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Request for your Best of the Best in SF to WOW my Fiance!!

Dear Chowhounds,

I’m a San Franciscan by birth and upbringing and I used to be an avid eater in the Bay Area but I’ve been living abroad for about 10 years. My fiancé and I will be visiting SF this June. I have been raving about how wonderful San Francisco and its food are and I want to make sure to wow him with a few amazing, out-of-this-world meals.

I've done a lot of searches on here but many of the posts are older and I'm not sure how relevant they are today.

Can you recommend the absolute most amazing places for nice dinners (+ lunch recommendations also great if you have them!) in SF? Pretend money is no object and you are recommending the best food, ambiance, and overall experience. If there is a view that is a plus too but great food and ambiance are more important.

***We are coming from the Middle East so we’d rather not seek out Middle Eastern or Indian food.***

Although we are open to everything, it would be great if you could include recommendations for:
- Best places for seafood
- Best places for steak
- Best place for unique SF experience (not touristy)


P.S. Some of the places we are planning on eating are Gary Danko (from many recommendations on CH), Cafe Zuni (old favorite w/ my parents), Slanted Door (not sure if it's still good but will have lunch there w/ parents), and Chez Panisse cafe (when we are in Berkeley). Also, in Napa, French Laundry (booked for his birthday) and Bottega (invited by friends).

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    1. I would allow for some lower end diner/ethnic fare. If nothing else but to give your palate a break from all the high end stuff. Hole in the wall breakfasts or Mexican. With TFL and Danko, you have "Out of the world" sewn up. Balance it with greasy burgers and Chinese.

      1. " Best place for unique SF experience (not touristy)"

        Ferry plaza Saturday morning - plenty inside and farmers market. Search the board to find out different recs.

        "Best places for seafood"

        Seafood - surprisingly, seafood isnt that big in SF. Tadich grill for sand dabs (and cioppino). sam's is another old school seafood place. swan oyster. Here's a recent and relevant thread


        1 Reply
        1. re: majordanby

          Thank you! Yes... we wii definitely do the Ferry Building & farmer's market. I've never been to Tadich grill but I will look into it.

        2. If money is no object, a meal at Saison will include some remarkable seafood.

          Maruya for sushi.

          2 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Thank you, Maruya was one I had read recommendations for but had never tried before. Since it seems seafood options are somewhat limited I will definitely add this.

              Also interesting about Saison; sounds very interesting. It was also on my list to consider but very useful to know they use a lot of seafood.

            2. jai yun for chinese.

              kappa and/or ino for japanese.

              cotogna for steak (if they have it on the menu; it is a sometimes thing). if not cotogna, then harris', bobo's or alfred's. but at alfred's i wouldn't go for anything other than their big ribeye.

              at tadich, sand dabs, halibut, crab+lobster thermidor are good dishes. swan's and hayes st. grill are also good for old school / american style seafood.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Dustin_E

                The "Chicago rib steak" (bone-in 32-oz. ribeye) is the thing to order at Alfred's. Big enough for two.


                I was not as impressed by Harris' ribeye.


                Tadich is very touristy though it's popular with locals too. Food is hit and miss, if you don't order the right things you can have a bad meal. Sam's is the same style and has an almost identical menu but is pretty much only locals.

                Hayes St. Grill is sort of a new-school rethinking of the Tadich / Sam's old school. The cooking's more precise and the sourcing is much, much better.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  porterhouse at harris'
                  ribeye at alfreds

                  is probably the way to go. i did not like alfred's porterhouse, nor their smaller ribeye.

                2. re: Dustin_E

                  Thank you for the recommendations. I have always been curious about Jai Yun so that would be interesting to try. I will take a look at the places you've suggested for steaks, thanks for the advice!

                  I had forgotton about Swan's, that could definitely be fun. I will look into Tadich and Hayes St. Grill as I've never tried either of these.

                3. Current reviews for Cafe Zuni are mixed and when I ate there recently I was underwhelmed. For a steak blowout, get the Japanese A5+ Wagyu at Roka Akor (request rare, of course) which you can get in 3 oz, 6 oz, 9 oz etc portions depending on your price point. Skip the Australian A5 there. They also have seafood (try the giant Madagascar prawn or black cod) and sushi. You can sit on sofas in the lounge downstairs for a more intimate/swanky atmosphere.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: barleywino

                    I have eaten at Zuni within the past few weeks, and would not recommend it, unfortunately.

