San Francisco: Foody Heaven!

An Opinionated Guide to San Francisco

Chinatown
Our two favorites: R & G Lounge, 631 Kearny at Merchant, 415-982-7877 is always packed. Known for its salt & pepper crab and excellent Cantonese specialties. Elizabeth loves the fresh clams in custard. Great Eastern, 649 Jackson, between Kearny & Grant, 415-986-2000. Seafood is the specialty, but the crispy duck and chicken are fine. Dim sum.
For dim sum, try Lai Hong Lounge, 1416 Powell St. betw. Broadway and Vallejo. 415-397-2290. (The best dim sum in the world is not in Chinatown, it’s at the pricey Yank Sing, 101 Spear at Mission, in the old Post Office building, which still has its 30s murals. The vegetarian specialties are wonderful.)
Alfred’s Steakhouse at 659 Merchant between Kearny and Montgomery, 415- 781-7058, is a San Francisco classic.
Wayfare Tavern, new and chic, at 558 Sacramento between Montgomery & Sansome, offers American comfort food and is run by celebrity chef Tyler Florence.
North Beach
City Lights Bookstore is on Columbus between Pacific & Broadway. The Beat Museum is on Broadway between Columbus and Montgomery. For pizza worth a wait, try Tommaso’s, 1042 Kearny, between Pacific & Broadway. Café Trieste, Grant & Vallejo, goes back to the fifties. Our favorite café: Café Puccini, which has opera and Mozart’s clarinet concerto on the jukebox. It’s on Columbus off Vallejo and serves a meal in a bowl: the best split pea soup in town.
Across the street from City Lights Bookstore is the San Francisco landmark tavern, Tosca, now a chic darkly bistro. Next door to City Lights, across Jack Kerouac Alley, is Vesuvio’s, a bar with a 50s beat.
Italian restaurants line Columbus Street. North Beach Restaurant, 1512 Stockton between Green & Union, 415-392-1700 is a neighborhood institution. Rose Pistola, 532 Columbus, between Green & Union, 415-399-0499, offers modern Italian small plates.
The most romantic restaurant in S.F. is Café Jacqueline, 1454 Grant (between Green & Union) 415-981-5565. Souffles are the only thing on the menu. Exquisite soufflés. One serves four (or two). Try the garlic and then the dark chocolate.
The best breakfast in North Beach is at Mama’s on Washington Square, 1701 Stockton at Filbert, 415 362-6421. There are no reservations and the line starts at 8 a.m., but the wait is worth it. Excellent omelets and French toast and breads and home-made jam.
Nob Hill
You can walk the labyrinth, a good metaphor for life, writing, becoming a successful author — indoors or out, at Grace Cathedral to soothe your mind. Grace is one of the most beautiful churches in America. Peet’s Café in Grace Cathedral, on California between Taylor and Jones, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and serves pastries, sandwiches, and coffee. The Cathedral also has a gift shop. Here are 7 places nearby:
The famous Top of the Mark in the Mark Hopkins Hotel serves tapas and drinks, and has great views. It’s open from 5:00 pm to 11:30 pm. The restaurant in the lobby is new and open from breakfast until 9 p.m.
Rue Lepic is an intimate neighborhood fixture at the corner of Pine and Mason that serves classic, medium-priced French dinners, 415-474-6070.
Nob Hill Café at 1152 Taylor Street between Sacramento and Clay is a cozy, affordable neighborhood trattoria open for lunch and dinner until 10. It doesn’t take reservations, but you can call 415-776-6500.
The same people own Venticello Ristorante, a block past the Nob Hill Cafe at 1257 Taylor at Washington, serves Northern Italian food in a romantic setting, 415-922-2545.
Stroll through the luxurious lobby of the Fairmont, at the corner of California & Mason, and check out the photos of the city after the great shake of “06″. The Laurel Court in the lobby is open every day for all meals. Café Centro, the coffee shop in the hotel, is on the garage level at the corner of California & Powell, open from 6:30 to 6 daily.

