San Francisco: The Guide: Update

One of my readers is in San Francisco and looking for tips, so in addition to the original San Francisco: The Guide (and all the various reviews I’ve ever posted!), here’s an update on

Where To Eat

If you live in a major urban center in the US, you probably know about Open Table. If you don’t, come on over: when you need to make a restaurant reservation, you can do it over the web through Open Table rather than calling up the 19-year-old at the front desk between the hours of two and five. About 90% of all the restaurants where I’ve needed a table use the site, so chances are good that your destination is in there and you can book your fallback eatery when your #1 choice is booked til March.

Chinese Food

I don’t know Chinatown very well, but I do know the best place for dim sum in the city is Yank Sing. The location I’ve been to is on an odd, small street downtown that’s a little dark and off-putting but don’t be put off: that is some bad ass Chinese food. The servers are constantly circling with tons of different plates of fresh, hot dumplings, meat dishes, veggies and on and on. Excellent place for brunch on Sunday or lunch some other day.

I also love House over in North Beach. The place is tiny and the food is unbelievable. “Clean” is the word that comes to mind to describe the cuisine: the fish is perfectly cooked, the sauces are well-matched and there’s no clutter to the dishes. Try the sea bass (if you’re sure it’s not Chilean) and any of the noodles if you’re there for lunch.

White Tablecloth

This is generally not my thing, for some reason. Maybe because San Francisco is home to so many excellent mid-range restaurants. Whatever it is, sometimes we all need a proper night out at a place that’s carpeted and where the waiters move around like sharks (silent, attentive with good teeth, that is).

Jardiniere has been my recent go-to for a formal dinner. The tasting menu is excellent but a little overwhelming unless you’re starving. Very traditional decor and presentation – not at all casual. Gets a lot of high-end pre-theater monied types since it’s behind the opera house and the symphony. Incidentally, their chef beat Mario Batali on Iron Chef America if that helps you make your decision.

A friend of mine who’s a chef raves about Quince. I’ve never been there, but I hear it’s the new, excellent place to go. It’s quite small, you absolutely need reservations and the cuisine will be innovative.

For a more traditional dinner, there’s Wolgang Puck’s Postrio. I haven’t been there in ages and Puck’s definitely jumped the shark – frozen foods? Really, Wolfgang? – but it was quite good when I did go. By “traditional” I mean bigger, more tourists (because of Puck’s name), and with a less cutting edge menu.

Gary Danko over in the Marina is another famous, special occasion restaurant. I hear really good things about it, but again, I haven’t been there myself.

Other Options

The reason I haven’t hit Quince and Gary Danko is because when we go out for a night on the town, I tend to like places that are a little more intimate and casual. My tastes fall somewhere between “foam of sea urchin” and “47 ounces of seared steak.”

Along those lines, there’s Range, still my current favorite. It’s in the Mission (local to me), has a changing menu, and is reliably excellent. That said, it is a little loud during dinner hour and sometimes a tad quick, like not a lot of dawdling over three courses. But their lamb chops are the best I’ve ever had as is, surprisingly, their roast chicken with tomatillos, which I had last week and loved, loved, loved.

I’ve covered Slanted Door in the original Guide, but here’s a refresher. They’re in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and serve really, really good Vietnamese food (not the fried street kind, but proper fresh, spiced, superb Vietnamese). They’re likely to be fully booked, but if you go at 5:20 and wait, you can put your name in for free tables when they open at 5:30 and I hear you’ve got a good chance of getting a spot. (I think they reserve a few tables for day-of walk-ins.) You could definitely take the kids – the place is big and loud and I’m sure they’d like something on the menu, which is long and varied. This place is a perennial favorite of everyone I know.

If you and your plus one have the chance for a date night, I’m sticking with my previous recommendations of Firefly. It’s this small, quirky, off the beaten track, very comfy and quiet place that is perfect for a date, very neighborhoody and has really lovely, carefully prepared food from local, fresh California ingredients. R and I love it there.

For French food, there’s Chez Papa‘s bistro over in our neighborhood, in Potrero Hill. It’s not my top general pick because the menu is narrow and specialized, but if you need a really superb, French-only dinner, this is your place. They also have a bigger restaurant downtown.

And finally, for sushi, I’m reiterating my vote for Blowfish, which serves the best sushi I’ve had outside Japan. More trendy than romantic, but if you go early you can avoid the posers and the worst of the noise.

Sidebar, since most visitors will end up in Union Square for shopping or cable cars or museums, just a couple of food notes:

  • Food that’s not touristy or mass-produced is hard to come by down there. For superb sandwiches, soups and a sunny space to sit if you’re out shopping, try ‘wichcraft. They’re on a strange corner on Mission Street, just outside the back entrance of Bloomingdales. Definitely worth walking a block to take a break from shopping and get a proper lunch.
  • Alternatively, I hear the food court in the newly renovated San Francisco Center‘s basement floor has a lot of good offerings but I just can’t bring myself to eat in a below-ground food court, even if it is supposed to be good!

Bon appetit!

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