                    1. re: pinotho

                      Sorry to hear that, what happened at Zuni?

                    2. re: barleywino

                      Reviews for Zuni have *always* been mixed. I've been going there for years and it's as good as ever, still one of the top places of the Chez Panisse school.

                      1. re: barleywino

                        Thanks for your recommendation on Roka Akor, sounds very interesting; I hadn't heard of this before.

                      2. I would do Zuni at lunch if you are just going for the memories.

                        Waterbar has good seafood and excellent views, pricey though but nice if you want drinks too. Hog Island in the Ferry building if you want oysters and a San Francisco experience. Also like WoodHouse Fish company if you just want a local place that does going seafood.

                        I know you have some fancy places but I would recommend Atelier Crenn if you want to see local produce mixed with creativity and technique. Benu is also excellent. Saison if you have no restrictions and want another FL type experience is also good.

                        SF isn't the best steak place. I kind of think of House of Prime Rib as both a SF institution and a meaty happy place (clearly not steak though). But tend to eat my steak in when in the middle of the States.

                        SF experience- Brunch at Foreign Cinema or at lots of place in SF, ice cream walking tour to Mr. & Mrs. M, Humprty Slocum, Bi-rite, Three Twins and make sure you get an It's It's at a corner store and eat it at a park or beach. You might be eating lots of Thai or Filipino food depending on where in the Middle East you are and who you are working with but there are lots of those choices here too.

                        Japanese try Maruya or Ino. Service is more friendly at Maruya and decor is better but the fish is excellent at both.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: tjinsf

                          I like Bourbon Steak, actually, and although it's a small chain now, Michael Mina got big in SF ...

                          The steak is excellent, and the butterscotch pudding with beignets is heavenly.

                          1. re: Torina

                            yeah it's not bad, I just tend to be biased towards texas and chicago for my steak fixes.

                            1. re: Torina

                              Thank you, Bourbon Steak is a nice idea, I'll add this to the steak list and a take a look into it. We ate a a Michael Mina place in Las Vegas a year ago (Nob Hill Tavern, since closed I believe) and we enjoyed it a lot.

                            2. re: tjinsf

                              Thank you for the extensive recommendation! I will definitely add Waterbar to our list. I am a fan of Hog Island Oyster Co. and I've always enjoyed their oysters both at the Farmer's Market or in the restaurant.

                              I enthusiastically second your recommendation for the ice cream tour (haven't tried Mr & Mrs or Three Twins but I would love to!) but unfortunately my fiance can't eat ice cream due to food intolerance.

                              Also thank you for the recommendation for brunch at Foreign Cinema, Maruya, and Ino. I will add these to the list!

                            3. Favorite in SF is La Folie - very high end but with a neighborhood-y type feel. The only potential drawback is that it is pretty straight forward Provencal French, so not really 'unique' to SF in that regard.

                              Ame is very unique to SF - Japanese / Italian fusion with French accents. Delicious.

                              Boulevard and, more expensive / slightly better, Gary Danko - epitomize NorCal CA-French food.

                              Coi - really interesting New CA cuisine, many courses, low red meat content. I have no experience with its relatively new competitors.

                              Nopa - epitomizes very casual mid-priced SF fare... I like as much / more than Zuni

                              Steak... I mean... Harris' is the way to go.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: whiner

                                Agree for the most part. La Folie is a great restaurant but not something that is all that much different from what you can find elsewhere if you travel a lot. Extremely well executed Provencal French, but that doesn't exactly scream "San Francisco".

                                As for steakhouses, it's not a San Francisco specialty. They certainly exist, but steakhouses exist pretty much everywhere in the world. And cooking a good piece of meat is not exactly rocket science. The top places in terms of meat quality are probably A5A and Alexander's. But there are plenty of others with various kind of ambience, some more old-school than others, that should be able to cook you a piece of meat.

                                My general take on steakhouses is similar to my feelings about Gary Danko. If that's what you're in the mood for, like a Maine lobster or Russian caviar, why not? But don't be naive about the food being an "only-in-San-Francisco" experience.

                                1. re: whiner

                                  Thank you, Ame sounds interesting as does Boulevard and Coi. Will look into these. I like Nopa a lot and we will try to make it there for a lunch.

