San Francisco hole-in-the-wall eateries and random attractions
September 27, 2007 11:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to San Francisco for a few days next week--where are some little-known yet interesting places to eat and/or visit?

I'm not a big fan of touristy, scene-y, or overly fancy. I like all kinds of ethnic foods and don't mind going off the beaten path.
I'll be staying in North Beach (Hotel Boheme), but I've seen enough of Fisherman's Wharf , Alcatraz, etc. on previous visits.
I was thinking of checking out the Kabuki Springs baths and possibly the bluegrass festival. Oh, and the library.
Any other thoughts?
posted by exceptinsects to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (28 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Take a trip to the tenderloin and get some flavor. I recommend Tu Lan or Muang Thai. Enjoy :)
posted by sir_rubixalot at 11:34 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Definitely visit Fisherman's Warf. I went there when I was 15 and there was this wonderful restaurant 3 feet from the docks. The outside of the restaurant was a seafood market, but there was a little eatery place inside and they had the freshest lobster bisque. I am sure the place is still there and it is my fondest memory of San Fran.
posted by dnthomps at 11:55 PM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shangrila on Taylor is amazing Indian Food.
Have a sunset drink on the roof at Medjool on Mission between 21st and 22nd.
Stay out late and have a 2am super grilled chicken quesadilla at Il Farolito, the best in the world, and soak up the late night mission vibe while you're at it.
In north beach, the best sandwich in the city is the focaccia sandwich from Mario's Cigar Store, right on columbus.
A great meal can be had at Michelangelos restaurant, expecially if you sit at the communal table.
An excellent breakfast can be had at the St. Francis Creamery on 24th st and York.
The Kabuki is great.
posted by asavage at 12:39 AM on September 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Definitely visit Fisherman's Warf.

Dude, did you read the post?

Check this site.
posted by quadog at 12:40 AM on September 28, 2007

Defintely go to Suppenkuche in Hayes Valley (Laguna and Hayes) for some yummy German food, and lively atmosphere.
posted by Packy_1962 at 1:16 AM on September 28, 2007

Cafe Jacqueline is in north beach if you like souffle & have time to kill (because the souffles...they take time, oui?). It really is all they have aside from some salad & soup though.
posted by juv3nal at 2:17 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

2nding the Medjool rooftop. I was there during GDC and a freak heatwave in March, and the view was beautiful.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 3:21 AM on September 28, 2007

Seconding Cafe Jacqueline, if you step into the kitchen (which you have to do to go to the bathroom), you see that all the souffles are indeed made by Jacqueline, a petite, motherly French woman whose huge bowl of eggs is larger than she is.

Kabuki hot springs is awesome and a must do, its quite quiet on the weekdays. Be sure to leave enough time for the baths themselves (and get a shiastsu, not a swedish massage).

For clubs, Harlot, Vessel, Shine, and Temple are the hot new places to go.

For more great food, Shanghai Dumpling in the Richmond on Balboa is amazing (you've never tasted potstickers like this), Delfina on 18th and guerreo for their pizza, Birite Creamery on 18th at dolores for their honey lavender ice cream.
posted by zia at 4:43 AM on September 28, 2007

Go to the Sunset district. There is absolutely nothing tourist related there, except possibly Golden Gate Park which is worth going to anyway regardless.
posted by the dief at 6:19 AM on September 28, 2007

Musee Mechanique, "one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines." Pier 45, Shed A at the end of Taylor Street. At Fisherman's Wharf, unfortunately.
posted by wryly at 8:06 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Savor, between Noe & Sanchez on 24th St. Seriously, everything is good there, but to have one of their dessert crepes for a meal is always in my plans.

San Jose south of 24th, and Mission Sts. Just walk them and there are tons of little holes in the walls serving great food. There's a Mexican place on San Jose south of Mitchells Ice Cream that has about 3 tables with the best food. Sorry I don't remember names. But little neighborhood gems are the best (Cheaper is a bonus too!).
posted by mattfn at 8:20 AM on September 28, 2007

Take a walking tour of the murals of the Mission district. That can be done by yourself (you can purchase a map) or with a tour. Then go to the bluegrass festival.
posted by gatorbiddy at 8:24 AM on September 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

San Francisco has a lot of great small neighborhoods. This neighborhood guide put out by the local newspaper is actually pretty good. You can easily spend time just picking one that intrigues you and walking around.

Probably the best walk in the Mission is take the Bart to 16th and Mission. Walk one block west to Valencia. Walk down Valencia to 22nd. Cut back over to Mission st. Walk down to 24th and Mission.

