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San Francisco - Must Go / Must Avoid


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Recent favorites:

Incanto: Great flavors and unusual dishes using the whole animal. Highly recommended for a memorable dinner with great food and comfortable atmosphere. Chef Chris Cosentino (also owner of Boccalone) is very active/visible in the open kitchen (at least when I was there).

Zero Zero: I've only been there for lunch, but the Neapolitan style pizzas are great, appetizers awesome (esp. daily seafood crudo), and the cocktail selection impressive. Flour+Water is supposed to be very good as well, but I've never been able to get in!

For coffee drinks, head to Blue Bottle Coffee, either in Hayes Valley or the Ferry Building. Best esspresso drinks I've ever had, from their souped-up PID-controlled La Marzoccos and excellent baristas. Rituale is also very good.

Another classic SF, hole-in-the-wall dive that I just love is Swan Oyster Depot. Normally I stay far away from SF tourist attractions, but I make an exception here. Open for lunch only (until 5pm) and no credit cards; expect to wait 45 minutes on the sidewalk to get one of their 10 or so stools at the counter. But once you get a seat, it is worth it. Oysters, clams, shrimp, fish, crab all prepared before your eyes by the 4-5 staff behind the counter. Oh, and the best clam chowder I ever had. Last time I went, they had fresh sea urchin. For something like $10, the guy took one of the live sea urchins, cracked it open, extracted the 5 "tongues" of roe out, cleaned out the top of the shell to use as a tray, and served to me on a bed of crushed ice. Probably the best, freshest uni I ever had. The decor, stools and staff probably hasn't changed in 50 years, but the with fresh seafood like that they don't need to.

One more favorite: For authentic German fare, head to Suppenkuche. Walk through the doors, and it feels like you are in Munich. Very authentic, tasty food and excellent beer.

Lots of others on my wish list, but I've had great success at these over the past few months.

Edited by Borgstrom (log)
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Recent favorites:

Zero Zero: I've only been there for lunch, but the Neapolitan style pizzas are great, appetizers awesome (esp. daily seafood crudo), and the cocktail selection impressive. Flour+Water is supposed to be very good as well, but I've never been able to get in!

Good call on Zero Zero. Other than good pizzas, some of the brunch items are awesome. I have been to Flour + Water once but it's just ok. Tony's Pizza Napoletana is still my favorite out of the bunch.

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Another classic SF, hole-in-the-wall dive that I just love is Swan Oyster Depot. Normally I stay far away from SF tourist attractions, but I make an exception here. Open for lunch only (until 5pm) and no credit cards; expect to wait 45 minutes on the sidewalk to get one of their 10 or so stools at the counter. But once you get a seat, it is worth it. Oysters, clams, shrimp, fish, crab all prepared before your eyes by the 4-5 staff behind the counter. Oh, and the best clam chowder I ever had. Last time I went, they had fresh sea urchin. For something like $10, the guy took one of the live sea urchins, cracked it open, extracted the 5 "tongues" of roe out, cleaned out the top of the shell to use as a tray, and served to me on a bed of crushed ice. Probably the best, freshest uni I ever had. The decor, stools and staff probably hasn't changed in 50 years, but the with fresh seafood like that they don't need to.

Good call on Swan's - but with the caveat that it is not a SF tourist attraction. 90% of those people in line are locals... Most tourists don't have the patience to want to wait in the line but we who live here know the value of that neighborhood gem.

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I am surprised Canteen is not mentioned here.

Actually, it is, in this post.

We've eaten there and it was great, but with all of the places we haven't yet been, I don't know if it'll make the cut this time.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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I was going to mention Tony's Napoletana, but then, you should be getting Tony's pizzas in the West Village any day now...

http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2011/05/900_degrees_will_offer_neapoli.html

So maybe skip that...

You seem to have the high-end stuff covered, but as Carolyn mentioned, I don't feel like a visit to San Francisco is complete without a Mission burrito. I'm pretty fond of El Farolito at 24th and Mission, and it has the benefit of being right next to a BART stop. It's kind of a dive, but the burritos are so good...

And I'll also second Carolyn's suggestion for Burmese. The ginger salad at Burma Superstar is pretty awesome, if a little more lettuce-y than others I've had.

If you're mobile, and don't mind heading back down toward the airport, Dim Sum at Koi Palace in Daly City is a pretty serious highlight of the Bay area.

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If you're mobile, and don't mind heading back down toward the airport, Dim Sum at Koi Palace in Daly City is a pretty serious highlight of the Bay area.

Speaking of dim sum... I'll be there in June, and we want to go to Dim Sum on Sunday. We won't be mobile, however - recommendations on good dim sum in SF? We were thinking about Yank Sing - is it still good? Other suggestions? Staying at the JW Marriott.