                                2. of course you know your preferences best, but your specification to omit touristy places contradicts the places where you've already planned to visit.
                                  some of the Mexican food in our area is unique in the sense that it's prepared from the best local ingredients. if that interests you, consider Nopalito.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: moto

                                    There is obviously a difference between Fisherman's Wharf level touristy and destination restaurant level touristy; I assumed OP was trying to avoid the former, not the latter. Almost no good restaurant in a city specifically known for its restaurants is guaranteed to have no tourists in it.

                                    Also, just to clarify, I agree with others that despite my recommendation of Harris' for steak (and others' of Alfred's), that rec was only *if you must* go to a steakhouse... I would not go to a steakhouse in San Francisco -- too much better and more unique stuff out there.

                                    Also to add to my rec of Ame, it isn't strictly a fish / seafood restaurant, but it does have some of the best fish preparations in the city. To echo someone else on this thread, there is some irony about SF's geographic location vis a vis the amount of high quality fish restaurants it has. I hear Waterbar has high quality fresh fish.

                                    1. re: whiner

                                      Prospect is very good for fish / seafood - I would go there over Waterbar. Although there's nothing here at the level of Le Bernadin in NY.

                                    2. re: moto

                                      Thank you for the recommendation for Nopalito, looks interesting.

                                    3. You found many recommendations for Gary Danko on Chowhound? The usual recommendation on this board is to go somewhere else. As a local I'd go there when I want that style of 80s-90s international French food, but that's a style that you can find in cosmopolitan cities all over the world.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        There is not that much on this board that is universally recommended :)

                                        They may have mainly been posts that are quite a lot older before I realized you can organize results by date!

                                      2. The michelin guide is a non-terrible view of the high end of SF dining. Saison, Crenn, Benu, COI are certainly that style of food, and there are plenty of discussions here.

                                        Steak and seafood just aren't that good here. I mean, they're fine, and you've just heard a round-up of some of the better places, but I can't imagine taking someone to either a steak or seafood place in SF and impressing them. If I would, I would probably take them to Harris Ranch just because I think it's got the oldest room - or I'd even think of Big Four (I bet they have a killer steak, and a nice room). For fish - beyond the high end of japanese - I will order fish sometimes if the prep is good and it's a local fish that's in season, but we don't really do "fish restaurants" per se. For japanese fish, there's a current thread recommending sushi for someone from LA (where the sushi is generally far superior to SF's) - one person recommended two places that I haven't tried.

                                        An example of a more "sf style" place (beyond the michelin 1-star list) would be Commonwealth, at the bar. I would take that over Danko any day. Flower + Water, Cotogna, Gitane, Perbacco, Rich Table, State Bird, Trick Dog, Namu Gaiji, Nopa are a few common ones you should look up. None of these are particularly touristy, although some are more "business dinner" and some are just date-night type places for the locals.

                                        You'll also get a better set of recommendations about what kind of place would blow away your fiancee. If they're into formal bow-and-scrape service, versus more casual good SF neighborhood places. I mean, if someone was treating me and took me to every tasting menu in SF, I would be blown away, but most people would get fatigue after the first. I don't love more formal service - a place like Namu Gaiji is a plenty good experience for me. Also, remember most of these popular places require reservations at least one or two months in advance.

                                        You did mention view. Nowhere terribly good has a view. The best view restaurant is Slanted Door and you're already going there.

                                        And where on CH did you hear Danko is the place to go? Phew.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          Alfred's makes great steaks and has preserved a bit of old-school SF style. You may be able to find better steak in Chicago or New York, but for American ex-pats who are here for a visit and specifically looking to feed a steak craving, that's kind of like saying, oh, skip the guacamole, it's much better in Michoacán.

                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                            Thanks for your recommendations and your round-up of "sf style" places. I will definitely add some of these to our list.

                                          2. Time to chime in with my own 2¢ -- possibly worth far less, so feel free to keep the change . . .

                                            DO go to Gary Danko. I have always been very happy with my meals there, and while it is not as "cutting edge" and doesn't get the "buzz" of places like Coi, Incanto, State Bird, etc., it's been around long enough -- and its staple offers are certainly fine enough -- to qualify it as a classic SF restaurant.

                                            Zuni Café is everybody's "old favorite," but --sadly -- I, too, would pass on this one.

                                            The Café at Chez Panisse is literally right down the hill from us (we live in the North Berkeley hills). It is a place we go to at least once a year "whether we need to or not." It's By that I mean that my wife is an excellent cook who sources many things from the same suppliers, and I tend to want to go out to places that make things my wife can't do herself. But the Café at Chez Panisse always seems so simple, I find myself always thinking, "Well, *she* could make that." And yet, I am always charmed and pleased with every meal there . . .

                                            French Laundry -- pricey, true, but worth it.

                                            Bottega, same (thought not *as* pricey).

                                            Seafood: as someone else mentioned, the City is a weird town for seafood. There is no, say, La Bernadin equivalent. Hayes St. Grill, Tadich's, and elsewhere are good, but I can't think of a single *stunning* seafood restaurant in the City. Odd . . .

                                            Steak is quite simply something that I rarely go out for, as we make it so well at home. But I'd go for Alfred's, too.

                                            Someone mentioned Ame, and I would agree. But I'd also throw in Iyasare in Berkeley -- if you make a day of being in the East Bay, you can go there for lunch. It is exceptional. See http://www.sfgate.com/restaurants/din...

                                            As far as "only in San Francisco" is concerned, I would chime in with a second for the Ferry Building and specifically Hog Island Oyster Bar -- many of the oysters are Hog Island's own from Tomales Bay in Marin, can't get more local than that! Other places in the Ferry Building are equally local. Other options would include Foreign Cinema, Mission Chinese, State Bird, and many more.

                                            re: Slanted Door -- unfortunately, to *my* taste, they have never been as good as they were while still int he Mission. Now, I simply look at the crowd and sigh . . . YMMV.

                                            30 Replies
                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              "As far as "only in San Francisco" is concerned, I would chime in with a second for the Ferry Building and specifically Hog Island Oyster Bar -- many of the oysters are Hog Island's own from Tomales Bay in Marin,"

                                              Many other places sell the exact same Hog Island oysters without having you wait in a long line with equally clueless tourists in order to dine in no-loitering chairs in a place with a McDonalds level of ambience. If you want the Bay views, go to Waterbar. Otherwise, there are places like Zuni and Bar Crudo.

                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                Let's just say I disagree -- strongly -- with your characterization. In all of my visits there, it has *never* felt like "a place with a McDonalds level of ambience," nor have I ever felt pressured to hurry up, eat, and leave, as your "no-loitering chairs" description implies. Clearly this is a case of YMMV . . .

                                                Additionally, I do not now, nor have I ever, suggested that Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry Building is the only place you can get Hog Island's oysters. Hell, I've been eating oysters from Hog Island since 1982 or '83 -- I *know* you can get them in lots of places.

                                                Finally, as for "equally clueless tourists," who are you suggesting are "equally clueless" to the tourists? Me? You? The OP who is a San Francisco native? And why do you think all tourists are clueless???

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  is there someplace in the city that one can find Hog Islands' larger oysters? when I went to the oyster bar in the Ferry building, and commented on how tiny the oysters were compared to ones i've had in the past in Tomales bay, they said that they only shipped the smallest size oysters from Tomales bay to the Ferry building oyster bar.

                                                  1. re: barleywino

                                                    They definitely have them at their stand in the farmer's market. I don't think they sell that well.

                                                  2. re: zin1953

                                                    My description of the "no-loitering chairs" is just about the basic restaurant concept that some restaurants don't want you to sit around forever if they have a line out the door. Clearly, they wouldn't pressure you to leave, but they can design the seating to dissuade you from camping out. Restaurant school 101.

                                                    My point is that you have to be a pretty clueless to stand in line for half an hour or more to get an oyster at a place with no-loitering chairs, like Hog Island, that is serving beer and wine only with maybe five beers on tap and paying the premium of Ferry Building prices. That's for clueless tourists. You can go a few blocks to Waterbar and experience equally good oysters, equally good views, equally jacked-up prices, but with much more comfortable seating and a full bar with a lot more beer and other options. Or you can go to places like Zuni or Bar Crudo for good oysters. Good oysters in SF don't equate to a tourist trap in the Ferry Building. Or a tourist trap like Swan on Polk St.

                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                      i live a couple blocks from Zuni but so far have not had much luck with the oysters there. Maybe i'll try Bar Crudo...thks

                                                      1. re: barleywino

                                                        What are you looking for in oysters that you didn't find at Zuni? I've found them very consistent, but then I like those huge ones from Hog Island only for cooking.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Right, looking for the large pristine creamy ones like egg yolks (Totten Virginicas, moon shoals, the biggest tomales bay etc.

