North Beach.

                                            A. Cavalli fills their canolli fresh. Shells are fresh but not cooked to order.

                                            I think Stella is excellent, but not what it used to be, and there are better items.

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              what items are better ?????

                                              sop what's the best spot for cannolis ????

                                              thanks.

                                              any of you fans of Cafe Jacqueline and is it ok for a solo diner ?????

                                              i might be there in august.

                                              1. re: kevin

                                                Cafe Jacqueline is probably not for a solo diner, in my opinion. She cooks the souffle to order and it's slow. Pretty sure some of them (dessert?) are made for two. It's an institution most San Franciscans forget exists.

                                                Cannolis? I think I'd go for A. Cavalli if you need to have one. Whole Foods was carrying a locally made mini canolli but I'm not sure if they still do that.

                                                Stella is known for their Sacripantina. Basically, the section where the whip cream cakes are what you should be considering there.
                                                You can also try the Princess Cake at Victoria, and they also have canollis and that kind of thing.

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  The brownies at Stella are orgasmic

                                                  1. re: jessejames

                                                    No kidding?

                                                    Not everything is baked in house at the various NB bakeries. I tend skip over the baked goods, but I'll keep an eye out now. Their Pignoli cookies used to be good.

                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                      Home run standard bearer for my family

                                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                                    suge - it's just so easy to forget Jacqueline's is even there. Telegraph is such a confusing set of streets even if you know them.

                                                    at least nobody is trying to give directions for Julius' Castle much these days (there's a joke)

                                                  3. re: kevin

                                                    Best cannoli in the Bay Area are in San Mateo at Romolo's.
                                                    (Not cannolis: cannoli is plural, cannolo is singular.)

                                                    1. re: foodeye

                                                      hmm, my bad.

                                                      thanks for the clarification on that.

                                          2. re: jessejames

                                            and for once auto-correct is right - it IS Mr. Binges (in a de facto sort of way)

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              lots of fun i don't have memories anymore kind of place...just a great strip there for drinking from chinatown up the hill to the saloon, to some of those spots in north beach that even have free antipasta and such during happy hour....mr binges is a gem and i hope it hangs around