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[...]

And do I "need" to eat pizza in SF when I can eat pizza in NYC?

I'm not going to touch that one, Mitch.

While traditional whatsit Neopolitan Pizza has made great strides in SF, I think the best pizza is the seasonal, ingredient driven pizza of Sharon Ardiana's restaurants Gialina and Ragazza.

Some quibble with the crust for not being "traditional" enough, but how can you not want to eat a pizza with Asparagus w/ mozzarella, Meyer lemon, truffled Pecorino & a farm egg? Or Dandelion Greens w/ sweet Italian sausage, red onions & Fontina? Or Wild Nettles w/ pancetta, mushrooms, red onions & provolone? At a tiny local restaurant with good salads and appetizers?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Speaking of dim sum... We were thinking about Yank Sing - is it still good?

After years of being a regular, I stopped going to Yank Sing last year. Something happened to the way they make dim sum. The steamed dim sum tasted like it had been pre-made and frozen, then thawed and cooked/reheated unsuccessfully. The fillings were dry and overcooked, and the wrappers were thin, soggy, and gummy. After giving the restaurant a few chances after disappointing meals, I decided to stay away until I hear some better things about it. Anybody eaten there recently?

Ton Kiang, a popular place that does a Northern Chinese take on dim sum, is still around. As far as I know, it's still good. http://www.tonkiang.net/

This 2009 article from the SF Chronicle lists a bunch of dim sum places in the SF Bay Area. I haven't tried any of them (I always went to Yank Sing.) Check ahead--the restaurant may not be around after the Great Recession.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/28/FDGJ15D5ID.DTL&ao=4

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After years of being a regular, I stopped going to Yank Sing last year.

Okay - it's off the list. Thanks!

Frankly, the bay area doesn't have great dim sum places. Yank Sing is a place we went to when we want to entertain guests, especially non-Chinese ones. I never found Koi Palace to be worth the wait.

I find the Northern Chinese cuisine to be better, especially in SF. None of them are fancy, but they make some solid dishes. Beijing Restaurant is one of them. You do have to know what to order. Go for dishes like: slice pork with preserved vegetable in warm pot, Beijing vegetable (Chinese chive) pie, special flour ball (this is a typical street food dish and it is meant to be very humble in ingredients), a bean sheet dish and the potato tower (not on menu).

Another good place is Kingdom of Dumpling. The boiled dumplings are simple and satisfying. The radish cakes are good. Spiced beef tendon (only if you like really spicy food) is fantastic. Cold wide bean noodle is another good one.

San Dong BBQ House has good hand pull noodles. The other items are good, but the noodle shines. The dan dan noodle is really simple, but it's really good. If you want, you can get fried stinky tofu there. Service can be really spotty so you have to keep track of what you ordered.

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Speaking of not very upscale, I've quite enjoyed the couple meals I've had at lers ros in the tenderloin. I'm not an expert in Thai food, but what I've had here is the most interesting and enjoyable I've had in San Francisco.

Also, I quite enjoy many of the experiments in modern Chinese themed cuisine currently going on at Mission Chinese Food.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Don't forget about the great food you can find at farmers markets other than the one at the Ferry Building. You can get some great food at the Alemany market and the Stonestown market.

Alemany: El Huarache Loco has some of the best Mexican food around. Anything with Alambre (mix of beef with bacon, onion, peppers and cheese) is great. The pambazos is a favorite. The huevos divorciados is another. The pupusa stand is another great stall with pupusas made and grilled right in front of you.

Stonestown: You can get handmade, pan fried dumplings, onion pancakes and lamb skewers at Happy Dumplings. The dumplings are wrapped and fried up pan by pan. The wrappers are on the thick side, somewhere between boiled dumplings and steamed buns, with juicy fillings inside. For dessert, get a Belgium waffle over at Golden Waffle. If you like pretzels, Octoberfeast has plain ones, cheese ones and pretzel croissants.

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When exactly are you coming? No one has mentioned Michael Mina. I have not been there, but you might want to take a look at the website, particularly the bar menu. There is a long happy hour w/discounts and a small-plates menu that sounds very appealing. I could go for duck leg tacos with smoked creme fraiche. It might be a good bet if you are not too hungry after a day of eating.

If you want a getaway, drive out to Marshall, on Tomales bay (hour+ from downtown) and have some Hog Island Sweets at the source. Or get them at the Ferry Building. At Marshall they provide an oyster knife if you want to open them yourself, presumably at a discount. If you are here in June, dress warmly at Tomales Bay. Dillon Beach is a great beach for walking, about 20 min from Hog Island.