                                                          1. re: barleywino

                                                            For eatin' raw at the bar, that style is very out of vogue.

                                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                                              I thought this was about food, not fashion. Who decides what's in vogue? If you prefer an oyster thats more shell and grit than oyster, youre welcome to it. At least in Seattle and Boston (and Tomales bay), large creamy oysters are appreciated when you can get them and people will pay a premium for them, when they're in season (typically later in the year, when they've had time to mature

                                                              1. re: barleywino

                                                                I personally prefer smaller oysters, not because of fashion, but because of personal taste. If you look at the bang for the buck you are getting from a $4 Kumamoto in terms of not getting you to sleep hungry, you will definitely be paying a premium compared to a lot of larger oysters.

                                                                1. re: nocharge

                                                                  I Like kumamotos also but am still trying to find those large tomales bay oysters...

                                                                2. re: barleywino

                                                                  Hey, I'm just agreeing with you that they're harder to find. Everyone seems to want smaller, clearer oysters like kumamotos.

                                                                  1. re: barleywino

                                                                    It's hard to find food that's out of fashion.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      i like to drink an Old Fashioned with my old fashioned food...a scotch with my scotch egg...a manhattan with my ny strip...a dirty martini with my dirty rice...an oatmeal stout with my oatmeal...a bloody mary with my blood sausage...a French 75 with my french fries

                                                                      1. re: barleywino

                                                                        Those are all easy to find around here. Classics never go out of fashion.

                                                                        I don't think oysters bigger than bite-sized were ever in fashion here, not in my lifetime, anyway.

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          give me an oyster shooter with sake granite and uni and i"ll be happy

                                                                          Larger oysters (Blue point?) might be more of a chinatown thing around here

                                                          2. re: nocharge

                                                            FYI - the remodeled expanded Hog Island restaurant now has a full bar.

                                                            1. re: foodeye

                                                              They also doubled the number of seats, so maybe the waits won't be as long.

                                                              1. re: foodeye

                                                                The expansion and the addition of a full bar are definitely steps in the right direction, but I still don't see it on OpenTable. Anyway, the bottom line is that to have oysters in SF, you don't necessarily have to stand in a long line outside Hog Island or Swan.

                                                                1. re: nocharge

                                                                  Like I said, I've never waited in a long line, but . . .

                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                    I walked by today around 12:50 thinking of having a slightly late lunch. There were probably about two dozen people in line outside. Scratch that idea. Now, extrapolate those lines to a Saturday when the Farmers' Market is on and everybody on this site is telling every person visiting SF to go to the Ferry Building.

                                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                                      Fridays at lunchtime are almost as crowded as Saturdays in the FB (unless it's raining, and then its quiter). Try back again earlier in the week.

                                                                      1. re: foodeye

                                                                        No doubt that earlier in the week, it would be less crowded. That's usually the case for all but the most inexpensive lunch places. However, the 12:50 Friday crowd at the FB and the zoo you would see at 12:50 on a Saturday are not comparable. However, Gott's had a line outside that stretched all the way to the street. I just shook my head wondering why so many people would line up for such a mediocre place. At least, the food at Hog Island is good, but probably not worthy of a long wait given other alternatives.

                                                          3. re: nocharge

                                                            Thank you for the recommendation for Waterbar, that has been mentioned a few times and I will definitely at that to our list; will also take a look at Bar Crudo as that sounds interesting.

                                                            I am a fan of the Hog Island Oyster Bar as well as their stand in the farmer's market (if they still do that); we will definitely go there despite the long lines.

                                                            1. re: alyssay

                                                              I find waterbar generic enough that I have not stopped by. However, the view of the Bay Lights is cool and I hear the burger is good, so I'll get around to it sometime.

                                                            2. re: nocharge

                                                              I've eaten at Hog Island every time I was walking by and there was no line.

                                                              Maybe one of these days I'll eat there a second time.

                                                            3. re: zin1953

                                                              Thank you for all of the recommendations. I will definitely add Ame to the list and I will look into Iyasare, I don't think I've heard of it before.

                                                              1. re: alyssay

                                                                Iyasare opened last November (2013).

                                                                1. re: alyssay

                                                                  Iyasare took over the old O Chame space.