Do San Franciscans even eat food?
September 5, 2015 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Where to eat in San Francisco?

In the near future my girlfriend and her mother will be traveling to San Francisco for a short vacation. They will be staying in an area that appears to be somewhere on the line between the neighborhoods of Western Addition and the Tenderloin. Having never been to SF myself I have no idea if those are even valid terms to use, but hopefully that'll at least give you an idea of the area.

They're both from New Orleans, so their tastes are aligned less towards Applebees and more towards ... you know, real food.

So what do you suggest that they absolutely have to try while they're there? I'm looking for recommendations in the cheap to mid-range expense level as I don't believe they have any fancy-fancy dinners planned. They'll probably not be on foot very much, so places available by public transport are a bonus, but I guess a cab or an Uber will get them anywhere.
posted by komara to Food & Drink (38 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
So I guess they're staying on Van Ness? Regardless, Tommy's Joynt. I'm kinda vague on the term, "real food," does it include foreign/ethnic food?
posted by rhizome at 5:19 PM on September 5, 2015

I'd go to just about any Mexican restaurant in the mission.
posted by Toddles at 5:29 PM on September 5, 2015

Response by poster: rhizome: it includes anything that wasn't mass-produced and heated via microwave, so yes, ethnic and foreign suggestions are welcome.
posted by komara at 5:38 PM on September 5, 2015

Wahey, Komara! [+]

If they're on Van Ness, they could try the Grubstake:

Oh, ethnic/foreign. Hm. I heard good stuff about Axum Cafe, an Ethiopian place on Haight Street.
posted by slater at 5:41 PM on September 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

They're also probably near some very good Indian restaurants.

I think some people are confused by the "real food." There's a lot of real food here, and not a lot of Applebees-type places. :)
posted by roll truck roll at 5:43 PM on September 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

I've been going to HRD lately and I really like it. Mexican-asian fusion, tacos and burritos with things like kimchee and wasabi mayo, really tasty (if inauthentic) and you can have a filling meal for around $10.
posted by archagon at 5:52 PM on September 5, 2015

Also, Arizmendi Bakery is great.
posted by archagon at 5:54 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of great stuff in the mid-Van Ness area. Deli, donuts on Polk, House of Prime Rib, great Vietnamese and Indian in the TL, Chez Maman in Hayes Valley a few blocks west of City Hall. Also in Hayes Valley is the 20th Century Cafe, which has a similar ethos as Tartine without the lines. There's a Swiss restaurant up around Van Ness and Green that I haven't tried yet but which fascinates me through its mere existence. I know they probably want to go other places, but these are good options in that general area. has an SF webboard that is always extremely current.
posted by rhizome at 6:17 PM on September 5, 2015

And yeah, like Hooter's and all the other mainstream chains, there is only an Applebees at Fisherman's Wharf.
posted by rhizome at 6:18 PM on September 5, 2015

Almost any reasonably classy restaurant in Chinatown is going to be excellent.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:21 PM on September 5, 2015

If they like sushi/raw fish, I really enjoyed Ozumo. Not cheap, but delicious. The salty garlic edamame is a great starter.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 6:32 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

(also, if you're near Union Square, I like the hotel Rex for generous happy hour specials and does things like film screenings and readings in a nicely shabby recreation of 1930s salon.)
posted by The Whelk at 6:39 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are so many tasty, cheap places it's hard to narrow them down. Here's a good list to browse through. A couple of very random ideas: Over closer to Union Square, Katana Ya is a decent ramen place. Burma Superstar in the Inner Richmond is fun. If they want to splurge (and wait in line) at some point, State Bird Provisions is unlike anything they're likely to eat elsewhere. The Mission is filled with good, affordable places, not just Mexican food...I'd recommend that they browse through Yelp, because it's widely used here, and there are so many options. At least by this count, SF has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the U.S.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:06 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Most of the food here is quite good and people from New Orleans will do fine just about anywhere, being accustomed to flavorful and even spicy food. At the risk of igniting the traditional MeFi holy war of the Ultimate Mission Burrito, I'd recommend the burrito al pastor at El Taco Loco, just steps from the 24th St BART station. Only available on weekend mornings, the birria (a rich and slightly spicy goat stew) is also outstanding. Don't be put off by the goofy name, this joint is some serious good eating.

Dim sum in the traditional style, where servers roll carts loaded with "small eats" past your table every few minutes, is also fun. Flag down any cart that looks interesting, choose a few tidbits, and the server will mark your ticket. Dim sum is a very popular weekend treat for San Francisco Chinese families, which means that the places are crazy crowded and loud, but also that the carts come flying out of the kitchens nonstop with piping-hot goodies. Maybe someone here can recommend a few good places, but a stroll through Old Chinatown (downtown, roughly centered on Stockton and California), or New Chinatown (Clement Ave, roughly between 4th and 10th Ave), will show you what's most popular, and that's a very good guide to what's best.

For a more explicitly touristy experience, I suggest clam chowder served in a sourdough "bread bowl" on Fisherman's Wharf or Pier 39. Boudin Bakery is good. But you have to eat this outdoors, preferably on a foggy day, with the wind blowing your paper napkin around and seagulls diving greedily on crumbs - the picnic ambience is essential.

I suppose another iconic San Francisco scene is the hipster coffee shop, where colorful locals congregate in their traditional costume of skinny jeans and T-shirts. Check your own hipster cred by ID'ing the logos on the T-shirts: is that a tech startup or an indie band? Settle in with a double latte, pull out your smartphone and tweet a few selfies to the folks back home.

About the only thing to avoid is pizza. Most of the time, the pizza here is about at the level of shopping mall food court chains, so don't bother. Other than that, if a place looks fairly busy it's probably pretty good, so give it a try - it's hard to get a bad meal in San Francisco!
posted by Quietgal at 7:22 PM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

San Francisco has a lot of amazing food. Seems Yelp was invented for situations such as this...
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:26 PM on September 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nthing those that are saying if you want to avoid chains/mass-produced food, SF is the place to do it. There's barely any of that there, and since everyone uses Yelp around here, you can get pretty good recommendations from it.
posted by Aleyn at 8:08 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is the title of this Ask supposed to be, like, a joke? San Francisco is kind of an amazing food city; the difficulty there would be finding a bad meal, not finding a good one. Seriously, just about any restaurant you care to walk into will serve you a meal that will be at the very least above average (with the exception of pizza restaurants). I doubt if it would even be that easy to find an Applebee's or what have you.
posted by holborne at 8:15 PM on September 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

Eater SF, as linked above, is the best compilation of reviews and news on restaurants. That's what I use to learn about new places or look for restaurants in a particular neighborhood. It's extremely easy to avoid chain restaurants here, so that won't be a problem. The question is a little to broad to be answerable, in my opinion. There are many good restaurants, at every price point and from many ethnicities and styles. If there's a particular thing they are interested in, that would be helpful to specify. "Real food" is a little, well, meaningless as a category.

If they really are staying somewhere on Van Ness, then the Hayes Valley neighborhood offers a variety of excellent options in easy walking distance.

There are a multitude of AskMe's on restaurants in SF that are also worth reading.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:24 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cioppino at Sotto Mare. The bus system is amazingly easy to use and will get them anywhere.
posted by raisingsand at 8:51 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I feel like I should clarify here that I am well aware that SF is an incredibly foody city, and that "real food" is everywhere. Yes, the title of this Ask is a joke. I am also aware that Yelp and Eater are great tools, and she has already started looking through them though the volume can be overwhelming. This AskMe came about as a result of her saying something like, "I just don't know where we'll eat" and I said, "Well I'll Ask MetaFilter!" thinking I would get a list of personal favorites from MeFites.

If it helps to narrow focus, return to the words "absolutely have to try" in my original question and just think about the place that, if you were to return to SF only once more in your life, you'd hate to miss. Proximity to the original location mentioned is great, but if it's somewhere else in the city ... well, it's somewhere else.
posted by komara at 8:52 PM on September 5, 2015

Papalote, which pretty routinely appears on the "best burrito" lists, has a location pretty near where they'll be staying. It's basically between where they are and Golden Gate Park, which is also a must-visit, because it is lovely. And you can take the bus there if you don't want to walk.
posted by decathecting at 9:04 PM on September 5, 2015

That's helpful clarification. Thanks.

Here are a handful of places that I like and go to with some frequency, with a focus on ones in the Hayes Valley/Polk St area.

Nopa and Nopalito
Blue Plate
Roosevelt's Tamale Parlor
Lers Ros
Alta CA
posted by gingerbeer at 9:14 PM on September 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

I haven't lived in SF for a long time, but I think everyone should go to the Swan Oyster Depot at least once in their lives.
posted by neroli at 9:54 PM on September 5, 2015

Dear People Who Said SF Has No Good Pizza,


YES definitely go to Arizmendi! Just go order two slices of pizza, whatever it is. They only make one type of pizza each day and it is always perfect. I cannot emphasize this hard enough. GO TO ARIZMENDI AND GET THE PIZZA. The one on Valencia is closed Tuesdays, and the one on 9th Street is closed Mondays.

ALSO check out Beretta on 23rd and Valencia. Every pizza there is is also perfect. I strongly suggest asking for a fried egg or two on top of your pizza. Also, ask for the "secret" drink menu.

For burritos, I prefer The Little Chihuahua (The Divisadero or Mission Locations; the Noe Valley one isn't quite there yet) and the well-known Taqueria Cancun to Papalote, but everyone has their own favorites. You would have to really try hard to get a terrible burrito here.

San Francisco coffee is a Thing, too. I personally love Reveille Coffee in the Castro, but there are a ton of good places. The only one I'm not a fan of is Sightglass, which isn't a cafe but a coffee that's served at various cafes and restaurants here.

Axum Cafe is very delicious, very spicy Ethopian food. (I haven't been there in a few years and now I want to go, and probably will tomorrow. Yay!)

Also, yes, Nopa is glorious and they should go there, too.

Finally, it's totally worth it to brave the line for salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery. The coffee toffee ice cream is amazingly good, too.

I am so excited for your girlfriend and her mom to visit our delicious city!
posted by Munching Langolier at 10:33 PM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oops I forgot - for authentic dim sum, go to City View. I used to live on that street and we went there all the time.
posted by Munching Langolier at 10:40 PM on September 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

> About the only thing to avoid is pizza

Dude, no. Delfina and Pizza Hacker are incredible, and Emilia's across the bay is even better. Plus Arizmendi and Cheeseboard, which are their own thing. Yes, I've been to New York!
posted by archagon at 11:33 PM on September 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Little Star pizza - excellent deep dish pizza
Yamo - hole in the wall Burmese
Sotto Mare - one of the only restaurants in SF that has its own fishing boat
Four Barrel Coffee (or Reveille or The Mill which serve four barrel coffee)
Z & Y Szechuan
posted by thetruthisjustalie at 12:00 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a sandwich lover, if I was forced to pick my last cheap meal ever in SF, I might go to Ike's and get a sandwich (they are amazing). But really, so many cheap restaurants are great that if they pick anything above they'll have a good meal. Delfina's great, Papalote's great, the salted caramel ice cream at BiRite is great despite the long line (beware long lines everywhere)- and they can take it and go people-watch at Dolores Park across the street. But there are so many other great cheap places that it's really hard to declare any unmissable. I remember when I was living in NYC talking with a friend who had also moved there from SF, and he said something along the lines of, if you walk randomly in a hole-in-the-wall in SF you're likely to have a decent or even great meal, whereas in New York there's more of a chance that you'll run into something mediocre if you pick randomly. The average quality of a cheap meal is just really high here.

(As far as unmissable goes, I still think they should consider splurging on State Bird one night, if they can go early enough to make it's in their neighborhood).
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:53 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pearl's deluxe burgers is delish if you're looking for fun, greasy combos like bison with bleu cheese and grilled onions, mmm. I always used to get a mini burger (still quite large) with a basket of frings (fries/onion rings).
posted by equestrian at 6:11 AM on September 6, 2015

I don't live in SF but I go there frequently for work, and FWIW, my choice for "best Mission burrito place" is the aforementioned Taqueria Cancun. But seriously, a Mission Mexican meal (doesn't have to be a burrito) is a must-do, so they can just pick any of the places that get 4+ stars on yelp and do ok.

Sushirito is good for the sheer novelty factor, but also pretty tasty.
posted by lunasol at 10:55 AM on September 6, 2015

Seconding the dim sum suggestions. My favorite place in SF for xiao long bao aka Chinese soup dumplings is Shanghai Dumpling King, way west on Balboa but worth the trek. (Xiao long bao are basically steamed dumplings that have a pocket of soup broth and usually a bit of pork or crab meat inside, you eat them with a bit of rice vinegar and it's just an explosion of flavor in your mouth, great stuff.)

Taqueria Vallarta used to have some of the best tacos al pastor in the city, few blocks east of the 24th St BART stop, a good option if Taqueria Cancun is too busy or if you're eating late. Plus you've got Humphry Slocombe across the street there.

>About the only thing to avoid is pizza.
No there's definitely good pizza to be had, maybe not as good as NYC or Chicago but lots of good places including Delfin as noted above. If you find yourself in SoMa and don't mind wading through all the IPO-uveau riche , try Zero Zero on Folsom, I've never had a bad meal there.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 3:04 PM on September 6, 2015

Haven't been in a few years but Olea is incredible, nearby where you are and is not that expensive. For sure needs reservation for dinner as it is small and brunch has a long line but is great. Last time in town we ate perhaps 3 out of 9 vacation meals there because nothing else compared.
posted by ijustwantyourhalf at 5:17 PM on September 6, 2015

We visited SF for 4 days earlier this year and basically got back home immediately wanting to go back and eat at these two places again:

Mymy for breakfast/brunch - the sponge French Toast and Mochas are out of this world

The Italian Homemade Company - cannot stress how delicious this place was. Everything was fantastic.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:59 AM on September 7, 2015

Tulan Vietnamese restaurant near Sixth and Market. The neighborhood is low-income, but the food is divine. And not expensive. Might be walkable from where they're staying.

Tulan Yelp

posted by telstar at 2:28 AM on September 8, 2015

How are we talking about Bay Area pizza without mentioning Zachary's? Yeah you have to take a 20-minute BART ride to Rockridge and then walk two blocks and then probably have a drink or two while you wait but damn if it isn't good pizza.

For a more explicitly touristy experience, I suggest clam chowder served in a sourdough "bread bowl" on Fisherman's Wharf or Pier 39. Boudin Bakery is good. But you have to eat this outdoors, preferably on a foggy day, with the wind blowing your paper napkin around and seagulls diving greedily on crumbs - the picnic ambience is essential.
We did exactly this while showing some friends around last month and it was a hit. For maximum impact spend the day somewhere sunny and warm and arrive at Fisherman's Wharf just as the sun goes down.

Pearl's is very good too, though I haven't been in about 5 years.
posted by clorox at 2:13 AM on September 10, 2015

Zachary's is a mess of dehydrated tomato soup and dough. Little Star is 1000x better, fact.
posted by rhizome at 5:32 PM on September 10, 2015

Technically, the best deep dish pizza in SF is Capo's, by far.

For some reason nobody knows this yet. ;)
posted by archagon at 6:30 PM on September 12, 2015

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