There's a lot going on on 24th street in either direction (East for more Latino Mission goodness as well as an old 1920's diner with great food at York st.; West will take you over to boring, yuppy Noe Valley) but I recommend you keep walking on Mission. Once you cross Cesar Chavez it gets interesting again. The next few blocks have great restaurants (Mexican, salvadorean, honduran, nicaraguan, cambodian, thai, chinese, seafood, italian, pizza, bars, etc.) of huge diversity packed into a tiny area.

Keep walking until you get to Cortland st. then go East/uphill until you hit the heart of Bernal heights. This place has been described as a lesbian small town - there are 3 bars on the street and 2 of them are lesbian bars. Otherwise lots of cute shops and a chance to see a completely untouristed place in San Francisco.

From here you can catch the 24 bus which will take you to Castro and Mission to continue your wandering in another part of town...
posted by vacapinta at 8:48 AM on September 28, 2007 [4 favorites]

Avoid Fisherman's wharf like the plague. Less un-well known now, but the Parrots around Telegraph hill are fun to see, and coit tower (on the hill!) is really cool to go into, although it is not a main tourist attraction as far as I know. The Dutch Windmill over by Sutro Heights (a great park with a WW2 gun encampment) is something worth seeing. The mission is filled with great taquerias, and Zuni Cafe on market makes a mean burger.
posted by Large Marge at 9:35 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Go to Golden Gate Park and the redesigned DeYoung Museum. You're also close to the Haight if you want a little lowbrow culture/shopping.

Take a walk along the Embarcadero around sunset. Nice view of the Bay Bridge.

A little more culture, try Fort Mason near the Presidio. Also, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts which is right across the street from SFMoMA.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:34 AM on September 28, 2007

Best answer: Yep, when I heard hole-in-the-wall, I *immediately* thought of Tu Lan, which I was happy to see linked in the very first comment. It's a hike from North Beach, but you'll get to walk through some interesting parts of the ghetto (slash tenderloin, slash tendernob, slash theater district) on the way there.

For 'faux' hole-in-the-wall breakfast, I absolutely recommend Dottie's True Blue cafe (although I'm sure there are some great spots in north beach). If you go there on a weekend, you WILL wait, probably for up to 30 minutes. If you go on a weekday, you may be able to breeze in and sit right down.

Other 'hole-in-the-wall-y' type SF joints:

jay's cheesesteaks: The best non-traditional cheesesteak in the city.
taqueria cancun: one of the more popular cheapy burrito joints
el farolito: see above. If you go to the one in the mission, there's a 2am rush after the bars close, which is always fun.

file under a little cheesy but worth doing once: The View. It's on the top floor of the Mariott, although every time i've been there it's had a surprisingly classy crowd. The view, is, well, fucking impressive. I get vertigo for about the first ten minutes I'm up there (and then I get drunk). Always fun though -- you get to pretend you are on the bridge of the millenium falcon or something -- I think there are few other places in SF that will let you get this high up downtown (maybe Harry Dentons??)

Neighborhood-wise, if you want to just walk about and run into cool stuff, mission/valencia streets, lower/mid haight are both pretty good (albeit a bit gritty for some people's tastes).
posted by fishfucker at 10:47 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Good places to eat in San Francisco that (probably) won't break the bank:

Breakfast (& Burgers*) - Red's Java House on the Embarcadero at Pier 30.

BBQ - Memphis Minnie's BBQ at 576 Haight Street.

Pizza - Nizario's at 3840 Geary Boulevard or Escape from New York has several locations.

Broiled crab &/or Garlic noodles - Thang Long at 4101 Judah Street (at the corner of 46th Avenue).

Exotic Ice Cream - Mitchell's Ice Cream at 688 San Jose Avenue (at the corner of 29th Street).

Stick to your ribs food - Chow at 215 Church Street (at Lincoln) & Park Chow at 1240 - 9th Avenue (at Market).

High Tea Service- Lovejoy's Tea Room at 1351 Church Street.

and of course, last but certainly not least - the best place EVER -

Cheese Steaks - The Cheese Steak Shop at 1716 Divisidero Street (between Bush & Sutter)

I must disagree vehemently with fishfucker. The best cheese steaks are found at the Philadelphia Cheese Steak Shop. I've been a regular there since 1993 and they have Tastykakes.

You should try Mitchell's Ice Cream as well.

