Where to Eat in SF by Neighborhood

16 Jul

I’ve been asked before by wide-eyed tourists, many times, “What is your favorite restuarant in San Francisco?”  And I am flummoxed. What to answer, what to say? There are too many answers! I just usually reply with, “Well, what are you looking for? Do you like seafood? Mexican? Which neighborhood?” It’s easier to classify best restaurant by different categories. So now I’d like to sort out which restaurants are truly my favorites. A word of warning: pretension is not rewarded in this list.

  • Best pizza/Potrero Hill: Goat Hill Pizza. Crispy, puffy sourdough crusts,and a house specialty I love- Hilda’s Special (goat cheese, diced tomato, and pesto). Not your average droopy pizza, Goat Hill makes flavorful pies with simple ingredients on a solid, thick crust.
Satay Chicken Pho at Great Saigon

Satay Chicken Pho at Great Saigon

  • Best pho/Chinatown: Great Saigon. My former coworkers and I would often say that when it was cold and overcast, it was pho weather. The satay chicken pho is to die for- overflowing with flavor, with mint, thinly sliced zucchini, tomato, crushed peanuts, onion and of course a thick tangle of clear noodles, strips of mostly white chicken, and a hearty broth. The best.
  • Best pupusa/Mission: Balompié. The Mission has a lot of fancy new restaurants with valet parking, but there is also a lot of great home-style food that will fill you up for very little money. Balompié serves not just delicious pupusas in a variety of styles (I prefer loroco, a green vegetable native to El Salvador), but also fried plantains with black beans, fried yucca, and to perfectly accompany it, a tall glass of Cola Champán, a sugary sweet Salvadoran soft drink.
Nutella Latte at Castro Coffee Company

Nutella Latte at Castro Coffee Company

  • Best hot beverage/Castro: Castro Coffee Company. This is a new discovery. After trying a heavenly Nutella latte recently in Washington D.C., I was haunted by the memory of that sweet, slightly salty, chocolatey taste. Lo and behold, I found that the dime-sized Castro Coffee Company serves the Nutella latte, just as delicious as the first time I tried it on the East Coast. Plus, service is very fast and friendly.
  • Best beer bar/FiDi: Irish Bank. Walk right by on Bush Street and you’ll miss this nearly hidden bar in an alley. But if it’s late on a Friday and Saturday night, the noise of tables full of patrons drinking beer should call your attention. I have a thing for spots that are hidden in plain sight (see Bourbon and Branch, below), so that is one reason I love The Irish Bank. The other is that the service is friendly, the beer list traditionally Irish and European, and the blue cheese fries are the perfect snack to go with your pint of Guinness. A great place to run into old friends and meet new people.
  • Best burger/Marina: Super Duper. There is a lot of debate about which is the best burger in San Francisco. Besides the In n Out in Fisherman’s Wharf, there  is the L.A. transplant Umami, Roam of Pac Heights, and Super Duper, with outposts in the Castro, the Metreon and the Marina. The bun is lightly toasted, retaining crunchiness, so there is no wet bready disintegration. The meat is juicy and well-done (yes, that’s possible), and the pickles, lettuce and tomato are all fresh and flavorful. Oh, and your order is not complete without a chocolate shake.
  • Best dumplings/Outer Sunset: Kingdom of Dumpling. There are two phenomenal Shanghai dumpling places within a block of each other here in the Outer Sunset, so I hope I am remembering the right one. The one with crisp, juicy green beans covered in garlic sauce. The one with light, delicate soup dumplings bursting with rich, broth and tender pork. The place is tiny, there will be a wait, but it is very worth it. Forget Chinatown, this is where you can find delicious, authentic Chinese food.
  • Best cocktail/Tenderloin: The Citizen Cane at Bourbon and Branch. I find whisky, scotch, and bourbon revolting. I like a sweeter drink- not necessarily daiquiri sweet, but sweet enough. The Citizen Cane has cachaça, egg whites, cinnamon and is altogether delicious. Pass through the bookcase to the secret library, and enjoy this sweet, sweet libation.
Ploy II