For a good Kosher Deli, try Miller’s East Coast Delicatessen, 1725 Polk St (between Clay & Washington. 415-563-352.Matzo-brie! Tongue!

Union Square
Union Square is the heart of one of the greatest concentration of stores in country, if not the world. They are all within a quarter of a mile from the square so you can get to all of them on foot. (Take the cable car or a cab to get back up the hill.)
Scala’s Bistro, in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on Powell, is one of the city’s most popular restaurants. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 415-395-8555.
Sears, a breakfast place on Powell between Sutter and Post, is known for its 18 tiny pancakes.
The skylight and art deco design make The Grand Café in the Monaco Hotel at Geary and Taylor one of the loveliest lunch and dinner rooms in the city for reasonably priced French bistro fare, 415-292-0101.
The Latin Quarter
The popular Café de la Presse, 415-249-0900, at the corner of Bush and Grant, is a little outpost of Paris across the street from the gateway to Chinatown. It’s a fine spot to stop before or after browsing on Grant Avenue. From 8 to 4, you can have breakfast including a great café au lait. It’s also open for lunch, brunch, and dinner and also just for coffee, and sells French newspapers and magazines. The café is the heart of the city’s Latin Quarter, which is dotted with French restaurants. Half way up the hill on Bush is Notre Dames des Victoires, the French church.
Café Claude, 415-392-3505, and Gitane, both on Claude Lane, 415-788-6686, between Grant and Kearney, are both open for lunch and dinner. Café Claude has jazz Thursday-Saturday.
Plouf, 415-986-6491, is one of five busy restaurants on Belden Alley, between Bush and Pine, Kearny and Montgomery. All are open for lunch and dinner. We like Plouf for its six different kinds of mussels.
The Ferry Building
You can hop on a cable car on California and end two blocks from the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street, a bustling haven for foodies that has gift shops and top-quality food stores where you can sample some the of best produce, meat, and fish that Northern California produces. The outdoor farmer’s market is open on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. There’s a branch of Book Passage bookstore next to a Peet’s coffee bar, a Mexican restaurant, and a pricey nouvelle Vietnamese restaurant called The Slanted Door, 861-8031, and the MarketBar, 415-414-1100, for California fare.
You can take a ferry to Sausalito, Tiburon, Larkspur, Vallejo, and Alameda.
Fisherman’s Wharf
Scoma’s (415-771-4383) and Alioto’s (415-673-0183) both have views of the fishing boats. You can go whale watching or spend a day fishing. At Pier 39 you can take ferries for Tiburon and Alcatraz or go for a bay cruise. If you’re going to Tiburon for lunch, reserve a table with a view at Guaymas, a nouvelle Mexican place next to the ferry. After lunch, you can wander the tiny village then cruise home.
Ghirardelli Square
A redesigned chocolate factory with gift shops. The Ghirardelli ice cream parlor serves, shakes, cones, and old-fashioned sundaes, and shows how chocolate is made.
McCormick & Kuleto’s, 415-929-1730, is the perfect place for a Crab Louis, the best selection of fresh fish and oysters in the city, and great sourdough bread. Elizabeth’s favorite dish: a Hangtown Fry — an omelet with eggs, oysters, and bacon, the three most expensive items during the Gold Rush. Ask for table #2 or another window table. The restaurant has some of the best views in any restaurant.
Russian Hill
At Union and Hyde is Zarzuela, the best tapas place in town and reasonably priced for dinner. Friendly staff. No reservations, 415-356-0800. It’s on the cable car line to Aquatic Park.
Union Street
Union Street is an enjoyable street of shops to walk between Gough and Fillmore Streets.
Perry’s, a bar and restaurant that will make New Yorkers feel at home, has excellent hamburgers and cottage fries, 1944 Union between Laguna and Buchanan. 415-922-9022.
Fillmore Street
The six-block stretch of Fillmore Street between Post and Clay is Main Street for the upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood. Our favorite place to eat is Ten-Ichi, 2235 Fillmore near the Clay Theater between Sacramento and Clay has sushi and a full Japanese menu. 415-346-3477.