* The best burgers in the Bay Area come from Marin Joe's in Corte Madera.
posted by goml at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry FF, I didn't catch the NON-traditional disclaimer.
posted by goml at 11:58 AM on September 28, 2007

I beg to differ on hopefully a minor point with my colleagues. I'd skip Mitchell's in favor of Bi-Rite Ice Creamery on 18th. Or if you want more non-traditional, the Indian Ice creamery at Valencia and 17th.
posted by vacapinta at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2007

If you're going to be there on Sunday October 7th, you might check out the Burning Man Decompression festival.
posted by pombe at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2007

The Pirate Store at 826 Valencia is always worth a visit.
posted by logic vs love at 12:38 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like Tu Lan as much as the next person but I think it's closer to a greasy spoon/diner equivalent of Vietnamese food. The Little Saigon (Tenderloin) area has far better Vietnamese food for the same price. I recommend Bodega Bistro and Turtle Tower and the awesome $2.50-$3 Vietnamese sandwiches at Saigon Sandwiches.
posted by junesix at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2007

Best answer: You might like:
posted by cior at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's not that "random," but the murals up in Coit Tower are one of the coolest (and free) things I've seen while living in the Bay Area.
posted by salvia at 4:19 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

You have to eat Chinese food in SF...

Sam Wo, at 813 Washington Street
(between Grant Ave & Waverly Pl), is a quintessential hole in the wall with simple basic Chinese food.

In the Richmond district, just off of Clement St., I like the Sichuan flavors of Spices (294 - 8th Avenue) and Spices II (291 6th Avenue).

A lot of hidden gems are in the relatively untouristed Sunset district... first there's San Tung (1031 Irving Street,
between 11th Ave & 12th Ave), always packed and noisy but great food. If you like vegetarian Chinese, go to Enjoy (754 Kirkham St. @ 12th Ave.) which makes great use of faux meats (which are actually tasty, trust me!). Or Shangrila (2026 Irving St San Francisco, CA 94122, @ 21st Ave.) a kosher Chinese restaurant (yes, that's correct).
posted by mahamandarava at 10:05 PM on September 28, 2007

Samovar at 18th and Sanchez is a great place for tea. Very comfy.
posted by jewzilla at 10:52 PM on September 28, 2007

Response by poster: So, I just got back and we had an amazing trip. I don't think I've ever eaten so many good meals in a row.

Tu Lan was awesome--we had the imperial rolls, the chicken salad, and the Ten Things In A Pot. (Don't forget to squeeze the lemon in the broth.)
I wished we had brought a bunch of friends so we could try everything.

We ended up spending quite a bit of time in North Beach, so there I recommend:

Calzone's--we just went there because it was next door to our hotel (Hotel Boheme, which I can't recommend enough--they give you free sherry every evening and have adorable rooms with hilarious Beat Poet-themed lampshades), but it turned out to be delicious. Orzo with asparagus and manchego cheese, an arugula and artichoke salad with Humboldt Fog cheese, and of course the calzones were awesome.

Mama's on Washington Square--best breakfast ever, and the Hollandaise sauce is just how I like it.

Liguria Bakery--get the garlic and rosemary foccacia. We saw two different people leave their vehicles in the middle of the street to run in and buy some. One of them was actually a garbage truck.

Tony Nic's
--great little bar, the bartenders are serious about their drinks, and the decor is right out of 1961.

Caffe Greco
has good coffee, and this cake called Brasiliana with coffee liqueur and chocolate and cream that you really should try right away.

We also spent a night at the Marriott where the View bar is, so we checked it out--the view is spectacular and the Sidecar is very tasty if overpriced.

Plouf had good mussels and excellent pommes frites, but I thought it would have been more fun if it was more casual.

As for tourist places, the Wave Organ was really cool, and we also enjoyed the Coit Tower murals.
We went to the farmer's market at the Ferry Building but we'd just eaten breakfast so it was just frustrating to see all this great stuff to eat and nowhere to put it!

We happened on the California Historical Society which was having a fun exhibit on the history of camping--really interesting, and they had a thing where you could call a number on your cell phone and hear people talking about the exhibit.
Plus, it's right down the street from Beard Papa, the store that only sells cream puffs. The caramel flavor is excellent.

I also went to the main library, because I'm a librarian and a freak and I always like to test out the reference service at libraries when I'm on vacation. SF librarians, you get an A. Very friendly and helpful.

I can't say enough about the Kabuki Springs baths. It was by far my favorite thing I did there. It's like a Japanese public bath (which I have missed ever since I left there) but much more refined and meditative and fancy. I want to go back right now.
posted by exceptinsects at 8:28 PM on October 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

« Older Music by and/or about Mormons?   |   500,000 trees on a golf course?! No way. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.