If you are hanging about in the Mission, Delfino's is across the street from Bi-Rite Creamery, both good. I developed an instant crush on one of the guys at the creamery, so I remember the experience almost more than the ice cream. If I was 25 again I would be there all the time. I had the salted caramel, which is awfully good. And don't forget Tartine. I can't speak for the croissants in NY, since I've never looked for one there, but Tartine's are amazing. And so is the bread pudding with fruit, and the coffee is excellent. And it's usually very crowded. I like late morning on a weekday: lots of baby strollers, dogs etc. It's been so long since I lived in the Mission (or in SF) that I feel like a tourist when I'm there. Never been to Mission Chinese, mentioned by eje, but I've heard interesting things about it.

For cheap eats in the east bay, I do have a soft spot for Bette's fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty's, but only if you are on this side already; I wouldn't call it a destination.

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When exactly are you coming? No one has mentioned Michael Mina. I have not been there, but you might want to take a look at the website, particularly the bar menu. There is a long happy hour w/discounts and a small-plates menu that sounds very appealing. I could go for duck leg tacos with smoked creme fraiche. It might be a good bet if you are not too hungry after a day of eating.

Those of us that dine often in San Francisco have not mentioned Michael Mina for a reason; it is atrocious.

Their flavors are discordant, the setting is loud, and the prices are not worth what they are trying to pull off. Yes, they are always busy -- with tourists who don't know better.

I have eaten at four different MM restaurants (Dana Point, San Francisco (2), Las Vegas) and have yet to have a satisfactory experience at any one of them. I advise people to avoid MM at all costs - there are infinitely better places to eat in San Francisco.

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I've got a question for those who are familiar with the SF dining scene. My budget will allow me to go out for one nicer, most costly, meal while visiting the area. If you could pick just one restaurant what would it be? I know I can get reservations at Coi, but Quince also looks good. I'm having trouble picking, at the same time if there is somewhere else that I should check out I'm also open to other suggestions.

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Interestingly, I've heard the same as Carolyn says about MM.

I've got ressies so far at Commonwealth, Sons & Daughters, and Atelier Cren.

Has anyone had any experience at Prospect? They're open on the Sunday we arrive, and our plan is Alembic for drinks followed by Prospect for dinner.

I have some drives planned (Tomales Bay is always nice) and this is probably our 4th or 5th trip to SF as a vacation; prior to moving back to NYC, I lived in the Bay Area for 16 years; that's why I'm looking for new and great - I already know about old and great!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I've got a question for those who are familiar with the SF dining scene. My budget will allow me to go out for one nicer, most costly, meal while visiting the area. If you could pick just one restaurant what would it be? I know I can get reservations at Coi, but Quince also looks good. I'm having trouble picking, at the same time if there is somewhere else that I should check out I'm also open to other suggestions.

I would Attelier Crenn and Saison on the top of my NICE list. I have eaten at Coi twice and walked away both times very unimpressed; more show than substance and those items I remember about the meal were the misses more than the hits.

I know Benu has its followers -- being a French Laundry alum and all that -- but my meal there was so uninspiring as to give me no compelling reason to return.

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I've got a question for those who are familiar with the SF dining scene. My budget will allow me to go out for one nicer, most costly, meal while visiting the area. If you could pick just one restaurant what would it be? I know I can get reservations at Coi, but Quince also looks good. I'm having trouble picking, at the same time if there is somewhere else that I should check out I'm also open to other suggestions.

We haven't dined at Quince but went to Coi two weeks ago and it was one of the best and unusual (creative) meals in a long time with outstanding service. Highly recommended if you want a tasting menu which is not just following the "standard" tasting menus.

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I've got a question for those who are familiar with the SF dining scene. My budget will allow me to go out for one nicer, most costly, meal while visiting the area. If you could pick just one restaurant what would it be? I know I can get reservations at Coi, but Quince also looks good. I'm having trouble picking, at the same time if there is somewhere else that I should check out I'm also open to other suggestions.

Coi has a limited menu that changes often. It took me a while, several years, to get over to Coi because I don't always care for what's on the menu. And when I do, I couldn't get reservations. I finally did get there for dinner when I really like the looked of the menu and it was a fantastic meal. I've also had dinner at Quince and loved it. We had the tasting menu and it was great.

It's hard to pick between the two as the food is quite different. I suggest going by which menu you fancy more.

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Has anyone had any experience at Prospect? They're open on the Sunday we arrive, and our plan is Alembic for drinks followed by Prospect for dinner.

We went to Prospect for dinner last September. Everything was spot on, from food to service. I don't think you can go wrong with it.

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Well, after doing as much research as I could and stretching our budget, I ended up with a reservation at Coi. It seems some people aren't impressed, but for the most part the restaurant does impress. I was hoping to find a restaurant that was more slanted towards modernist styled cuisine, and from what I can tell most say Coi does it best in the area.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Andrew Vaserfirer aka avaserfi

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