Browser Books between California and Sacramento is a cozy, endearing neighborhood bookstore that looks the part.
Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore at Eddy, is the best place for jazz. There’s also a really fine Japanese-fusion restaurant downstairs, 415-655-5600. Or try the new SF Jazz Center!
Japantown
The Japan Center is more commercial than cultural. Our favorite restaurant is Isobune for its unique salad sushi that arrive on boats, 1737 Post between Steiner and Buchanan. 415-563-1030, no reservations. Come early or late or plan to wait. Kinokuniya is a large, interesting Japanese and English bookstore on the second floor at the western end of the Center.
The Mission
As the name suggests, The Mission District got its name because it has one of the state’s 21 missions that were placed one day apart for travelers. It has been home to the city’s Hispanic community since then and is now the city’s East Village, a hotspot for creative people that has seen an explosion of fine restaurants as well as literary events. The corner of 16th Street and Valencia is a good a place to start exploring. Dave Eggers’ Pirate Shop is at 826 Valencia.
Mission Street between 16th and 24th Street and 24th Street between Mission and Potrero are the main streets of the city’s Hispanic community. If you want a treat, visit one of the Mexican bakeries. Or try the breads and pastries at Bar Tartine, 561 Valencia, 415-487-1600.
Noe Valley
Michael’s favorite village in the city is home to many of the city’s creative people. Stroll from Sanchez to Diamond on 24th Street, check out the Victorians as you stroll, and you’ll want to look for an apartment.
The Castro
From Sanchez to Castro Street along Market Street, and from Castro and 17th to 20th is the heart of the city’s gay and lesbian community. Full of life and home to the landmark Castro Theater. .
The Haight
From Masonic to Stanyan, the spirit of “67″ is alive and well in the liveliest street in town. A haven for young people creatively dressed and coiffed, with many restaurants and used clothing shops. Our three favorite stops: The first two are on the same block: Cha Cha Cha, 1801 Haight, 415-386-5758, nouvelle Hispanic small plates; no reservations and the super Puerto Rican restaurant, Parada 22, 1805 Haight, 75011 next door; Amoeba Records, which has the best selection of used CDs and DVDs in town. The Booksmith at 1644 Haight gives good browse.
The Richmond District
The first ten blocks of Clement Street have more different kinds of restaurants than anywhere else we know of. Green Apple, 506 Clement between 6th & 7th Avenues, has used as well as new books and CDs and is a pleasure to browse in.
A block away, at the corner of 5th & Clement is Toy Boat, a coffee shop filled with old and new toys.
Ton Kiang, between 22nd and 23rd, 5821 Geary, 415-387-8273, has outstanding dim sum and is equally good food for dinner. One of their taste treats is the traditional Hakka garlicky green sauce they bring to the table. At the corner of 22nd and Geary is a Russian delicatessen worth checking out. It’s a one-stop spot for buying a picnic.
The Palace of the Legion of Honor is a lovely museum in a spectacular setting next to a golf course. Enter at 33rd Avenue and Clement Street. Ask Mike why you have to wear two pairs of pants when you play there.
If you enjoy walking, you will enjoy strolling through the city’s varied, picturesque neighborhoods. The city is laid out in streets divided by hundreds, the 100 block, the 200 block, etc. It’s easy to find a coffee shop or restaurant, and many neighborhoods have independent bookstores. Wear rubber-soled shoes and bring a sweater.
More Info
If you want to drive around the city, just follow the 49-Mile Drive Seagull signs at street corners. You can tour the city by bus, fire truck, landing craft, cable car, Segway and even baby zip cars. Zagat’s is the best guide to the city’s restaurants. Apps and the Web have it all. Almost everything in Elizabeth’s book, Fun Places to Go with Children in Northern California, is for adults as well. Northern California is beautiful, and we hope you’ll see as much of it as you can. Happy Trails!
Elizabeth Pomada & Michael Larsen / larsenpoma@aol.com / 415-673-0939 / sfwriters.org. / larsenpomada.com / 1029 Jones Street, San Francisco, California 94109