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San Francisco City Guide

San Francisco Restaurants Guide

©2006 Jack Hollingsworth Just about every type of international and fusion food is represented in San Francisco's rich restaurant scene.

Consistently competing with New York for best restaurant scene in the United States, and holding its own, San Francisco is heaven for food and wine lovers. A new restaurant opens literally every day here, and those that can't compete shut their doors just as fast.

In addition to all the gourmet options, San Francisco is home to hundreds of cheap and tasty cafes, diners, bistros, and ethnic food restaurants of every imaginable variety. You can find food in this city that you may not have even known existed.

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To sample the gourmet San Francisco dining scene without sacrificing a week's pay, try to plan your trip during "Dine About Town" month (January), when you can have a prix-fix three-course meal at any of more than 100 top restaurants for $21.95/person at lunch and $31.95/person at dinner. Still not exactly cheap, but a steal for meals that would normally cost at least twice as much. Another tip: You can make reservations for most restaurants in the city online at Open Table, which can be very convenient.

Mobil Two-Star Delfina (3621 18th St) is one of the best restaurants in the city, and has been for several years. Everything on their simple Italian-with-a-California-twist menu is good, and I've been a hundred times (literally) without one disappointment. Reservations are always required, usually a couple of weeks in advance at least. They now have parking (huge bonus), and opened a pizzeria next door last year that's also great and a bit more casual. Their menu changes with the seasons, but the roasted Fulton Valley chicken is a great standby, and you can't go wrong with any of their pasta dishes.

A perfect start to a night out in the Mission, Ti Couz (3108 16th St, 415-252-7373) has some of the best salads in the city (seafood lovers should try the Salade de Mer, a fantastic combination of shrimp, scallops, seared tuna, and loads of fresh vegetables and greens; the small is more than enough for most and runs less than $10), plus delicious French Onion soup and a variety of tasty crepes at good prices.

Town Hall Restaurant (342 Howard St) serves up new American classics in a swanky brick building on Howard Street. Always fresh, often organic, and very tasty, their menu changes regularly, but the seafood is always excellent and the chef always includes at least a few vegetarian options.  Order a side of the jalapeno cornbread and you won't be disappointed. Desserts are to die for -- their Butterscotch Pot de Crème is renowned throughout the city. 

Mobil Two-Star The Helmand (430 Broadway, North Beach; 415-362-0641) doesn't have much competition in the Afghani food department, but it certainly holds its own against all of its Italian neighbors in North Beach. Afghani food is sort of a cross between Indian food and Turkish food -- very good, and probably hard to find in most other cities. The dining room has a formal vibe, with white tablecloths and fancy Turkish coffee service, but the prices are fairly reasonable (in the $12-$16 range for dinner). If you go, try the leek or pumpkin dumplings (similar to ravioli, but with a Middle Eastern flair); really all of the pumpkin dishes are pretty amazing, as are the lamb dishes (especially the Lamb Lawand, a tasty lamb stew).

Okina Sushi (776 Arguello, Inner Richmond; 415-387-8882) is a tiny, traditional neighborhood sushi place on a quiet street in the Inner Richmond. They're only open Thursday through Saturday from 5 pm-10 pm, and the restaurant seems to be a labor of love for the sushi chef/owner, who serves up super fresh, very cheap sushi and plenty of it. No teriyaki or miso soup here, just sushi, sashimi, and great big beers. Go for the Nigiri Deluxe for the best deal -- 8 nigiri for less than $20, and the chef will always send out a few pieces of his nightly favorite for you to try. One important thing to remember: they only take cash.

Post-modern diner. Is that a restaurant genre? Well, it is now. Q's (225 Clement St, Inner Richmond) serves up scrumptious, huge portions of comfort food in a space-age-future-meets-Texas-past diner in the Inner Richmond. Their chorizo and eggs is one of the best breakfasts in the city; for dinner their spinach salad is huge and tasty, and their fried chicken is excellent.

If you're in the Mission, you need to try one of the infamous Mission taquerias. Although most of them are good, many don't get such high marks on the cleanliness scale. La Corneta (2731 Mission St, 415-643-7001), though, is clean, bright, and really, really good. Everything on the menu is pretty tasty, and you can feel safe eating the seafood as well -- their Baby Shrimp Burrito is a standout.

A great little Belden Lane bistro with fantastic seafood, Mobil Two-Star Plouf's (40 Belden Place, Union Square) mussels are a favorite, prepared in any one of a dozen different ways.

Mescolanza (2221 Clement St) in the Inner Richmond area, is a cozy neighborhood Italian number; their food is authentic, tasty, and cheap -- perfect! You cannot go wrong with the gnocchi.

Another San Francisco legend, Mobil Two-Star Slanted Door (One Ferry Building, No. 3, Embarcadero) started as a hole-in-the-wall and grew into a huge success (yes, Bill Clinton ate there when he was president), worthy of a sleek waterfront space in the Ferry Building. Why? Their tasty modern Vietnamese menu of course. Their spring rolls and crispy Imperial rolls are awesome, as are their "Shaking Beef" and caramelized tiger prawns.

Pacific Catch (2027 Chestnut St, Marina) serves up the best fish tacos in Northern California (try the Traditional Baja Taco), as well as a fantastic Wasabi Ahi Sandwich (seared ahi), healthy and tasty brown rice bowls with fresh seafood, and these sweet potato fries that are absolutely addictive, plus healthier than regular potato fries, so go for it.

Tucked away on Union Square's most posh shopping street, Mocca (175 Maiden Lane, Union Square; 415-956-1188) serves up some of the best sandwiches in the city (fresh mozzarella, with basil and juicy tomatoes, or any number of combinations of organic meats and cheeses, fresh bread) and you can eat them outside for premium people watching.

When it comes time to tip your waiter or waitress, remember that 15 percent is the standard, but most people tend to tip in the 18 to 20 percent range for good service. Most restaurants tack on an 18 percent gratuity automatically to parties of six or more.

It takes a lot of planning to figure out what you're going to eat and do. Fortunately, we're a step ahead. In the next section, you'll find carefully tailored itineraries for one-, two-, and three-day visits to San Francisco.

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