Ploy II

  • Best Thai/Upper Haight: Ploy II. This spot in the Upper Haight is hard to find. It’s a narrow staircase leading up to the upper floor of what was once a private home. The handwritten signs all over the place are a little…paranoid, but add to the uniqueness of the place. The tom kha soup is light and creamy, the pumpkin curry packed with veggies and served with lovely presentation. But the best part of Ploy II? Three words. Deep fried pumpkin. Because all vitamin-packed vegetables should be deep fried.
President Obama likes Tacolicious

President Obama likes Tacolicious

  • Best taco/North Beach: Tacolicious. Consistently delicious, whether you get the carnitas, beer-braised chicken, the fish taco, or the guacamole that is as light as air. It’s always good at Tacolicious. Tender meat, perfectly braised. Oh and did I mention that the guacamole is to die for? It might be Mexican food made by and for gringos, but it is damn tasty.
  • Best southern comfort food/Lower Haight: Memphis Minnie’s. The Lower Haight may be associated with freewheeling hippie values, but carnivores can find plenty to love here. Besides the mouthwatering sausages at Rosamunde, there is Memphis Minnie’s, which is a slice of the Mississippi Delta right on Haight. Walk in, enjoy the gaudy decorations on the walls and tables, the mix of classic soul music playing, and serve yourself a tall, cold glass of sweet tea. I personally prefer the fried chicken, though keep in mind it is only served on the weekends. It is tender white meat coated in crispy skin, and as one of your two side dishes, I recommend the potato salad, the mac and cheese…or the baked beans or the cole slaw. Each table has four different sauces available: Texas red sauce, North Carolina vinegar sauce, South Carolina mustard sauce, and a spicy hot sauce. Don’t tell any tar heels you know, but I prefer the mustard sauce.
North Carolina vinegar sauce at Memphis Minnie's

North Carolina vinegar sauce at Memphis Minnie’s

  • Best vegetarian/Pac Heights: Berkeley Bowl at The Grove. Sometimes one needs to detox, to drink a neon purple juice or consume something green and leafy to regain some inner equilibrium. When I feel this way, I like to head to The Grove and order the Berkeley Bowl. It’s a deep, wooden bowl chock full of fresh ingredients like arugula, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, onions, chickpeas, all topped with a light, creamy ranch and served with thick toast on the side. Don’t think a bowl full of veggies can fill you up? Give yourself an hour and finish up the Berkeley Bowl. You’ll be satisfied and all detoxed.
  • Best food truck: Sanguchon. The lomo saltado sandwich is a hearty, delicious meal, juicy New York steak between two crispy buns, slathered in a tangy cilantro aioli. Oh, and the sandwich is stuffed with French fries. If the thought of a steak sandwich isn’t filling enough for you, get some soft yucca fries or crispy sweet potato fries on the side.
  • Best ice cream/Mission: Bi-Rite. Yes, the Mission gets to show up on here twice, because I can’t compile a list like this and not include Bi-Rite, the best damn ice cream around. Listen, I hate waiting in lines. But I’ll spend a sunny afternoon snaking my way through those red plastic ropes to make my way to that brightly lit, friendly haven of ice cream goodness. Sample any flavor you’d like. I prefer the seasonal créme fraiche, which is like the smoothest, creamiest vanilla with a slight kick of sourness. Simple, divine. If that’s not available, chocolate or strawberry will do.
Ice Cream Sundae at Bi-Rite Creamery

Ice Cream Sundae at Bi-Rite Creamery

2 Responses to “Where to Eat in SF by Neighborhood”

  1. Jason Gohlke July 17, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    Given the presence of Tacolicious, Memphis Minnie’s, and (of course) Bi-Rite, I’m going to extrapolate that this is an excellent list. I am totally with you on those three and will try some of the others based on this blog entry.

    One question: Your description of Super Duper is accurate, but I am curious why you prefer it to Umami.

    I can guess that Umami comes off as more pretentious, but I have a deep and abiding memory of the (very intense) burger flavors I’ve had at Umami (Union St. and in Oakland). Heck, it was almost a spiritual experience. In contrast, the shake and even the physical layout of Super Duper (I went to the one on Market St.) were much more memorable than the burger itself.

    • lebanexican July 18, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      Full disclosure: I have never been to Umami. If I go and I find the burger transcendent, I will amend my review!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: